Just a quick update on all the various and sundy goings on in the AFL. (Well, various and sundry Cardinal-related goings on, that is.)
Seth Elledge, RHP — So far, Elledge has been one of the bigger success stories among Cardinal prospects in the fall league this year. The 23 year old righthander, acquired last summer from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Sam Tuivailala, has appeared in five games for the Glendale Desert Dogs, throwing a total of six innings. In those innings he has yet to surrender an earned run, allowing just five hits and not walking a batter against nine strikeouts. This level of sharpness is a step up from what Elledge showed during the regular season, when he posted good but not outrageous numbers at Springfield, then was flat out bad at Memphis. The lack of walks in particular is exciting, as Elledge has always shown solid strikeout punch, but his command tends to be shaky now and again. He’s not on the 40 man roster yet, but will almost certainly be added this offseason, and should be in line for one of the first callups when help is needed next year.
Roel Ramirez, RHP — The third and least-heralded member of the trio of players the Cardinals received in the Tommy Pham trade with Tampa Bay, Ramirez spent most of the 2019 season throwing multi-inning outings in Springfield and, mostly, struggling. In 72.1 innings covering 41 appearances in the Texas League this year, Ramirez posted a 4.98 ERA and 25.2% strikeout rate. A high BABIP made his ERA look worse than it might have actually been, as his 3.85 FIP suggests a better pitcher, but even there we’re not exactly talking 2015 Wade Davis.
Ramirez’s time in the AFL has been much better than his Springfield run, or even the tiny sampling of innings he got late in the season at Memphis. So far in Arizona Ramirez has appeared in five games, thrown 6.1 innings, and allowed just one run on five hits, striking out nine. Just like his compatriot Elledge, Ramirez has yet to walk a batter for Glendale, which makes me wonder if Jim Henderson, former Brewers reliever and current pitching coach for Glendale, has magical powers of some sort and how much it would cost the Cardinals to purchase that magic for their development staff. The only report I have on Ramirez in the AFL is that his splitter looks exceptionally sharp, so I’m passing on that small nugget to you all without further elaboration, as I have not seen it myself.
Griffin Roberts, RHP — The less said about Griffin Roberts’s 2019 season, the better. An immensely talented former reliever-turned-starter out of Wake Forest, Roberts began the season with a weed suspension and never really go going after getting back to the field. He threw 65.2 innings for the year at Palm Beach, and in that time he struck out just 11.4% of the batters he faced, while walking 11.1%. The walks aren’t shocking; an 11% walk rate is not really anything that unusual. I’m not saying it’s not good; just not unusual. But the lack of strikeouts is puzzling, borderline stunning. Roberts in college was a strikeout machine, with probably the best breaking ball in his whole draft class. In 2019, he was a mess, and couldn’t miss a bat to save his life.
Things have gone better for Roberts so far in Arizona, even if he is still more hittable than you’d like to see, as evinced by 15 hits allowed in 10.2 innings. Still, the strikeouts have returned, to the tune of 14 punchouts, and he has walked only two batters. It all adds up to a 3.38 ERA and a much-needed boost of confidence for a guy who very much needed it going in to the 2020 campaign.
Kodi Whitley, RHP — One of the more overlooked relief prospects in the Cardinals’ system, Whitley really deserves more attention than he has gotten so far, including from yours truly here in these digital pages. Armed with a mid-90s fastball that plays up, particularly at the top of the zone, Whitley has always been able to get swings and misses, but it was this year that he really started to refine his command as he moved into the upper levels of the system, greatly increasing his profile along the way. As a relief-only arm prospect, Whitley probably doesn’t get into the top half of the system’s top 30, but he will definitely appear on the list this offseason.
As for his AFL numbers, it’s been more of the same. Whitley has appeared in five games, thrown five innings, walked no one, allowed just three hits, no runs, and struck out seven batters. There are relievers in the system with bigger stuff, but really none who more consistently get outs than Kodi Whitley in 2019.
Ivan Herrera, C — Speaking of underappreciated, I have a partially-finished post saved on this very website entitled ‘A Very Overdue Note About Ivan Herrera’ that was going to be published a couple weeks ago, but then, you know, playoff baseball and all that stuff. Last Sunday happened to be the last day of the season, this Sunday I wanted to hit all the AFL guys, and so Ivan Herrera is still waiting for his full column. Spoiler alert: we need to start paying attention to Ivan Herrera. Like, a lot of attention.
