The Arizona Fall League officially ended Saturday, with the Mesa Solar Sox defeating the Surprise Saguaros in the AFL Championship Game.
The Cardinals had seven farmhands appear in the AFL, and those seven were members of the Glendale Desert Dogs, whose season ended on Thursday, November 17. Of the seven were three position players and four pitchers. Today, we’ll look back at how the three position players performed.
Cardinals catcher Carson Kelly managed one of the most notable performances of the AFL season. The 22-year-old backstop, who made his Major League debut in early September, batted a crisp .286 in 77 at-bats across 21 games as the Desert Dogs’ catcher and as their designated hitter, occasionally. Of Kelly’s 22 hits this fall, seven went for extra bases, including four doubles and three home runs.
With his thirteen walks, Kelly reached base at a .386 clip, and that led to him being able to score twelve runs and even steal a couple of bases in the process. Perhaps it’s worth noting that Kelly only struck out four times in the AFL, continuing a rate that the right-handed hitter has exemplified throughout his career in the Cardinals’ farm system. Over 329 total Minor League at-bats this year, Kelly whiffed just 63 times -- a strikeout rate of 19.3 percent -- and, in 113 at-bats at the Triple-A level, Kelly was struck out on only seventeen occasions.
Coming off a breakout year, one that saw him crush nineteen long balls in 131 games, Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader slashed .304/.349/.430 in 21 contests during the AFL. Bader, 22, spent his 2015 campaign at the Class-A level and eventually cracked the Triple-A squad by early July of this year.
Bader’s power numbers are certainly worth gawking at -- a .476 slugging percentage with 69 extra-base hits over 196 career regular season games -- but his athleticism on the bases and in the outfield adds to his overall attractiveness as a prospect. Bader stole thirteen bases in 2016 and wiped another four during the AFL and has used that same speed to be a real weapon in the outfield, frankly with no regard to what position he’s in. Though primarily a center fielder, Bader played his fair share of right and left field during the AFL and little of each sparingly during the regular season. All in all, Bader has logged 1,514 2/3 innings of fieldwork -- 190 in left, 1,206 1/3 in center, and 118 1/3 in right -- during his time in the minors and has lived up to a .985 fielding percentage and 2.48 range factor in the span.
Often overlooked due to the likes of other prospects, more recently Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals infielder Paul DeJong has strung together a couple of solid seasons in the farm system and capped them off with a stint in the AFL. After hitting for high average in 2015 and more power during the summer of 2016, DeJong batted a meager .232 with 21 punchouts in nineteen games with the Desert Dogs this fall but did manage to tally a couple of extra-base hits, including a double and a home run, and drive in eight runs.
In 2016, DeJong hammered 22 home runs at the Double-A level and collected 29 doubles and a pair of triples along the way. Along with the increased power came a tumble in batting average, as DeJong saw his .316 batting mark from a year ago drop to .260 this year. In 2017, DeJong will look to maintain his spiked power trend but also attempt to incorporate a more all-around bat into the picture.
On Tuesday, check back for a story on the pitchers -- Austin Gomber, Corey Littrell, Rowan Wick, and Ryan Sherriff -- who represented the Cardinals in the Arizona Fall League.