Trio of Cardinals prospects opens AFL season

Trio of Cardinals prospects opens AFL season

While the MLB postseason was on hiatus due to Tuesday's National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile rainout, many of baseball's future stars took the field for the beginning of this year's Arizona Fall League slate.

Three of the Cardinals' top prospects -- right-handers Sandy Alcantara (the club's No. 9 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com) and Jordan Hicks (No. 14) and outfielder Oscar Mercado (No. 18) -- were in action for the Surprise Saguaros' opener, a 4-3 loss to the Salt River Rafters at Surprise Stadium.

Mercado, a second-round pick in the 2013 Draft, led the way with two hits and an RBI in his first game since Double-A Springfield concluded its season on Sept. 4.

"It was actually a goal of mine before the year started; I thought it could help me out a lot," Mercado said of playing in the AFL. "It's just something that I'm going to try to take in, enjoy and just go out there and try to do my best."

After a slow start to his professional career, Mercado broke out in 2017 with a strong campaign in the Texas League. He hit .287/.341/.428 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs in 120 games.

"I felt like it was my last chance to really prove myself," Mercado said. "I told myself, I was like, 'Just give it your all, and if it happens, it happens. If not, at least you can live with the fact that you gave it your all.' I think it paid off, obviously. I was really happy about that, and now it's just a matter of keeping it going."

Alcantara started and took the loss, allowing three runs on four hits and a pair of walks in two innings. The 22-year-old appeared in eight games for the Cardinals this season, allowing four earned runs in 8 1/3 innings.

Alcantara's first strikeout

Hicks, a 2015 third-round pick, pitched in relief, giving up one unearned run on three hits over two innings.

Also representing the Cardinals on the Saguaros are pitchers Josh Lucas and Arturo Reyes, catcher Andrew Knizner (No. 27) and infielders John Nogowski and Edmundo Sosa (No. 12). St. Louis is one of five organizations that has at least five of its top 30 prospects playing in the Fall League.

The AFL season, typically considered a "finishing school" for prospects on the cusp of reaching the big leagues, runs through Nov. 18. Games are played Monday through Saturday at six Arizona Spring Training facilities: Surprise Stadium, Scottsdale Stadium, Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Salt River Fields, Sloan Park and Peoria Sports Complex.

Each organization is required to send at least six players to compete in the six-team league. This year, the Cardinals' prospects are competing alongside players from the Rangers, Rays, Royals and Twins on the Saguaros.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.