By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J. Faleris
Despite missing the postseason for the first time since 2010, the Cardinals have not strayed from their philosophy of developing quality starting pitching and steady offensive contributors. True to form, they will look to graduate a couple top arms to the major league club in 2017 and continue piecing things together with their lineup, while they continue the process of incubating their young bats down on the farm.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/60
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 4m
The Tools: 70 fastball; 60 curveball; 55 changeup – Reyes is a power arm, hands down. The double-plus fastball sits in the middle 90s and will get up to 99 mph with regularity. He gets good two-seam tail to both sides, and even though he doesn’t get much sink, the ball hops in the zone and he has a bit of an extra gear with it when he goes up the ladder. The power 12-to-6 curveball is his go-to secondary offering. With hard snap and finish, it has the makings of a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch. He has feel to use it in the zone and creates good deception with it coming out the same as his fastball. The changeup is developing, but it is far from a project. When right, he gets hard fade to the arm side, which plays up due to the easy arm action. The action is inconsistent, and he will lose some feel at times, but the mechanics are smooth and simple, so it isn’t a stretch to think this could be an above-average pitch at maturity.
The Profile: With a simple, power repertoire, Reyes has a chance to be a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation starter with well-above-average swing-and-miss capabilities. The fastball is elite – his arm is quick through his high-3/4s slot and the velocity is very easy. The plus power curveball gets into the 80s and given how easy the arm works, the deception and velocity separation gives him a true out pitch. He will need to develop the changeup to give him something going away from lefties, as he was much easier to lift versus opposite-side bats (0.59 GO:AO versus lefties and 1.12 GO:AO versus righties) and against whom he had greater control issues. While the strikeouts have always been there for him, Reyes works up in the zone a lot and will have to find a way to cut down on the baserunners to consistently turn over lineups.
Reyes is done for 2017, having undergone Tommy John surgery early in spring training. However, the mechanics, overall, are fairly low maintenance and the arsenal is simple. Provided the can stay in good physical shape, there is no reason to think that he will be right back on track and ready to join the 25-man at some point in the early summer of 2018. He could be force in the rotation, but will have to be more efficient with his pitches and fastball command or risk not being able to pitch deep enough into games. Should Reyes not make the necessary strides with his command, and he continues to deal with heavy traffic on the bases, he does have the plus matchup stuff to miss bats and be a shutdown arm out of the bullpen. With the premium being placed on bullpen arms able to provide multiple innings, a power arm with swing-and-miss stuff who is able to pitch in high-leverage situations may be too tempting to pass up. That said, the quality of his stuff and ease of his actions gives him more of a chance for overall impact in the rotation. While he may pitch like a number two starter at times, ultimately the fly balls and command consistency should land him as a very good number three.
The Tools: 75 fastball; 55 curveball; 55 changeup; 50 slider – Alcantara’s best weapon is his 95-to-100 mph heater. The arm action is loose and whips through his 3/4’s slot. He gets excellent angle and shows late, two-seam tail to both sides with occasional turnover, power sink to the arm side. Flip a coin with regards to whether the circle changeup or power curveball is the better second offering. The breaking ball gets 11-to-5 break with some hard snap that he can dial up for putaway. The action is inconsistent thanks to him not repeating the release point enough yet, but the ingredients are there for it to be an above-average pitch. The circle changeup gets good, hard fade and the arm action really sells it. He locates well to the arm side, but it has enough deception to where he will be able to use it versus both righties and lefties. The slider is still coming along, as he tends to get on the side of it, which gives it more of a cutter look, but at 86-to-89 mph, any depth at all will make it a serviceable offering.
The Profile: With a slender, projectable build and swing and miss stuff already, Alcantara has the ingredients of a very good number four starter with the upside of a number three. He is blade-thin at 6-foot-4 and 170 lbs, but the body control and coordination he has is impressive and makes it easy to see him smoothing out and getting more consistent as the frame matures and he gets stronger. The arm is loose with plus arm speed, and while he tends to open the front side a touch early, he is still able to get the fastball to the glove side. He is not afraid to pound it in to lefties, and the late life his elite fastball gets in the zone gives him margin for error up above the belt. His execution with the power curveball is inconsistent, but that may be more a product of him learning to add/subtract with it and use it effectively in the zone more. He already utilizes his big angle and does well to keep the ball on the ground (1.55 career GO:AO). He has consistently missed bats as a pro to the tune of 11.2 SO/9 in 2016, and is around the zone enough to make you think that the 4.3 BB/9 he put up last season will eventually improve to average.
