TCN 2012 Cardinals Prospect #14: Maikel Cleto

Will the fastest-moving player in the St. Louis Cardinals system in 2011 settle down in the majors any time soon?

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile
(including links to full 2011 and career stats)

2011 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR RHS 5/1/1989 6-3 235 R R 2006 FA

Selected 2011 stats

PB 1 1 2.48 5 5 0 29 20 10 2 10 33 0.59 0.190
SPR 2 2 3.93 7 6 0 34 40 19 2 12 36 0.97 0.301
MEM 5 3 4.29 13 13 0 71 57 37 6 43 66 0.95 0.218
Total 8 6 3.81 25 24 0 134 117 66 10 65 135 0.86 0.234
StL 0 0 12.46 3 0 0 4.1 7 6 2 4 6 1.00 0.333

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

CariocaCardinal (16): Maikel Cleto pitched nearly as well as any Cardinals prospect during the first half of the 2011 season. He had 2.48 and 3.93 ERAs at Palm Beach and Memphis with more strikeouts than innings pitched at each stop. That performance also pushed him to be the fastest rising Cardinals farmhand of the year, advancing three levels above where he started, including a stint with the major league club. Cleto's numbers at Memphis were not as strong, as his walk rate and home run rate both increased (a foreshadowing of his brief, but not good stint with the major league Cardinals).

Cleto will, of course, long be known as the prospect obtained for Brendon Ryan, so anything short of major league success will be frowned upon by many of the Cardinals faithful. But, Cleto may have what it takes for success. He has been reported to have a near 100 MPH fastball, though it has yet to translate to overly high strikeout totals. His biggest negative seems to be his failure to produce many groundballs.

Cleto has been around awhile, so it often easy to forget that he is still young. He will be just 22 years old when the 2012 season begins. I have been indicating in my prospect write-ups where I think each player will spend the 2012 season, but for the most part, I have not predicted how they will fare. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that Cleto has an outstanding season that passes most expectations. He almost certainly will start the season at Memphis (most likely in the starting rotation) and if his season is as good as I predict, he will almost certainly see the major leagues again in 2012.

Message board community (14): Cleto was the community's 14th ranked prospect, same as the consolidated vote here. His upside is as a power reliever. He throws heat and has a good enough breaking ball. Cleto's downside is control, as he walked 5.43 batters per nine innings at Memphis last year. Remember that he won't turn 23 until May so he has plenty of time to refine his control.

It's interesting that his April and June BB/9 IP ratios were pretty good (1.57 and 1.02, in 23 and 17.2 IP, respectively). His worst ratios were in July (5.81) and August/September (6.27). Perhaps his June call-ups (he pitched in St. Louis on the 2nd and 21st) threw him off a bit?

Cleto should be back at Triple-A in 2012, and his walk rate seems the thing to watch. - Gagliano

Brian Walton (12): Of all the 2012 player write-ups we have posted so far, we have moved immediately from one extreme to the other. Yesterday, we had our greatest difference of opinion on number 28a, Erik Komatsu, while today, we are in almost complete agreement on Cleto.

It is easy to forget that one year ago, Cleto was at best an afterthought and certainly an unknown – so much so that we decided not to insert him into our already-in-progress top 40 following his early December acquisition (unlike our action with Komatsu this year). One concern was that such an inexperienced player required the use of a 40-man roster spot. Perhaps that, along with his pitching, was a factor in his rapid advancement in 2011.

Cleto was ticketed to begin the season with Shelby Miller, Zack Cox and the others down in Palm Beach, seemingly light years away from the majors. After regularly hitting 99 MPH on the Roger Dean Stadium gun, Cleto was quietly moved up to Springfield in early May – the greater attention focused on his replacement, Jordan Swagerty and Swagerty's Quad Cities backfill, Carlos Martinez. Miller did not follow for almost another month.

It took Cleto just five Texas League starts and 34 strikeouts to draw enough league-wide support to be named an All-Star. Surprisingly, the Dominican native delivered a 3.93 ERA with Springfield despite a .396 BABIP! Cleto made an emergency MLB debut at roughly the same time as Lance Lynn, but both were roughed up.

Cleto was returned to the minors, this time to Memphis, offering him an aggressive challenge. He was not only the youngest player on the Redbirds roster, he was one of the youngest players in the entire Pacific Coast League. That will likely not change to begin 2012, as Cleto is expected to continue to improve his off-speed offerings and his control in Memphis. If he can do that, he may stake his claim to remain a starter instead of being moved to the pen.

(Winter ball update: For Licey in the Dominican Republic, Cleto has yielded just one earned run in 11 innings of relief while holding opponents to a batting average of .162. He has walked seven, though, and fanned just three.)

Our 2012 top 40 countdown continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

There's more! Want access to the all details behind our Cardinals prospect rankings in our "Forty Days, Forty Nights, Forty Prospects" feature here at The Cardinal Nation?

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