St. Louis Cardinals Top 20 prospects for 2017
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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses. The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.
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. 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) Alex Reyes, RHP, Grade A: Age 22, posted 4.96 ERA with 93/32 K/BB in 65 innings in Triple-A, then 1.57 ERA in 46 major league innings with 52/23 K/BB, just 33 hits allowed; Triple-A ERA was misleadingly bad (FIP was 3.72), MLB ERA misleadingly good (FIP was 2.67); all signs point to rotation spot in 2017; fastball as high as 101 in bullpen, also has excellent curveball and solid change-up; stuff is legitimately overpowering; can be a top-of-the-rotation arm if he throws enough strikes, similar to Carlos Martinez. ETA 2017.
2) Luke Weaver, RHP, Grade B+: Age 23, first round pick in 2014 out of Florida State University; 1.30 ERA with 92/12 K/BB in 83 innings in Double-A/Triple-A, 65 hits; 5.70 ERA in 36 major league innings with 45/12 K/BB, 46 hits; fastball 88 to 96 MPH, averaging 92; mixes in very good change-up, will mix in cutter and curveball; K/BB and K/IP ratios more indicative of his potential than the MLB ERA; doesn’t have Reyes’ pure stuff but profiles as number three starter due to command. ETA 2017.
3) Carson Kelly, C, Grade B/B+: Age 22, second round pick in 2012; hit .289/.343/.395 with six homers, 25 walks, 63 strikeouts in 329 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; superior defensive catcher threw out 31% of runners but with excellent passed ball and error rates plus good comments on backstop intangibles; makes contact but line drive swing cuts off natural power in 6-2, 220 frame; may be a late-bloomer with the bat. Glove will keep him in the majors for years and the hitting could still end up being very good. Industry enthusiasm for his hitting has increased over the winter and in this case I think the industry is correct. ETA 2017.
4) Harrison Bader, OF, Grade B: Age 22, third round pick in 2015 from University of Florida; hit .267/.335/.452 between Double-A and Triple-A with 19 homers, 13 steals, 36 walks, 131 strikeouts in 465 at-bats; all tools at least average and when he’s going well he has the skills to be more than just a tweener; approach can be over-aggressive and he needs more Triple-A time to hone the strike zone but I think he’ll do so; tends to look better in person than he does on the stat sheet; should be multi-category contributor. ETA 2018.
5) Jack Flaherty, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, compensation pick in 2014, posted 3.56 ERA with 126/45 K/BB in 134 innings in High-A, 129 hits; fastball in 90-93 range plays up due to strong change-up and improving breaking stuff, throws strikes, very efficient for his age; can hit inside and outside corner, pitches fearlessly; will transition to Double-A in 2017 but Cardinals are not in a position where they have to rush him. ETA 2019.
6) Dakota Hudson, RHP, Grade B: Age 22, compensation pick out of Mississippi State in 2016, posted 2.55 ERA with 115/35 K/BB in 113 innings in college; posted 0.69 ERA in 13 minor league innings, mostly in High-A, with 19/7 K/BB; extreme ground ball pitcher with fastball up to 95 and a plus cutter; also has decent curve and change-up; has arsenal to start but some project him in bullpen due to mechanics; projects as number three starter type if he remains in rotation role. ETA 2019.
7) Delvin Perez, SS, Grade B: Age 18, first round pick in 2016 from high school in Puerto Rico; hit .294/.352/.393 with 12 steals, 12 walks, 28 strikeouts in 163 at-bats in rookie ball; hitting ability was questioned pre-draft but he had no problems in pro ball, showing good feel for the strike zone and flashes of pop; uses 60-grade speed very well on the bases; has range and arm for shortstop but needs to sharpen approach on routine plays, typical for his age; could leap up prospect lists (B+ if not higher) if offensive potential maximizes; ETA 2021.
8) Magneuris Sierra, OF, Grade B: Age 20, signed out of the Dominican in 2012, hit .307/.335/.395 with 31 steals, 22 walks, 97 strikeouts in 524 at-bats in Low-A; lefty hitter with aggressive, slashy approach; power to the gaps at present, may show more home runs in time; would like to see more walks to make his OBP less dependent on his batting average; plus running speed and arm fit well in center but he needs to cut down on errors, which should happen naturally as he gains experience; ETA 2020.
9) Sandy Alcantara, RHP, Grade B/B-: Age 21, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2013; posted 3.96 ERA in 123 innings between Low-A and High-A; 153/59 K/BB, 103 hits; high strikeout and low hit rates dovetail well with reports of fastball that can hit 96-100 MPH; curveball and change-up are erratic but promising enough for him to project as a starter; needs sharper command but can flash it; the Cardinals have helped many similar pitchers harness their stuff and the same may happen here. ETA: late 2019.
10) Paul DeJong, 3B, Grade B-: Age 23, fourth round pick in 2015 from Illinois State University; hit .260/.324/.460 with 22 homers, 40 walks, 144 strikeouts in 496 at-bats in Double-A; production was well above average for Texas League at 123 wRC+; cutting down strikeouts may be helpful for batting average but the power is real; defensive tools average in raw terms but he’s polished enough to be a good third baseman and he played well during brief look at shortstop; a typical Cardinals college hitting prospect whose instincts maximize physical ability. ETA 2018.
