All four hitters from the St. Louis organization enjoyed fine performances in the AFL this year, while three of the four pitchers struggled. Still, they helped propel the Peoria Saguaros to a second-place finish in the AFL's American Division.
The standout, just as he's been from the day he entered the organization in June, was third baseman Brett Wallace. The Arizona State draftee rocketed through the system in his first pro season, and showed no sign of slowing down in the AFL.
After a very quiet start to his fall campaign, Wallace finished with a .309 average, .381 on-base percentage, .585 slugging percentage, six homers and eight doubles. In the span of six months, Wallace went from the Pac-10 to the Midwest League to the Texas League to the AFL, and scarcely even stumbled.
"We pushed him pretty quickly this year," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development. "He went from A ball to Double-A and had some success, but it wasn't for an extended period of time. And then to go straight into the Fall League, where you're with a lot of Triple-A, bubble-Major League-type players, and a lot of guys have played in the Major leagues already, that's definitely the next level up of competition."
And Wallace handled it with aplomb. Given a plethora of third basemen in the upper levels of the Cardinals' system, he's likely to return to Double-A Springfield to start 2009. But the Cardinals aren't putting any limitations on him. And they're leaving him at third base, where Luhnow says he can get the job done defensively.
"He's got good instincts," Luhnow said. "He knows where to position himself. He's a smart baseball player. He's going to have below-average range probably his entire career, but he's got good hands, good feet and has an average-to-plus arm and a very accurate arm. So you put all that together, and you're talking about a package that's at least, in my opinion, playable. And maybe more than playable."
Another bright spot from the fall also came from the left side of the infield. Tyler Greene, a 2005 first-round Draft pick out of Georgia Tech, enjoyed a breakout at Springfield this year before slumping at Triple-A Memphis. But Greene salvaged a good feeling with a fine Fall League season.
"Defensively, he's quite impressive," Luhnow said. "Offensively, he had a good year at Double-A, went to Triple-A and had mixed success. But I think he's establishing himself as a guy that we're going to hopefully bring into big league camp and take a long look at him."
While Wallace and Greene are former first-rounders, two other players without that pedigree also had fine falls on the offensive side. Outfielder Shane Robinson put up a .372 on-base percentage and stole eight bases in eight tries. And Steven Hill, on the "taxi squad" for the Saguaros, hit .304 and slugged .609.
Hill is raw as a catcher and has played other positions, but Luhnow believes he will stick at the position. That would provide even more depth at what is already a position of strength for St. Louis.
Unfortunately, the pitching side of things didn't go as well. Justin Fiske posted a 4.91 ERA (though he had nearly as many unearned runs as earned), but Tyler Norrick and Brad Furnish were hit hard.
Luhnow pointed to Adam Ottavino, though, as a case where the numbers didn't tell the whole story. Ottavino put up a 6.17 ERA over eight starts, but he struck out 25 against 10 walks. Three of his eight starts were scoreless outings.
"He had at least three starts when he was down there where he could have pitched in the big leagues and had success," Luhnow said. "That's what we're looking for. He needs to make that a consistent thing next year, but I believe when you do that, and you're punching guys out that are going to be big leaguers next year, it develops a sense of confidence that he really needs."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.