2011 Cardinals Prospect #40 – Niko Vasquez

Niko is down from #34 last year despite a strong first half. Is his bat big enough to project at third base? The first article in our annual countdown is FREE!

Scout.com Player Profile (including links to full 2010 and career stats)

2010 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
34 3B 2/26/1989 5-11 175 R R 2008 3rd

School: Durango High School, Las Vegas, Nevada

Selected 2010 stats

QC 0.242 252 36 61 17 1 9 42 55 71 1 0.381 0.425 0.805
PMB 0.262 206 26 54 15 2 3 28 27 49 0 0.349 0.398 0.747
Tot 0.251 458 62 115 32 3 12 70 82 120 1 0.367 0.413 0.780

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Dustin Mattison (36): When he came to the Cardinals and lit up the Appalachian League, I was on the Niko bandwagon like so many others. But after that superb debut, Vasquez has struggled to find consistency in the batter's box. Even during his third stop in the Quad Cities in 2010, the 21-year-old struck out 28% of the time.

Admittedly, he is still young. But he has already moved off of shortstop to third base. And no matter the best case scenario, he does not appear to have the power potential of your typical corner infielder. His prospect status would be much more interesting if he were able to move to second base but I am certain the organization would have already moved him to the position if it thought such a switch was possible.

Like many before him, Vasquez' star shone bright in limited at bats in the low minors. Unfortunately, reality has set in and it appears a role as a utility infielder appears to be the best scenario.

Message board community (40): Last year, Vasquez was the community's 50th prospect. The year before, he was our 17th prospect. That speaks to some of the uncertainty of predicting the future of these young men.

There were some very good signs for him initially. There were eyeball reports of his having a good swing. He was the Cards' 3rd round pick in '08, and he raked at Johnson City that year, with a .416/.461 OBP/SLG line at the tender age of 19. But then the bottom fell out on his hitting. After his promotion to Quad Cities in 2008, he managed an OPS of just .358, albeit in only 45 AB's. And then there was 2009, with a .545 OPS at Quad Cities, and little more success at Batavia, when he was demoted.

But something clicked because in his third trip to Quad Cities (2010), he was a walking machine, with an OBP of .381, SLG of .425, and 55 walks to only 252 AB's. After a midseason callup to Palm Beach, he put up a respectable .349 OBP, .398 SLG, at the age of 21. And he showed improvement over the months there with his OPS rising from .714 in July to .750 in August to .864 in 22 September AB's. It's encouraging to see him bounce back from a rough year and move up.

Two questions lurking here are (a) if he'll develop the power to make him a plus at 3B; and (b) if he can play middle IF, if he doesn't develop that power. In 2008, he played SS exclusively, for 67 games. In 2009, that changed to 67 at SS, 37 at 3B, and 13 at 2B. In 2010, it was only 7 at SS, 123 at 3B. Worst case, he might make for an interesting utility IF someday. Middle case, he can post a good OBP while playing 2B. Best case, he develops some power and still manages to get on base. Then he can play wherever he wants, except where Albert will (hopefully) be playing. - Gagliano

Brian Walton (40): I fear Vasquez' image is suffering from prospect fatigue that sets in when too much is expected for too long, such that when modest success is achieved, there is a diminished level of disappointment rather than interest.

Playing last season at the same age as many upper-class collegians in 2010, Vasquez was competing in A-Advanced ball in the second half. That is a higher level than any of the Cardinals' 2010 draftees began their professional careers this past summer. As Gagliano outlined above, Vasquez' results were credible.

Do I see Vasquez as a starting third baseman in the major leagues? Certainly not at this time. Like Dustin, I dropped Niko in my year-to-year rankings. To be honest though, it was more due to the emergence of others than any loss of confidence in Vasquez.

Having said that, it is about time for Vasquez to put together one full solid season and reverse his trend in these rankings. After having been taken in the 2008 draft, he placed 16th on this list his first winter, then fell to #34 last time and barely made the top 40 this time around. At age 22 this coming summer, it would be a good time to put it together.

Our 2011 top 40 countdown continues: To see our entire list of 40 Cardinals prospects, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

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