Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals

Blue Jays
Red Sox
White Sox

The Cardinals certainly have tons of mid-level depth. If history continues to repeat itself, that means at least two above-average position players and a high-upside pitcher or two will pop up from the low minors this year, replenishing the lack of “impact” players at the high levels. They continue to target hitters with upside in the hit-tool department, trusting them to develop power or complement it with defensive or base-running value. On the pitching side, it’s like a broken record for a lot of the newer pitchers in the low levels: (Pitcher Name) came in throwing in the high-80s, and now comfortably sits in the low- to mid-90s with more physical projection left to realize.

No one will be excited by the prospects coming up through this system, but you’d be mistaken if you underestimate the player development model they have created in recent years. I had trouble putting a lot of the prospects I like in this system into the 50+ group for various reasons, but the Cardinals have one of the highest numbers of players just outside that line that could step forward this year with the right adjustments.

There are a number of players whom I rank lower than most in this organization, but in all honesty, there’s so much clustering in the middle of the list that it’s just semantics arguing over most of them. Feel free, anyway. Darren Seferina is my top pick for the Cardinals’ patented out-of-nowhere starting position player, with excellent hitting ability and base-running potential to go with potential above-average defense at second base. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the boo birds gathering forces in the darkest corners of the internet as you read this.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I communicate scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels. If you prefer the traditional methodologies of other publications, I would suggest averaging the latter two grades together to get a semi-optimistic view of where a player projects.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list.

Organizational Overview
The Cardinals’ core is reaching the end of the line, and for most organizations, it would be time to start thinking about a rebuild if things don’t go well in 2016. But the Cardinals don’t rebuild; they just promote another random grinder who received almost no attention in the minors, and that guy turns into something amazing. They’ve been pulling this trick off for so long that it’s no longer surprising, and the continued infusion of youth should allow the team to remain competitive. But with the Cubs putting a monstrous roster together, the Cardinals might be the second-best team in the division for a while, and will have to find even more random late-round draft picks than usual if they want to take the division title back to St. Louis.

50+ FV Prospects

1. Alex Reyes, RHP
Current Level/Age: Double-A/21.6, 6’3/175, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2012 out of Dominican Republic by STL for $950,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 1

Reyes is a fun mixture of dizzying positive qualities and expectation-tempering negatives. Just watching him on the mound, it’s not difficult to see why one may view him as a better bet in the bullpen, with his high-speed arm and low-intensity lower half. There’s a ton of late acceleration in his arm, with an arm slot that can get a little dicey concerning potential stress on his elbow, and there’s a noticeable recoil at the end of his follow through even when he isn’t going 100%. Add to that his persisting command issues, and… wait, why is this even a question?

Well, he has three legitimate quality pitches in his fastball, curve and changeup, as well as a newer high-80s slider that could have as much potential as he finds a niche for it separate from his sharp curve. His 12-6 curve is nearly unhittable when he’s hitting spots, which regresses only to being impossible to consistently square up when he isn’t. The only thing limiting his fastball is his command, as the pitch lacks exceptional movement, but it routinely works in the upper-90s. Not to be outdone, his changeup has plus potential as a swing-and-miss pitch, or at least a strong ground ball-inducing weapon.

His delivery issues aren’t nothing, as he often looks like he never gets grounded and just floats on top of his legs. Even with a strong landing leg, his balance can change from pitch to pitch, with his release point and command suffering as a result. Delivery-wise, he looked much better in parts of the Arizona Fall League in 2015, with a more even tempo keeping him in line with the plate and smoothing out some of the obvious effort in his arm without sacrificing velocity or effectiveness. Oh, and he won’t turn 22 until the end of the minor-league season. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Reyes could end up following the path of some of the Cardinals’ recent pitching prospects, starting out in the bullpen and transitioning into a starting role as a spot in the rotation opens. The 50-game suspension for drug use pushes his timeline back slightly, but expect to see him in the big leagues by September in some capacity, especially if the team is a contender. He still looks like a 21-year-old on the mound at times, and hasn’t quite scratched the surface of his potential despite his high starting point.

