Preliminary rosters have been announced today for the Arizona Fall League! For those unaware, the AFL is an annual prospect league that takes place in Arizona, beginning in October and ending in mid-November. Teams send mostly AA and AAA players (with the ability to send two players below AA), whether they be top prospects or possible organizational guys (that it, 40-man roster members who do not spend much time on the 25-man). The White Sox, Astros, Nationals, and Dodgers will join the Cardinals in populating the Glendale Desert Dogs' roster.
Harrison Bader is the top ranking Cardinals prospect heading to the AFL so far. He's made both MLB.com and Baseball America's top 100 list (90th and 89th respectively). He also placed 40th on KATOH's top 100 list, which ranks prospects based on how they perform at the areas most predictive of future MLB production.
Last Saturday I wrote about the Cardinals options in the AFL, and Bader was the first player I mentioned as likely to go. With Moss not under contract next year, and a $16M decision to make on whether to bring Holliday back next year, evaluating the outfielder's ability to contribute in the majors in 2017 should be of utmost importance to the Cardinals. Bader had a strong Double-A season, but his power has evaporated thus far against Triple-A pitching. Bader may not pull a Michael Wacha and make it to the big leagues in his first full professional season, but he seems pretty likely to be ready at some point in 2017.
Draft-mate Paul Dejong skipped High-A along with Bader to start the year in Double-A, where he's still holding an above-average hitting line. He'll be teammates with Bader again this fall. With all the depth on the infield, it's hard to imagine Dejong playing much of a role in 2017, but you can never have enough depth, and maybe he can help make someone at the big league level dispensable.
Carson Kelly rounds out the Cardinals' top prospects in the high minors, and will be joining Bader and Dejong in Arizona. Kelly has had strong strikeout and walk numbers throughout his time in the minors, with weak batted ball authority that our own prospect guru The Red Baron has attributed to lack of quality contact moreso than bad luck on balls in play. That has changed this year though, as he turned in an above-average performance at Double-A, which combined with his stellar defensive reviews makes him an intriguing prospect to track right now.
Rowan Wick, the Cardinals' latest pitcher conversion project, had a strong season at High-A followed by underwhelming results in a cup of coffee at Double-A. He'll get additional time against quality competition in the AFL, and perhaps if things break right for Wick (or wrong for the Cardinals bullpen), we'll see him wearing the Birds on the Bat in 2017.
He'll be joined in the Desert Dog bullpen by the forgotten piece of the John Lackey/Allen Craig/Joe Kelly deal, Corey Littrell. Littrell had decent numbers in Double-A this year, followed by posting a problematic walk rate in Triple-A. Hell be another person to watch to see if they can put themselves in the competition for the last spot or two in the big league bullpen next year.
Ryan Sherriff is the only player selected that I didn't mention as a possibility in my post last Saturday. He's posted a 3.95 FIP over 65 1/3 innings of relief at Triple-A. His ERA has been a much better 2.76. I don't really get Sherriff's presence on the roster, and he doesn't really seem good enough to put him in the discussion for much more than a Spring Training non-roster invite. There would seem to be just too many reliever options ahead of him. But, maybe the Cardinals see something in him besides the numbers.
The Cardinals have one more player they can send to the AFL, a pitcher. They have not sent a starting pitcher, so my money is on it being Jack Flaherty, the top remaining pitching prospect when considering talent as well as proximity to the majors.
Here are a couple charts, one showing the position players sent to the AFL along with their year-to-date numbers at each level they've played in 2016. The other is the same, but for the three relievers being sent: