St. Louis Cardinals Top 20 Prospects for 2018
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 when the Top 175 Prospects for 2018 list is completed, which should be within the next few days.
THIS LIST WAS UPDATED MARCH 13, 2018
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-/B+: Age 23, top pitching prospect in baseball a year ago until going down with Tommy John surgery; current reports are good on his recovery but I take a wait-and-see-how-things-go-in-the-regular-season approach in these cases; he was a Grade A until the injury, B+/A- still makes him an elite prospect just with more uncertainty than before; upper-90s fastball with plus curveball and solid change-up when healthy, with the look of a future ace; may bump up to A- when all grades are final (UPDATE: Yes, I bumped him up to A-/B+ on March 13th) ETA sometime in 2018.
2) Jack Flaherty, RHP, Grade B+: Age 22, first round pick in 2014 from high school in Studio City, California; superb in Double-A (1.42, 62/11 K/BB in 63 innings, 47 hits), impressive in Triple-A (2.74, 85/24 in 85 innings, 73 hits), was hit hard in majors (6.33, 20/10 in 21, 23 hits) but overall you can’t complain about his season given age and rapid rise; classic number three starter profile with 90-95 fastball, plus curveball, solid slider and improvable change-up, threw strikes with everything in the minors and dominated but will need to find the right balance in the Show; I’m confident he will eventually provided he stays healthy, etc., ETA 2018.
3) Carson Kelly, C, Grade B+/B: Age 23, second round pick in 2012 from high school in Portland, Oregon; hit .283/.375/.459 with 10 homers, 33 walks, 40 strikeouts in 244 at-bats in Triple-A, .174/.240/.217 in 69 major league at-bats; he’ll improve on the later mark assuming catching doesn’t wear him down physically; excellent defender in all respects; receiving, blocking, mobility, leadership all stand out; throwing can be erratic but he caught five of 11 in the majors; glove will keep him employed for a long time; good reason for optimism with the hitting, controls strike zone quite well and game power upticked last year; ETA 2018 (UPDATE: slight boost in grade to account for placement on Top 175 list)
4) Andrew Knizner, C, Grade B/B+: Age 23, seventh round pick in 2016 from North Carolina State University; not many teams have two elite catching prospects; hit combined .302/.349/.471 between Low-A and Double-A, skipping High-A completely, 12 homers, 23 walks, 49 strikeouts in 361 at-bats; not quite as selective as Kelly but has more raw power and looked at home in Texas League a year out of college; glove was better than advertised and quite solid, threw out 45% of runners with very low passed ball and error rates; not as mobile as Kelly but reliable; can also play first base; I think he’s for real and deserves more notice than he’s received on a national basis; ETA 2019.
5) Harrison Bader, OF, Grade B/B+: Age 23, third round pick in 2015 from University of Florida; hit .283/.347/.469 with 20 homers, 15 steals, 34 walks, 118 strikeouts in 431 at-bats in Triple-A, then .235/.283/.376 with three homers, five walks, 24 strikeouts in 85 major league at-bats; broad package of skills and tools; plus speed/power combination, solid outfielder with ability to play all three spots; main issue is hitting approach which gets too aggressive and can be exploited; expect batting average/OBP to be erratic but multi-category potential has attractions both in both fantasy and real life baseball; ETA 2018.
6) Tyler O’Neill, OF, Grade B/B+: Age 22, third round pick in 2013 by Seattle Mariners from high school in Maple Ridge, British Columbia; traded to Cardinals for Marco Gonzales last summer; hit .246/.321/.499 with 31 homers, 14 steals, 54 walks, 151 strikeouts in 495 at-bats between the two organizations, with 12 homers coming in just 37 games after the trade, reportedly after a change to his swing; power can be explosive but pure hitting skills erratic, looks locked in with proper pitch recognition in some games and clueless about the zone in others; lacks Bader’s range but has a stronger throwing arm, works in right field; like Bader batting average/OBP likely inconsistent in short term but the right-handed power can’t be ignored; currently out with hamstring injury which slows the timetable in a crowded outfield; ETA 2018.
7) Adolis Garcia, OF, Grade B/B+: Age 25, Cuban, signed last spring for $2,500,000; older prospect although that’s not his fault; strong United States debut with combined .290/.340/.476 mark in Double-A/Triple-A, 15 homers, 15 steals, 33 walks, 108 strikeouts in 445 at-bats; may have the best pure tools of the three high-level outfielders, 70-arm, 60-speed, 55-raw power although game power plays down at times, that said he got to it more often as season progressed, slugged over .600 in August; fun to watch, especially cannon throwing arm; he has a lot of competition and less projection due to age but should not be under-estimated; ETA 2018.
