As the AFL regular season comes to a close, it becomes interesting to see how players have raised or lowered their stock with regards to their projected MLB debut.

In making predictions regarding the possible entry points for seven solid prospects, it must be understood the timing of MLB debuts is very complex. Very rarely is there a clear-cut, entirely positive reason for a prospect to break through. With injuries and poor performance (both at the team and individual level) both factoring into front office decisions in this realm, it becomes far more complicated than whether a player is “ready.”

Obviously, though, the above factors are unforeseeable to all involved or interested in an organization, so this article will take a simple look at productivity, talent, and trajectory to determine an idealistic prediction. Put simply, I will attempt to forecast when a player should be ready based on their performance and skill. Obviously, as has been outlined, this prediction can (and probably will) be affected by factors outside the realm of the players’ control.

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Harrison Bader – Mid 2017

After slumping to end 2016, Bader looked to use the AFL to reassume the consistency and explosiveness that wowed fans all year. In 75 at-bats for the Glendale Desert Dogs, he has done just that, hitting .307 with 16 runs batted in, along with 2 home runs. With immense athleticism and grit, Bader once again proved his endless potential. For all these reasons and more, expect to see Bader in St. Louis during the 2017 campaign. While it may be later in the season, expect to see Bader patrolling center-field for the Cardinals in the near future. His youth and explosiveness has the potential to transform the makeup of the entire Cardinals offense.

Carson Kelly – 2017

Technically,  Carson Kelly technically has already made his MLB debut. To compound this achievement, Kelly has been exceptional in the AFL, hitting .298 with 18 RBIs for the Desert Dogs. Furthermore, he is tied for the team lead in home runs, with 3. As a defender, he has only committed 1 error in 20 games played. In 2017, Kelly should assume the permanent backup role for Yadier Molina, especially considering Yadi’s increasing need for rest due to age. While one could make an argument for keeping Kelly in AAA simply for more innings behind the dish, the MLB experience and mentorship from one of baseball’s legend is far superior. Expect Kelly’s name to gain traction at the national level during next year’s season.

Austin Gomber – 2018

Austin Gomber has been phenomenal in the AFL, leading the league in wins, with 5. In 33.2 innings pitched, Gomber has been remarkably solid, posting a 2.14 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. After pitching 127.0 innings in the regular season, Gomber’s fall league surge has shown impressive physical and mental toughness. For a player yet to truly experience AA ball, his stamina and subsequent results are phenomenal. With that being said, however, excited fans (along with myself) need to pump the breaks a tad with Gomber. Despite proving himself against predominantly elite AA talent, he will serve well from a full year at this level, possibly breaking through to AAA by the end of the year. Especially considering the plethora of young starting pitchers currently set to start 2017 in the bigs, Gomber’s development will be greatly served from one more year of intensive developmental work. Afterwards, presuming health, Gomber could start 2018 as a pitcher ready to take the league by storm.

Rowan Wick – Mid to Late 2018

Compared to the above three prospects, Wick did not perform as well this fall. In 10 innings of relief, Wick allowed 5 earned runs, 2 home runs, and 6 walks. Known for his location and consistency, it is possible that Wick is experiencing some fatigue in the AFL. Especially considering the nature of his position switch from outfield to pitcher, such fatigue would be understandable. For this very reason, I think it is reasonable to assume that Wick needs one more full year in the minors to work up the stamina necessary to become a sturdy, reliable reliever at the big league level. With a precise and diving arsenal, this is not the worst problem to have. Expect Wick’s blazing fastball to reach the bigs some time during the 2018 season.

Paul Dejong –  Early to Mid 2019

Paul Dejong has struggled somewhat mightily this fall, posting a .227 average to go along with 21 strikeouts. Despite a solid 2016 campaign in AA, Dejong has not performed as well for the Desert Dogs. Although his fall league performance may be discouraging, one must keep in mind the current state of third base for the Cardinals. After the permanent move to make Matt Carpenter the team’s first baseman, the state of third base becomes a little more interesting. Though I do not expect Dejong to crack the bigs until 2019, an injury to Jhonny Peralta could give him an opportunity faster than one would assume.

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Corey Littrell and Ryan Sherriff  – ?

To be perfectly honest, a prediction for either of these two relievers is incredibly difficult. Both riddled with issues regarding inconsistency, the 2018 season will be very telling for their chances in the MLB, along with their chances at large in the Cardinals organization. Littrell and Sherriff have struggled in the AFL, allowing 7 and 6 earned runs, respectively. For Sherriff, specifically, age becomes a large question, for he is currently 26 years old, still surrounded by a cloud of ambiguity. If he can persist in his efforts from the 2016 regular season, in which he posted a 7-1 record at the AAA level, he could see time this very next year. At the same time, if he pitches like he has as of late, the Cardinals could consider using him as trade bait in a deal for a small-scale addition. For Littrell, he will need to prove during the 2017 season that he can get consistent shut-down innings at the AAA level. In a similar fashion to Sherriff, a racing start to next season could shoot him into the bigs. If he shows more inconsistency, however, a timeline for a major league debut is incredibly important. Put simply for both pitchers, 2018 is vital, and somewhat mysterious.