1. Alex Reyes, RHP
Highest Level: MLB
4 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 13% K, 13% BB, .250 BAA
A word to describe Reyes: electric
If I could ask him one question: How has your injury trouble made you stronger as a pitcher, from a mental, physical and technical angle?
Reyes feels like the prodigal son of the Cardinals farm system. He doesn’t translate one for one to the story where the phrase originated, but we’re happy to keep forgiving Reyes for the consecutive seasons of injury. If Reyes went down early in 2019 and missed more than 50 percent of the coming season, I would still have him number one overall. That spicy take has to do with two things. First is his ability to spin four above average to plus pitches. Platoon splits don’t exist versus Reyes. He will strike you out and he doesn’t care who you are. Second is that I think he is in a tier by himself above Gorman. For Gorman to hop into this tier, he needs to prove multiple things to evaluators (more on that later).
Reyes is fluid, with easy velocity and mechanics I like more than anybody’s presently in the Cardinals rotation, save Jack Flaherty. There’s about 10 mph of separation between his fastball and slider, unique given the hard sliders we’re seeing more of each year. This wasn’t always his considered his best breaking ball, but it has evolved into a plus pitch. His curveball is a hammer. His changeup is his least used pitch, but one that flashes plus at times, another unique offering given the velocity of the pitch and its ability to still generate whiffs.
The hype around Reyes is reminiscent of Michael Kopech’s rise to the majors last year and will be similar to the buzz around pitchers like MacKenzie Gore, Sixto Sanchez, and Forrest Whitley upon their debut. I’ll cut this blurb short and use the extra five minutes originally planned for more praise for prayer to the baseball gods Reyes strings together multiple healthy seasons in the near future.
2. Nolan Gorman, 3B
Highest Level: A
.202/.280/.426, 6 HR, .223 ISO, 36% K, 9% BB, 0 SB
Two words to describe Gorman: raw power
If I could ask him one question: What do you think will be most important to focus on first in the lower levels of the minor leagues—your approach versus left-handed pitchers, hitting breaking balls away, or improving your defense? If all three, which of those skills do you think you’ll gain comfort with first?
During the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park, Nolan Gorman took a 97-mph fastball on the inner third from Mason Denaburg out to deep right-center field. I bought in from that point on. The bat speed and raw power was some of the best in the 2018 draft, yet Gorman fell about 5-10 spots from initial mocks.
After Gorman’s torrid stretch with Johnson City made the 5-10 teams nauseous for passing on his potential, his stretch with Peoria made those same teams relax. He saw a lot of right-handed pitching with below average breaking balls before the Midwest League and feasted. Fast forward to the end of 2018 and Gorman was batting 6th in the Chiefs’ lineup, finishing out the season to little fanfare.
His arm at third base is passable. His defense will probably peak at average with fleeting hope it plateaus if further maturation of his body occurs and slows him down. Gorman starts a trio of bat-first corner infielders (along with Malcom Nunez and Elehuris Montero) that will cause the Cardinals to make decisions with their depth. If the Cardinals anticipate a window of contention opening within the next year or two, it could make sense to move Gorman, Montero, or Nunez. My fingers are crossed they hold Gorman.
Patience must be practiced with the Cardinals first-round pick. He struggles with spin away—what 18 year old lefty power hitter doesn’t?—and can catch himself out on his front foot. When the latter happens, his lightening-quick hands can still put the ball into the stands, but I think it contributes to the inability to catch spin. I’m invested in Gorman and so are the rest of Cardinals fans.
I’m ranking him as such because I don’t anticipate moving him him outside of the top three anytime soon. I’ll state this line once again for emphasis: patience must be exerted with Gorman.
3. Andrew Knizner, C
Highest Level: AAA
.313/.365/.434, 7 HR, .121 ISO, 13% K, 7% BB, 0 SB (77 games - AA)
A word to describe Knizner: well-rounded
If I could ask him one question: How did catching the rehab outings of Adam Wainwright and more advanced pitchers in your short stint with Memphis help your development?
I’m genuinely curious how willing Cardinals fans are to buy into Knizner after the Carson Kelly experiment. It’s only been a 53-game sample from Kelly in the majors, but there hasn’t been much to be encouraged by. Doubt with Kelly has pushed Knziner into the future starting role when Yadier Molina (presumably?) retires after the 2020 season. He’s a well-rounded iteration of Kelly, with a much better chance for actual excitement with his bat, even if it only manifests in 15-homer power and OBP.
