St. Louis Cardinals Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Oscar Taveras, OF, Grade A: He’s going to be a monster as long as health issues don’t get in the way. Left-handed-hitting Vlad Guerrero is the ceiling here.
2) Carlos Martinez, RHP, Grade A-: One day over the service time limit, but I hate calculating that stuff. I use 50 innings for starters, 30 innings for relievers, so he still qualifies at 28 innings pre-season. For most teams he would be in the rotation. Assuming some slight additional command refinements and good health, he could become a number one starter or a superb closer.
3) Kolten Wong, 2B, Grade B+: Outstanding instincts, refined skills with solid second base tools. Perhaps something like Todd Walker with better defense is what I’m expecting here.
4) Stephen Piscotty, OF, Grade B+: Refined approach at the plate, only question is how much of his raw power becomes genuine home run production, which seems a typical issue with Stanford products. Personally I’m optimistic he can get to 20 homers someday with strong OBP contribution.
5) Alex Reyes, RHP, Grade B+: Aggressive grade for a rookie ball pitcher but I really like the upside here with mid-90s heat and a chance for two above-average secondary pitches to make a complete package.
6) Marco Gonzales, LHP, Grade B: Polished college lefty from Gonzaga shouldn’t need much time in the minors; I’d expect him to be a rotation candidate by 2016 if not earlier. Doesn’t have the ceiling of someone like Martinez or Reyes but his floor is high and the Cardinals have an eye for college arms.
7) Rob Kaminsky, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline B. Love the breaking ball. Fastball velocity varies but should develop into a three-pitch mid-rotation candidate. Higher grades likely once we see more innings out of him.
8) Tim Cooney, LHP, Grade B-: Third round 2012 pick from Wake Forest posted outstanding 125/18 K/BB ratio in Double-A last year. Throws three solid pitches for strikes, keeps hitters off-balance like a master, should fit as fourth or fifth starter on a big league team.
9) Randal Grichuk, OF, Grade B-: Acquired from the Angels in the Bourjos trade. This guy can be awful good if he makes just a bit more progress with the strike zone and I think the Cardinals are a good place for him to do that. Could be a real steal, and hey, he’s 4-for-9 so far in Triple-A with a home run.
10) Carson Kelly, C-3B, Grade B-: Grade C+: He didn’t perform too well in A-ball last year and we’ll have to see how the conversion to catching from third base works out, but I still find Kelly’s bat to be intriguing with a chance to hit for average, OBP, and power. I believe in the potential that made him a second round pick in ’12 enough to show some patience at this stage.
11) James Ramsey, OF, Grade C+: Florida State product draws raves for work ethic/makeup, most scouts seem to like him a lot despite mediocre physical tools. Hit .251/.356/.424 with 15 homers in Double-A last year, drew 53 walks but whiffed 108 times which was more than expected. For me he profiles as a solid fourth outfielder.
The top 11 guys seem obvious to me, but at this point it gets murky. The C+ types should be seen as a tier approach and not an in-cement ranking.
12) Aledmys Diaz, SS, Grade C+: Cuban defector working his way back into shape in Double-A after signing this spring. I don’t have any real idea what to expect so this is a WAG type rating until we see how the scouting reports translate into performance. Age 23, mixed reports about his defense, some say he can stay at shortstop, others disagree and project him as a 2B. Expected to hit for average with fringe-type power, will have to see about OBP. Could be anything from a regular to a utility player.
13) Zach Petrick, RHP, Grade C+: Undrafted pitcher out of University of Northwestern Ohio has turned into a genuine prospect, throws harder in pro ball than he did in college, good progress with curveball and changeup, throws strikes, posted 1.99 ERA with 122/27 K/BB in 113 innings last year. Began 2014 with five shutout innings in Double-A with eight strikeouts. Potential number four/five starter or a nice relief arm.
14) Cory Jones, RHP, Grade C+: Not a big name yet but Cardinals fans/sources are on him, posted 2.04 ERA with 52/16 K/BB in 66 innings last year in Low-A, big pitcher who throws hard and showed dramatically improved command last year.
15) Patrick Wisdom, 3B, Grade C+: Very impressive glove at third base, excellent when used at first base, but still trying to unlock his bat, hit .235/.313/.401 with 15 homers in A-ball. Supplemental ’12 first rounder from St. Mary’s has more offensive potential than he showed last year.
16) Lee Stoppelman, LHP, Grade C+ Borderline C. 24th round pick from Central Missouri in 2012 reached Triple-A in his first full season, 1.55 ERA with 78/26 K/BB and just 40 hits in 66 innings last year. Not just your ordinary LOOGY, throws three effective pitches. Started in college and in some organizations he would still be doing so.
17) Breyvic Valera, INF-OF, Grade C+: Borderline C. Sometimes you just like a guy. Best position is second base but he has experience everywhere except catcher and first base. Super-utility profile, contact hitter with .313 career average, still just 21 years old but already in the minors for five years. I think he’s pretty interesting.
18) Oscar Mercado, SS, Grade C: Borderline C+. 2013 second-rounder draws raves for defensive ability at shortstop. Did not hit well in rookie ball (.209/.290/.307) but is young enough to improve considerably and defensive skills will buy him time.
19) Vaughn Bryan, OF, Grade C: Borderline C+. 35th round pick last June, performed well in Appy League (.280/.341/.394, 13 steals). Very good tools, being hyped by some sources with understandable justification as he could develop into a 15/20 guy if all goes well. Everyone likes his athleticism but there are enough questions about offensive approach to hold me back a little until we get more data. Could rank much higher next year.
20) Edmundo Sosa, SS, Grade C: Intriguing player from Panama, hit .314/.396/.450 with good strike zone judgment in the Dominican Summer League. Decent chance to stick at shortstop, hitting approach very mature for his age. Could rank much higher six months from now.
OTHERS: Seth Blair, RHP; Keith Butler, RHP; Greg Garcia, INF; Juan Herrera, INF; Tyrell Jenkins, RHP; Mike Mayers, RHP; Mike O’Neill, OF; Rafael Ortega, OF; Kenny Peoples-Walls, OF; Nick Petree, RHP; Tommy Pham, OF; David Popkins, OF; Jorge Rondon, RHP; Xavier Scruggs, 1B; Charlie Tilson, OF; Boone Whiting, RHP
The Cardinals farm system is in a transition phase right now with player graduations but this organization remains extremely well run. Many of the C+/C players have high ceilings and once they get another year under their belts should rank more strongly. There are at least another dozen Grade C prospects I could have mentioned.
The Cardinals have shown they can find talent anywhere. They have a good eye in Latin America and not just with big-budget bonus babies like Reyes and Martinez. A healthy Taveras is a truly outstanding hitter but signed for just $145,000, possibly an historic bargain.
They also have a great track record identifying underrated college players who may not have loud tools but who know how to actually play the game. Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Adams are the best recent examples, and while you can’t find players of that caliber all the time, the system’s combination of scouting and analytics turns up solid performers year after year. Kudos are also due to the coaching staff that helps guys like Zach Petrick get the most out of ability that other teams might overlook. Despite these efforts, the junior college and high school ranks aren’t neglected in the draft and players like Kaminsky, Kelly, and Bryan add youth and upside.
Overall, the Cardinals system should remain strong. If you want upside, they have that .If you want polish, they have that, too. They have power. They have speed. They have guys with great gloves. Prep players, JC guys, college guys, international signees, bonus babies and basement bargains: diversity works.
Oh, and watch out for Nick Petree. That guy can really pitch.