He will pitch almost all of 2017 at age 21, beginning his year at Double-A Springfield. St. Louis doesn’t make it a habit of rushing their young arms, but a strong showing at the level could make him a conversation topic heading into big league camp come 2018. He has some work to do to be able to consistently impact more advances lineups – mainly repeating the release point and consistently executing the breaking stuff. But those should trend up as he fills out and adds strength to the actions. Don’t be surprised if you see this guy in the MLB All-Star Futures Game later this summer.
ON THE HORIZON
Luke Weaver, RHP, Cardinals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 4m
Quick Hit: Weaver’s unassuming, slender frame may not suggest mid-rotation upside, but the lightning-quick arm and plus life he shows in the zone suggest that he’ll be able to consistently miss bats at an above-average clip, while not hurting himself with free passes. Weaver has some effort to the delivery, but the mechanics are compact, and he does well to repeat his release point. He has average command in the zone with the fastball at present, but it would not be a stretch to see him get to 55-grade command as he learns to use the pitch outside the strike zone. The fastball sits in the low 90s and he has the ability to throttle up and back with it, reaching back for 94-to-95 mph when he needs it. He does tend to drop-and-drive a bit, which leads to the pitch getting more flat run as opposed to two-seam tail, however the late ride he gets through the zone will get on hitters quick. He is able to locate to both sides of the plate, and is not afraid to work inside to both righties and lefties. Weaver also shows feel with an average breaking ball, although the slider and curveball tend to run together, and they lack consistent action. The real separator for him, though, is the feel he has with his plus circle changeup that gets hard, late bottom and is a swing-and-miss pitch for him versus both righties and lefties.
So while Weaver has the trappings of a good number three starter, he likely falls back into the number four range as he can be a bit easy to lift (0.94 G0:AO rate in 36 1/3 innings in St. Louis in 2016, and a 0.87 GO:AO career rate in the minors), and he lacks much to work away from righties. The changeup is a weapon, but unless he can keep hitters from looking in one direction, he is susceptible to higher contact rates as he cycles through the more advanced big league lineups multiple times. That said, if he gets to even and average slider or curveball, it becomes much harder to sit on any one pitch. Expect Weaver to continue to limit the walks and eventually develop a usable third go-to option, which will have him compare favorably to fellow Redbird, Mike Leake (RHP, Cardinals).
Quick Hit: While a plus athlete and plus runner, Bader’s 55-grade hit tool is what is going to carry him as he works his way to the big leagues. Bader has a compact stroke with a level plane that works to keep the barrel in the zone. He does not have much pre-pitch movement, and while the approach is pull oriented, he has more than enough juice to drive the ball to the right-center field gap. He has above-average bat speed and does well to produce line drives and ground balls, which allows him to take advantage of his 60-grade run tool. Bader is aggressive and will jump fastballs early in the count. He doesn’t profile as a true power threat and he doesn’t have a ton of physical projection left, however, he has significant present strength that should produce plenty of extra-base hit damage to both gaps. He should hit for average power with a chance to get to above average if he can tame the aggressive approach and get better pitches to drive on a more consistent basis.
The 26.2% strikeout rate he posted at Double-A and the 23.6% mark at Triple-A in 2016 are a concern, especially given the prominence of the run tool in his profile. As he advances, swing and miss in that range will limit his ability to do damage, and since he is not a 25-plus home run type of player, consistent quality contact is going to be a huge factor in his impact at the major league level. Defensively, he has the tools to play all over the outfield – he can handle center field, and as he gets more comfortable ranging into the gaps wouldn’t be a detriment there. That said though, he did look good in right field in the AFL and could be one of those guys whose better off being above average on a corner spot. Bader plays with good energy that compliments his profile. He isn’t a true base-stealing threat, but he will take the extra base and can score from first on a double. He’ll start off back at Triple-A in 2017, but a strong start could have him in St. Louis by mid-summer.
Quick Hit: Once thought to be a big time power prospect, Kelly has transformed his value and found a home as a legitimate catch-and-throw option behind the plate. Kelly’s carry tools are his 60-grade arm strength and potential 60-grade glove. He has a big, thick frame that houses significant strength, and the athleticism he showed as a third-baseman at draft time in 2012 has served him well from a mobility standpoint behind the dish. He has strong hands and stays very quiet, suggesting that he will continue to develop into a solid receiver. On the offensive side, Kelly is more raw power than batting average – the swing is compact and he generates good carry to the big part of the field when he squares it up, but there is more muscle to his stroke than quick-twitch bat speed. He did start making more consistent hard contact in 2016, posting a .339 BABIP at Double-A and a .347 mark after being promoted to Triple-A, however, the ISO hovered around the .100 mark for the year. With Yadier Molina (C, Cardinals) locked up for the next four seasons, Kelly can take his time and learn from one of the best catchers in history. Kelly has been praised for his leadership and maturity, so with the tools he brings to the table and the catching minds he’ll get to work with in Molina and Mike Matheny (Manager, Cardinals), the ingredients are there for Kelly to turn into a high end C2 or mid-level regular.