ANALYST NOTE: The Bader/O’Neill/Garcia trio is quite intriguing and I’m not sure at all that this ordering is correct; sometimes I think Garcia is the best of the group and sometimes I think he is more of B- than a B/B+. That’s a good thing to discuss in the comments section, hint, hint.
8) Yairo Munoz, INF, Grade B/B+: Age 23, signed out of the Dominican Republic by Oakland Athletics in 2012, traded to Cards in Stephen Piscotty deal; fine season in high minors, hit .300/.330/.464 with 13 homers, 22 steals, 21 walks, 81 strikeouts in 446 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; pretty good defensive shortstop despite gaining 30 pounds since signing, more wiry when I saw him in ’15, more solidly built on ’17 view; range isn’t great but fairly reliable, can also play second, third, and even center field; power has increased with maturity, has lost a bit of speed with age but still an efficient stealer; main issue is low walk rate but does a lot of other things well; ETA 2018.
9) Dakota Hudson, RHP, Grade B/B+: Age 23, first round pick in 2016 from Mississippi State University; posted 3.01 ERA in 153 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, 96/49 K/BB; I generally like more strikeouts but 2.01 GO/AO ratio confirms reports of wicked sinking action on fastball; secondaries inconsistent, slider/curve/slurve varies between meh and plus, change between poor and adequate, needs to tighten command; looks like a number two starter on the right day and a frustrating long reliever on the wrong one, wouldn’t take many adjustments to improve; ETA 2019.
10) Randy Arozarena, OF, Grade B: Age 23, Cuban, signed for $1,250,000; solid debut with .259/.339/.424 mark between High-A and Double-A, 33 doubles, 11 homers, 18 steals, 42 walks, 90 strikeouts in 428 at-bats; no weak tools, all at least average though game feel varies; at his best shows plus bat speed with good strike zone judgment, exciting power/speed combo; swing gets away from him at times leading to streakiness; defense similar to hitting, at times really good but instincts spotty; needs a good dose of Triple-A but I like him; ETA late 2019.
11) Ryan Helsley, RHP, Grade B: Age 23, fifth round pick in 2015 from Northeastern State in Oklahoma; posted combined 2.72 ERA in 132 innings between High-A, Double-A, Triple-A with 137/48 K/BB, just 104 hits; only caution flag was rising walk rate as he advanced though it didn’t hurt him much; fastball 93-97, mixes in solid slider and curve, change-up needs more work and I don’t think his command is as good as the composite walk total implies but but no need to rush him, number three starter potential; ETA 2020.
12) Jordan Hicks, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, supplemental round pick in 2015 from high school in Houston, Texas; posted 2.74 ERA in 105 innings between Low-A and High-A, 95/45 K/BB, 96 hits; control was poor early in season but posted 32/6 K/BB in 27 innings after being promoted to High-A, then hit 100 MPH in Arizona Fall League; trendy prospect right now but not as polished as late Palm Beach numbers imply, secondaries need more work but upside is enormous and late Florida State League numbers show what he might be able to do; ETA 2021.
13) Austin Gomber, LHP, Grade B/B-: Age 24, fourth round pick in 2014 from Florida Atlantic University; 3.34 ERA with 140/51 K/BB in 143 innings in Double-A, 116 hits; posted 0.91 ERA in August with 44/12 K/BB in 40 innings; reports indicate fastball improved from 88-92 early in season to 90-94 by August; curve and change seem average by themselves but play up in aggregate due to control and deception; margin for error thin if velocity ticks down but track record is quite good, one of my favorites in number four lefty starter category; ETA late 2018.
14) Max Schrock, 2B, Grade B/B-: Age 23, drafted by Washington Nationals in 13th round in 2015 from University of South Carolina, traded to Oakland, then on to Cards in Piscotty deal; hits everywhere, including .321/.379/.422 line in Double-A and .324 career average; line drive hitter with average tools but terrific feel for hitting, extremely reliable glove, made just six errors in 101 games; has always stood out on stat sheets but draft status reflected consensus opinion on his tools; he’s winning over doubters now with his skills; ETA 2019.