His defense has never been considered as good as Kelly’s, yet Kelly’s hasn’t graded out well in the majors with the analytics we have. So, either the metrics are flawed (or unstable) or the grades are incorrect (which we’ll need another 3-4 years to gauge).
Pitchers have praised Knizner for his defense, but I doubt a teammate would ever say something poor about another teammate, so take that with a grain of salt. Knizner could meet or exceed the base slash line catchers put up in 2018 right now. That leaves defensive improvement as the final and integral piece of the puzzle. I have hope, hence the third-overall ranking.
ETA: 2019 (or whenever Yadi deteriorates, which will be 2030 +/- two years… ralph’s note: Hard eyeroll)
4. Dylan Carlson, OF
Highest Level: A+
.247/.345/.386, 9 HR, .138 ISO, 18% K, 12% BB, 6 SB (99 games - AA)
Two words to describe Carlson: switch power
If I could ask him one question: What have you learned about switch-hitting in your time in the majors that makes you confident in switch-hitting success at the major league level?
Carlson is a 20-year-old switch-hitting outfielder with power from both sides. In most cases that should be enough to sell somebody on a first-round pick. But to defend a fourth-overall ranking with Montero on his heels and the lack of statistical power in the Florida State League, more praise is required.
Some might consider Carlson’s swing a little bit noisy, but I’m more willing to classify his swing as loose. His swing is rhythmic, rocking his hands back and wrapping his bat over his head as he loads. He mixes in a thigh-high leg kick that increased in a size when comparing 2017 to 2018. I’m comfortable with his swing movement because his bat speed and athleticism gets him out of a lot of situations. Mix that in with a sound approach and high propensity for contact and you’re looking at a legitimate offensive threat.
Carlson profiles as a corner outfielder with an above average arm, and average fielding ability with average speed. The mix of hit tool and power in a switch-hitting profile is the selling point here. I think the floor is 45 hit with 50 game power, which may push him into a platoon role, but that’s praise if you’re framing up his floor. A nice outcome is 50 hit with 55 game power and another step up on the power if all goes according to plan (which with the Cardinals always seems to happen). He may always hit righties better than lefties, but the ability to muster an average to even slightly below makes him an intriguing, roster-spot-saving outfielder.
5. Elehuris Montero, 3B
Highest Level: A+
.286/.330/.408, 1 HR, .122 ISO, 21% K, 5% BB, 1 SB (24 games - AA)
A phrase to describe Montero: Upper body barrel-er
If I could ask him one question: How much have you been asked or considered bringing your lower half into your swing more, either with a leg kick or smaller stride? Do you feel comfortable with your present stance working at higher levels versus better spin and harder fastballs?
Montero is the second-ranked piece of the corner infielder trio with Gorman and Nunez. I saw both Montero and Gorman play third in Peoria and thought Gorman was the more athletic defender. Montero is probably a first baseman long term but should continue seeing some run at the hot corner.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Montero had far and away the better present hit tool over Gorman. His stats in the Midwest League were impressive, likely due to his advanced approach and extra seasoning before his promotion to the Florida State League (he still won the Midwest League MVP even with about a month in Palm Beach).
His swing is mostly upper body, but I’d also classify it as rhythmic like Carlson’s. It’s a similar kind of movement, with momentum back into his load and motion, but much less of a bat wrap and consistently impressive quality of contact. His outs were continually loud and his stats still looked great up one level at the end of 2018. He likely starts 2018 in the Florida State League again before a promotion to Double-A Springfield. He’s going to hit at each level and be held back by where he’s playing defensively. I think he holds down third base at the major league level before Gorman debuts as a defensive liability, but enough offense to keep him in the lineup on a daily basis.
6. Jhon Torres, OF
Highest Level: Rookie Ball
.397/.493/.683, 4 HR, .286 ISO, 17% K, 11% BB, 1 SB (17 games - Rookie Ball)
A phrase to describe Torres: deceptively raw
If I could ask him one question: What was the key factor in your development that allowed you to sustain an ability to make contact despite your size and long levers?
The phrase deceptively raw tells you a lot about Torres. He’s tooled up, with the chance for average in everything across the board. That’s something Torres really only shares with Carlson in the players above him. The difference between the two being the polish and levels of production.
Torres is really loose at the plate and a little bit noisy in multiple areas, but I’m baffled as to how he struck out between only 17-21 percent in Rookie Ball with how deep his leg kick is. There’s belt-high leg kicks and then there’s Torres’ leg kick, which goes up back and above his belt before allowing all of his momentum to spring forward into the ball. It’s dynamic and going to result in some extremely hard contact for whichever level he’s at. His swing is easy and smooth, reminding me a looser Monte Harrison with less polish and slightly less athleticism (everybody is less athletic than Harrison).
