Hicks, Gorman among Cards heading to AFL

September 29th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals on Wednesday became the first team to unveil the list of players they are sending to the 2021 Arizona Fall League. Their group of eight is headlined by a pair of Major Leaguers, a slate of their Top 30 prospects and several other Minor Leaguers looking to get more at-bats, innings and game experience at the highly-touted offseason league.

, the Cardinals’ flamethrowing right-hander recovering from a May elbow injury that followed an almost two-year absence from the mound, will headline the group, as the organization tries to get him into regular game action to prepare for a fully healthy 2022.

Joining Hicks will be 23-year-old , currently contributing to the postseason-bound Cardinals, and along with Top 10 prospects Nolan Gorman (the club’s No. 1 prospect and No. 24 prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline) and left-hander Zack Thompson (Cardinals' No. 8).

Also heading to Arizona will be infielder Brendan Donovan, right-hander Andre Pallante, right-hander Jake Walsh and infielder/outfielder Juan Yepez (the club’s No. 27 prospect), who’s been knocking on the door of the Major Leagues.

All eight players will play for the Glendale Desert Dogs, whose roster will also consist of players from the White Sox, Astros, Angels and Dodgers organizations. All will look to gain valuable experience competing against some of the other top prospects in baseball.

Here’s a breakdown of each player’s 2021 seasons and hopes for the winter:

RHP Jordan Hicks (MLB)
MLB refinement

Hicks has already started his goal of refining through game action, making a pair of rehab starts for Triple-A Memphis. The hope is that he can get his arm back into suitable shape; he last appeared in a game on May 1, was prescribed an injection and has been slowly working his way back.

All of this comes after he underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2019 and opted out of the 2020 season as a high-risk individual with Type 1 diabetes.

OF Lars Nootbaar (MLB)

There’s a chance Nootbaar does not head to Arizona, as a surefire member of the Cardinals’ postseason roster. But if they do not go as deep into October, he’ll look to compile consistent at-bats after spending much of his time on the bench this season.

2B/3B Nolan Gorman (Triple-A)
Positional practice

Gorman, the Cardinals’ top prospect, has put his best foot forward making up for the lost 2020 season, posting an .817 OPS (thanks in part to a three-homer game) across 117 games in his first taste of both Double-A and Triple-A. Most notably has been his positional acumen, playing second base the majority of the second half as he’s started to learn the position ever since the Cardinals acquired hot-corner stalwart Nolan Arenado.

LHP Zack Thompson (Triple-A)
Searching for steadiness

Thompson has had a rough go in 2021, his first taste of any action above Class-A Advanced ball, with an ERA of 7.35 across 22 games (19 starts). Still, he resembles the Cardinals’ highest-touted pitcher heading to Arizona.

OF/INF Juan Yepez (Triple-A)
Knocking on the door

There’s been some buzz about Yepez as a possible September callup, with his astronomical .951 OPS spending a majority of the year with Triple-A Memphis. But a crowded outfield has made him a difficult fit. He’ll get his chance to further prove himself against baseball’s best youngsters.

INF Brendan Donovan (Triple-A), right-hander Andre Pallante (Triple-A) and right-hander Jake Walsh (Triple-A)
More touches

Donovan has performed admirably in rocketing from High-A Peoria to Memphis and will look to stay hot, while Pallante and Walsh have done the same emanating from Double-A Springfield. For the latter two, they sustained stints on the injured list this season and will look to get more innings in Arizona.