The Arizona Fall League, minor league baseball's finishing school of record, crowned the 2016 champions yesterday, as the Surprise Saguaros (the club featuring Cardinals prospects, among others), was defeated by the Scottsdale Scorpions. Which makes sense; scorpions are poisonous and have nasty claws, and while a saguaro (a type of cactus), certainly has defensive abilities in the form of spikes, it lacks mobility, starts every turn with a -4 penalty to dexterity, and scorpion tails are treated as +2 magical vorpal blades for the purpose of any saving throws.
Now that a champion has been crowned, and the AFL has come to a close, we can take a last look at the final numbers of the Redbirds prospects who participated. I wrote up the early numbers for the Cards' Arizona participants just about a month ago, when the league was only getting started; let's see how things changed as the fall developed, shall we?
Alex Reyes, RHP
So....yeah. We all know how Reyes's autumn wrapped up; his suspension for a second failed drug test has been common knowledge for awhile now. And, debates about marijuana's legality and the testing policy aside, I think we can all agree it would have been really nice if Alex had just put down the pipe for just a little while, seeing as how he was well aware of the consequences of a second failed test.
Anyway, prior to his suspension, Reyes's performance in the AFL was, well, kind of what you might have expected from Alex Reyes going in. He actually didn't strike out quite as many hitters as you might think (14 in 15 innings pitched), but considering it was the end of a long season in which he pushed well past his previous career high for starts, if not innings pitched, it maybe isn't incredibly surprising he wasn't dominant. He walked too many hitters -- ten -- in typical Alex Reyes fashion, but also gave up fourteen hits, which is a bit discouraging. Twenty-four baserunners in fifteen innings just isn't great. Part of that can be traced to his final, semi-disastrous start, in which Reyes allowed eight men to reach base in just 3.1 innings, and there are obviously extenuating circumstances there, from possible fatigue to possible distraction due to knowledge of impending disciplinary action. However, even without that the numbers were fairly pedestrian.
The stuff, however, appeared to be intact, with reports of Reyes hitting triple digits in most outings at least a time or two. A middling performance, combined with continuing control/command issues and now a suspension to begin the 2016 season, would seem to have the arrow pointing down for now, though.
Dean Kiekhefer, LHP
Kiekhefer did as excellent a job of solidifying himself as a near-term person of interest as Alex Reyes did a poor job of tamping down the questions surrounding him. The ceiling for Kiekhefer is clearly very modest, but it's equally clear that the future is basically now for the lefty slinger.
Working in both single- and multiple-inning relief, Kiekhefer made nine appearances, covering 15.1 innings for the Saguaros. He continued to show the amazing control he's long been known for, issuing only a single walk in his AFL run, but also upped his strikeout rate to previously-unseen levels, whiffing fourteen hitters, or almost 25% of the batters he faced in Arizona.
At this point, Kiekhefer is what he is: a control artist who works with a funky arm slot and one legitimate out pitch (the slider), to produce results. He was added to the 40 man roster recently, capping off a very productive season that saw his profile increase markedly, and it's almost certain we'll see him in St. Louis at some point in the coming year.
Robby Rowland, RHP
The Arizona Fall League represented the fourth stop for Rowland in 2015, as he rose through three levels of the system this year en route to his AFL selection. The hard-throwing righty has never gotten the results to go with his stuff, and his Arizona tenure didn't really change that pattern much.
Rowland was decent but not great in the AFL, throwing 11.1 innings, giving up ten hits, and posting a 10:4 strikeout to walk ratio. He came in to fall ball appearing to be a fairly anonymous, forgettable righthanded relief option, and that's roughly what he remains now. The fact the Cardinals considered him worth one of their AFL spots is interesting, in that it tells us they think there's some value in seeing more of what Rowland can do against higher-level competition, but other than that, not much to see here, folks.
Luke Weaver, RHP
Weaver had one of the more productive, notable AFL seasons of any pitcher, particularly in the early going, when he started off like a house on fire before looking a bit more hittable his last few outings. Overall, it was still an excellent showing for Weaver, who was taking on significantly better competition than he had to this point, and didn't really blink.