Though the early part of major-league career may be better off in the pen, I don’t see enough reason why his top-tier arsenal won’t kill it in the rotation. Assuming good health, the positives easily outweigh the question marks, and he’s going to thrive in whatever role he ends up. Even with no better than above-average command potential, he has the unquestionable upside as a number-one starter.

Fastball: 65/70/80 Curveball: 55/60/70 Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 45/55/60+ Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 50/65/75

Video courtesy of Minor League Baseball
2. Jack Flaherty, RHP
Current Level/Age: Single-A/20.5, 6’4/205, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 34th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of California HS by STL for $2 million bonus
Previous Rank: 5

I actually was more excited about Flaherty’s potential as a position player coming out of high school, and his success as a pitcher provides solid evidence for just how gifted of an athlete he is overall. Though he has gotten more acclaim for his pitchability and command in the early going, I think that reputation undersells the potential his pich collection has as he continues to become comfortable as a full-time pitcher. He more than handled a full-season assignment in Single-A last year, and while his overall numbers were great, his 56:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 45.1 innings really signified how much room he has left to grow.

His low-90s fastball has excellent movement; it’s a pitch over which he already possesses above-average command. His best offspeed pitch is a changeup that has identical arm speed and release to his fastball, and a slider gives him another potential above-average pitch to mess with hitters’ timing. He mixes in a curveball, as well, though its upside isn’t as high. Both his changeup and slider have swing-and-miss potential, especially with his ability to locate both of them on the edges of the zone.

Flaherty shouldn’t be discounted as a command-only pitcher. He will be only 20 years old for the entirety of the 2016 season, and he still has some physical development ahead of him that could push his stuff into the upper echelon of pitching prospects. He is as athletic on the mound as you could possibly ask for, and will really be able to cash in on strength gains in the form of increased sustained velocity and even better command than he already shows. Even if his velocity stays the same, expect to see him painting corners with enough consistency that all of his pitches play up, giving him the ceiling of a number-two or -three starter.

Fastball: 50/55+/60 Curveball: 40/45/50 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 55/60/65 Command: 50/55/60
Overall: 45/55/65

Video courtesy of Nathan Baliva
3. Darren Seferina, 2B
Current Level/Age: Single-A/20.5, 5’9/175, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 165th overall (5th round) in 2014 out of Miami-Dade by STL for $280,100 bonus
Previous Rank: Unranked

Seferina has a solid line-drive stroke and plus raw speed, performing well as the leadoff hitter last year for Single-A Peoria. He’s short to the ball, but has a much better swing path than most low-power, contact-hitting types. His power production was a bit misleading, as most of his extra bases were the result of his speed rather than the ability to drive the ball. Not that speed doesn’t do that at higher levels too, but outfielders will have a better time cutting down the free bases as he advances.

His effective range in the infield is pretty impressive, utilizing his plus speed and and quick footwork to profile as at least an average defender. The only thing keeping him from profiling at short is his arm strength. His base-running numbers were interesting enough to point out; along with his 23 steals came getting caught 17 times, so obviously he has some refinement to do there. That he is continuing to run speaks to the confidence the Cardinals’ staff has in him learning the art of base stealing.

Don’t let the lack of attention to Seferina fool you. This guy can hit and play solid defense. You don’t need amazing arm strength to be a top-10 prospect, and his poor fit at shortstop is the main reason you haven’t heard much about him. If he played shortstop with the same tools, it would be a different story, but instead he’s getting a head start at the position that fits him best long-term.

Hit: 35/55/60 Power: 20/35/35-40 Run: 55/55+/60 Field: 50/50-55/55 Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 25/50+/60

Video courtesy of Major League Baseball
4. Tim Cooney, LHP
Current Level/Age: MLB/25.3, 6’3/195, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 117th overall (3rd round) in 2012 out of Wake Forest by STL for $404,400 bonus
Previous Rank: 10

Cooney is a command specialist with three average-or-better offspeed pitches to complement his uninspiring fastball. Though he can cut, sink and run his fastball to every quadrant of the strike zone, hitters seem to get a very good look at it out of his hand, and any mistake with it will be a problem. Neither of his breaking balls are particularly sharp, but he has a great feel for burying them below the zone or back-dooring them into the arm-side corner of the plate, depending on the situation.

