The State of the System: It’s a pretty good system. A little better than middle-of-the-pack. It’s also difficult to sum up pithily here.
The Top Ten
- RHP Alex Reyes
- RHP Sandy Alcantara
- SS Delvin Perez
- C Carson Kelly
- CF Magneuris Sierra
- RHP Dakota Hudson
- RHP Luke Weaver
- OF Harrison Bader
- RHP Jordan Hicks
- RHP Jack Flaherty
The Big Question: Who is the next beneficiary of the Cardinals Devil Magic?
Ranking Cardinals prospects is a fool’s errand. Aledmys Diaz appears nowhere on last year’s list. Matt Carpenter never ranked higher than eighth.Tommy Pham’s only appearance on a BP Prospect list was penned by Kevin Goldstein (he checked in at #18). Jedd Gyorko was basically one more bad season away from being legally declared dead so his surviving relatives could finally collect the insurance money. They even gainfully employed a Hampshire College graduate in work that didn’t involve collecting lost tennis balls and turning them into art or something.
But in this interest of covering all our bases. Here are some off-the-board candidates that might benefit from the Midwestern dark arts:
Connor Jones adds a few ticks on his fastball
Jones was a durable college starter with above-average fastball velocity and the usual menagerie of secondary offerings. But what if all of a sudden he sat 95-97? That would be weird, right? Adding that kind of velocity in your early-20s? Not for the Cardinals. They’ve already pulled that bit of legerdemain once with Michael Wacha.
Jesse Jenner has a major league career as a backstop
Even in my younger years, covering only one organization’s farm system to the point of superfluity, I couldn’t bring myself to get too concerned with a 10k senior-sign catcher. You always need catchers from an organizational standpoint, but those guys tend to bounce around A-ball as backups for a few years and then move into coaching.
However, the organization I covered wasn’t the Cardinals.
Jenner is on that path—bouncing around as a backup between three levels while posting an OPS of .600-something—so don’t be surprised at all when he pops up in the Top Ten like Carson Kelly in a year. It’s a profile the Cardinals do well with.
Nick Plummer comes back in 2017 and looks like an above-average corner outfielder
No, we haven’t forgotten about Plummer, the Cardinals first round pick in 2015. He missed all of 2016 with hand and wrist issues that required multiple surgeries. Maybe he comes back with a bionic hand. It’s the Cardinals. They do well with that profile. That profile being dudes with bionic hands.
Bryce Denton literally makes a pact with a demon
Denton, the Cards second round pick in 2015, has potentially above-average hit and power tools, but big questions about his ultimate defensive home. The bat looks a lot better at third base, so what if he were accompanied by a small demon that could field like Ken Boyer?
“Why, the signiory of Embden shall be mine.
When Mephistophilis shall stand by me,
What ball can get by me, Denton? Thou art out
Cast no more doubts. Come, Mephistophilis,
And bring a plus glove from great Lucifer;
Is't not first pitch? Come, Mephistophilis,
Veni, veni, Mephistophile!”
As for the rest…
1. Alex Reyes, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’3” 175 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed December 2012 by St. Louis out of the Dominican Republic for $950,000
Previous Ranking(s): #1 (Org), #10 (Overall), #8 (Midseason Top 50)
2016 Stats: 1.57 ERA, 3.72 DRA, 46 IP, 33 H, 23 BB, 52 K at the major league level, 4.96 ERA, 2.36 DRA, 65.1 IP, 63 H, 32 BB, 93 K in Triple-A Memphis
The Good: Reyes’s fastball is an 80-grade offering. It sits in the upper-90s, can touch triple digits, and features life to both sides. When he elevates it, the pitch is criminally unfair. His curve flashes plus-plus and dives off the deck with late 12-6 movement at its best. The change has made strides in 2016 and will flash plus with good sink at times. The overall arsenal is potentially one of the best in baseball—not the minors, baseball.
The Bad: Reyes still struggles to throw as many strikes as you’d like from a frontline starter. The delivery should be repeatable, but he hasn’t unlocked that part yet and both his control and command are fringy. The curve can flatten out or be more of a bury pitch when he doesn’t have feel for it. The change is too often straight and firm and is more of an average pitch at present.