I’m kind of enamored with Torres for the reasons stated above. There’s a good chance he gets to Peoria and struggles mightily with spin, but if he can hold his strikeout rate around 20-25 percent with the hard contact he’s able to generate and work on shortening his leg kick, watch out.
7. Ryan Helsley, RHP
Highest Level: AAA
26.2 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 32% K, 9% BB, .186 BAA
A phrase to describe Helsley: offspeed command
If I could ask him one question: How do you break down your mechanics when you’re watching video? When you’re struggling, what aspects do you consistently view as off or needing work?
Helsley starts a trio of pitchers that I had some trouble ranking in the Cardinals system. I have him at the top because in the event he doesn’t turn into a viable starting pitcher, I think he has the highest chance of becoming an impact multi-inning reliever. He has a deadly fastball-curveball combination, with his main breaking possessing off-the-table, 12-6 drop as opposed to two-plane break of some breakers. I would imagine from perception of the pitch, his spin rate would land above average at the major league level, possible even plus. He spots the pitch well too and his fastball is above average with life.
The concern here is that he was shut down with a shoulder fatigue problem at the end of 2018 and there seems to be a lack of update on this matter at the moment. So this rank is a gamble. Shoulder injuries are historically more complex than elbow injuries in most cases. Given the history of Michael Wacha at the major league level, the last thing fans want is a similar issue to linger with a young pitcher.
His effort level his pretty high in his delivery with his smaller size and his arm action is long. He separates really well at front-foot strike, which confirms his ability to sit in the mid 90s and top out higher. But his arm path isn’t something I would call encouraging given what we’ve learned about biomechanics in the recent years and elbow health. All of these could be contributing factors to the fatigue or he could be an enigma. I hope the latter is true and I’m ranking accordingly.
ETA: 2019 (injury-independent estimate)
8. Griffin Roberts, RHP
Highest Level: A+
1 IP, 0.00 ERA, -0.52 FIP, 66.7% K, 0% BB, .000 BAA (MLB)
A word to describe Roberts: slider
If I could ask him one question: What do you think is the key to developing your changeup at higher levels? If you could ask Carlos Martinez for a tip on your changeup, what would you ask given you two have relatively similar release points?
Roberts is a former Wake Forest pitcher taken in the competitive balance round in 2018. The Cardinals have a consistent ability to draft and develop college pitchers, so all signs point to Roberts being of the same mold. He’ll move quick with his plus slider. The pitch is pretty vertical with tight spin and sharp break. It doesn’t shift laterally much, but doesn’t need to in order to generate above average whiffs below the barrel.
The problem with Roberts is that his fastball sits in the low 90s with no real projection to above average despite above-average command. If his fastball was a plus pitch, or simply had more velocity at the expense of some command, I might be willing to move him up about 3-4 spots. I would rationalize the move by saying Roberts is of similar pedigree to Helsley without the shoulder fatigue question marks.
At the moment, I foresee a multi-inning reliever with some changeup projection given my love for his athleticism, even with a bit of trunk tilt that I would classify as inefficient in his fall off to the first base side of the rubber. I reserve some hope Roberts starts at some point in his career, but the incentive is to likely accelerate him to the major leagues and see if the lack of velocity is an issue in a high-leverage role.
9. Dakota Hudson, RHP
Highest Level: MLB
27.1 IP, 2.63 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 16% K, 15% BB, .192 BAA (MLB)
A hyphenated word to describe Hudson: fastball-dominant
If I could ask him one question: I assume you grip your slider and cutter different? Is the wrist action different on either pitch or is it all the grip doing the work?
Hudson has a deadly sinking fastball with sharp arm-side run. His ground-ball rate is bonkers sitting above 60 percent, but there’s a lack of swinging strikes due to an average slider. This leaves me wondering which of two outcomes is more likely. Either the Cardinals are happy rolling him out as a contact-based fourth or fifth starter or he’s an outlier that throws a sinker 60 percent of the time and becomes a late-inning reliever (Zach Britton-lite?).
His slider is separate from a cutter he throws that grades out plus, providing lateral variation from his running sinker. The combination works well, even if the two kind of resemble the same shape and glove-side break at different velocity bands.
I would consider Hudson, Griffin, and Helsley all of the same tier of pitcher, with Hudson behind due to me betting on Helsley’s fatigue being a non-factor and Roberts’ chance to be a late-inning reliever with heavy slider usage. That might provide a little bit more value than Hudson as a bridge to a player like Roberts and spot starter. If usage of the three change in the coming years, I’m comfortable moving this trio around. I’d predict that’s because Helsley’s injury doesn’t go away and Roberts lack of a plus fastball comes back to bite him at higher levels.