With consistently solid results and excellent command, Cooney won’t have any problem navigating through lineups a few times with all the different looks he can give them. His lack of a fastball that opposing hitters must respect limits his ceiling, but only relative to where he’s already at as an average major-league starter.

Fastball: 45/50/50 Curveball: 50/50/55 Slider: 50/50/50 Changeup: 55/55/60 Command: 55/60/60+
Overall: 50/50/55

Video courtesy of Eric Longenhagen
5. Luke Weaver, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/22.6, 6’2/170, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 27th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of Florida State by STL for $1.843 million bonus
Previous Rank: 8

I expected to be wowed more by Luke Weaver when I saw him in the fall, and nothing really stood out until I checked my notes later. All the stuff is there to be a mid-rotation starter: fastball working 92-96, changeup with great arm speed and some movement, and an athletic delivery. I still found myself looking for reasons to knock his grades down, but I believe his underwhelming breaking stuff was the main source of my lack of excitement. Both his curveball and slider are below-average pitches, with his curve being the only one with a chance to get to average.

His fastball and changeup both have a chance to be plus pitches, though I think the biggest reason I wasn’t impressed watching him was how easy it was to pick up his pitches from the batter’s point of view. His change may be good enough for it not to matter, but both of his breaking balls were obvious coming out of his hand, basically making him a two-pitch starter going forward. He also has some rhythm issues that get him off his location, though he stays in the zone enough that his ceiling is limited but his floor remains pretty high.

Look for Weaver to earn his way into Triple-A fairly quickly, but don’t expect more than a future number-three starter at most.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 40/45/50 Slider: 40/40-45/45 Changeup: 55/55/60 Command: 45/50/50+
Overall: 45/50/55

45+ FV Prospects
6. Harrison Bader, OF, VIDEO, Single-A

Bader can take some awkward swings at the plate, and yet has a great knack for barreling up pitches. He traded some of the loose, athletic moves in his swing from college for a simpler, more direct path in his first try at pro ball, and he had great success mostly at the Single-A level. He is at least an average fielder and an above-average base-runner, making his bat the likely determining factor in his ultimate role as a big leaguer.

With average-or-better potential tools across the board, Bader has a chance to be the best position player coming out of this system, though I’ll be interested to see if his loose, quick hands, contact skills and raw strength combine to continue making up for a suboptimal bat path. I think his power may be more a tick below-average as it stands now, though I do see the natural strength and potential for above-average power due to natural ability and the possibility of showing his best swings more consistently in the future.

Hit: 35/50/55 Power: 30/45/55 Run: 55/55/55+ Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 30/45-50/65

7. Edmundo Sosa, SS, VIDEO, Rookie

Sosa is more of a solid fundamental shortstop than a flashy defender, and his average arm strength plays up a bit due to good feet and a quick release. He is still learning how to turn his plus speed into a stolen-base threat. Sources praise his approach and hitting ability at such a young age, and many believe he will develop close to average power at maturation. He has excellent hands at the plate, and will need to get more out of his legs to consistently be able to drive the ball.

Hit: 30/50/55 Power: 25/40/45 Run: 50/55/55 Field: 50/50-55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 20/45-50/60

8. Magneuris Sierra, OF, VIDEO, Single-A

Sierra is getting some attention as a potential five-tool contributor, and he certainly has the feel for hitting and athletic ability to be a dynamic player. His chances of playing center field look good, and his plus speed will allow his solid developing plate discipline and contact skills to really enhance his offensive production.

I’m lukewarm on his potential power output, since most of his swings are more handsy, and it’s easy to get him off his legs with offspeed. When he does stay on his legs, he has more of a twisting action to his swing that bodes well for his pull power, but more on a situational basis and not a sustained ability. An above-average fielder with plus speed and at least an average hit tool is damn close to an average regular, and a lot more if his contact and discipline continue to develop.

Hit: 25/50/60 Power: 25/35-40/40 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 20/45-50/60

9. Junior Fernandez, RHP, Rookie

Fernandez has seen his velocity climb comfortably into the mid- to high-90s in the last year or so, and his changeup looks to be a legitimate out pitch. He has a lot of effort in his delivery that could push him to the bullpen in the end, but for now he throws enough strikes and has a developing three-pitch mix (an inconsistent slider representing the third offering) that the Cardinals hope he can make work in the rotation. If he can somehow stick there, he could be a challenger for top pitching prospect in the system after Reyes, but I’d like to get eyes on him in full-season ball before going to that extent. He got a quick two-appearance look in High-A to finish out the season, but he’s going to start somewhere between there and Rookie ball, but not in either.

