The St. Louis Cardinals had three players make the 12th annual Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game this year after some stellar play for their AFL squad. Participation in the Fall Stars game is a great sign considering a player was selected over some of the best young talents in the game, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you should run to pick up every name for your dynasty league.
Let’s break down the three Cards and see how big of a league you need to play in until they’re considered roster worthy.
Andrew Knizner, C
Knizner has easily been the best Cardinals representative in the AFL this season. He is top 10 in AVG (.362), OBP (.412) and just outside the top 10 in OPS (.944). He took home Week 2 AFL Hitter of the Week honors after smashing two home runs. For the 2016 7th-round pick in 2016, this season has been a major boost to his value. He split time between A-ball and Double-A and finished with a strong .302/.349/.471 line, showcasing that his AFL performance hasn’t been just small sample size.
So how deep of a league do you need to be in to roster Knizner? Well, despite his great performance, still pretty deep. I’d say minimum of 300 prospects. There are two major hurdles to fantasy relevancy. First is that within the Cardinals system there are two big roadblocks to playing time as a catcher. Yadier Molina signed a three-year extension in March, so he’ll be the backstop through 2020. But what if the Cards decide he’s getting too old for catcher and shift him to first base? Then in comes his protege Carson Kelly. Kelly is already a back-end top 100 prospect for some thanks to a strong defensive profile that carries his light bat. He’ll be taking over the catching reigns once Molina steps aside.
The second roadblock for Knizner correlates with the first one. Because of the two catchers ahead of him in the organization, he’s actually played some first base in the AFL. The Cardinals know they might have to find a different path to relevancy for him. While it may speed up his timeline to the show, Knizner would profile as a James Loney type at first base and that is pretty unattractive given the state of the game right now.
Sandy Alcantara, P
I wasn’t sure whether to write “SP” or “RP” next to Alcantara’s name, and that’s the issue with him. There are scouts still divided on whether he’ll be a starter or a reliever long term. It’s been rough for him in the AFL. In 11 innings, he’s walked eight batters and given up 7 ER. The 22 year old spent all year in Springfield (AA) and his results were disappointing given his arsenal. He struck out just 106 in 125.1 IP (7.6 K/9) to go along with a 3.88 BB/9, which unfortunately is his best mark since 2015 in rookie ball.
The righty has a 70-grade fastball that can touch 100 and he averages 97-98 mph but he cannot command it right now. As a result, batters lay off his 79-84 mph curve (which can flash plus) and upper-80s slider and wait for his fastball. These commands problems have dogged him for 369 career minor league innings. It’s fair to start getting worried if those issues will ever be ironed out. I’d like to say that in a bullpen role he’d thrive, but if you can’t command your fastball, you’re not going to succeed anywhere.
Alcantara entered 2017 in many top 100s, but his stock has fallen pretty significantly. In fantasy circles, where his reliever floor is becoming reality by the day, I wouldn’t roster him in a league with fewer than 150 prospects. His raw stuff is certainly prone to a mechanics change that could right his ship, but for now, he’s either a hold or drop altogether.
Jordan Hicks, SP
Unlike Alcantara, Hicks is someone who is trending up. And I know that’s a weird thing to say considering he’s given up 11 ER in 10.2 IP, but it seems his arsenal is flying under the radar. The just-turned-21-year-old righty can also touch 100 mph and sits closer to 95-96. He pairs it with a curveball in the low 70s (massive gap in velocity) and a changeup in the high 80s. Though he’s a starter, all six of his AFL appearances have been in relief.
This year he notched a strong 2.74 ERA in 105 innings (78 IP with Peoria in A-ball and later 27 IP with Palm Beach in High-A). His High-A performance was nearly spotless, giving up just 3 ER to go with 32 Ks. I believe there is big starter upside here, but at just 21 and with no experience above A-ball, there’s a long way to go. I’d roster him in leagues with 300 or more prospects and would place him above Knizner in fantasy value. I know, I know There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, but when the cost is “Free”, you’ve got to have a lotto ticket. Pay close attention to Hicks — if he starts strong in 2018, he’ll start landing on radars everywhere.
Here is footage of Hicks in an AFL outing courtesy of Baseball Census.
Article featured image of Andrew Knizner – courtesy his Twitter @A-Knizner