On Tuesday afternoon, the 25th annual Arizona Fall League commenced. The AFL is composed of six teams -- the Mesa Solar Sox, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions, Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas, and Surprise Saguaros -- and, hence the name, occurs every fall in Arizona. The one-month-long league serves as a great platform for some of the game’s best minor leaguers to refine their skills and showcase their abilities in front of major league scouts.
Seven members of St. Louis' organization were chosen to participate in the event, and all seven have joined the Glendale Desert Dogs. Among the Cardinals' attendees are four pitchers, including Austin Gomber, Corey Littrell, Ryan Sherriff, and Rowan Wick; outfielder Harrison Bader, catcher Carson Kelly, and third baseman Paul DeJong round out the rest of the chosen seven.
Scorpions 9, Desert Dogs 6
Carson Kelly (C): 2-3, HR, BB, R, 3 RBIs
Harrison Bader (RF): 3-5, R
Corey Littrell (RP): 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K -- (pitched the fifth & sixth innings)
Rowan Wick (RP): 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K -- (pitched the seventh & eighth innings)
In the league opener on Tuesday, the Desert Dogs and Scorpions squared off at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, where the Scorpions secured a 9-6 victory to kick off the exhibition season on a high note.
Although the game was highlighted by the baseball debut of Tim Tebow, who went 0-for-3 as the Scorpions’ left-fielder, it was Scorpions shortstop Gavin Cecchini and catcher Taylor Ward who made a significant impact on the actual game, as Cecchini and Ward each collected two hits and drove in three runs apiece.
Cecchini is arguably the Mets’ top prospect as far as position players go, and he made his big-league debut as a September call-up earlier in the year after slashing .325/.390/.448 in 117 games with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s.
In his first full season, Ward, a backstop in the Angels organization, hit ten home runs, eleven doubles, and drove in 56 runs while playing in 123 games as a member of the Island Empire 66ers in the 2016 season.
On the Desert Dogs’ side, three of the club’s half-dozen runs on Tuesday came on a three-run homer off the bat of Carson Kelly as part of Glendale’s four-run third inning. Kelly garnered thirteen plate appearances during his time with the big-league Cardinals as a September call-up, but he appeared in a handful of games as a defensive replacement for Yadier Molina in the later innings.
On Wednesday, the Desert Dogs will commute to Mesa, Arizona, to take on the Solar Sox in the second game of the Arizona Fall League at 11:35 CT. Austin Gomber is slated to make the start for the Desert Dogs against Duane Lee Underwood of the Solar Sox.
Gomber had a fine year as a member of the Cardinals’ organization, as the left-handed hurler pitched to a 2.69 ERA in 21 starts. Underwood, a member of the Cubs' organization, missed a sizable chunk of the year due to injury, but the 22-year-old managed a 62:35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the 73 innings of work he was able to collect.