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Cardinals Players Tune Up In AFL



Near the end of his rookie season, the one in which he established himself as the lefthanded bat off the bench the Cardinals sought and an outfielder they could trust, Lars Nootbaar leaned against a railing at Busch Stadium and considered the best way to spend his offseason.

“I feel I’ve got to get some at-bats,” the 24-year-old said. “Get dialed in.”

He wasn’t kidding. Nor was he alone.

Instead of using the Arizona Fall League as an annual “finishing school” to temper rising prospects, as the Cardinals had in the past, the organization took advantage of the available at-bats to prepare a handful of players they will turn to in 2022.

The group of players expected to contribute ranges from Nootbaar as a fourth outfielder to righthander Jordan Hicks to third baseman Nolan Gorman and first baseman Juan Yepez as a potential midseason boosts for the offense.

The Cardinals had six players selected for the AFL’s Fall Stars game—the most of any team. Gorman was unable to participate in the showcase due to a hamstring injury that sidelined him after six games. He made enough progress in his transition to second base that coach Jose Oquendo, the Cardinals’ fielding guru, affirmed he can start there in the majors.

Hicks went to the AFL to get game-speed work after essentially missing two seasons after having Tommy John surgery. Lefthander Zack Thompson had a rocky season at Triple-A Memphis but found his footing in the desert, logging 18 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. The Cardinals think he can move fast with greater consistency.

Nootbaar looked primed for a part-time role in St. Louis after hitting .314/.437/.643 with almost as many walks (14) as strikeouts (15) through his first 18 AFL games. Yepez launched seven homers while hitting .295/.383/.654 through 21 games.

Second baseman Brendon Donovan positioned himself for a spring look and a chance to win a utility role after hitting .364/.473/.614 with just four strikeouts through 13 games, prompting Cardinals baseball operations chief John Mozeliak to announce: “He’s going to play in the majors.”

That puts him alongside most of his Cardinals’ AFL contingent.

REDBIRD CHIRPS

— Outfielder Nick Plummer, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2015, reached minor league free agency after the Cardinals declined to add him to the 40-man roster. The 23-year-old had a breakthrough season with a .280/.415/.479 batting line that catapulted him to Triple-A and the Cardinals’ playoff taxi squad. The club hopes to re-sign him with an invite to spring training.

— An organization top 10 prospect as recently as 2019 for the Rays, outfielder Moises Gomez signed a minor league free agent deal with the Cardinals. Gomez, who is 23, hit 35 homers at Class A from 2018-19, but he saw a downturn in production after not playing in 2020 and the Cardinals are banking on a rebound.

Josh Jung Johnmooregetty

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