(Photo credit to Judy Hedding, TripSavvy.com)
Not having won an Arizona Fall League championship since 2013, manager Spike Owen looks to change all that with the Surprise Saguaros by bringing in players that were raised in high-level Major League Baseball farm systems.
The Saguaros are consisting the 2017 roster with eight players from the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built their franchise success based on their farm systems, and players belonging to Kansas City, Texas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
While there is not a whole bunch of star power, Surprise has the unit to mesh together coming down to later in the season.
The pitching staff may not bring as much firepower on the mound, but they possess experience playing in MLB games. Sandy Alcantara pitched in eight games for the Cardinals this season, striking out ten batters in 8.1 innings pitched. Alcantara pitched for Springfield in Double A, where he started 22 of his 25 game appearances and threw 106 strikeouts.
Despite Jordan Hicks not yet stepping on an MLB mound, he shows strong potential at just age 21. In his last 31 games, he has achieved an earned run average of 2.88. He posted a 1.00 ERA in Palm Beach in 2017, striking out 32 batters after starting five of eight game appearances.
Brenton Moss out of North Carolina also shows potential for the Saguaros this season. After posting a 3.72 ERA and striking out 118 batters in 2016 for Charlotte, Moss was moved up to Double A and started 12 of 13 games where he finished with 56 strikeouts and a 3.58 ERA.
The Saguaros’ core strength relies heavily on their batting order, especially in their infield. Shortstop Nicky Lopez leads that charge, already piling up 209 hits at only the age of 22. Lopez hit .295 for Wilmington in 70 games before moving up to Double A, where he had 60 hits with 11 RBI.
After recovering from an injury that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season, Brandon Lowe came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Hitting .311 in 90 games for Charlotte, Lowe was moved into Double A where he had 24 hits in 24 games for Montgomery.
Playing professional baseball since he was 17 years old, Edmundo Sosa already brings a heavy resume’ to Surprise. While playing for nine organizations as part of the St. Louis Cardinals, Sosa is hitting as well as he’s hit in his career right now. Sosa hit .364 in just 22 at-bats for the GCL Cardinals, managing to have almost a .400 on base percentage.
Moving to Palm Beach in 2017, Sosa hit .285 in just 51 games. He totaled 55 hits, 10 doubles 14 RBI and had an on base percentage of .329.
Prospect of the Cardinals, Oscar Mercado will lead the outfield this season. Moving into Double A for the 2017, Mercado was hitting the best of his career for Springfield. Mercado had career-highs in hitting (.287), hits (137), runs (76), RBI (46) and home runs (13).
One of the biggest surprises for the Saguaros will be at the catcher position, with Andrew Knizner raising the most eyebrows. A seventh round pick out of North Carolina State in 2016, but he could be moving up the ladder the fastest out of anyone on the roster.
Competing for Springfield in Double A of the Cardinals’ farm system, Knizner hit .324 in 51 games. He also compiled 59 hits, 22 RBI and a career-best of 13 doubles.
Other players to keep an eye out for are not necessarily ones who have a star-powered performance on the field, but ones that are needing to progress quickly if they want to play in the Majors before their career gets to be over. Infielder Luis La O and pitcher Tyler Jay fall in this category.
La O is 25 years old as part of the Rangers’ farm system, but Texas is not going to look at him with a close eye if he does not break out like the younger prospects are doing. Returning from a shoulder injury that occurred during most of the season last year, pitcher Tyler Jay has not had very many opportunities to show what he can do.
Jay was drafted in the first round (sixth overall) by the Minnesota Twins and signed for over $3.8 million, but he has had very little game action in his career. Playing in only 45 games since 2015, Jay has proved that when he is at his best he can perform at a high level.
When he started 13 games for Fort Myers, he earned five wins and had an ERA of 2.84 while striking out 68 opposing batters. The Saguaros could either have players with a breakout year or it could be a recipe for disaster.