Quick Hit: While DeJong doesn’t blow anyone away with his raw tools, he does bring a compact stroke to the dish with some raw power that can surprise. He has an average build with slightly rolled shoulders. While he does have some room to fill out a bit, the body is more on the mature side and lacks any big-time physical projection. There isn’t a lot going on with the swing – it is fairly simple with a bit of an uphill path and average bat speed. The swing and miss is an issue, and it will likely plague him in the batting-average department going forward. He has juice to all fields, and the .203 ISO he put up in Double-A last season is indicative of the hard contact. However, the barrel is in and out of the zone quicker than what would be ideal, which makes it hard to envision a significant jump in the contact rates he has already shown thus far (26.3% strikeout rate in 2016). Defensively, DeJong is a corner player who is capable at third. The range is fringe average at best, but the arm strength is average and he should make the routine plays. Going forward, the amount of contact DeJong can make will likely be directly related to his value on a 25-man roster. If he can keep the swing and miss closer to 20%, that allows the pop he has to play a little better, and it could land him as one of those extra infield bats who gets 350-plus at-bats per year, ala David Freese (3B, Pirates). DeJong should see significant time at Triple-A this season, and he could show up in St. Louis later in the summer.
Austin Gomber, LHP, Double-A Springfield | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/235 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 1m
Quick Hit: Gomber is a big-bodied lefty with some arm strength and the makings of a plus 12-to-6 curveball. He stays fairly tall throughout his delivery and has the ability to create very good angle. The fastball is just average, but he does get some late tail when he is down in the zone. That said, he has trouble consistently utilizing his big angle, and he sees the pitch really straighten out when he misses up. The curveball is his best pitch and he has feel with it – he will back-door it to righties and can dial up good snap for putaway. The changeup gets soft fade to the arm side, but lacks much depth or bottom. The arm action plays it up, but it is a fringe-average pitch at best. Overall, big lefties who create angle and have some arm strength are tough to sleep on. While Gomber doesn’t get a ton of ground balls, he also doesn’t walk many and has been hard to square up in his first two full seasons as a pro. The deception he gets from his delivery as well as the arm action help the stuff, but he will have to work down in the zone more as he faces more advanced lineups. He has a chance to slot into the back-end of a rotation, however he may ultimately have more value as a lefty out of the pen who can give you multiple innings.
Marco Gonzales, LHP, Short-Season A State College | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 10m
Quick Hit: At his best, Gonzales can wield a double-plus changeup to go with an average fastball that plays up due to multiple looks (two-seam, four-seam and cut action), an average curveball, and plus command. His last two seasons, however, have been marred by injury – first shoulder issues in 2015, and then a 2016 lost to Tommy John surgery. The former Gonzaga star hopes to return in 2017 fully healthy and ready to reestablish himself as a key component of the Cardinals staff. In order to do so, he’ll need to throw with more confidence and consistency at the major league level, as his first 37 innings (almost all thrown in 2014) were peppered with lapses in control and very loose in-zone command, leaving him far too hittable. His fly ball tendencies may always limit the upside, but at minimum, a healthy Gonzales should be able to provide quality back-end production. Once he’s healthy and logging innings again, evaluators will have a better feel for whether that potential mid-rotation stuff is still kicking around in the southpaw’s left arm.
Jack Flaherty, RHP, High A Palm Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 2m
Quick Hit: Flaherty breached the 100-inning mark in 2016 for the first time since being taken in the first round (#34 overall) of the 2014 June draft. Flaherty is a big-bodied kid and a plus athlete who has already taken significant steps to smooth out some of the effort in his delivery since turning pro. As a high schooler, he had some drop-and-drive that worked against the good angle his big frame affords him, and he had a bit of a soft front side that made it difficult for him to locate to the glove side. In two full seasons as a pro he has managed to stay a good bit taller on the back side and the athletic effort is now more repeatable – adjustments that should allow him to get to average command in the future.
The fastball is above average, but it’s the breaking ball/changeup combination that will enable him to continue to miss bats as he advances. The curveball and slider will run together, but he has feel to add and subtract, showing a sharper 3/4’s bite for putaway. The changeup has a chance to be plus, as the arm speed really helps to sell it and should be a legitimate weapon versus lefties going forward. Flaherty will need to make strides with his fastball command and do a better job of consistently utilizing his angle in order to keep balls on the ground. He will generate some swing and miss due to the quality of his secondary stuff, but being loose in the zone with the fastball will hurt him as he faces more advanced bats. He will pitch the entire 2017 season at age 21, beginning at Double-A Springfield, and he should be in the rotation conversation come 2019. If he can continue to limit the walks and do a better job driving the fastball downhill, Flaherty has enough secondary feel to turn over lineups and be a quality number four starter at maturity.