11) Austin Gomber, LHP, Grade B-: Age 23, fourth round pick in 2014 from Florida Atlantic University; posted 2.69 ERA in 127 innings between High-A and Double-A with 116/33 K/BB, 102 hits; big 6-5 lefty with fastball at 90-92; excellent command of the heater helps a lot, mixes in a plus change-up and an average slurve; locates all three pitches with ease; a typical Cardinals college arm who can be a number four starter due to his command. ETA 2018.
12) John Gant, RHP, Grade B-: Age 24, posted 4.86 ERA in 50 innings in the major leagues with 49/21 K/BB but apparently still considered a rookie by MLB; not flashy but has a three-pitch mix with 88-94 MPH fastball, change-up, curve; in my view he is capable of cutting that ERA by at least a run if given a chance but will have to solidify his hold on a job quickly. Acquired from Braves in Jaime Garcia trade. I think he will do well with the Cardinals. ETA 2017.
13) Junior Fernandez, RHP, Grade B-: Age 19, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2014; posted 4.06 ERA with 88/54 K/BB in 122 innings, 119 hits between Low-A and High-A; Midwest League sources report fastball hitting 99 along with a solid change-up; breaking ball needs work (reflected in lowish strikeout rate) as does his general command; needs considerable polish but another high-upside arm who could be a dominant starter. ETA 2020.
14) Edmundo Sosa, SS, Grade B-: Age 20, signed from Panama in 2012; hit .270/.307/.343 in 385 at-bats between Low-A and High-A with 20 walks, 79 strikeouts; has quick bat and contact approach that should result in high batting averages down the line, although power is limited and he could stand to draw more walks; arm and range work well at shortstop; may be groomed as super-utility type depending on how bat develops. ETA 2020.
15) Connor Jones, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, second round pick in 2016 from University of Virginia; posted 2.34 ERA in 104 innings in college with 72/38 K/BB, then 3.68 ERA in 15 pro innings with 11/3 K/BB; very heavy sinker in low-90s gives him strong ground ball tendency; mixes in slider, curveball, and change-up; slider is good but off-speed stuff needs more work; should be workhorse starter if softer pitches come around, or a power bullpen arm if he sticks with the fastball and slider. ETA 2019.
16) Dylan Carlson, OF, Grade B-: Age 18, first round pick in 2016 from high school in California; hit .251/.313/.404 with 16 walks, 52 strikeouts in 183 at-bats in rookie ball; underslot bonus and was seen as more of a second round type pre-draft; switch-hitting power potential with average speed and arm strength; somewhat raw but instincts and makeup are considered big positives; long way off and could develop in any number of directions. ETA 2021.
17) Jake Woodford, RHP, Grade B-: Age 20, compensation round pick in 2015 from high school in Florida; posted 3.31 ERA with 82/37 K/BB in 109 innings in Low-A, 104 hits; Midwest League observers like 6-4, 210 frame with fastball into low-90s, shows promising curveball, slider, change-up; could use more strikeouts sabermetrically but shows aptitude to improve the secondaries which should help with that; another mid-rotation possibility that they won’t have to rush. ETA 2020.
18) Randy Arozarena, INF-OF, Grade C+/B-: Age 21; from Cuba, signed for $1,250,000 in July; went 2-for-20 in five games in the Mexican League; scouting reports point to above-average speed, solid average arm strength, and a chance to hit for power with a good batting eye; position unclear, could wind up almost anywhere except catcher or first base; obviously we need to see some real data to know how this pans out so regard this as a placeholder rating. ETA unknown.
19) Ronnie Williams, RHP, Grade C+: Age 20, second round pick in 2014 from high school in Florida; posted 2.72 ERA in 46 innings in New York-Penn League with 33/7 K/BB, then 4.29 ERA in 36 innings in Low-A with 36/17 K/BB; not tall at 6-0 but athletic, quick arm with moving fastball in low-90s; curveball and change-up have improved although both remain in progress; a very tough customer when his command is on, but it is not always on; young enough to develop much further. ETA: late 2020.
20) Zac Gallen, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, third round pick in 2016 from University of North Carolina; posted 2.68 ERA in 91 innings in college with 95/21 K/BB and just 68 hits allowed; kept on short leash in rookie ball due to spring workload but struck out 15 with zero walks in 10 pro innings; another typical Cardinals college arm with low-90s fastball, good cutter/slider hybrid, and at least average change-up, throws strikes, excellent mound makeup; could move rapidly as fourth starter type. ETA 2019.
OTHER GRADE C+: Eliezer Alvarez, 2B; Randy Arozarena, INF; Bryce Denton, 3B; Tommy Edman, SS; Victor Garcia, OF; Ryan Helsley, RHP; John Kilichowski, LHP; Jeremy Martinez, C; Nick Plummer, OF; Daniel Poncedeleon, RHP; Alvaro Seijas, RHP; Breyvic Valera, 2B
GRADE C: Chris Chinea, C-1B; Luke Dykstra, INF; Chris Ellis, RHP; Matt Fiedler, OF; Kendry Flores, RHP; Anthony Garcia, OF; Jose Godoy, C; Marco Gonzales, LHP; Derian Gonzalez, RHP; Jordan Hicks, RHP; Andrew Knizner, C; Gabriel Lino, C; Corey Littrell, LHP; Jonathan Machado, OF; Mike Mayers, RHP; Ian McKinney, LHP; Andrew Morales, RHP; Trey Nielsen, RHP; Ian Oxnevad, LHP; Matt Pearce, RHP; Walker Robbins, OF; Luke Voit, 1B; Rowan Wick, RHP
This is another system with excellent mid-range depth. I will answer questions in the comments section.