The Irrelevant: Reyes topped out at 87 mph in high school. That’s, uh, pretty irrelevant now.
OFP 70—Front-of-the-rotation starter
Likely 60—No. 3 starter or high-end closer
The Risks: The stuff is there to start, whether the command/efficiency allows him to pitch at the top of the rotation is still unanswered. Whatever role he ends up in, he’s going to be good. Unless he gets hurt, because, yeah, he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You see that big ole 70 and that ETA of “already debuted?” Those factors make Reyes incredibly sexy for our purposes, even if he is a pitcher. The WHIP might be a little ugly early in his career– hell, maybe for all of his career– but pitchers who can miss in excess of a bat per inning don’t grow on trees. If it all clicks, Reyes could very well be the next Chris Archer, or maybe healthy Carlos Carrasco. He’s a likely closer if he moves to the pen, so he’s got multiple paths to big-time fantasy value. It’s just not fair how the Cardinals find one of these guys ever two or three years.
Major League ETA: 2017
2. Sandy Alcantara, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’4” 170 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Signed in July 2013 by St. Louis out of the Dominican Republic for $125,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 3.62 ERA, 4.36 DRA, 32.1 25 H, 14 BB, 24 K in High-A Palm Beach, 4.08 ERA, 2.28 DRA, 90.1 IP, 78 H, 45 BB, 119 K in Low-A Peoria
The Good: Hey, it’s another triple-digit fastball. Alcantara has touched 100 this year, and his heater sits in the high 90s. It’s a heavy pitch with good life down in the zone and he can elevate it for Ks as needed. His curve will flash above-average with 11-5 shape. He may still get bigger and stronger in his early 20s. He has the body and delivery to start.
The Bad: Everything else is pretty raw. He commands the fastball better than either secondary, and the fastball command is still a little rough. The curve is well-below-average and a work in progress. It can flatten out as often as it gets swings-and-misses. He has a straight change that he’ll show feel and fade with, but he tends to slow everything down to utilize it.
The Irrelevant: Alcantara shares a birthday with both Queen Elizabeth I of England and Corbin Bernsen.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter/closer
Likely 50—No. 4 starter/set-up
The Risks: Alcantara is really raw, still in A-ball and needs big grade jumps on the secondaries to stick in a rotation. And oh yeah, he’s a pitcher (who throws 100).
Major League ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: What … what is it with BP and Corbin Bernsen? Anyway, Alcantara is one of the more exciting fantasy pitching prospects in the mid-minors. The control needs refinement (stop me if you’ve heard that before), but he’s got big-time strikeout potential (stop me if you’ve heard that before). A future as a fantasy SP3 who detracts from your WHIP but gives you plenty of Ks is very much possible. It’s just not fair how the Cardinals find one of these guys ever two or three years.
3. Delvin Perez, SS
Height/Weight: 6’3” 175 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 23rd overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, International Baseball Academy (Ceiba, PR); Signed for $2,222,500.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .294/.352/.393, 0 HR, 12 SB in 43 games at complex-level GCL
The Good: Perez is a potential five-tool shortstop. He’s a good bet to stick at shortstop and even be above-average there despite his size. The athletic tools are ahead of the offensive ones at present, but he has a chance for average-or-better grades in both hit and power as he matures. Would show plus raw power even at 17.
The Bad: Perez tumbled down draft boards after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, but he was a divisive prospect even before that. There were makeup concerns centered on his perceived effort on the field. Weight that info how you like. The ultimate power projection is fuzzy and very much depends on who you talk to about him. Offensive tools may only end up “good for shortstop” rather than “good for baseball players.”
The Irrelevant: Ceiba has yet to produce a major league baseball player, but two champion boxers, Carlos Santos and McJoe Arroyo, hail from there.
