St. Louis Cardinals Top 20 prospects for 2016
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 2016 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
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) Alex Reyes, RHP, Grade A/A-: Age 21, no-brainer as best prospect in system, posted 2.49 ERA with 151/49 K/BB in 101 innings between High-A, Double-A, and one rookie ball rehab game, note exceptionally good strikeout rate, generated with mid-to-upper-90s fastball (with peaks at 100) and double-plus curve. Change-up is coming along but command/control need more work. Upside: number one starter if he stays healthy. Currently suspended for recreational drug use.
2) Luke Weaver, RHP, Grade B: Age 22, first round pick in 2014 out of Florida State, 1.62 ERA with 88/19 K/BB in 105 innings in High-A, plus fastball in 92-95 range with movement as well as command, excellent change-up, curve and slider have improved since college but need more work, mid-rotation projection.
3) Jack Flaherty, RHP, Grade B: Age 20, first round pick in 2014, 2.84 ERA with 97/31 K/BB in 95 innings in Low-A, very advanced pitchability for his age, solid-average fastball in low 90s along with plus change-up, developing slider and curve, workhorse frame at 6-4, 205, potential Jeff Suppan-type and I mean that as a compliment.
4) Tim Cooney, LHP, Grade B-/B: Age 25, 2.74 ERA with 63/16 K/BB in 89 innings in Triple-A, 3.16 ERA with 29/10 K/BB in 31 innings in majors, retains rookie eligibility since season ended early due to appendicitis, throws four average to slightly above-average pitches with 90-92 heat, slider, curve, change, usually throws strikes. Does not have quite as much potential upside as Weaver or Flaherty but is a finished product ready to contribute. You can make a solid Grade B case and I may go there.
5) Edmundo Sosa, SS, Grade B-/B: Age 19, hit .300/.369/.485 with seven homers, 16 walks, 38 strikeouts in 200 at-bats in Appalachian League. I like this one a lot, grade may seem aggressive but has a chance to emerge as one of the top shortstop prospects in baseball, has shown more power than anticipated along with contact ability and solid defense.
6) Harrison Bader, OF, Grade B-/B: Age 21, hit .311/.368/.523 with 11 homers, 17 steals, 15 walks, 49 strikeouts in 235 at-bats between New York-Penn League and Low-A, third round pick was bargain out of University of Florida, all physical tools average to slightly above but he uses them very well, especially sound as a baserunner and fielding was better than expected, certainly had no trouble getting to his power either. Grade may actually be too conservative.
7) Jake Woodford, RHP, Grade B-: Age 19, comp round pick out of high school in Florida, excellent debut with 2.39 ERA, 21/7 K/BB in 26 innings in rookie ball, note bizarrely good GO/AO ratio of 4.60, very heavy fastball along with curve, slider, change all with at least average potential, at least one of those pitches may end up plus, one of my favorite high school pitchers from 2015 draft.
8) Magneuris Sierra, OF, Grade B-: Age 19, struggled in Low-A (.191/.219/.247 in 178 at-bats) but rebounded after going down to rookie ball (.315/.371/.394 in 216 at-bats), stole 19 bases combined, disappointing season but still stands out for speed, line drive hitting potential, defense. I am unsure about how much power he will develop but he is very, very young and could go any number of directions.
9) Aledmys Diaz, INF, Grade B-: Age 25, Cuban defector considered so disappointing that he fell off the 40-man roster last summer. When signed he was supposed to be a polished line drive hitter with moderate power and steady defense. He didn’t start playing that way until late July but he exploded at that point, hitting .317/.381/.559 in the second half in Double-A, then .380/.448/.620 in 50 Triple-A at-bats to end the season. Overall in 163 minor league games he has hit .276/.335/.444 with 38 doubles, 18 homers, 13 steals, and 44 walks with 101 strikeouts in 586 at-bats. That’s what he was supposed to be when he signed but he had to work some rust off and get over nagging injuries. Defense meets steady definition. He’s back on the 40-man now. I think the second half explosion was real.
10) Paul DeJong, 3B, Grade B-: Age 22, fourth round pick out of Illinois State, hit .316/.394/.516 in pro debut between Appy and Midwest Leagues, not overmatched at all jumping from Missouri Valley Conference to full season ball. Typical college Cardinals draft: good hitting approach and zone judgment, good power, defense needs work, bat should follow in the Allen Craig/Matt Carpenter mold.
11) Marco Gonzales, LHP, Grade B-: Age 24, posted 5.45 ERA with 51/24 K/BB in 69 innings in Triple-A, 91 hits, got killed in one major league start, PCL sources reported that his stuff was down compared to 2014, velocity off and breaking stuff lacked crispness, no surprise given that he was on the DL with shoulder problems for much of the year. Surgery was avoided. If healthy he is a classic strike-throwing four starter but shoulder stuff is scary.