Dakota Hudson, RHP, High A Palm Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/55
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/215 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 3m
Quick Hit: A big right-hander with even bigger arm strength, Hudson brings a plus to double-plus heater to the table, a 60-grade slider that he can change the shape with, and a potential 55-grade changeup. There is some effort in the delivery, but it is relatively smooth and he creates excellent angle down through the strike zone. He is already a big guy with some present strength, but there is room for him to fill out more, and there could be a little more fluidity in the actions to come and thus more feel to throttle up and back. The big fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and gets good late life in the zone that should continue to make him very hard to lift. In a very short, 12-game look post draft last year, Hudson posted a 9.50 GO:AO ratio over 13 1/3 innings – he won’t be that extreme going forward, but it is an indicator of the quality of his stuff and the profile going forward.
The slider and power curveball tend to run together a bit, with the slider in the upper 80s, touching 90 mph, and the curveball in the 79-to-83 mph range. He has feel with both and will use them in the zone to both righties and lefties, but the slider is his out pitch with late bite down and out of the zone. The changeup gets firm fade to the arm side, but no real bottom – however the arm action sells it and the velocity separation is good at 80-to-83 mph, so it should be a weapon versus lefties. Hudson worked out of the pen in his pro debut, but that likely had more to do with his workload and some minor health concerns during his college season. Jason Hammel (RHP, Royals) is a nice comparison, however Hudson projects to be a more of a ground ball guy than Hammel has been in recent years and should settle in as a nice number four starter. He’s starting the year at Double-A Springfield.
Delvin Perez, SS, Rookie GCL Cardinals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/175 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 1m
Quick Hit: One of the more toolsy players in the Cardinals’ system, Perez has a long, skinny build with twitchy actions that should benefit as the body matures and he adds strength. The swing works well, with limited pre-pitch movement and a bat path that he does well to keep the barrel in the zone for an extended period. He is not max effort, however it is obvious when he tries to speed things up, as he gets a bit stiff and loses the good balance that he is normally capable of. He may not end up hitting for much power, but the level plane is conducive to line drives and as the strength comes in he should be able to find the gaps with regularity. He does have some hip travel at times, but most of that comes from him trying to muscle up and compensate for an under-developed lower half. He has natural feel with the hands, giving him some ability to still get good wood on the ball even when fooled. It also bears repeating that Perez didn’t turn 18 years old until this past winter – still younger than many 2017 draft picks – and he will play the 2017 season as one of the youngest players in the system, starting the year in the GCL again. So while there is work to be done with the body, he is only just now entering the formative years of physical development.
Defensively, Perez has a plus arm with a very quick release and arm strength that translates on the move. The hands are above average as is the range, and as he adds strength to the lower half, he should find more body control and see the footwork around the bag smooth out. While the glove will be enough to keep him at shortstop, it will have to be a plus tool for him as the offensive side of his game looks to be primarily hit-tool driven. He stands to be a solid everyday player in the big leagues if the hit tool really takes off, however that can be a tall order unless he can show consistent enough gap power to keep pitchers honest. The likely outcome is that the profile lands close to that of current Royals’ defensive wizard, Alcides Escobar (SS, Royals).
Dylan Carlson, OF/1B, Rookie GCL Cardinals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/195 B/T: S/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 2m
Quick Hit: Taken earlier than many expected in the first round (#33 overall) in the 2016 June draft, Carlson brings legitimate 60-grade hit-tool potential to the table and could ultimately work his way into an above-average everyday big leaguer despite already being a corner-type profile. Carlson has plus bat speed and smooth, compact swing mechanics that work to keep the bat in the zone for an extended period. He does tend to get a little long at times, and the quickness of the barrel will suffer, but the balance throughout his stroke is excellent and should have the youngster trend towards heavy contact rates as he develops. He has a little more of an uphill path from the left side, but overall is going to be more of a line-drive hitter with power that will play more to extra-base hits as opposed to big-time home run totals. He does a very good job staying up the middle and will be able to drive the ball with authority to all fields.
He is a good athlete as well and will bring at least average defensive value at either at a corner- outfield spot or at first base. He has some present strength, but there is ample room on his 6-foot-3 frame to add muscle and really see him apply strength to the actions. Proximity is always a big factor when talking about teenage prospects, but Carlson has been lauded for his plus makeup and hard-nosed mentality, both of which will certainly help him get the most out of his ability – not to mention he will be one of the youngest players in the Class A Midwest League. As he gets stronger and adjusts to consistent pro-level competition (remember, like Delvin Perez (SS, Cardinals) he’s still younger than most 2017 MLB Draft prospects at this point), look for the strikeout rates to fall and the walk percentages to climb.