OFP 60—First-division shortstop
Likely 50—Average shortstop
The Risks: He is a teenaged shortstop with a complex league resume, makeup concerns, and a failed drug test. Even if you only care about the first part—which is a valid stance—he’s extremely risky.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Perez is risky, but I think the dynasty community may be a little too down on him after his failed test. At the end of the day, there aren’t many first-division shortstop prospects in systems as good at developing prospects as the Cardinals. Bret Sayre had Perez down at 23 in his Top-50 signees ranking, but he’d be about 10 spots higher for me. I’m not entirely sure if that makes him a top-100 prospect yet, but if not it makes him close.
4. Carson Kelly, C
Height/Weight: 6’2” 220 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 86th overall in the 2012 MLB draft, Westview High School (Portland, OR); signed for $1,600,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .154/.214/.231, 0 HR, 0 SB in 10 games at the major league level, .292/.352/.381, 0 HR, 0 SB in 32 games at Triple-A Memphis, .287/.338/.403, 6 HR, 0 SB in 64 games with Double-A Springfield
The Good: Before the season kicked off, Kit House wrote this about Kelly in our Texas League preview: “He’s either a method actor who started hitting like a catcher to accommodate the change in role, or he’s trying to establish his character’s defensive motivation before a break-out at the plate in act III.” Well, the offensive climax for Kelly arrived in 2016. Okay, he still will never be Buster Posey with the bat, but he started hitting more line drives with his simple, inside-out swing, and the hits followed. Even before he started posting a .700+ OPS, Kelly had a good shot at a major-league role on the strength of his glove. He has an above-average arm and he draws raves for his receiving and the way he handles his pitching staff.
The Bad: This was his first season hitting at this level since short-season ball. The power is well-below-average. He’s not going to be an offensive force and fits best at the bottom of the lineup. He runs like a catcher.
The Irrelevant: Kelly didn’t spend much time in Memphis, but we do hope he got to visit the Stax Museum and its 17,000 sq. ft. of Soul Music exhibits.
OFP 55—Above-average major league catcher
Likely 50—Glove-first everyday backstop you pencil in the eight-hole
The Risks: Kelly’s hit in the upper minors and there’s no doubt the glove will play at the highest level. There’s always some short-term risk in the bat as new major-league catchers have a lot on their plate. There is some positive risk here too if we are underrating the total defensive profile, which we do at times since catchers are weird, man.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: It sounds like Kelly’s glove will keep him in the lineup, which is good, but the total lack of power and the hit tool that’s more “good for a catcher” than “good” really limit his upside. Maybe he’s an AVG/R-driven top-20 backstop who’s relevant in TDGX-sized 20-team dynasty leagues, but that’s his ceiling.
5. Magneuris Sierra, CF
Height/Weight: 5’11” 160 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed July 2012 by St. Louis out of the Dominican Republic for $105,000
Previous Ranking(s): #3 (Org)
2016 Stats: .307/.335/.395, 3 HR, 31 SB in 122 games at Low-A Peoria
The Good: Sierra’s second pass at the Midwest League went better than his first, and he flashed premium athletic tools along with an improving performance at the dish. He’s a plus-plus runner with a plus arm. That’s a pretty good starting point for an above-average everyday center fielder. He’s simplified his swing at the plate, and while he can yank one down the line every once in awhile, his swing is geared more for slash and dash. When you run as well as he does though, that’s just fine. There’s still some physical projection left as well.
The Bad: The gap between the possible and the present is large. As fast as Sierra is, he’s still quite raw on the bases and in center. Not a big deal for a 20-year-old in the Midwest League, but we are projecting a lot here even on the defensive side. At the plate, he’s never going to offer much in the way of pop, and he still struggles with spin specifically and lefties generally. Again, not unusual at this point on the development curve, but there’s a lot of ways this profile can go wrong.
The Irrelevant: If you search for just “Magneuris,” every single hit on the first page is for Sierra. I only used Google, so no idea what crazy stuff Bing might spit out.
OFP 60—First-division center fielder carried by his speed and glove.
Likely 45—Platoon or fourth outfielder
The Risks: You can just read “The Bad” section again. That should about cover it.