After making it to High A Palm Beach during the season, Herrera is now playing in Arizona at just nineteen years old, one of the youngest players in the league. His numbers have been pedestrian, with a .263/.300/.316 triple slash line, but we’re also talking about fewer than 20 plate appearances by a nineteen year old catcher playing against some of the very best competition the minor leagues have to offer. He’s the junior partner of the catching platoon in Glendale, playing second fiddle to Tyler Stephenson, the Reds’ top catching prospect who was a first-round draft pick (11th overall), back in 2015. Herrera hasn’t been great so far, but he’s also almost four full years younger than his playing time partner.
Elehuris Montero, 3B — It was a lost year for Montero in 2019, who came into the season with as much momentum and buzz as any player in the system, only to see that momentum evaporate due to poor performance in Double A and a season which saw him hit the injured list multiple times. He posted just a 52 wRC+ at Springfield. His BABIP was bad. His ISO was bad. His strikeout rate was bad. Bad, bad, bad.
Unfortunately for Montero, things aren’t looking much different so far in Arizona. He’s hitting just .158 through six games and has struck out nine times in 19 at-bats. He has walked four times, and two of his three hits have gone for extra bases, so there is some reason for optimism, but overall it’s a continuation of the struggles the big slugger faced during the regular season. Hopefully he can just get some playing time in, get his confidence up for the 2020 season, and hit spring training ready to turn his trajectory around.
Kramer Robertson, SS — Robertson had a very overachieving sort of season in 2019, which is completely on-brand for both Robertson himself and the organisation which has produced Paul DeJong and Tommy Edman as legitimate major league middle infielders over the past few years. He struck out and walked at nearly a 1:1 clip in Springfield, but struggled a bit in his first shot at the Triple A level. Still, he’s just one step from the big leagues; not too bad for a fourth round draft pick in the now-infamous Cardinal draft of 2017.
Robertson has only gotten into three games in the AFL so far, which covers a grand total of 14 plate appearances. He’s only hitting .182, but that comes with a .357 on-base percentage, so he’s done a nice job drawing walks to get on base. He’s struck out just twice, compared to taking three passes, so the plate discipline is on point. It’s hard to offer much insight based on less than 15 trips to the plate, but Robertson more or less looks like the same hitter in the desert he has been everywhere else.
Conner Capel, OF — Conner Capel was acquired by the Cardinals at the trade deadline last year as part of the Oscar Mercado deal. That’s not the ‘ill-fated Oscar Mercado deal’ just yet, even with Mercado having himself a very nice season in Cleveland this year. If things continue to go the way they have gone lately for Harrison Bader, it could very easily morph into the ill-fated Oscar Mercado deal within the next year or two.
The thing is, I don’t really understand what the Cardinals saw in Conner Capel, even as the more polished but less talented half of a trade package which also brought them Jhon Torres, who will appear in the top ten of all Redbird prospect lists again this offseason. Capel moved up to Double A for the first time this season and posted a .283 on-base percentage in 368 plate appearances. In 2018 he showed an intriguing ability to take walks, but no such luck this season.
The AFL has only brought more bad news for Capel, who has played in eleven games and come to the plate 41 times. In those 41 plate appearances, he has walked just twice, struck out ten times, and is posting a triple slash line of .205/.262/.205. I don’t really have a whole lot else to say here, honestly. Capel has played very poorly in Arizona, and barring some big turnaround in the near future he is sliding rather quickly toward non-prospect status. Age is still on his side (born 19 May 1997), but won’t be for much longer.
Overall, it has been a banner season so far for the Cardinal pitchers in the AFL, and mostly forgettable for the hitters. Even Griffin Roberts, coming off a brutally disappointing first full pro season, has put up some very exciting numbers in the desert. It’s a tremendously encouraging development for the Cardinal organisation, which in the past couple years has seen its once-vaunted pitching pipeline begin to dry up. This isn’t another Martinez/Wacha/Miller/Rosenthal class bubbling up or anything, but even just a few exciting relief arms ready to slot in as soon as 2020 is a big boost to what the Redbirds can look forward to utilising in the near future.