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Minor-league report: Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker makes Arizona Fall League debut

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Springfield Cardinals

SpringfieldÕs Jordan Walker celebrates after a home run during a baseball game on Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo. Paul Halfacre, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Slotted in the clean-up spot for a lineup that included some of baseball’s other top prospects, Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker on Monday made his debut in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) for the Salt River Rafters. Walker, 20, started in right field and went hitless with an RBI that came on a sacrifice fly during his second at-bat of the league’s opening day.

Walker was one of four Cardinals prospects to make their AFL debut with the Rafters on Monday. The other Cardinals prospects who made their fall league debuts included catcher Pedro Pages, left-hander Connor Thomas — who started for Salt River — and right-hander Kyle Leahy.

The four are a part of a group of eight Cardinals prospects that will team up with Rockies, Tigers, D-backs, and Blue Jays prospects on the Rafters during this year’s AFL.

Here’s how they fared on opening day:

Outfielder Jordan Walker: Facing Quinn Priester, the Pirates’ top-rated pitching prospect, according to Baseball America’s rankings, Walker drew a four-pitch walk in his first at-bat. Walker lifted a slider from Priester to right field for a sacrifice fly during their second encounter.

In Walker’s other two at-bats after Priester departed from the game, the 20-year-old grounded into an inning-ending forceout and lined out to right-center field on a ball that had a 101.1 mph exit velocity, per statcast. It took a diving effort from Surprise centerfield and Phillies prospect Johan Rojas to keep Walker from a potential double.

Catcher Pedro Pages: Pages went zero-for-three, but his biggest impact came from behind the plate in the form of a bit of fall league history. Pages overturned a called ball and turned it into a strike with his appeal through the league’s new automated ball-strike (ABS) challenge system. The successful challenge makes Pages the first person in the fall league’s history to have a successful appeal.

The ABS challenge system was implemented this year and will be utilized at the Rafters’ home ballpark, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, and on Oct. 15 at Chase Field, the D-backs home field, for the fall league’s scheduled tripleheader. Under the new system, hitters, pitchers, and catchers can challenge an umpire’s called ball or strike.

Left-handed pitcher Connor Thomas: As the fall league opening day starter for Salt River, Thomas allowed three runs (one earned) on four hits including a home run in 3 2/3 innings. Thomas also struck out two and walked two in the 11-6 loss. Thomas induced eight groundouts but was hurt by a fielding error from second baseman and Blue Jays prospect Tanner Morris and by a throwing error from his batterymate Pages that each allowed a run to score.

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Leahy: In two innings of work, Leahy allowed four runs on four hits with much of the damage coming against him in the seventh inning. Leahy allowed a leadoff walk followed by a single and then a three-run home run. When he returned to the mound for the eighth, the righty allowed a solo home run.

Despite the struggles, Leahy still generated nine swings-and-misses against hitters giving him a 53% whiff rate on the 17 swings from opposing hitters, according to statcast.

Rodriguez makes noise in Dominican Winter League preseason

25-year-old catcher Julio E. Rodriguez, who spent all of the 2022 MiLB season with Class AA Springfield, drove in five runs while suiting up for the Aguilas de Cibaenas in their Dominican Winter League preseason matchup against the Toros del Este in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Rodriguez’s performance included a three-run homer and a two-run double while he caught former Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez, who was the Aguilas’ starter.

After Rodriguez hit .252 and posted an .823 OPS with 50 RBIs in the Texas League, he will be managed by a familiar face this winter with Springfield manager Jose Leger managing the Aguilas for the 2022-23 season. This will be Leger’s first season as the Aguilas’ manager.

Daniel Guerrero

@TheDanielGuerrero on Twitter

dguerrerro@post-dispatch.com

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