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The thing about speed is that it’s good and we need it. Also, as an SEO in my real job, I can tell you that whatever Bing would spit out would just be a slightly less relevant version of what Google told you. Only 14 players had 30 or more steals last season. Only 14 more met or surpassed the 20-steal mark. Ender Inciarte hit .291 with just 16 steals and was a top-50 option. That’s not meant to be a direct comparison, but rather is meant to hammer home that speed forgives a lot of sins in fantasy. In this case, it’s likely to make Sierra a top-150 prospect despite his flaws and his distance from the majors.
6. Dakota Hudson, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’5” 215 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 34th overall in the 2016 MLB draft, Mississippi State (Starkville, MS); Signed for $2,000,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 0.96 ERA, 4.63 DRA, 9.1 IP, 6 H, 7 BB, 10 K at High-A Palm Beach, 0.00 ERA, 1.35 DRA, 4 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 9 K at complex-level GCL
The Good: Hudson boasted one of the deepest arsenals in the draft class, with four pitches that offer potential big-league utility. The fastball sits in the mid-90s with mild run, and he pairs it with a nasty slider/cutter hybrid in the upper-80s. The latter pitch features nasty tilt and is a swing-and-miss pitch against right-handed hitters. He’ll use it equal-opportunity to bore in hard on left-handed hitters as well, giving him a pitch to pair with an average-flashing changeup to manage his splits. He’ll toggle a curveball between the upper-70s and low-80s as well, and he’s adept at dropping the pitch in for early strikes. The frame is a good’n for any pitcher, but especially the startin’ kind.
The Bad: There’s some jingle and jangle to his delivery. He doesn’t always harness a powerful early build of momentum and channel it efficiently downhill, and his mild crossfire adds some length to an already-longer arm action. He’s made strides to streamline his mechanics, but fine command is unlikely to ever be an asset, and the control may never gain startering consistency. The fastball has some mild run to it, but can lack for life and in-zone command, while the curve often sets an early trajectory and fails to bite late.
The Irrelevant: Hudson is to date the only baseball player from Sequatchie County High School to ever get drafted.
OFP 55—Low No. 3 starter
Likely 50—High-leverage reliever
The Risks: Well, normally this is where we’d note that he’s a pitcher, and one with command and control flags at that. But since he was a collegiate arm with big stuff that the Cardinals snagged towards the top of the draft, we instead have to assume that he’ll be successfully matriculating into the St. Louis rotation at some point next season. The fastball and filthy cutter/slider thing could play in potentially devastating fashion out of the bullpen, and given the command and control questions they may ultimately have to.
Major league ETA: 2018 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I have already written the best thing I’ve ever written about Dakota Hudson and have nothing else to add about yet another mid-rotation starter who’s not terribly close to the majors.
7. Luke Weaver, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2” 170 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 27th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Florida State University (FL); signed for $1.843 million
Previous Ranking(s): #7 (Org)
2016 Stats: 5.70 ERA, 4.22 DRA, 36.1 IP, 46 H, 12 BB, 45 K at the major league level, 0.00 ERA, 4.49 DRA, 6 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K at Triple-A Memphis, 1.40 ERA, 1.14 DRA, 77 IP, 63 H, 10 BB, 88 K at Double-A Springfield
The Good: Weaver is an athletic righty with a fastball he can run up into the mid-90s and an easy plus change with good fade, arm action, and velo separation. He is comfortable throwing the cambio to either side of the plate and to both righties and lefties. His delivery is a little unorthodox, but he repeats it well enough to start.
The Bad: Neither of Weaver’s breaking balls is even average, and he threw them very sparingly in the majors, leaving him a bit of a two-pitch pitcher. His fastball command isn’t good enough yet to make that approach viable against major-league hitters, especially when he is operating more in the 91-93 range. His changeup is very good, but not so good he can throw it as often as he does and not have occasional long ball issues.
The Irrelevant: As of publication, Weaver has the third best K/9 in Cardinals history (min. 30 IP).
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
Likely 45—Backend starter
The Risks: Weaver only qualifies for this list by 14 innings. You would have preferred he be better in those major-league games, but he’s already there. He is still a pitcher though.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I’m acknowledging that the Cardinals generally tend to make the most out of these guys, but there’s still not much in Weaver’s profile that excites me terribly. He could be useful in spot starts, but he’s not someone I’m interested in rostering in 16-team leagues.