Fastball: 55/65/75 Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 45/55/65 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 35/45-50/60

10. Aledmys Diaz, INF, VIDEO, Triple-A

It took a year longer than hoped, but Diaz’ 2015 season was closer to what the Cardinals were looking for when they signed him out of Cuba, especially in the second half. Though I came away less than enthused about his power potential, his hands are way too good to prevent him from being a solid hitter going forward. He has perfectly fine contact ability and has put up respectable walk rates in the minors. He won’t be a big on-base guy in the majors with his aggressive approach, but his loose, quick hands make up for it enough that he has the potential to be an above-average hitter.

He’s too choppy with his swing to be a big power threat, but he shows above-average pop in batting practice. He has enough fielding ability with good range and an average arm not to need a lot of thump, but he still can hit for close to average power. His arm plays up with his release and ability to throw from every angle, keeping him viable at shortstop or any other infield position. At worst he fits a utility profile perfectly, but I can still see him working into a starting role with above-average production if his hit tool fully translates.

Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 40+/45/45 Run: 45/45/50 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 45/45-50/55+

11. Marco Gonzales, LHP, VIDEO, MLB

This one’s tough. I’m still a firm believer in his potential to become a solid mid-rotation starter, but the combination of the shoulder woes and an arm action that’s becoming less athletic leaves him in a rough place right now. He looks stiffer on the mound than a few years ago, which makes his pitches less deceptive and more reliant on elite command. He has plenty of time to smooth things out again, being only 24 years old for the entirety of the 2016 season, but I want to see more athleticism and/or deception on the mound before pegging him as more than a back-end starter.

Fastball: 45/45/50 Curveball: 45/45/45 Slider: 50/50/55 Changeup: 55/55/60 Command: 55/60/60+
Overall: 45/45+/55

12. Jake Woodford, RHP, VIDEO, Rookie

Woodford already has some strong indicators of future success in a low- to mid-90s fastball that has tremendous sink and run. By tremendous, I mean ridiculous. By ridiculous, I mean the 71% ground-ball rate he put up in his 26.1 Gulf Coast League innings after being taken 39th overall in June. He doesn’t have a ton of projection in his offspeed offerings, and his aggressive delivery gives him a lot of present effectiveness but not much room for further velocity gains. Like most extreme sinkerballers, his command will be an ongoing developing quality, but his ability to stay in the strike zone should be at least average in the end.

Without a definite path to a swing-and-miss secondary pitch or elite command, his ceiling is more in the middle of a rotation, but he is a great bet to land in the rotation somewhere. If his command never steps forward, the velocity and movement on his fastball will still allow him to be a major league option, perhaps as an above-average reliever with excellent ground-ball tendencies.

Fastball: 55/60/60+ Curveball: 40/45/50 Slider: 40/45/50+ Changeup: 40/45/45 Command: 40/45/50+
Overall: 40/45+/55

13. Nick Plummer, OF, VIDEO, Rookie

Plummer has solid all-around tools that give him a high floor in the outfield, but not a ton of upside in any one area. He has quick hands in his swing, though it’s more a product of how short he is to the ball than true elite bat speed. He could hit for average power if he incorporated more of his body into the swing, but that may be a tall order considering much of his ability as a hitter comes from firing his hands quickly at the last second.

Defensively he may end up a tweener in the outfield with a little less than average ability in center but not enough arm for right, though he could end up having enough ability in every aspect to be a solid left fielder. His patient approach should help him get on base even if his contact numbers remain where they were in his debut.

Hit: 25/50/55+ Power: 20/40/45 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/50/50+ Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 20/45/55

14. Charlie Tilson, OF, VIDEO, Double-A

I’ll admit to being a little torn on Tilson. Watching him hit is not an impressive sight, with his choppy, pushy swing built for ground balls and no power. He’s not an elite defender, but should do well enough in center field, and he has plus to plus-plus speed that he is learning to use on the bases. Speedsters with ground-ball swings tend to do much better in the minors than in the big leagues, but Tilson has a bit more upside with his hitting because of his contact and occasional solid-looking swing path. We’ll just have to see where it shakes out over the next year or two.

