Looking back at all the great players who’ve come through the Arizona Fall League, Albert Pujols certainly sticks out as one of the bigger name guys to have played in the desert.
Pujols was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft and ended up signing late. He made his professional debut in the AFL and was the Cardinals’ Opening Day left fielder in 2001. Pujols is in a class of his own in many concerns in terms of how quickly he made a name for himself. It’s unlikely any of the seven guys St. Louis is sending to the AFL this year will end up being franchise-type players like Pujols was for the Cardinals.
But you never know.
The current AFL rosters are still preliminary, so it’s possible things could get shaken up a bit before play opens Oct. 8. The Cardinals team up with prospects from the Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies to form the Salt River Rafters. Here’s a snapshot of the players slated to head to the desert this fall.
Stephen Piscotty – The No. 36 overall pick of the 2012 draft, Piscotty flashed some unexpected power this season. Known more as a solid contact hitter, the 22-year-old slugged 15 home runs between High-A and Double-A this season. He finished with a .295/.355/.464 line with 37 walks and just 46 strikeouts in 112 games. Originally drafted as a third baseman, the AFL will give Piscotty some more time to adjust to playing in the outfield.
James Ramsey – Another first rounder from 2012, he was selected 23rd overall, Ramsey was quickly promoted to Double-A after getting out to a hot start in High-A this season. The center fielder is known more for his athleticism, but ended up hitting 15 home runs in 93 games for Springfield. None of his tools jumps out at you, but Ramsey is a gamer who has already shown the ability to make adjustments after a rough professional debut in 2012
Jacob Wilson – Yet another college hitter the Cardinals drafted in 2012, Wilson hit a hiccup in his first exposure to High-A this season. The 23-year-old hit 15 home runs and drove in 72 RBIs to go with a .818 OPS in Class-A prior to his promotion. Over 32 games with Palm Beach, however, he hit just .179. Still, with that kind of power he stands out as a second baseman. Wilson was the 2012 Conference USA Player of the Year for Memphis.
Lee Stoppelman – Stoppelman has shined since being drafted in the 24th round of the 2012 draft. He had one of the best debuts in his draft class, striking out 49 batters over 34 ⅓ innings to go with a 0.79 ERA. The Central Missouri product made it all the way up to Triple-A this season, posting a 1.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 10.6 K/9 over three levels. He has probably the best chance to make an impact in St. Louis next season, as it seems like Major League teams are always looking for a good lefty to bring out of the bullpen.
Anthony Ferrara – Coming off an ugly season that saw him post a 5.84 ERA, Ferrara is probably just happy to be pitching anywhere outside of Springfield. The Cardinals’ Double-A team’s home park is one of the friendliest environments for sluggers, and the lefty was absolutely shelled there this season. The 24-year-old had a 7.09 ERA and gave up 10 homers over 53 ⅓ innings at Hammons Field. The AFL is still very much a hitter’s league, and Ferrara 4.9 BB/9 won’t help him in any ballpark, so who’s to say if he’ll have any better luck in Arizona.
Sam Gaviglio – Some guys are sent to the AFL to be tested and others are just looking to get in some more work before shutting down for the winter. Gaviglio fits into the second category after pitching just 39 ⅔ innings this season. The former fifth round pick uses a sinking fastball to his advantage and has an impressive 3.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his three seasons in the minors. The 23-year-old doesn’t have the best stuff, and has never been considered a top prospect, but it’s hard to argue with the results. He has a 3.41 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in the minors.
Dean Kiekhefer – Typically a relief pitcher stands out by posting a ridiculously high strikeout rate. Kiekhefer lacks that ability to overpower hitters, but he is about as stingy with the free pass as anyone, averaging just 1.5 BB/9 over his four seasons in the minors. To his credit, the 24-year-old didn’t exactly get beat around despite keeping the ball in the zone, recording a 3.43 ERA between High-A and Double-A this season. The fact that he’s left-handed gives Kiekhefer a much greater chance at someday contributing to a Major League bullpen despite the lack of raw stuff.