Cardinals' Knizner, Alcantara team up for AFL success
By Mike Rosenbaum
PEORIA, Ariz. -- A pair of Cardinals prospects stole the show in the Arizona Fall League on Friday night as right-hander Sandy Alcantara and catcher Andrew Knizner paced Surprise on the mound and at the plate, respectively, in an 11-5 win over the Javelinas at Peoria Sports Complex.
Knizner continued his breakout Fall League campaign for the Saguaros by going 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI. The multi-hit performance was his third in his past eight games, and he's now hit safely in eight of his past 10 contests.
"I made a couple tweaks to my swing with our hitting coach Joe Bell before the game today and it paid off, so I'm going to stick with it and keep it rolling," said Knizner, who's batting .333 with six extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in the Fall League.
Perhaps more significant was how the 22-year-old catcher handled his starter, Alcantara, who, despite possessing electric stuff, has struggled to find consistency during his first four AFL starts for Surprise.
The Cardinals' No. 9 prospect put all of that behind him on Friday, however, as he allowed just one hit over four scoreless innings to notch the win in what easily was his best performance in the Fall League.
Alcantara, 22, racked up four strikeouts, hit one batter and, for the first time this fall, did not issue a walk. He faced one over the minimum, ultimately throwing 34 of his 56 pitches for strikes in the outing.
After posting the top velocity (100.1 mph) in this year's Fall Stars Game, the 6-foot-4, 170-pounder operated at 95-98 mph and showed good feel for a hard, late-breaking curveball in the mid-80s.
"He's probably got the best stuff in the league, without a doubt, with a fastball that's 100-plus mph and great secondary stuff," said Knizner about his battery-mate. "Sandy and I worked together pretty well all through Double-A Springfield during the second half of the year, so we stuck to the same game plan we used at Springfield, which is attacking hitters and using offspeed early."
Surprise struck first in the contest as Yanio Perez opened the second inning with a single, advanced to third on a Knizner double and scored on a sacrifice fly by LaMonte Wade (Twins' No. 17).
That score held until the fifth inning, when the Saguaros erupted to score seven runs on seven hits while sending 10 batters to the plate.
Sean Miller plated the first run in the frame on a fielder's choice, and Nicky Lopez and Oscar Mercado (Cardinals' No. 18) followed with back-to-back RBI singles. A throwing error by Peoria center fielder Jonathan Davis on Kevin Padlo's single led to another run for the Saguaros, and Perez then blew the game open when he roped a hanging breaking ball into the left-field corner for a two-run double.
Knizner followed with his second hit of the game, plating Perez with a hard-hit ground-ball single to center field.
Peoria bounced back to push across its first run in the bottom of the inning courtesy of a Braden Bishop (Mariners' No. 5) single, only to see Surprise get it right back in the top of the sixth inning on a loud solo home run from Chris Paul.
Austin Riley's (Braves' No. 10) AFL-leading sixth home run -- a no-doubt, tape-measure solo shot that landed near the top of the berm in left field -- in the bottom of the sixth accounted for Peoria's second run, and Jonathan Davis plated a pair of runs with his second double of the game in the seventh after Surprise had pushed across two more runs in the top of the frame.
Peoria would tack on one more run in their final at-bat on Chad De La Guerra's (Red Sox's No. 23) RBI groundout before right-hander Spencer Jones recorded the game's final out to seal Surprise's victory.
Davis paced the Javelinas' offense with a 3-for-4, two-RBI showing out of the leadoff spot, while Riley scored a pair of runs as part of a 2-for-4 performance that boosted his Fall League average and OPS to .333 and 1.169, respectively.
Peoria starter T.J. Zeuch (Blue Jays' No. 5) entered Friday with a 0.64 ERA and was impressive over his first four frames on Friday before coming apart in the fifth. The 22-year-old right-hander ultimately allowed six earned runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings while striking out four.
The Saguaros, meanwhile, had five players finish with multiple hits.
Perez (Rangers' No. 11) led the way by going 2-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs, while Padlo (Rays' No. 28) and Paul both finished with two hits and two runs scored apiece.
Lopez (Royals' No. 11) continued his torrid fall campaign as he scored a run and drove in another en route finishing 2-for-5. The 22-year-old shortstop has tallied multiple hits in seven of his past 10 games, and he leads all Fall League hitters with a .386 average and 27 hits through 17 games for Surprise.
"It was a great team win all around," said Knizner after the game. "We hit the ball really well, 1-9 in the lineup, and put great at-bats together and strung runs together -- something we haven't been doing as of late. So it was nice to break out and score some runs and get some hits."
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.