12) Nick Plummer, OF, Grade B-: Age 19, first round pick from high school in Michigan, hit .228/.379/.344 with 39 walks, 56 strikeouts in 180 at-bats in rookie ball. Debut was disappointing except for the very high walk rate, matching reports of a very selective approach. Like many Cardinals prospects he has solid, non-spectacular tools but showed the instincts to use them well. I think he’s better than the early numbers indicate.
13) Sam Tuivailala, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, posted 1.60 ERA with 43/26 K/BB and 17 saves in 45 innings in Triple-A, 3.07 ERA with 20/8 K/BB in 15 innings in majors, still somewhat raw but 95-100 MPH fastball covers many flaws, curve and cutter have plus potential, can close games if his command sharpens up.
14) Junior Fernandez, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 19, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2013 though he spent much of his youth in the United States, 3.59 ERA with 63/17 K/BB in 58 innings in rookie ball plus two High-A outings, not big at a listed 6-1, 180 but has BIG heat, 93-98 MPH fastball with movement and some reports of 100, good change-up, slider needs work but his command took a big step forward last year. Yordano Ventura?
15) Austin Gomber, LHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 22, fourth round pick out of Florida Atlantic in 2014, very successful campaign in Low-A going 15-3, 2.67 with 140/34 K/BB in 135 innings, 97 hits, low-90s fastball delivered from 6-5, 205 frame, best pitch is above-average change-up, has made progress sharpening curveball, control is obviously strong. Could be where Tim Cooney is two years from now.
16) Charlie Tilson, OF, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .295/.351/.388 with 20 doubles, four homers, 46 steals, 46 walks, 72 strikeouts in 539 at-bats, excellent athlete with fine defensive ability, a threat on the bases though he can still be somewhat raw there, will need to develop more power to be a regular but could have long career as fourth outfielder.
17) Anthony Garcia, OF, Grade C+: Age 24, breakout season in high minors, hit .283/.391/.477 with 13 homers, 51 walks, 65 strikeouts in 346 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A, compact but powerful at 6-0, 180, ball jumps off the bat and he can control the strike zone. Converted catcher has a right field arm. I’m not sure how he fits in St. Louis but I think he’ll continue to hit.
18) Corey Littrell, LHP, Grade C+: Age 23, another Cardinals lefty, 2.69 ERA with 93/21 K/BB in 130 innings in High-A, acquired from Red Sox in 2014 John Lackey trade, former University of Kentucky lefty fits Cardinals mold perfectly with four average pitches and strong control, velocity was up a hair and it helped a lot. Possibly another Cooney type.
19) Ronnie Williams, RHP, Grade C+: Age 20, higher upside than Littrell so move Williams ahead depending on your time horizon and risk tolerance, second round pick in 2014, 3.70 ERA with 43/25 K/B in 56 innings in rookie ball, could hit 97 in high school but more in the low-90s now albeit with more consistent average velocities, curve and change-up have at least average potential, could max out as a three-pitch quality starter but will need time.
20) Daniel Poncedeleon, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, ninth round pick in 2014 out of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, posted 2.12 ERA with 87/30 K/BB in 119 innings between Low-A and High-A, 1.79 GO/AO, low-90s fastball and will mix in a solid cutter and change-up.
OTHER GRADE C+: Sandy Alcantara, RHP; Eliezer Alvarez, 2B; Mike Ohlman, C
OTHERS OF NOTE: Jayson Aquino, LHP; Matt Bowman, RHP; Allen Cordoba, SS; Bryce Denton, 3B; Jacob Evans, LHP, Carson Kelly, C; Ian McKinney, LHP; Trey Nielsen, RHP; David Oca, LHP; Darren Seferina, 2B; Alvaro Seijas, RHP; Jacob Wilson, INF
The Cardinals are a lot like the Astros (gee, that’s weird) in that they have tremendous depth in C+/B- type prospects and a proven track record in getting the most out of these guys. I could very easily have another 10 guys listed in the "others" section including upcoming LOOGY Dean Kiekhefer, Ryan Helsley, Ian Oxnevad, Chris Chinea, Oscar Mercado. . .
I will post some of the player reports in the comments section Thursday morning. Compared to other lists I think I’m lower on Carson Kelly and Charlie Tilson and higher on guys like Diaz and DeJong. I really like what Kelly has done with the glove but it is hard to see more than a Grade C with the stagnant bat.
They could use more hitting but wow the pitching is very captivating.