Hit: 45/45-50/50 Power: 30/30/35 Run: 65/65/65 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 45/45/50
Overall: 40/45/50

15. Sam Tuivailala, RHP, VIDEO, MLB

Tuivailala will start the 2016 season in Triple-A, where the Cardinals hope he can iron out his command a bit before taking a place in the big league bullpen. Armed with a high-90s fastball and sharp, downward breaking slider, he has the stuff to be a solid bullpen arm with strikeout upside, but his fastball needs to be located better if he’s going to reach his ceiling against major-league hitters. It’s straight and fast, but its current use is primarily to get hitters geared up so his slider plays better. He also throws a curveball that is likely to remain a below-average pitch.

Fastball: 55/60/70 Curveball: 45/45/45 Slider: 50/50+/55 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 40/45/50

16. Austin Gomber, LHP, VIDEO, Single-A

Gomber has the look of a solid back-half starter with three potential average or better pitches. He throws strikes at a solid rate, and even saw an uptick in strikeouts in his full-season stint in Single-A. The only blemish is how his arm can look disconnected from the rest of his body with some stiff actions at times, which contributes to his command lagging behind his overall control. Nonetheless, lefties with a couple pitches and good control have a place in every big-league staff, and Gomber looks to be one of those guys. If the effort doesn’t settle down, he still has a reliable future working out of the bullpen.

Fastball: 50/50/55 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 50/55/55+ Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/45/50

40+ FV Prospects
17. Bryce Denton, 3B, VIDEO, Rookie

Denton has a lot of tools, but he’s going to be a player-development project on both sides of the ball. He’s a stretch at third base currently, though most of his issues stem more from poor technique than tools. Still, his natural actions and rhythm around the ball don’t look like an infielder’s yet. At the plate, he has very athletic hands and quick hips, but he’s very choppy and cuts across the ball with his bat. It comes down to how well the Cardinals’ staff can level out his path at the plate and clean up his footwork in the field.

Hit: 25/50/55 Power: 20/45+/55 Run: 55/50/50 Field: 40/45/45 Throw: 50/50/55
Overall: 20/40-45/55

18. Anthony Garcia, OF, VIDEO, Triple-A

Last year was seen as a breakout for Garcia, putting up big offensive numbers in Double-A before settling for just great production in Triple-A. However, you can trace his plate-discipline improvements back to 2014, when he was still playing in the tough Florida State League, where his fly-ball tendencies didn’t play well at all. I don’t expect him to hit for a high average or a ton of home runs despite his plus raw power, but doubles and walks count, too.

He’s a solid bet for average on-base rates and above-average overall power. The only problem is his corner-outfield defense, which grades out as below-average at best. Not being able to add value on the bases as well makes him very dependent on his bat, which will earn him at least a solid part-time role with starter production possible if his power and discipline fully translate.

Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 50/55/60 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 40/40-45/45 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 30/40-45/50+

19. Greg Garcia, 2B/SS, VIDEO, MLB

Garcia is a solid hitter with excellent contact skills and a great swing, especially compared to most low-power position players. He adds some defensive versatility and the ability to do some work on the bases. If it weren’t for his very low power potential, he would be a perfectly good starting middle infielder. He still might reach that level if his hitting ability and walk rate completely develop into big-league skills.

Hit: 50/55/60 Power: 30/30/35 Run: 50/50/55 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 35/40-45/50

20. Paul DeJong, 3B, VIDEO, Single-A

DeJong brings his advanced approach to a Cardinals system that has been known for its consistency in the department. While he isn’t going to be an elite hitter, he does enough with the bat to have a big-league future. He has some home-run power, which he would do well to embrace with a more loft-oriented swing, but his discipline and ability to shoot line drives around the field may be enough to overcome his so-so defense and reach his ceiling as an average starter.

