St. Louis Cardinals Top 20 Prospects for 2015
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 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
The .pdf version of the book should be finished next week.
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other 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. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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) Marco Gonzales, LHP, Grade B+: Age 23, posted 2.43 ERA with 117/27 K/BB in 122 innings at three levels, then 4.15 ERA with 31/21 K/BB in 35 big league innings. Rapid advancement for former Gonzaga ace, key pitch is excellent change-up along with low-90s fastball, decent curve, strong sense of his craft. Could relieve at first but number three starter in the long run.
2) Alex Reyes, RHP, Grade B+: Age 20, posted 3.62 ERA with 137/61 K/BB in 109 innings in Low-A, 82 hits. Excellent K/IP and H/IP ratios provide sabermetric confirmation of top-flight stuff, fastball in upper 90s, plus curve, developing change-up. Needs tighter command but upside of a number two starter.
3) Rob Kaminsky, LHP, Grade B+: Age 20, posted 1.88 ERA with 79/31 K/BB in 101 innings in Low-A, 71 hits. Lively low-90s fastball with excellent curve, change-up needs some work, command is more advanced than Reyes, potential number three starter or perhaps a power reliever if durability becomes an issue.
4) Jack Flaherty, RHP, Grade B/Borderline B-: Age 19, first round pick in 2014, posted 1.59 ERA with 28/4 K/BB in 23 innings in rookie ball. Low 90s fastball, already has quality curve, slider, change, throws strikes, advanced pitchability. We need to see how he handles workload but every reason to be optimistic. Usually ranked behind Piscotty and Grichuk on prospect lists but I am very intrigued with Flaherty and will gamble here.
5) Stephen Piscotty, OF, Grade B-/Borderline B: Age 24, hit .288/.355/.406 in Triple-A, OPS and wRC+ production exactly average for PCL, big guy without big power, prefers to focus on pure hitting skills. Grounded into 18 double plays. Runs well, good throwing arm. He’s a good prospect but perhaps somewhat overhyped.
6) Randall Grichuk, OF, Grade B-/Borderline B: Age 23, hit .259/.311/.493 in Triple-A with 25 homers, 28 walks, 108 strikeouts. In the majors hit .248/.278/.400 in 110 at-bats. If you could combine Piscotty’s plate discipline with Grichuk’s power you’d have an All Star slugger. However, that kind of human experimentation and genetic engineering has been banned by the United Nations.
7) Tim Cooney, LHP, Grade B-: Age 24, went 14-6, 3.47 with 119/47 K/BB in 158 innings in Triple-A. Durable stereotype strike-throwing lefty with 88-92 fastball, good curveball and change-up, confident approach, doesn’t nibble. Ready for a trial as a fourth starter.
8) Luke Weaver, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, first round pick out of Florida State University, posted 7.71 ERA with 12/4 K/BB in just nine pro innings, kept on short leash after heavy college workload. Great collegiate track record, 88-93 fastball with higher peaks, best pitch is change-up, needs sharper breaking stuff. Cardinals have had good results with pitchers of this profile.
9) Magneuris Sierra, OF, Grade C+: Age 18, rookie ball sensation hit .386/.434/.505 with 13 steals in Gulf Coast League. Line drive hitter with advanced approach, runs well, impressive defender with strong feel for hitting. Main question is power projection at higher levels but he’s off to a good start. Could rank at the top of this list in seven months.
10) Jacob Wilson, INF, Grade C+: Age 24, hit .302/.362/.460 in 66 games between High-A and Double-A in injury-shortened season, 10th round pick from University of Memphis in 2012 has solid power, adept defender at second and third base. Left good impression on Texas League observers, should be valuable role player.
11) Carson Kelly, C, Grade C+: Age 20, former third baseman converted to catching, hit .248/.326/.366 in Low-A. Threw out 33% of runners, needs more polish and experience receiving but the tools are there. Hasn’t lived up to offensive expectations yet but many Midwest League observers think he eventually will.
12) Sam Tuivailala, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, former infielder converted to relief, posted 3.15 ERA with 97/27 K/BB in 60 innings at three levels. Can hit 100, good curve, command isn’t perfect but not expected to be at this point, middle relief profile with closer potential.
13) Aledmys Diaz, SS, Grade C+: Age 24, Cuban defector hit .291/.311/.453 in 34 games in Double-A, limited playing time due to shoulder issues. He showed Texas League observers more power than anticipated but weaker pure hitting skills than were reported when he signed. Given the small sample and the rust he was working off, it doesn’t mean much either way. Let’s see how he looks in spring training. Some think he can be a regular, others say utilityman, not enough data to tell who is right.
14) Tommy Pham, OF, Grade C+: Age 26, hit .324/.395/.491 with 10 homers, 38 walks, 81 strikeouts, 20 steals in 22 attempts in 346 at-bats in Triple-A. I really like Tommy Pham: he is an excellent athlete with broad tools, speed, power, but he has a hard time staying healthy. In fact his potential base of skills is broader than Piscotty and Grichuk. He doesn’t have as much raw power as Grichuk, but he has more than Piscotty, is faster than either of his competitors, and out-hit them by a large margin in Triple-A. Injury history and his age keep him lower on the list, but if he can avoid the doctors he could be quite good.