10. Andy Young, 2B
Highest Level: AA
.319/.395/.556, 9 HR, .237 ISO, 17% K, 5% BB, 0 SB (35 games - AA)
A word to describe Young: stable
If I could ask him one question: What was your primary focus in the Arizona Fall League? Did it change at all as the months progressed? Did hitting there—which is about Double-A level—make you more confident that you’d be able to hit in Memphis?
Young is the best of a plethora of second basemen in the Cardinals system, the majority of whom we will touch on between 21-30. This is good for Young because there’s a chance he produces value before some of the other players later on will. The confusing part is St. Louis’ control of Kolten Wong through the 2020 season with a club option for 2021. He’s cheap enough where it’s not going to be a bad idea to platoon him if necessary, but there’s reason to think the Cardinals still view him as the primary long-term second basemen after his defensive run last season.
Wong doesn’t really have Platoon splits either, but there is a much stronger chance that Young is more productive versus southpaws. Thankfully we have 2019 to figure out what exactly the Cardinals want to do with Wong. But enough about him, Young’s stats in the minors are fantastic. He actually produced better after his Florida State to Southern League jump, mashing 21 home runs in under 130 games. His walk rate fell, but he hits for a high enough average where it shouldn’t be a huge concern, especially in tandem with a good approach and noticeable discipline.
He has a quiet set-up with quick hands. My odd comparison here is actually the White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia in terms of follow through and load.
His speed is below average and defense is at best average, making him less dynamic than others. But the overall product should lend itself to a major league role and production, with the potential for an everyday role once the Cardinals intentions on the right side of the infield become clearer (that goes for first base as well, which I’ve mentioned a little bit on Montero and Gorman, with Nunez and Baker points to come).
11. Edmundo Sosa, SS
Highest Level: MLB
.262/.321/.408, 5 HR, .147 ISO, 20% K, 6% BB, 5 SB (56 games - AAA)
A phrase to describe Sosa: the only shortstop (for now) (Ralph’s note: Ladies love Sosa:))
If I could ask him one question: Moving up to higher levels of the minor leagues, what was one of the biggest difficulties/changes you experienced playing shortstop?
Sosa stands out from the first 10 on this list because he can actually play some shortstop and should stick up the middle long term. I actually think he’s the only player on this list that can stick at shortstop, which doesn’t bode well for the team’s overall rank given the typical shortstop to second base or third base move. Our very own Matt Thompson said it best on the Cardinals top 30 podcast: “this is a non-traditional list. It’s not one you’re used to the Cardinals having and not one that will be replicated by probably any other team.”
Aside from his defense, the only other thing that sniffs average are his hit tool and speed, the former more important for purposes of finding an everyday role. He has a belt-high leg kick and a heavy coil into his back hip that allows him to at least muster non-zero power. His barrel control is pretty good, but there is a little bit of swing and miss. It doesn’t seem like he’ll walk much either, which puts more pressure on his legs and ability to make contact at higher levels to sustain a passable offensive profile.
In the age of supremely athletic, toolsy shortstops, Sosa feels like an early 2000s, defense-first middle infielder who will be able to make some contact and bat no higher than 7-8th in a lineup. But the fact that he plays a premium position gives him a huge boost on this list.
12. Adolis Garcia, OF
Highest Level: MLB
.256/.281/.500, 22 HR, .244 ISO, 23% K, 3% BB, 10 SB (112 games - AAA)
A phrase to describe Garcia: still no approach
If I could ask him one question: What was the Triple-A to MLB jump like? What was unexpected, was there anything you were surprised or taken aback by?
It’s hard to rank players who debut, retain prospect eligibility, and put up rough stretches at the major league level. Do you toss it out? Is he simply not ready? Was he rushed? Is this just the player we’re getting?
With Garcia, the only one that really applies for me is whether you toss out the 17 plate appearances at the major league level. I think the answer to that is yes. We know he’s going to swing and miss (a lot). We also know he has a few explosive tools in a combination that nobody else has on this list. I think his raw pop is better than some give him credit for, but he really only taps into it on his pull side (52% pull in AAA ‘18).
The factor weighing everything down is his hit tool. I don’t know how much hope it has at the age of 25, but the saving grace is that we really only have two seasons in professional ball for him. Could he bloom late? Sure, but then the peak will historically be much shorter, diminishing his value.