Hit: 40/50/55 Power: 35/45/50 Run: 40/40/45 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 30/40/50

21. Ronnie Williams, RHP, VIDEO, Rookie

Williams is all projection at this point, with a strong arm and athletic delivery representing the reasons many think he will continue developing nicely. He has the need for improved secondary stuff and command, but he remains one to watch in the low minors.

Fastball: 50/55/55+ Curveball: 40/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/45+ Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 30/40/50

22. Carson Kelly, C, VIDEO, High-A

Kelly has taken well to his conversion to catching, at least from a defensive perspective. His offense shows signs of coming around while he focuse on his glove, but I’m not certain he profiles better than a backup backstop. His low-average bat needs to be supported by reaching his ceiling in the power department, though his level-to-downward swing, which also features a lot of wrist-roll across the ball, takes away a lot of his chances for long drives. Now that he has started to get comfortable at his new position, perhaps he can get on track with the bat, but I’m not counting on it for now.

Hit: 30/40/45 Power: 35/40/50 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 50/55/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 25/40/45-50

23. Corey Littrell, LHP, VIDEO, Single-A

Littrell was demoted to the bullpen in May, turned his cutter into a slider and would return to the rotation in late June to post a 60:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 81 innings the rest of the way. The slider gave him a true weapon against lefties, which helps both his starter credentials and his more likely bullpen role down the line. He has four average pitches with good control, with some effort in his arm and lower command ceiling being supporting evidence for an eventual relief position. He’ll stay in the rotation for now, and still has some hope for a career as a back-end starter.

Fastball: 45/45+/50 Curveball: 50/50/50 Slider: 50/50/50+ Changeup: 45/50/50 Command: 45/45+/50
Overall: 40/40-45/45

24. Daniel Ponce De Leon, RHP, VIDEO, High-A

When he’s not looking for special water in Florida, Ponce De Leon pounds the zone with a heavy sinker, slider/cutter and a changeup, and has produced at an exceptional level for a senior sign with a strange backstory. He has started in the minors for the Cards, but I would be surprised if he ends up anywhere but in the bullpen, where his ground-ball ways and aggressive delivery seem to fit best.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 45/50/50 Changeup: 45/45+/50 Command: 45/50/50
Overall: 40/40+/45

25. Matt Bowman, RHP, VIDEO, Triple-A

Bowman was a shrewd Rule 5 pickup for the Cardinals, having spent his minor-league career as a ground ball-generating starter who they will look to for the same qualities out of the big-league pen. While his future as a starter was lukewarm, I don’t see any reason why he won’t be able to be a serviceable middle reliever, though his status with the team will come down to whether me makes the club in the final days of spring training.

Fastball: 50/50/55 Curveball: 45/45/50 Slider: 45/50/50 Changeup: 50/55/55 Command: 45/45/45+
Overall: 40/40/45

26. Trey Nielsen, RHP, VIDEO, High-A

With Tommy John surgery now firmly in his past, Nielsen has proven adept at inducing weak contact with an emphasis on ground-ball outs so far in his professional career. The lack of a reliable breaking ball and his age – he’ll be 25 in September – will likely push him into the bullpen, which would put his sinker-changeup combo on the fast track to a middle-relief role in the big leagues. There’s no harm in letting him pitch in the rotation for now, but by the end of the season I would expect the decision to be made.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 40/45/45 Changeup: 45/50/50 Command: 45/45+/50
Overall: 35/40/45

Cistulli’s Guy
Alex Mejia, 3B/SS, Triple-A

Given an infinite amount of time, a monkey punching randomly at a keyboard would compose the complete works of William Shakespeare. By virtue of a similar logic, one find that, given the opportunity to select an overlooked prospect from each of the league’s 30 organizations, Carson Cistulli would almost certainly identify at least a reasonably productive one. Pursuant to the latter of those two hypotheses, one finds that the author actually did select outfielder Tommy Pham in this space last year. Pham proceeded to acquit himself well in his first real exposure to the majors, producing a 1.5 WAR in 173 plate appearances while exhibiting an impressive collection of physical tools.

St. Louis no longer possesses a player like Pham in their system — which is to say, one as compelling as Pham who’s also been omitted from Farnsworth’s list above, as Pham was from Kiley McDaniel’s last year. There are a number of candidates for the designation this year: perennial minor-leaguer Dean Anna; young and talented and mercurial shortstop Oscar Mercado; the underpowered infielder Breyvic Valera; the not underpowered, but also maybe not infielder Jacob Wilson.

