"They gave it a heck of a try," said Gary LaRocque, the Cardinals' senior advisor for player development. "The kids played really hard. I commend them all. It was a very productive experience for all of them."
The standout among the Cardinals' seven was outfielder Stephen Piscotty, who closed a terrific 2013 season with a strong AFL showing. Piscotty, the No. 36 overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and currently ranked the organization's No. 7 prospect, ended his AFL stay on a 12-game hitting streak. He ranked fourth in the league with a .371 average in 23 games and was among the top eight finishers in runs (20), RBIs (18), stolen bases (seven) and OPS (.936).
The success in Arizona capped a year that began with Piscotty making the transition from third base to right field. The Cardinals believed the position switch would highlight his skill set and allow him to play every day.
"I love it a lot out there," Piscotty said in an interview with MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo in Arizona. "It was a great transition for me and I think it fits my skill set well. I learned a lot and I'm just excited to play out there every day."
Offensively, Piscotty had little issue adjusting to the challenges of tougher competition. After making his professional debut in Class A Quad Cities last year, Piscotty opened 2013 with High A Palm Beach. There, he had a .292/.348/.477 slash line with 30 runs scored and 35 RBIs in 63 games.
A late June promotion moved Piscotty to Double-A, where he batted .299 with a .364 on-base percentage, 17 runs scored and 15 extra-base hits in 49 games. That was followed by the Arizona Fall League stint, in which his offensive numbers rose against some of the best pitchers in the Minors.
"It's been a really good year for Stephen," LaRocque said. "He's very focused. He really put himself in a position this year to come away with a very positive season. When he started the year in the Florida State League, part of the challenge was the position change to right field. He's really taken to it. He anticipates well. He gets into the gap well. He's a real student of the game and really works at it and has shown steady improvement all year."
Piscotty is expected to vie for a spot on the Triple-A roster next spring and would seem a strong candidate for an invite to Major League Spring Training. His year has put him on the radar in St. Louis, too, where general manager John Mozeliak recently mentioned the 22-year-old outfielder by name when talking about the depth the Cardinals have to handle Carlos Beltran's departure.
"The biggest thing, I think, was just how much I learned just going level to level and understanding the more in-depth thought process that goes into Double-A ball and moving on," Piscotty said. "It was a big learning experience and luckily I had some success to go with it.… It was a long year, but I felt like I did a good job staying motivated, staying healthy, for the most part, and finishing strong."
Here is a look at how the other six Cardinals participants fared during their AFL stay.
Sam Gaviglio: The right-hander went to Arizona to recoup some of the innings he lost while sidelined by a forearm strain during the regular season. Gaviglio went 3-0 in six starts, allowing 11 earned runs on 25 hits and eight walks. He struck out 21.
"He showed he can pitch at that level, no question about it," said LaRocque.
Anthony Ferrara: After making 20 starts for Springfield during the season, Ferrara was used out of the bullpen in the AFL. He pitched 7 1/3 innings (eight appearances) and gave up four earned runs and four hits. Ferrara, a 24-year-old lefty, walked seven and struck out eight.
Dean Kiekhefer: The southpaw made nine appearances for Salt River. In 9 2/3 innings, he allowed five runs (four earned) on 11 hits, walked three and struck out six. Prior to pitching in the AFL, Kiekhefer split 2013 pitching in relief for both Palm Beach and Springfield.
Lee Stoppelman: The left-hander struck out 12 in his 9 1/3 innings of relief in the AFL. He surrendered three earned runs, four hits and nine walks while holding opposing hitters to a .143 batting average. The southpaw climbed three levels during the Minor League season, ending the year with a brief appearance in Triple-A.
James Ramsey: The 23rd overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Ramsey, like Piscotty, has had an accelerated climb through the Cardinals' system. The center fielder, who is ranked the club's No. 10 prospect, spent the majority of the year in Double-A and then hit .246 and had an on-base percentage of .384 in 22 AFL games. Ramsey, too, would be a candidate to start in Triple-A next spring.
Jacob Wilson: The club's No. 20 prospect continued his work at second base, a position that he focused on in 2013 and one that the Cardinals intend to keep him at next season. Wilson did well offensively, too, hitting .305 and driving in 13 in 13 AFL games.
"The big thing is we saw enough with his bat that he could be an offensive player down the road," said LaRocque. "He goes in stretches, and once he develops the consistency, he'll be even better."