This is an upside rank with the players behind Garcia providing even more risk and discernible issues outside of an approach that needs adjustment.
13. Malcom Nunez, 1B
Highest Level: Rookie Ball
.415/.497/.774, 13 HR, .360 ISO, 15% K, 13% BB, 3 SB (44 games - Rookie Ball)
A hyphenated word to describe Nunez: titan-like
If I could ask him one question: Be honest, did you think you were too advanced for the DSL? Was that DSL run the best stretch of games you have ever had in your entire life?
I reserve the right to move Nunez down about 15 spots if his DSL numbers were a mirage. But the upside if they’re 50 percent accurate, from a purely offensive perspective, is enticing. He’s the most volatile player on this list for me and the one I’ll be quickest to move based on what we learn come 2019.
Unfortunately, he’s already a first baseman. There’s nowhere else to go aside from the American League to DH. You can say it raises the hit tool baseline he needs to fulfill, but given that he was already a bat-only guy, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
We don’t know much about Nunez honestly, but I’ll point out two things before I give you a second to dream on the 17 year old. First is that his raw power is probably a little bit underrated. I’ve seen it tagged around 60 and have to imagine it’s at least a shoe-in 70 from the BP I’ve seen on tape (I need Statcast of some kind to back me up on this). Second is that his swing isn’t as clean as you might expect for his stats. I just think he was more physical—by a mile—than those he was playing with and it paid off. If you catch any angle of his hands from behind home plate or in a traditional broadcast view, he moves his hands out toward the left-handed batter’s box into his load, which is going to get him, even with his bat speed, once he comes stateside.
Is there hope? Absolutely. Is there concern? Absolutely. But what’s upside with substantial risk? *whispers* Vladimir Guerrero Jr. *whispers*. Oh, well, Nunez isn’t that.
14. Conner Capel, OF
Highest Level: A+
.248/.296/.342, 1 HR, .094 ISO, 24% K, 6% BB, 0 SB (29 games - A+)
A fake hyphenated word to describe Capel: old-timey
If I could ask him one question: Do you consider your swing unique? Has anybody pushed you to change it and if so how? What makes you comfortable about your current set-up?
Capel has an “old-timey” swing. He starts with his feet close together in the back of the batter’s box with a hunched back before striding slightly with a slight bat bounce before he pulls his hands forward. Oddly enough, it kind of works. It’s better in practice than in theory and some players you have to just leave alone until there’s struggle (which there probably will be at some point). That leaves me wildly confused as to how to adjust him if/when that time comes. Do you spread him out a little bit and get him into a small, mid-thigh leg kick? Do you start his hands lower and out over the plate in an attempt to tap into a little bit more power? Your guess is as good as mine. If you’re a coach or hitting instructor, your guess is probably much better than mine.
I had Capel much lower, until I realized what I was overlooking were the results. There may not be a ton of average or power, but his results have been good, especially with the Indians. He had 22 homers with 15 stolen bases in 2017 and was pacing for similar numbers with a much better walk rate in 2018 before shipping to Florida. I want to chalk up his Florida State League regression to a change of scenery. I’ll cheat here and hope the Cardinals agree with me, bumping him to Double-A come 2019. That will give a much better picture of exactly what the talent level is.
15. Justin Williams, OF
Highest Level: MLB
.217/.276/.391, 3 HR, .174 ISO, 22% K, 7% BB, 0 SB (21 games - AAA)
A hyphenated word to describe Williams: Pull-happy
If I could ask him one question: What did the Cardinals tell you about why they acquired you? How long was it before they started thinking about swing changes with you? Do you that was the reason for the drop in your ground-ball rate?
Williams’ ground-ball rate has fallen considerably since his movement to the Cardinals from the Rays. This is what the Cardinals do. They’re happy to adjust hitters, but given that Williams came from the Rays, I’m a little bit surprised that Tampa didn’t tinker considerably first. Either that, or they just wanted Tommy Pham really bad (probably that).
The main difference I see is actually Williams starting the set-up of his hands a little bit higher and loading them similarly. Usually the inverse is true with swing adjustments (lower hands, more loft, think Austin Meadows). It could just be the poor quality of video out (here’s Williams in STL; here’s Williams in TB) there on him after coming to the Cardinals, or it could be an actual change. Either way, the Cardinals are tinkering and attention should be allotted to the outfielder with a little bit of hidden game power. He’s an average runner with an average arm as well, making him short of five tools given the concerns around what actually happens with his bat, but of a similar blueprint. Like a lot of other players in the 10-15 window, 2019 will say a lot about potential.