Quick Hit: A plus to double-plus runner, Sierra also brings a potential plus hit tool to the table and the ability to stick in the middle of the St. Louis outfield. Sierra has seen his prospect stock shoot up over the past 12-to-15 months, and his .307 average and 31 stolen bases in his first year of full season ball in 2016 has the Cardinals thinking that he could be the leadoff man of the future. Sierra has some strength to his slender, wirey frame, and the quick-twitch actions have some smoothness to them that display his plus athleticism. The swing plane is level, and he does a good job keeping the barrel in the zone, and the bat control he has suggests that this could be a guy who won’t be overmatched as he advances. He doesn’t have a ton of physical projection, but he is strong and should get stronger has the body matures. At age 20, he has already shown that he is not merely a singles hitter – he has above-average bat speed and it translates to hard contact, with a .373 BABIP, 29 doubles, and four triples to go with three jacks. He also hangs in well versus lefties, whom he hit .299 against over 117 at-bats in 2016. Defensively, he can go get it in center field – with make-up speed, he ranges well into the gaps and has a quick first step. He is still raw and the instincts aren’t where you’d like them to be for an everyday center fielder, but the tools are there, and at 20 years old he will have time to improve.
So while Sierra undoubtedly has advanced tools, he will have to continue to develop the approach at the plate as he advances to round into the top of the order bat the Cards are expecting. As it stands now, the ultra-aggressive game plan has only afforded him a 3.9% walk rate and houses some ambush-style tactics that will eat into his ability to get on-base enough to impact as an up-order stick. He does a good job spraying the ball around and while the home run power is to the pull side, he can still shoot the left-center field gap. The .088 ISO is a mild concern, but given his bat control, if he adds strength going forward he will have able to do enough damage to keep pitchers honest. There is a lot to like here, but temper your enthusiasm, as Sierra is ticketed for High A in 2017, and he’s most likely is looking at 2019 before he sniffs a major league field.
Quick Hit: Playing all of 2017 at 20 years old, Fernandez will take his power arm back to High A and try to improve on the poor showing he had there in 2016. Fernandez is a high-waisted, projectable kid with a very quick arm through his high-3/4‘s slot. The arm speed translates to velocity in the mid-to-upper 90s, however the limited feel he has with his secondary, even at this young age, stunts his projection as a rotation piece. The fastball has plus life in the zone and he gets firm, two-seam tail to both sides of the plate. While there is some effort in the arm action, it is smooth and the delivery is compact with good downward angle. He has done well to keep the ball on the ground thus far in his short pro career, with a 1.32 career GO:AO ratio. The ingredients are there for his slider to get to plus, however the front side tends to open very early and the arm has to rush to catch up, leading to very inconsistent action and execution. When he’s on, however, he gets late, swing-and-miss type 3/4‘s bite. Given how the arm works, he could potentially roll it into more of a cutter to give him something more consistent going away from righties. The changeup is already and above-average offering and should get to 60-grade given the arm action and his ability to replicate the fastball arm speed. Most will show firm, circle fade, but he will show some plus bottom at times. So while it is tempting to think of this kid as a rotation piece, it may make more sense to view him as a legitimate back-end of the pen arm if he doesn’t get where he needs to be with the breaking ball. The walks have not been great for Fernandez (3.91 BB/9 at Class A ball and 4.12 at High A in 2016), so a move to the pen may help cover that up a bit and allow him to be more max effort over shorter looks. Joaquin Benoit (RHR, Blue Jays) comes to mind as a similar pen profile.
Edmundo Sosa, SS, High A Palm Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 9m
Quick Hit: While Sosa doesn’t possess the loudest of tools, what he lacks in flash he makes up for in efficiency and approach. Sosa has some physical projection with slightly rolled shoulders and some present lower half strength. His actions are mildly deliberate, but the swing is compact with little wasted movement. He has fringe-average bat speed right now, but given everything works, it is not a stretch to see him finding a bit more as he fills out and ultimately getting to fringe-average power. He has some feel for the strike zone and uses the whole field, so he is in good position to find more hard contact going forward. Sosa projects to stay at short-stop, where despite being only an average runner he has above-average range and a 60-grade arm to go with his plus hands. He will catch what he can get to and should make all the routine plays, but the question will be can he hit enough to round out the profile as an everyday guy at the six-spot. While the defense is very good, it doesn’t project as elite – if the bat doesn’t come around, that may not be enough to get him to a Role 50.
