clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What Will Come of the Cardinals AFL Stars in 2023 - An Open Thread

Last year, all 8 Cardinals AFL invites reached the major leagues, so I took a shot at ranking the current 8 players’ chances of reaching St. Louis next year.

Syndication: The News-Leader Andrew Jansen/News-Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last year, the Cardinals sent 8 players to the Arizona Fall League. They were Jordan Hicks, Lars Nootbaar, Nolan Gorman, Zack Thompson, Brendan Donovan, Andre Pallante, Jake Walsh, and Juan Yepez.

Every single one of those players were in St. Louis at some point this year. That’s incredible! So now I want to examine how the current contingent of AFL Cardinals might follow up on last year’s strong results.

The 8 players the Cardinals sent to Arizona this year are Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Pedro Pages, Mike Antico, Tink Hence, Kyle Leahy, Ryan Loutos, and Connor Thomas. Here are their updated results.

Cardinals AFL Hitters

Player Batting Average OBP Slugging Percentage OPS Plate Appearances
Player Batting Average OBP Slugging Percentage OPS Plate Appearances
Jordan Walker 0.286 0.360 0.500 0.860 50
Masyn Winn 0.333 0.500 0.424 0.924 44
Pedro Pages 0.250 0.269 0.458 0.727 26
Mike Antico 0.105 0.227 0.105 0.332 22

Cardinals AFL Pitchers

Connor Thomas 1.42 3 3 12.2 17 4
Ryan Loutos 3.60 5 0 10 8 4
Kyle Leahy 13.00 6 0 9 13 6
Tink Hence 2.08 5 0 4.1 4 1

I’ll start right off the bat by saying there’s no way all 8 of these players make it to the majors next year. That’s because of Tink Hence. It’s not that he’s not a good pitcher. Quite honestly, I think he’s the best pitcher in the system. Rather, it’s because he hasn’t pitched above Single-A, and he was on an innings restriction.

He won’t pitch in the majors next year. We’ve seen the St. Louis Cardinals push arm talent to the majors despite limited experience (like Jordan Hicks), but Hence is too talented of an arm to skip three levels and go straight to the bullpen. He should be at High-A next year.

After that, it’s possible that any of the other 7 players could debut. To give some talking points for this open thread, I’m going to rank them in order of who I think has the highest chance of debuting next year.

  1. Jordan Walker
  2. Connor Thomas
  3. Ryan Loutos
  4. Pedro Pages
  5. Masyn Winn
  6. Mike Antico
  7. Kyle Leahy
  8. Tink Hence

Let me break this down a little bit. I thought about putting Connor Thomas first considering his extensive Triple-A experience but he wasn’t super impressive this year (5.47 ERA, 4.53 FIP). I expect him to debut as a reliever, but a solid first month in the Memphis rotation next year could give him the chance to be an injury replacement in the rotation.

Unlike Thomas, Jordan Walker dominated last year. The hulking slugger crushed 19 home runs with a 128 wRC+ while keeping his strikeout rate to a solid 21.6%. And he did all that at age 20.

The Cardinals may not want to rush him considering he spent all season in Double-A, but I expect his talent to push him to the big leagues next year, especially considering how the outfield is no longer set in stone.

There’s really only two other players who I think could debut next year - Ryan Loutos and Pedro Pages.

Loutos dominated High-A and Double-A en route to a promotion to Triple-A. He did struggle a bit there with a 6.33 ERA, but his 4.73 FIP and 3.91 xFIP are a little more promising. A stronger effort in Triple-A next year puts him on the cusp of a promotion.

Pages is not someone I would put on the debut radar next year, but he has an advantage that others don’t have.

Namely, he may have a case to be the third catcher next year. With Molina gone and Knizner continuing to struggle, there’s going to be a lot of turnover behind the plate.

I’m not convinced the team wants Knizner to be the backup next year. If they trade him, I would expect Ivan Herrera to split time with an external acquisition. That may not happen, though, because the team may feel more comfortable giving Herrera more time in Triple-A next year.

That’s why I ranked Pages fourth. He wasn’t particularly good in Triple-A this year, but the team seems to value him above Julio Rodriguez, who had a strong season in Double-A. If Pages retains his Triple-A spot, he will likely be competing with a depth signing to be the third catcher.

That means he’s one injury away from a debut. I’m not expecting it to happen, but I am saying that it’s possible.

Beyond the top 4 we get to players who I don’t think have much of a chance at reaching the majors.

Masyn Winn is certainly talented but the infield is crowded and young and Winn has no Triple-A experience. I don’t think he will debut next year unless there are a ton of injuries or his bat explodes.

The same can be said about Mike Antico. He doesn’t have any Triple-A experience, he was a below average hitter at Double-A, and the outfield is crowded. Currently, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez, Alec Burleson, and Ben DeLuzio are all major league options. Might as well add Jordan Walker to the list because I would expect him to have precedence over Antico.

Suffice it to say, Antico is a fun prospect but he won’t make it past Memphis next year.

Then, finally, there’s Kyle Leahy, who simply wasn’t great last year (5.23 ERA and 5.40 FIP in Springfield). He’s also struggling in Arizona right now. He was the AFL invite that I understood the least, especially because he led the entire system in innings pitched.

Which of these prospects do you think has the best chance of debuting next year? Where would you rank their chances? Let me know in the comments. Or talk about whatever else you want to talk about. This is an open thread after all.