What I would give to sit with player development and talk through the rationale for Williams adjustments and what they see happening with him long term. One can dream, right?
16. Randy Arozarena, OF
Highest Level: AAA
.232/.328/.348, 4 HR, .116 ISO, 19% K, 9% BB, 17 SB (89 games - AAA)
Arozarena is a less twitchy version of Adolis Garcia. His defense is better and he’s more dynamic in his supplementary tools, but doesn’t possess the same raw power that Garcia has. He’s a classic speed-and-defense outfielder buoyed his hit tool. But even that took a statistical hit when he got to Triple-A last season.
His sets up with his feet closer together and a slightly crouched posture with low hands, incorporating a non-existent stride. Combine the lack of lower-half engagement with his frame and you can see why it’s doubles power at best. If it shows at all, it’s to his pull side, an area of his game that I’d really like to see opened up to all fields while relinquishing whatever 30- or 40-grade game power he’s able to muster.
The selling point is his defense. It’s good enough to push him into a platoon role, but hopes of an everyday future aren’t realistic unless there’s another layer of hit tool evolution I’m passing over. He’s going to have some role at the major league level, which for 16th overall on a list is expected, but his lack of future impact highlights how wishy-washy a lot of the middle-tier talent is in the Cardinals system.
17. Genesis Cabrera, LHP
Highest Level: AAA
24.2 IP, 4.74 ERA, 4.91 FIP, 20% K, 12% BB, .255 BAA (AA)
Cabrera along with Justin Williams were part of the return for Tommy Pham. As much as the Cardinal fans squint to see the rationale, it’s tough giving up a 4-5 WAR outfielder for pieces with flaws. Cabrera’s flaws are a little bit more concerning to me than Williams because we’ve already seen a shift with Williams’ ground-ball rate (even if we’re not comfortable it’s now a stable number).
What Cabrera needs to work on is control, something that can be fixed, but not in an abrupt way like Williams’ ground-ball rate. He’s walked over 12 percent of batters he faced last year in a repeat stint in Montgomery (Rays’ Double-A). The same issues carried over when he was promoted to Memphis.
The plus here is that he’s a lefty with gas, topping out around 97-98 mph. I like the shape of his slider out of his slot and think it can become an average to above average pitch, but he’ll need it to justify the walks with consistent bat-missing ability. If this was a 70-grade fastball, there would be more room for hoping he’s a dominant multi-inning reliever. Since most see it as a 60-grade pitch at present, the upside is capped ever so slightly.
18. Daniel Poncedeleon, RHP
Highest Level: MLB
33 IP, 2.73 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 24% K, 10% BB, .203 BAA (MLB)
I feel like this rank doesn’t do Poncedeleon justice. He spun quality innings against major league talent with peripherals that suggest it wasn’t a fluke, even if projections say his results will come back to earth. He relies on a fastball, cutter, changeup, and sparingly used curveball to put away hitters. His fastball and cutter are the only two that showed up in his major league stint.
His curveball was often touted as his best pitch, but I wonder how much success with two pitches caused him to lay off a better option and how hitters would’ve adjusted if the proverbial book opened up on him before the season ended.
He’s in a weird in-between spot where I’m not sure if the long-term plan is a fifth starter or low-leverage reliever. At this point in baseball, this specific player has undergone the biggest knock to his value given initiatives to stitch together 2- or 3-inning pitchers instead of rolling out fourth and fifth starters.
Poncedeleon’s rank echoes this sentiment, but given his results, it’s hard for me to put him below even more volatile arms.
19. Johan Oviedo, RHP
Highest Level: A
121.1 IP, 4.22 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 22% K, 15% BB, .235 BAA (A)
For a 6-foot-6 20-year-old, Oviedo controls his body pretty well. With those dimensions and the track record of his control, you would expect flailing arms and no feel, but Oviedo impresses both in bullpens and on the mound.
He has a nice blend of stuff and extension, making him extremely hard to square up (.44 HR/9 in 120+ innings) and able to post sub 4.5 FIPs even with walk rates north of 14 percent. On top of his average to plus curveball, there’s projection for an average changeup that, if consistent, would easily push him into the top 10 on this list.
Consistency has eluded Oviedo in his career, which is the main reason for the cautious rank (that I hope I regret). He’s had a long battle with velocity, touching 97 late in 2018 with Peoria, but sitting 3 to 4 mph lower during the beginning of the season. A similar roller coaster ride ensued in 2017 as well.