Ultimately, Sosa is a player who will find a way to get the most out of his tools and likely settles in as a second-division regular, and as someone who could eventually contribute at multiple positions. The power is often the last thing to arrive for offensive prospects, and that may well be the case for Sosa. The overall profile compares favorably to former Giants’ infielder, Pedro Feliz (MLB 2000-2010, multiple teams), albeit with slightly less pop, but with more glove.
Nick Plummer, OF, Rookie Johnson City | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/200 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 5m
Quick Hit: A thick-bodied kid, Plummer is a very good athlete with significant present strength to his broad frame. At first glance, the big lower half and thick trunk are not suggestive of great mobility and quickness, but Plummer’s actions are smooth and compact, and the body control he is already showing is advanced for his age. Plummer missed all of 2016 with a broken hamate bone in his right hand, but should be at full strength going into the start of the 2017 campaign. Plummer has an interesting mix of power potential, plate discipline, and athleticism. His stroke is fairly low maintenance and he has above-average bat speed. The plane is level, but he will cut off his finish at times, which can prevent him from getting the best extension possible and forces the barrel out of zone a bit early. Nothing about his game is max effort, and while the body does have a chance to get big, he will continue to get stronger and should maintain the ease of operation he’s already shown. He shows some instincts in center field and is an above-average runner right now, but while the foot speed does translate on the grass, chances are he takes a step back in that department and ultimately settles in as a solid-average defender on a corner.
The Cardinals are not afraid to take their time with their young players, so don’t expect Plummer to get pressed into more than he can handle – he’s starting the season at Class A Peoria – but a strong early showing should do a lot for his prospect stock and make him an interesting name to watch throughout the year. It’s too early to slap a true comp on this kid, but the actions, body type, and overall profile are reminiscent of former Redbird great, Ray Lankford (MLB 1990-2004, multiple teams).
Eliezer Alvarez, 2B, Class A Peoria | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/165 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 2m
Quick Hit: Alvarez isn’t a real big guy, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in his strength and quick-twitch actions. He was a little bit old for Class A ball in 2016, playing the season as a 22-year-old – but to his credit he did what he was supposed to do, and he showed a balanced approach at the dish with above-average bat speed, both of which bode well for him continuing his success as he advances. His level plane is conducive to line drives and keeping the ball on the ground, which allows him to get the most out of his plus run tool. He has some present juice to the pull side, but will generate carry to the left-center field gap, and it could grow into fringe-average power as he adds more strength to his actions. That said, his offensive game is going to be going gap-to-gap and pressuring the defense with his wheels. He will see pitches, and the 10.6% walk rate in 2016 is an indicator that Alvarez does have legitimate on-base potential. Defensively, Alvarez has been limited to second base and he has struggled there (27 errors in 113 games). The Cardinals will likely keep him there as long as possible given the value that sort of offensive potential has on the infield. However, Alvarez is athletic enough to make some strides as a defender, and with the run tool could add value in the outfield as well, and ultimately work his way into a super-utility role. The Cards are showing some confidence in Elizier by starting him at Double-A Springfield to begin the year.
Jake Woodford, RHP, Class A Peoria | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 2m
Quick Hit: With a big frame that creates excellent angle to the plate, and the ingredients for a very heavy, 60-grade fastball, Woodford will look to find some consistency with the action on his stuff and turn in another big innings total in 2017. Woodford has significant present strength to his 6-foot-4 frame, and with compact arm action that is quick through his true 3/4‘s arm slot, it is not a stretch to think that Woodford could add to what already looks like three average or better pitches. In his first taste of pro ball in 2015, Woodford had no trouble showing hitters the top half of the ball to the tune of a 4.60 GO:AO ratio though in a limited sample size of 26 1/3 innings. That number fell off to 0.98 in 2016, but Woodford did throw 108 2/3 innings, an impressive number for a high school draftee in just his first full season as a pro. He mixes in an 11-to-5 curveball that gets some inconsistent shape at times, but that does show some snap and should get to at least average in the future. The circle changeup is likely his next best secondary offering with firm fade that plays up when he doesn’t slow his arm down. While compact and under control, Woodford will have some trouble repeating the delivery with his large frame, which negatively impacts the quality of his stuff. He is a strike thrower, only walked 3.06 per 9 in 2017, but until he shows the good snap on the breaking ball and better feel with the changeup on a more consistent basis, he will struggle to miss enough bats to really turnover more advanced lineups. Woodford’s profile is that of a pitch-to-contact guy, and if he finds that consistency could see a spike in the strikeout rates to go with what is most likely going to be a positive groundball rate. Look for Woodford to be tested with significant innings at High A in 2106 and be in the mix for a back-end of the rotation spot by 2020.