15) Oscar Mercado, OF, Grade B-: Age 23, second round pick in 2013 out of high school in Gaither, Florida; looked like a bust as a shortstop who couldn’t hit; moved to outfield and everything changed, hit .287/.341/.428 with 13 homers, 38 steals, 32 walks, 112 strikeouts in 477 at-bats in Double-A, far beyond anything he had ever done before; some swing changes were indicated but he appeared more comfortable in general not having to worry about playing shortstop; very good speed, nice arm, plate discipline remaind an issue and lots of outfield competition in this system; ETA late 2019.
16) Dylan Carlson, OF, Grade C+/B-: Age 19, first round pick in 2016 from high school in Elk Grove, California; another player with split between optimistic scouting reports and numbers; hit .240/.342/.347 with seven homers, 52 walks, 116 strikeouts in 383 at-bats in Low-A but was playing season at tender age of 18; switch-hitter with flashes of plate discipline and raw power, needs lots of time but a high ceiling bat; ETA 2022
17) Conner Greene, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, drafted in seventh round in 2013 by Toronto Blue Jays, traded to Crimson Avians in January 2018 Randal Grichuk deal; ugly year in Double-A with 5.29 ERA, 92/83 K/BB, 141 hits; scouting reports much better than numbers, with fastball as high as 98 and a plus curve; command and control are terrible at this point but change of scenery may help and Cards have had success with similar pitchers in the past; may wind up in bullpen; grade feels generous; ETA 2020.
18) Junior Fernandez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2014; posted 3.69 ERA in 90 innings in High-A with 58/39 K/BB, 82 hits allowed; scouting reports have always been ahead of stats; can hit 97 but velocity fluctuates and season ended early with vague arm soreness; excellent change-up when healthy but breaking ball inconsistent and K-rate doesn’t match velocity reports; my guess is that he’s a reliever long-term; ETA 2021.
19) Edmundo Sosa, SS, Grade C+: Age 22, shortstop signed out of Panama in 2012, hit .288/.332/.361 in 219 at-bats between High-A, Double-A, and rookie ball rehab for hamate injury; draws praise for defense, overall athleticism; lacks power and not much of a stealer despite decent speed; probably a utility infielder in the long run albeit a good one; ETA 2020.
20) Evan Mendoza, 3B, Grade C+: Age 21, 11th round pick in 2017 from North Carolina State; hit stunning .370/.431/.549 in 162 at-bats in New York-Penn League, then more human .270/.286/.419 in 74 at-bats in Midwest League; must tighten strike zone but has a chance to hit for average with gap power; outstanding defensive third baseman with superior range, reliability, and instincts; sleeper prospect in a deep system where it is hard to get noticed; ETA 2022.
OTHER GRADE C+ Prospects (take your pick for number 20+): Tommy Edman, SS; Jacob Evans, LHP; Derian Gonzalez, RHP; Scott Hurst, OF; Connor Jones, RHP; Josh Lucas, RHP; Jonathan Machado, OF; Elihuris Montero, 3B; Mike O’Reilly, RHP; Johan Oviedo, RHP; Delvin Perez, SS; Chase Pinder, OF; Rangel Ravelo, 1B; Julio Rodriguez, C; Darren Seferina, 2B; Alvaro Seijas, RHP; Ryan Sherriff, LHP; Breyvic Valera, 2B; Jake Woodford, RHP; Ramon Urias, SS; Andy Young, INF; Wadye Ynfante, OF
OTHERS OF NOTE: Landon Beck, RHP; Fabian Blanco, LHP; Tyler Bray, RHP; Zach Jackson, C; Corey Littrell, LHP; Jeremy Martinez, C; Mike Mayers, RHP; Yeison Medina, RHP; Alex Mejia, INF; Hector Mendoza, RHP; Andrew Morales, RHP; Dennis Ortega, RHP; Ian Oxnevad, LHP; Nick Plummer, OF; Daniel Poncedeleon, RHP; Arturo Reyes, RHP; Kramer Robertson, INF; Angel Rondon, RHP; Stefan Trosclair, 1B-2B; Brady Whalen, 3B; Patrick Wisdom, 3B; J.B. Woodman, OF; Juan Yepez, 3B
Obviously a very deep system.
You could slot most of the other C+ guys in the 16-20 spots but I wrote up some of the raw guys I get questions about plus a personal sleeper.
This completes the series of Top 30 Prospects per organization reports.
I will be traveling Sunday but will return on Monday to answer questions in the comments section and begin work on the Top 175 Prospects for 2018 list!