Oviedo has the best chance to hop 8-10 spots on this list by 2020, especially if the Florida State League treats him well. I say let the man season for a few years in the minor leagues, find some consistency in his delivery and hopefully by 2021, we’re looking at a 3.5 BB/9 pitcher with two average to plus offerings and no visible platoon splits.
20. Connor Jones, RHP
Highest Level: AA
94.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 15% K, 12% BB, .261 BAA (AA)
Jones was a 2016 draft pick by St. Louis who has made his way through to Memphis in three seasons despite lackluster strikeout numbers.
He’s a little bit of a late mover in his delivery, which I think pushes down the need for his leg lift from the windup. The motion doesn’t generate any momentum towards the plate as he regathers himself before actually extending towards home. When he does extend, he stays pretty upright.
The body type and delivery actually remind me a little bit of Padres prospect Ryan Weathers, which is a little bit of a pedigree knock above anything else. Despite my gripes, there’s a really good sinking fastball here with an average curveball and changeup that I don’t like as much as others.
He’s going to find a way into a bullpen and rely on that fastball to muster outs, even if his statistical production was poor in his first full season above Double-A. He’s not as enticing to me than some of the other reliever types above due to his current delivery and lack of results.
21. Lane Thomas, OF
Highest Level: AAA
.275/.321/.496, 6 HR, .221 ISO, 24% K, 5% BB, 4 SB (32 games - AAA)
For the majority of players on this list, we’re looking at some hope mixed with ok to average results. Thomas stands out because the inverse is true. His results, especially those in Springfield this season, left him with a 20-10 season in only 100 games. The speed should always be non-zero, but will play up more as a baserunner rather than a base stealer. His power is probably more below average than the average he displayed.
His bat path isn’t long, but his hands aren’t particularly quick, giving the impression that his bat speed is probably average to below average. But he’s saved with a decent approach and ability to recognize spin, even if there is still a little bit of swing and miss present.
In the end, Thomas is a duplication of the corner outfield prospect with no real stand-out tools. His clones populate the majority of this Cardinals list.
22. Nick Dunn, 2B
Highest Level: A
.167/.231/.167, 0 HR, .000 ISO, 17% K, 2% BB, 0 SB (14 games - A)
Dunn had a poor showing over a small sample in the Midwest League. This was a deviation from his production at the University of Maryland, where he reached base at a .419 clip. His stance from the left side is quiet, similar to Schrock behind him. There’s minimal movement, a quick load, small stride, and line-drive swing. I think there’s a chance that with some adjustment he can tap into 45 power, which combined with his 55-60 hit tool bodes well. The problem is that his profile is heavily dependent on both of those bat projections paying off. His defense and speed are below average—both concerns—but he has a little bit more twitch to him than the second basemen below and time to figure things out.
Dunn starts off a tier of second baseman, broken up by Ynfante, that I don’t see obtaining everyday roles, but still have a chance for utility value at the major league level.
23. Wadye Ynfante, OF
Highest Level: A-
.213/.301/.328, 4 HR, .115 ISO, 35% K, 7% BB, 10 SB (70 games - A-)
Ynfante is a plus runner that had contact problems over a 70-game sample in 2018. I would assume I am lower on him than most because I’m a little bit worried about his hit tool pulling itself out of the below average mark. His hand path isn’t pretty, there’s motion that I’d love to see him clean up. He throws his hands back and opens up a little bit sooner than he should and doesn’t really have the bat speed to compensate for the issue. It can be fixed, but next year is his age 21 season and he struck out 35 percent of the time in Low A. This doesn’t inspire confidence in a promotion if St. Louis pushes him to Peoria to start 2019.
At best, with his speed and potential for average to above-average defense, there’s defense-first projection that might land him a platoon role if all goes well. Or his contact issues may persist and he could fall outside of the top 25.
24. Junior Fernandez, RHP
Highest Level: AA
21 IP, 5.14 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 18% K, 17% BB, .241 BAA (AA)
Fernandez is Rule 5 eligible in 2018 and has run into a few injuries that held him under 30 innings in 2018. His primary pitches are an above average changeup and fastball, which is going to make him a reverse splits pitcher at the major league level if he’s unprotected and scooped up by another club.
The hesitancy for other teams to scoop him up will come from the lack of control, which I often find odd for changeup-first pitchers. There’s chance for some swing and miss here, but it hasn’t manifested, making me question if something medical might be lingering (he was placed on the DL last year with a biceps issue). He’s a reliever with a few intriguing tools, but easily blends in with some of the other arms on this list.