Connor Jones, RHP, Short-Season A State College | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 2m
Quick Hit: With a very quick arm that whips through his high-3/4’s arm slot, Jones has a plus to double-plus fastball with excellent late life in the zone that sits around 93 mph that he works off of. He stays tall and while he has some effort in the mechanics, repeats fairly well and is consistently around the strike zone. He isn’t afraid to work inside and has some margin for error when working up in the zone, and he has a solid-average slider that should generate some swing and miss. Beyond the slider, however, the stuff falls off a little bit and he lacks a real weapon going away from lefties. The circle changeup should be an above-average offering for him given how the arm works and the natural turnover sink he gets with his fastball – but he used it sparingly in college, thus it is yet to develop into the offering he needs it to become. Going forward, expect the Cards to emphasize pitchability, and should he get to three average to plus offerings, and thus have a much better chance of staying in the rotation. Should the third pitch prove difficult to find for Jones, the power profile of his fastball/slider combo would make him a nice piece towards the end of the game, where he could see the overall quality of his stuff take a step forward in shorter stints.
Jeremy Martinez, C, Short-Season A State College | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 11m
Quick Hit: A high-level prospect on the radars of upper-level decision makers dating back to his performance as a high school underclassman in the 2011 USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, Martinez finally made the jump to pro ball last summer after being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Southern Cal. Martinez is a solid performer across the board defensively, showing advanced receiving skills, good lateral actions behind the plate, a solid catch-and-throw game highlighted by good footwork and a quick transfer, an extremely high level of confidence, and displaying the leadership qualities you love to see from the position.
At the plate, Martinez has a patient approach with a compact swing and solid feel for the barrel. He raked in his pro debut in the New York-Penn League, slashing .325/.419/.433 over 235 plate appearances and, while he isn’t likely to hit for much over-the-fence pop, he can sting the ball to the gaps and should make enough hard contact to keep pitchers honest and maintain a solid batting average-to-OBP delta via the walks. Martinez could move quickly through the system, with a chance to grow into an everyday profile, and at minimum see a floor of a quality back-up backstop. He’s starting 2017 at High A Palm Beach.
Johan Oviedo, RHP, DSL Cardinals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 9m
Quick Hit: Oviedo drew a $1.9 million signing bonus from St. Louis (hat tip to Baseball America’s Ben Badler for the info) as part of a 2016 J2 class that eclipsed $10 million in aggregate signing bonuses handed out by the Cards. The Cuban southpaw is a big pup with big paws, already standing at an impressive 6-foot-6 with some present strength and room to pack on plenty more of it. Oviedo works primarily in the low 90s and can ramp up to 95-to-96 mph up in the zone (though the fastball tends to flatten out up there), and he’s already showing some feel for a quality curveball that should be at least an above-average offering in time. His changeup is rudimentary, but it flashes promise with good arm speed and some deception. Oviedo is a long-term developmental project, but the foundation is here for a solid number four starter, and if the curveball and changeup show continued development, he could see that above-average-projected ceiling rise quickly over the next few seasons.
Quick Hit: After being held out of action in 2015 due to shoulder issues following his selection in the supplemental-third round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Hicks returned to the bump in 2016 to work 60 2/3 innings of work split evenly between the Appalachian and New-York Penn Leagues. The hard-throwing righty out of Cypress Creek High School (Houston, TX) with a very heavy low- to mid-90s heater that was exceedingly difficult for hitters to square up and lift. His best secondary is a hard curve with tight spin and quality bite – a second potential plus offering for the arsenal. The changeup lags behind his curve and fastball but given his arm speed and overall feel most believe it will grow into at least an average offering in time.
Now healthy, Hicks will start 2017 in Class A ball out in Peoria, with a goal of logging innings and continuing to build up arm strength, endurance and consistency in his secondaries. He’s an excellent candidate to break out this summer given his raw stuff, and has under-the-radar status for many evaluators, provided he can traverse an always-challenging and inclement spring in the Midwest League. He’s a potential number four starter who could bump his stock even higher with a strong A-ball campaign.
Randy Arozarena, OF/2B, (DNP 2016) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 9m
Quick Hit: Another seven-figure bonus recipient from the 2016 J2 class, Arozarena stands out for his plus speed and chance for to hit for some average. On the grass, his wheels play more as make-up speed than as a weapon at present, though advocates view him as a future above-average to plus defender once he is logging innings and working with Cardinals’ instructors on a daily basis. He has some feel for the strike zone and some bat speed, with a swing that works well for contact, but he’ll need to make regular impactful contact in order to keep arms honest and leverage his on-base ability. He’ll report to High A Palm Beach to start the 2017 season where he may have to cede significant time in center field to Magneuris Sierra.
