The Arizona Fall League season has come to an end, with the Salt River Rafters taking home championship hardware. Royce Lewis, the Twins’ top prospect, won the league MVP and was a big part of the reason Salt River had so much success.
More important to our purposes here, the Cardinal prospects who participated in this year’s AFL were, for the most part, very successful. So let’s round up the final performance numbers and see which direction the various arrows are pointing. We’ll start with the pitchers.
Seth Elledge, RHP
8 G, 9 IP, 3.00 ERA, 12 K, 2 BB
We’re going to establish a theme here right off the bat: the Cardinal pitchers as a group posted phenomenal strikeout to walk ratios. Elledge was even nice enough to save me from doing some math, which I greatly appreciate. When you throw exactly nine inning, strikeouts per nine is much easier to figure out. So thanks for that, Seth.
The version of Seth Elledge who showed up in Arizona is basically the exact pitcher the Cardinals were hoping he could be when they acquired him in exchange for Sam Tuivailala. He has plus movement on his fastball, more than enough to work in the zone effectively, and he attacked hitters mercilessly in the desert. His performance has to have him at the top of the list for relief call ups early in the 2020 season.
Roel Ramirez, RHP
9 G, 13.1 IP, 2.03 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB
Ramirez did pretty much what he needed to in Arizona: he showed up, took the mound whenever asked, and succeeded. Following a mediocre regular season in which he scuffled to a 4.98 ERA in 72 innings at Double A Springfield, it was just what the doctor ordered.
Something interesting about Ramirez: this season at Springfield, he threw 72.1 innings, but did so in just 41 appearances, including five starts. I’m not saying the Cardinals are trying to groom Ramirez to be their version of the opener, but they do seem to be pushing him toward a multi-purpose role, similar to what John Gant did for a solid chunk of time this past season, before the usage seemed to catch up to him.
Griffin Roberts, RHP
4 G, 14.2 IP, 3.07 ERA, 18 K, 2 BB
If Roel Ramirez went to Arizona hoping to simply show more of the same with perhaps a little better results on batted balls, Griffin Roberts’s time in Arizona was much more about trying to salvage, maybe even redeem, an absolutely terrible campaign.
Well, good news. Roberts did exactly that. Depending upon how you want to slice performances, Roberts was either the most or second-most impressive pitcher for the Redbirds amongst their AFL contingent. All four of his appearances were starts, and the fact he walked only two hitters in those games, compared to the basically 1:1 walk to strikeout ratio he posted during the regular season, is a huge deal going forward. Yes, we’re still talking about a sample of just about fifteen innings, but after the first full pro season Roberts endured in 2019, these numbers are cause for major optimism.
Kodi Whitley, RHP
9 G, 11 IP, 1.64 ERA, 13 K, 1 BB
The reason I said Griffin Roberts might have only been the second-most impressive pitcher in the AFL is because of the presence and performance of Kodi Whitley. A thirteen to one strikeout to walk ratio is always going to grab some attention, and coming in a league known for its offensive hijinks, that number is even more impressive.
In the regular season, Whitley was very good. In the AFL, he was basically untouchable. He throws nothing but strikes, hitters struggle to handle the fastball when he locates it at the top of the zone, and from the beginning of the 2019 season to the end he grew by leaps and bounds in terms of his fearlessness on the mound. The only real concern for me with Whitley is his fairly extreme fly ball tendencies; Colin Poche, owner of the most ridiculous peripherals in all the minor leagues, was bitten by the home run bug this year, hard, and it dragged his numbers down out of the stratosphere into very ordinary territory. Whitley has a similar tendency toward putting the ball in the air, so it has to be a concern that from time to time some of those balls are going to leave the yard. Other than that, though, its hard to find fault with the way Whitley conducted himself both in the regular season and out in the desert.
Conner Capel, OF
86 PA, .266/.330/.418, 7 BB, 20 K, 3 HR
We’re going to see a trend here right off the bat as well, much as in the case of the pitchers. Unfortunately, the trend here is not as encouraging; basically the trend is that the hitters, with one notable exception, were pretty middling this autumn.
Conner Capel did at least finish the fall league very strong, closing out on a hot run after getting off to a slow start, but even so he ended up with a .747 OPS in a desert-based league which tends to inflate offense. That’s not a bad number, to be fair; it’s just not quite the kind of performance which raises a player’s stock significantly. The power was a nice add, with Capel slugging three homers and three doubles in under 100 plate appearances, but even so we’re talking about a ~.150 ISO, not something in the .200+ range. Capel still struck out over 20% of the time, so it isn’t as if he’s a particularly high-contact hitter. He has the defensive chops to play all over the outfield, but his offensive profile just doesn’t have enough oomph one way or the other to make me think he’s destined for anything greater than a bench role at best.
Elehuris Montero, 3B
50 AB, .200/.333/.300, 9 BB, 17 K
Oof. Elehuris Montero followed up a forgettable regular season with a just-as-forgettable fall league campaign, though he at least stayed on the field in Arizona. His year never really got going, and the AFL was no different. All we can really hope for heading into 2020 is a fully healthy Montero coming back with a better performance. His prospect stock has taken a definite hit this year.
Kramer Robertson, SS
34 PA, .269/.424/.385, 7 BB, 4 K
Kramer Robertson had perhaps the strangest tenure in the AFL this year of any Cardinal prospect, hitter or pitcher. He played only occasionally, which is to be expected for a player with his profile, but basically ground out at-bats like some sort of early-career Matt Carpenter. Little power to build on, but a plate approach that doesn’t really seem to match the reality of Robertson’s purely slappy bat. We probably don’t know much of anything about Robertson now that we didn’t know before his appearance in the AFL this year, but he continues to steadily move up the ladder toward the big leagues. His defensive versatility is helpful, and his plate approach is one of the best in the system. We should keep an eye out for Robertson in 2020.
Ivan Herrera, C
39 PA, .324/.439/.382, 5 BB, 4 K
And finally, we have the hitter who made the biggest impression of any Cardinal position prospect this year in the desert, in the person of Ivan Herrera. I wrote about Herrera not long ago, and not a whole lot changed after that point, to be honest. Thus, I will let all that I said then stand, and simply point out that Herrera finished out the fall league season with more walks than strikeouts, hit .324, and oh yeah, did it all while still being just nineteen years old. It would have been nice to see him play more in order to get a larger sample of performance over which to drool, but them’s the breaks when you’re still a teenager backing up one of the better catching prospects in the game.
Overall, it was a successful AFL season for the Cardinals’ system as a whole; their pitchers were all four phenomenal, and at least one of the hitters made a big impression. It’s hard to ask any more from the arms the Redbirds sent out to the desert, and it’s likely at least one or two of those guys will show up in St. Louis sometime soon, unless they become trade pieces this offseason as the front office attempts to shore up the 2020 squad one way or the other.