8. Harrison Bader, OF
Height/Weight: 6’0” 195 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the third round in the 2015 MLB draft, University of Florida (Gainesville, FL); signed for $400,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .231/.298/.354, 3 HR, 2 SB in 29 games at Triple-A Memphis, .283/.351/.497, 16 HR, 11 SB in 82 games as Double-A Springfield.
The Good: Harrison responded extremely well to an aggressive assignment, heading to Double-A in his first full season. His approach at the plate is balanced, looking to take pitches, and use his hands and above-average bat speed to all fields. A plus runner, he glides in the field and can be a plus defender in the corners, or an above-average one in CF. Long-ball power showed up in 2016, and could play to average at peak. Absolutely hammered left-handed pitchers.
The Bad: The rest of his tools require projection to get to average. It’s more of a solid than flashy profile, as he won’t often wow you in the field. The power could play down in the big leagues and be more of the extra-base variety rather than over the fence. The swing-and-miss and relative violence in his swing could limit his ability to make contact on a consistent basis. Even with the breakout season, Bader was only marginally effective against right-handed pitchers, which could limit his utility at the major-league level.
The Irrelevant: There has never been a big leaguer with the first name Harrison. But we could have two debut next year with Bader and Rockies LHP Harrison Musgrave.
OFP 55—Above-average regular in center field
Likely 45—Platoon corner bat
The Risks: Limited sample in pro ball, the relative violence in his swing, more polished than flashy profile. The power plays down and is more of a tweener for everyday production.
Major League ETA: 2017 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: There’s a strong argument to be made that Bader is the fourth-best fantasy prospect in this system, because he’s not a glove-first catcher, not a pitcher, and you’ll know what he is long before you unravel the mystery that is Sierra. Bader might be a bit overrated in our circle because of his Double-A stats, but he’s close enough to the majors with a reasonable enough path to playing time (as a lefty-masher) that he has value in deep leagues. Hope for a top-50 OF and be happy to settle for a really solid fantasy bench bat.
9. Jordan Hicks, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the third round in the 2015 MLB draft, Cypress Creek (Houston, TX); signed for $600,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 1.76 ERA, 4.91 DRA, 30.2 IP, 25 H, 16 BB, 22 K at short-season State College, 4.20 ERA, 5.75 DRA, 30 IP, 33 H, 13 BB, 20 K at short-season Johnson City
The Good: Hicks signed late in 2015 so had to wait until this year to make his pro debut. Whatever lost time there may have been was quickly made up for as Hicks came out firing with a mid-90s fastball and a low-80s curveball that could be a bat-misser at the highest level due to it’s tight spin. The fastball/breaker combo is potentially plus.
The Bad: He was a 19-year-old, former third-round prep pick in short-season ball. How good do you think the changeup is right now? Exactly. It’s a mid-80s pitch that projects as average but it has a long way to go. The command profile is going to need some improving as well, and his ultimate home might be the bullpen.
The Irrelevant: The best player to be selected with the 105th overall pick was Cliff Lee, who the Expos popped in 2000.
OFP 55—Low-end no. 3 starter or late-inning arm
Likely 45—Back-end starter or 7th inning guy
The Risks: (siren emoji) SHORT-SEASON PITCHER (siren emoji)
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Please check back at this time next year.
Height/Weight: 6’4” 200 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 34th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Harvard-Westlake School (Los Angeles, CA); signed for $2 million
Previous Ranking(s): #2 (Org)
2016 Stats: 3.56 ERA, 2.72 DRA, 134 IP, 129 H, 45 BB, 126 K in High-A Palm Beach
The Good: Flaherty has an advanced arsenal for his age with three average-or-a-tick-above pitches that he can throw for strikes. He has the frame and delivery you look for in a starter.
The Bad: Flaherty should warm up to Luniz’s “I’ve Got Five on it,” because that also describes the scouting report here. The sum of the parts can make this kind of profile play up a bit, but there is a fine margin for error, and he may get hit harder against higher level bats.