25. Ramon Urias, 2B
Highest Level: AAA
.261/.291/.430, 5 HR, .169 ISO, 20% K, 4% BB, 0 SB (46 games - AAA)
I had a decision to make between Urias and Dunn because I think they stand out above Edman and Schrock directly below. He destroyed Double-A last season and there was a quick stock uptick that was squashed after a promotion to Triple-A. He can probably be an above average to average hitter at the major league level right now, but I don’t think his approach inspires much confidence. He’s going to strikeout and not walk and mixing that with well below average game power and average tools elsewhere makes what has the potential to be a plus hit tool much less inspiring.
He starts with a pretty open stance and active hands, with nice rhythm that he uses to sync up both his active hands and lower half into an all-fields approach. This spraying across the diamond limits his power because he isn’t pull happy and he isn’t strong enough to find power to center field or right center. This approach also shows a little bit more knowledge of the strike zone and pitch recognition, which is encouraging.
Urias is a late-list candidate for some Cardinals’ devil magic.
26. Tommy Edman, 2B
Highest Level: AAA
.318/.382/.394, 1 HR, .076 ISO, 15% K, 11% BB, 3 SB (17 games - AAA)
Another second baseman before finishing off the madness with Schrock. Edman has a little bit of a leg kick that the others don’t have, which makes me hope there’s maybe 40 power here instead of 30. Add that to a good approach and consistent contact and we’re looking at another fringe defender with the ability to play second base with a good hit tool and nothing else. With Dunn, I can squint and see some positive adjustment, giving me a little bit more hope. With Edman, I can’t imagine they do anything but tone his leg kick down, which will likely put him in the 2-30 power window with a 55 hit tool.
27. Max Schrock, 2B
Highest Level: AAA
.249/.296/.331, 4 HR, .082 ISO, 8% K, 5% BB, 10 SB (114 games - AAA)
Schrock is similar to Willians Astudillo in his ability to avoid strikeouts and make contact. He had an insanely low BABIP in Triple-A. While I’d like to think it’s all because of bad luck, it’s more likely a combination of soft contact. But it’s contact nonetheless, and a lot of it given his 8 percent strikeout to 5 percent walk.
There’s very little power here and I don’t expect an adjustment given how contact-oriented his approach is, so at best he’s an above average hitter with very little power and average speed and defense. Sure, there’s room for that at the major league level, but it’s more than likely not in an everyday role, like nearly all other second basemen on this Cardinals list.
28. Conner Greene, RHP
Highest Level: AAA
39.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 5.75 FIP, 15% K, 18% BB, .237 BAA (AAA)
Greene’s delivery allows him to look a little bit taller on the mound than he actually is. He’s pretty over the top in his 6-foot-3 frame and a little bit upright, spinning an above average fastball. His curveball plays off elevation of his high fastball well, but his slider and changeup are what he turns to most often.
He’s had poor control dating back to him time with the Blue Jays and I think it’s a combination of multiple things, including some inefficiency with his delivery. There’s some potential for a passable reliever at the major league level, but given his rank, I’d prefer some of the options above.
29. Luken Baker, 1B
Highest Level: A
.288/.359/.417, 3 HR, .129 ISO, 20% K, 10% BB, 0 SB (37 games - A)
Baker is listed at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds. They got the height right, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that weight was a little bit higher. He is huge in person. His swing is actually pretty compact and his bat speed isn’t bad, a product of his college seasoning (TCU), but even if it’s a 45 hit tool and 55 to 60 game power, he’s still a first baseman and that would leave him at the low end of the offensive output by positional standards.
The defense isn’t as poor as you’d expect for somebody his size, but the speed is. He’s not moving off first base, which means the hit tool has to allow him to tap into some power or he’s off to the American League as a DH.
30. Evan Kruczynski, LHP
Highest Level: AA
39.2 IP, 2.50 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 23% K, 7% BB, .199 BAA (AA)
Kruczynski has great extension off the rubber from his 6-foot-5 frame, giving him extra kick on his fastball. He mixes in a slider, curveball and changeup as well, making him a little bit more interesting in terms of total mix in a bullpen role. He’ll also provide the Cardinals a little bit of platoon-proofing with his changeup versus right-handed hitters.
There isn’t much swing and miss, which pushes me away from saying he’ll be a high-leverage option for the Cardinals, but I would also be surprised if he doesn’t at least have some bullpen role with the Cardinals, even if it’s in a bridge role with his average stuff and expansive mix.
Just Missed (in no particular order)
Seth Elledge (RHP), Ivan Herrera (C), Stephen Gingery (LHP), Delvin Perez (SS), Evan Mendoza (3B), Mateo Gil (SS), Juan Yepez (1B)