The one black mark on Weaver's fall was a propensity for giving up homers, as he allowed three to leave the yard in just 19.1 innings, but that's the sort of thing that just happens sometimes in the desert, particularly for a more flyball-oriented pitcher. He still held opposing hitters to a .171 average against, struck out more hitters (18), than he allowed total baserunners (16), and continued to show the remarkable command of the strike zone that has largely been his best characteristic to date in professional ball, walking just 5.3% of the batters he faced.
It was an outstanding showing for Weaver, and could very well accelerate the Cardinals' timetable on him even further in the coming season.
And now, the hitters.
Aledmys Diaz, SS/INF
I'm starting off with Diaz because he easily had the best AFL of any Cardinal hitter, and it seems like a nice thing to do, giving out the good news first.
Diaz continued his monster second half of the season in Arizona, particularly in terms of power production. The ball certainly flies in the desert, but even so a .301 ISO is rather eye-catching. Diaz's overall line was a stout .315/.370/.616, with thirteen extra-base hits in just 82 plate appearances. He also continued to show the excellent contact skills he had demonstrated all season, striking out in just 15.6% of his trips to the plate, even facing off against high-level competition, and posted a very respectable walk rate as well.
Diaz also played multiple infield positions, and did so with relative aplomb, demonstrating the kind of versatility I personally think is probably going to be his ticket to the big leagues. Decent pop in the bat, plus contact skills, and an ability to hold down any spot in the infield is a quick route to the majors, and a recipe for a successful career once there. Diaz probably had the best AFL among future Redbirds, and it's exciting to see.
Patrick Wisdom, 3B
Aledmys Diaz continued a second-half breakout and put himself on the 40 man roster. Patrick Wisdom....grew a pretty cool moustache.
The kid from St. Mary's appeared in 24 games, collected 93 plate appearances, and continued to show above-average power, clubbing four home runs en route to a .215 ISO. Unfortunately, pretty much everything else went wrong, as Wisdom's plate approach and contact skills still appear to be sorely lacking. A .237/.268/.452 line in a fairly extreme hitter's league is not anything to write home about, and a 17:4 strikeout to walk ratio is discouraging. The strikeouts weren't excessively high, but Wisdom seemed intent on avoiding the Ks by swinging before he could get backed into a corner, which is also less than optimal.
Wisdom put himself back on the map with his midseason performance this year, but a late season swoon and a decidedly below average AFL has that run looking more and more like a simple hot streak all the time.
Mike Ohlman, C
Bad news, everyone!
First bad news: Mike Ohlman didn't play a whole lot in the AFL.
Second bad news: he was quite bad when he did play.
Ohlman hit just .205/.256/.410 in Arizona, which is not very good, even by catcher standards. That he was still catching is interesting, as it appears the Cardinals are serious about trying to develop him as a backstop, after the Orioles had all but given up on the idea. However, 39 pretty bad plate appearances don't tell us much about Ohlman beyond what we already knew, so I won't waste my breath or your time on trying to draw meaningful conclusions from his very limited number of appearances out there.
Charlie Tilson, OF
Charlie Tilson saw slightly more playing time than Mike Ohlman, with 59 plate appearances to his name, but being put on the taxi squad in Arizona very much limited his opportunities.
Even without a ton of opportunities, though, Tilson managed to have a flat-out weird AFL.
Tilson showcased a large amount of patience at the plate (13.0% walk rate), but also struck out more than he had in the regular season (18.8% AFL K rate, 12.1% in Springfield). He also showed absolutely zero power, with an .051 ISO, which is even spectacularly low for Tilson. It's always fascinating when a player shows an ability to draw walks without the threat of doing damage in the zone, though it's a skillset which very rarely works long term.
Tilson did swipe four bags without being caught, so we know his legs still work. He put up probably the worst batting line of any Cardinal prospect in Arizona, though, which is saying something. Even so, he was good enough during the season to earn a spot on the 40 man roster, so there's a decent chance we'll see him in St. Louis this coming summer.
Overall, Diaz, Weaver, and Dean Kiekhefer all had solid to excellent showings in the league, and raised their respective profiles accordingly. Tilson, Wisdom, and Alex Reyes all had a rough go of it, with Wisdom and Reyes both doing at least some real damage to their respective stocks. Robby Rowland sure did go to Arizona. And neither Tilson nor Ohlman really had the kind of playing time to do much more than provide a brief distraction to a boxscore browser, but neither really did themselves any favours, either.