The Irrelevant: Harvard-Westlake has been quite the professional baseball finishing school in recent years, but their most productive major-league alum so far is Brennan Boesch, who has been worth a mere 1.3 WARP in the bigs.
OFP 50—Average major-league starter
Likely 45—No. 4/5 starter
The Risks: Pitchers without obvious out pitches sometimes find the upper minors trickier than A-ball. Pitchers also get hurt. And he’s a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I look forward to the Cardinal’s top-10 list next season, when we’ll value Flaherty just as we value Weaver now, albeit for different reasons.
Others of note:
Junior Fernandez, RHP
A different Cardinals arm that can touch 100, the reason Fernandez is down here and not above is because of his lack of command and consistent off-speed offerings. Fernandez is very athletic, with a simple delivery and quick arm speed to go with his projectable body. While he touches higher, the fastball sits primarily 93-96 but tends to lack life and can be hittable when in the zone. His changeup is his preferred go-to option and he sells it well with consistent arm speed and plus fading action. His slider is slurvy and he doesn’t have a lot of feel for the spin right now, but could be an average pitch because of his youth and athleticism. His command of the arsenal needs to improve, but he has a long road ahead of him and the whole package could be as good as Alcantara’s in the end. —Steve Givarz
Edmundo Sosa, SS
If you want another Cardinals Devil Magic candidate, Sosa wouldn’t be a bad one. On the surface the profile isn’t too exciting, especially after a down year with the bat in A-ball. The tools don’t jump out at shortstop, although he’s serviceable enough there. There may be some strength and commensurate doubles power to come, and although Sosa profiles best as a good fifth infielder that can play either spot up-the-middle, if he suddenly turns into Aledmys Diaz, well don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was changing corner dudes into shortstops
Paul deJong, 3B
Selected in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of Illinois State University, deJong went from the Redbirds to the Cardinals organization. Playing almost exclusively shortstop in the Arizona Fall League, deJong showcased the ability to fill the position in an emergency role, something which could prove necessary for his overall profile to work at the major-league level. There’s some over-the-fence power here, hitting the fifth-most home runs (22) in the Texas League this summer. However, he combines average-at-best bat speed with an unrefined feel for the barrel in what can only project as a below-average hit tool at the moment. Of course, it is the Cardinals. —Matt Pullman
Would you prefer one in left-handed?
Austin Gomber, LHP
Gomber is in the same vein as Weaver and Flaherty, but he’s a big southpaw! The fastball sits in the low-90s and he commands it well enough and pairs it with a potentially above-average change. The breaking ball lags behind. Yes, it might literally be left-handed Luke Weaver, though the stuff is a little bit lighter all told, and he’s only conquered Double-A. But you know, the Cardinals do well with this type of…okay, you get it by now.
The Cardinals do really well with this type of profile, you guys
Dylan Carlson, OF
A project, as first-rounders go, Carlson could pay off handsomely in time. The switch-hitting first baseman is transitioning to the outfield, including taking 41 of his 50 games post-signing in center. He has the tools to make the transition stick, and it’s likely the Cardinals will give him that opportunity. If he can’t handle center, his above-average arm should fit in a corner and the reports on his defense at first were positive, in a worst case scenario. He’s more consistent from the left side of the plate, but is aggressive in attacking the ball from both sides. While he is more strength than bat speed at present, there’s enough projection in his frame to get both to plus if it all comes together, with plus power/above-average hit a possibility. The likelihood is something less than that, of course, but he’s a fun gamble at a system that excels at getting the most out of hitters. —Craig Goldstein
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/90 or later)
- Carlos Martinez
- Alex Reyes
- Stephen Piscotty
- Sandy Alcantara
- â€‹Randal Grichuk
- â€‹Michael Wacha
- Delvin Perez
- Carson Kelly
- Magneuris Sierra
- Dakota Hudson
This list was more fun to write last year. At the time, the Cardinals had six big leaguers in the top seven spaces (Kolten Wong and Trevor Rosenthal accompanied the four holdovers listed above). The group took a collective step back in 2016 though, as Wong and Grichuk spent part of 2016 in Triple-A, while Rosenthal lost his job and Wacha spent September buried in the bullpen. While all six remain a part of St. Louis’ core, many have a slightly cloudier future with the team than they did 12 months ago.