A fourth-round selection in 2012 out of the University of Arizona, the 25-year-old Mejia has progressed steadily through the Cards’ system, never exhibiting anything in the way of a carrying tool, but always making contact at an above-average rate and always (or almost always) playing a sure-handed shortstop.

Has he ever hit one home run? Video evidence suggests this is the case.

Quick Hits
Upper-level hitters: 3B Patrick Wisdom (VIDEO) has moments where his power and plus-plus arm get you excited, but his swing is stiff and choppy, giving him too little room for error to come close to an average bat. C Mike Ohlman (VIDEO) has above-average raw power and decent plate discipline, but his choppy swing and below-average catching leave him as a backup hopeful at best.

2B/3B Jacob Wilson (VIDEO) has nice raw power and some defensive versatility, being able to man second or third base at a just below-average level. His walk rates will really have to shine through to make up for the lack of adjustability and strike zone coverage at the plate, but his strengths could provide situational value to a big league bench. There are no defensive questions surrounding SS Juan Herrera, but the lack of physicality brings his bat down to levels that will be hard to carry with his glove.

Lower-level hitters: More obvious skills than tools, 2B Eliezer Alvarez doesn’t get the same fanfare as Magneuris Sierra and Edmundo Sosa, but his hitting performance was enough to put him on the same Appalachian League All-Star team. He won’t be a big power producer, but he has speed and some feel to hit, enough that he might bunk the second baseman bias as soon as this season. SS Oscar Mercado (VIDEO) was never going to be a great hitter, but his superb range and hands on defense could carry him to a bench role. Unfortunately, he has had problems with accuracy on his throws, putting even that projection in doubt. SS Allen Cordoba put up solid numbers in the Gulf Coast League with the bat. He has some speed and a chance to stick at short, albeit with very little ability to drive the ball.

Upper-level pitchers: LHP Jayson Aquino (VIDEO) bounced around waivers all year in 2015 and ended up in St. Louis in December, with his potential back-end starter profile being the carrot. Most likely starting pitcher depth, but he could find himself in a big-league bullpen someday soon. LHP Ian McKinney (VIDEO) has great command of his so-so stuff, and below-average athleticism on the mound. He could sneak into a back-end starter or spot-starter role. LHP Dean Kiekhefer (VIDEO) doesn’t have a ton of upside, but he’s left-handed and throws strikes with one or two viable offspeed pitches, so he’ll have a job for life as a lefty specialist at least.

Lower-level pitchers: RHP Alvaro Seijas (VIDEO) doesn’t have the largest frame, but has plenty of room to add muscle as he matures. His fastball, curve and changeup all have some projection, but I’ll wait to see him make his pro debut and mature a bit before making too heavy a determination. I like his delivery, but the effort level could go either way as he adds strength and gets comfortable. RHP Sandy Alcantara has a big arm capable of throwing in the upper-90s, though the lack of command and secondary stuff makes him more of an interesting follow than a ranked prospect for me. LHP Jacob Evans has excellent command and had as good of a debut in Low-A as you could want, but we’ll have to see how his low-velocity offerings translate to higher levels of play.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

Great write-up. Any thoughts on Jeremy Hazelbaker. He has had a good spring and heard on the radio today that he has a good chance of debuting sometime early this year.

7 years ago
Reply to  Konoldo

I was ready to be all defensive before reading this post, but I can’t cause it was a terrific write-up. I have a little more faith in Weaver, but outside of that I have nothing but kudos on your report. Good Job.

7 years ago
Reply to  Dan Farnsworth

I dunno either. I like both of their chances, but they will have time, since Cooney, Gonzales, and Reyes are all blocking them. Soon Waino and Garcia will begin to feel their age, but I’m not suggesting that they may pitch well for another 3-4 years, and of course, Wacha, Martinez, Leake and Lynn are all in front of them too. If I had to decide, I would go with Weaver, that seems to be the Cards brasses opinion too, but that doesn’t mean the Flaherty won’t advance sooner, he seems to be the more polished.