15) Charlie Tilson, OF, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 22, hit .308/.357/.414 in 370 at-bats in High-A, .237/.269/.324 in 139 at-bats in Double-A. Fine athlete, runs well, good glove, still a favorite of scouts. Some see him as a regular and he ranks more highly on other lists but this looks more like a fourth or fifth outfield profile to me. Younger than Pham but Pham’s skills are broader and more impactful.
16) Mike Mayers, RHP, Grade C/Borderline C+: Third round pick from University of Mississippi in 2013, pitched at three levels in ’14 with 3.39 ERA, 117/37 K/BB in 154 innings, 174 hits, finishing in Triple-A. Typical Cardinals mid-range pitching prospect: boring college pitcher who throws strikes with okay stuff, could be back-end starting pitcher or relief option.
17) Juan Herrera, SS, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 21, hit .274/.320/.364 with 27 steals in 379 at-bats in Low-A. Midwest League observers like his defensive tools, use of speed on the bases, throwing arm, youth. He won’t be a power hitter but has a chance to hit enough to play regularly. May kick this one up to C+.
18) Breyvic Valera, 2B, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 23, favorite sleeper prospect of many people who follow the Cardinals system closely, hit .313/.361/.367 between High-A and Double-A. Career .313 hitter, switch-hitter, but has very little power. Being groomed as utility guy, played second, third, shortstop, first base, left field last year.
19) Edmundo Sosa, SS, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 18, hit .275/.341/.377 in Gulf Coast League, long way off but has the physical tools to jump past every other infielder on this list with more experience.
20) Ty Kelly, INF, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 26, older prospect acquired from Mariners, hit .263/.381/.412 with 15 homers, 85 walks, 96 strikeouts in 456 at-bats in Triple-A. Switch hitter with solid multi-year track record showing on-base ability and sparks of power, defensive versatility. Does not have physical ceiling of many guys listed below, but highlighted here since he could play in the majors in ’15 and provide some cheap fantasy value.
OTHERS: Vaugn Bryan, OF; Malik Collymore, INF; Greg Garcia, 2B; Austin Gomber, LHP; Kyle Grana, RHP; Juan Herrera, SS; Mason Katz, INF-C; Corey Littrell, LHP; C.J. McElroy, OF; Ian McKinney, LHP; Oscar Mercado, SS; Andrew Morales, RHP; Mike Ohlman, C; Frederis Parra, RHP; Juan Perez, RHP; Chris Perry, RHP; Nick Petree, RHP; Zach Petrick, RHP; Daniel Poncedeleon, RHP; Jonathan Rodriguez, 1B; Xavier Scruggs, 1B;Darren Seferina, 2B; Cody Stanley, C; Boone Whiting, RHP; Rowan Wick, OF; Ronnie Williams, RHP, Patrick Wisdom, 3B.
The Cardinals farm system is in a transitional phase, a fact reflected in grades that may seem conservative on the surface. Keep in mind however that many of the Grade C guys in the "others" section are young and have considerable upside but need to show themselves at higher levels. In general this farm system is in good condition and a proven incubator of major league talent.
Pitching is a strength. The Cardinals have a good assortment of available types, ranging from strike-throwing polished lefties Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney who are ready for major league jobs, to lower level high-upside arms like Alex Reyes, Rob Kaminsky, Jack Flaherty, Ronnie Williams, Ian McKinney. As usual there are some boring college pitchers scattered through all levels: Mayers, Whiting, Weaver, Littrell, Gomber, Petrick, Petree, Morales. These guys might not light up radar guns or make scouts drool but fourth/fifth starters come from somewhere, strike-throwers present a good example for the raw/young arms to watch and learn from, and sometimes these guys play up in relief. Sam Tuivailala and Chris Perry present as more traditional hard-throwing relief types and the Cards always seem to have bullpen arms looking for chances.
The hitting side generates less enthusiasm but is not empty. Both Stephen Piscotty and Randall Grichuk have the ability to be regulars, but as noted above they are not slam-dunks and it is possible that their weaknesses, if not addressed, may make them merely good role players and not long-term lineup foundations. Tommy Pham is older but when he is healthy the skills and tools look good, too. Given his track record that’s a tough bet to make.
For power options, Rowan Wick destroyed the New York-Penn League but Midwest League pitchers were able to control him by exploiting his swing/miss tendencies. Xavier Scruggs is an older prospect and dealt with his own strikeout issues for most of his career but he’s made progress over the last year or two and could be a power-providing role bat.
Up-the-middle depth is a strength, with Ty Kelly, Jason Wilson, Greg Garcia, Aledmys Diaz, and Breyvic Valera all in line for bench trials within the next year. Edmundo Sosa and Juan Herrera are further away but have more upside as possible regulars. Keep a close watch on Malik Collymore, a toolsy Canadian who made good progress in rookie ball.