Alvaro Seijas, RHP, Rookie GCL Cardinals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 5’8”/175 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 2m
Quick Hit: A high-six-figure signing from the 2015 J2 class, Seijas made his stateside debut at the in the Rookie Gulf Coast League to close out the 2016 season, showing flashes of an impact fastball registering as high as 95 mph on evaluators’ guns. The young righty will play all of 2017 as an 18-year-old, with the bulk of his work likely to come in extended spring training followed by a rookie ball assignment later in the summer if all goes well. Seijas is undersized and will need to prove capable of handling a pro starter’s workload, in addition to learning to operate without any significant downhill plane to his fastball, but the arm is exciting and he is already showing some feel for both a curveball and changeup. He’s a name to keep tabs on moving forward, and he’s got the raw stuff to shoot up prospect rankings 12 months from now.
Zac Gallen, RHP, Rookie GCL Cardinals | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/191 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 4m
Quick Hit: Gallen works with average to above-average stuff across the board, but is a heady pitcher with above-average command and a good feel for sequencing. His fastball/cutter combo does well to miss barrels and draw lots of soft contact, and he’ll also flash an above-average changeup that serves as a capable change-of-pace offering to keep hitters from sitting on the harder stuff. His curve is more of a “show me” pitch but he gets the most out of it by picking opportune times to drop it in for a surprise strike early in the count. Gallen’s raw stuff doesn’t look like much more than back-end starter material, but he really knows how to pitch and could move quickly through the lower levels to compete for a spot on the 25-man roster as early as 2019.
|1. Alex Reyes, RHP, MLB||6. Jack Flaherty, RHP, High A||11. Junior Fernandez, RHP, High A|
|2. Sandy Alcantara, RHP, High A||7. Delvin Perez, SS, Rookie||12. Eliezer Alvarez, 2B, A|
|3. Luke Weaver, RHP, MLB||8. Magneuris Sierra, OF, A||13. Nick Plummer, OF, Rk.|
|4. Harrison Bader, OF, AAA||9. Dakota Hudson, High A||14. Edmundo Sosa, SS, A|
|5. Dylan Carlson, OF/1B, Rk.||10. Carson Kelly, C, MLB||15. Paul DeJong, 3B, AA|
The Cardinals are perennial contenders in the N.L. Central division, regardless of how things look on paper at the start of the season. Whenever they have a hole, they seem to plug it with a player who fits in seamlessly with the rest of their roster. While the Cardinals rely heavily on their in-house options, they are not averse to dealing from their wealth of prospects for the right fit. Given the young arms they have in their system, and the gap between their major league lineup and the lower level prospect bats, it would not be a surprise to see them move one or more of the younger arms for an impact bat this year, should one become available. Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona, as well as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas in Kansas City all seem like potential fits if they become available later in the summer, with the latter obviously commanding the most return. But with Junior Fernandez, Sandy Alcantara, Connor Jones, and Jack Flaherty all a ways away from St. Louis, the Cards could definitely put a package together that would interest most any organization. The resurgence/emergence of Jed Gyorko has made Kolton Wong expendable. At 25 years old, Wong has more of his career in front of him than behind him, and he could benefit from a change in scenery. However you choose to look at it, the Cardinals are never potential sellers at this point, so look for them to kick the tires and move quickly should they see a fit to acquire the right guy.
GM John Mozeliak and company have long been the gold standard for consistency and sustainability throughout baseball when it comes to competing late into the summer. They put a premium on guys that know how to pitch and they have created an organizational culture that prepares their young players to contribute right away. The big league club may have missed the postseason for the first time in six years, but with right-hander Lance Lynn returning from Tommy John surgery and righty Luke Weaver set to give them a full season at the big league level, the loss of top arm Alex Reyes, also to TJ, won’t hurt nearly as much as it could have. Much like they expect their players to get the most out of their tools, the front office continually looks to get the most out of their opportunities to acquire talent. They will continue to target players with high floors in the draft while taking on more risk in search of higher upside on the international market. With their processes firmly in place on both of those fronts, they will have a steady mix of talent brewing at any given time, and they should avoid any sort of extended dry spell in their system. Look for them to also continue exploring the free agent market, though they are more likely to be buying off of the middle of the shelf rather than reach for top-shelf names like Bryce Harper (RF, Nationals) and Manny Machado (3B, Orioles).
All in, the Cardinals are in fine shape and they’ll continue to be in fine shape going forward. With the hype surrounding that N.L. team in Chicago, and everyone’s apparent need to love Pittsburgh this year, it will be easy to overlook the organization with the second-most World Series Championships in the history of the sport (11). That would be a mistake – the Cardinals will continue to be right there in September.