That comment doesn’t apply to Martinez, who spent 2016 solidifying his transformation from backend reliever to staff ace. The right-hander can miss bats with all four of his offerings, and his deep arsenal allows him to dominate when he has his best stuff (he allowed one run or fewer in 13 of 31 starts) and survive when he does not (he only conceded more than four runs twice). Martinez will be 25 for all but a fortnight of the 2017 season and he’s poised to emerge as one of the best pitchers in the National League. Phrased differently, if Reyes can match Martinez’s production, the Cardinals and their fans should be thrilled.
Piscotty was the rare bird who escaped Stanford with his bat intact. The program has notoriously wrecked many a promising hitter’s swing, but the erstwhile and current Cardinal has been one of the most solid hitters in the league since debuting in July of 2015: in 905 career plate appearances, Piscotty is batting .282/.348/.467. That doesn’t make him a star, but with good defense in right, he’s the latest first-division regular in an organization that produces them by the bushel.
Few men embody contemporary baseball quite like Grichuk, a player whose high strikeout, low walk, and plus power skill set has found a comfortable home in the 21st century. In an unconventional experiment, Grichuk tried to have his cake and eat it too last season, as he actively attempted to reduce his strikeouts and take more walks (h/t Corinne Landrey). Technically he succeeded, but the small improvements in his walk and strikeout rates came packaged with a massive drop in power. Following a brief demotion to Memphis, Grichuk recommenced playing caveman baseball, to more success:
Grichuk before demotion: .206/.279/.392, 8 homers, 54 SO, 18 BB in 225 PA
Grichuk after demotion: .269/.300/.554, 17 homers, 87 SO, 10 BB in 253 PA
Even with all the strikeouts, that second line was good enough to keep him in the lineup down the stretch. This year, he’ll have to sustain that production over a full season, and there will be more pressure than ever on his bat. After signing Dexter Fowler, St. Louis no longer needs to shoehorn Grichuk into center field; Grichuk will in turn slide to left, where the organization will have less patience if he falls into a prolonged slump. He’ll probably hold the job, at least for this season, but there’s an upper bound to how often you can strike out while remaining an offensive threat and Grichuk will always flirt with the threshold.
It’s not clear that Wacha belongs on this list right now. A poor finish to the 2015 season, marred by uncharacteristically poor command and control, seeped into 2016. His velocity dropped a tick from the previous season, he posted the highest ERA and walk rate of his career, and perhaps most concerningly, he missed time with shoulder inflammation. That’s the bad news. The good news is that his stuff remains intact and that neither his DRA nor his FIP strayed far from his career norms. More than a year ago, Jeff Sullivan noticed that Wacha’s release point was unusually high at the tail end of 2015, and the right-hander had an even more pronounced case of spinal tilt last season. Whether that’s intentional, an unconscious response to a barking shoulder, or entirely unrelated to his command problems, we can’t know for sure. Regardless, Wacha is an enigma. We can’t rule out a return to the bullpen for him in 2017, nor dismiss the possibility that he recaptures his all-star form from 2015. He’s a splash of volatility on a team that’s pretty projectable elsewhere.
The Cardinals have a few other young contributors who bear a quick mention here. Matthew Bowman will still be 25 on opening day, and while he’s a Role 40 player, he was a nice find in last year’s Rule 5 Draft. Sam Tuivailala throws hard, and if he learns to throw strikes, he could log meaningful innings in relief. Mike Mayers had a debut to forget, but he touches the mid-90s out of the rotation, and could step into a swing role this season.
The lesson here is that, like always, the Cardinals are loaded with young talent. Declining numbers from Wong, Rosenthal, and Wacha shouldn’t detract from the potential aces sitting at the top of the rotation, or that Piscotty probably has an all-star appearance or two ahead of him. Turns out, St. Louis is still pretty good at this. —Brendan Gawlowski