Editor’s note: This first of five scouting reports from The Cardinal Nation’s State College reporter, Robert Davidson, is offered free to readers. Consider a seven-day free trial membership to sample all five articles in this series and the rest of our daily premium content covering the entire St. Louis Cardinals system.
Recent member content includes interviews with all four Spikes all-stars and their manager, Oliver Marmol and Robert's just-posted State College Spikes Notebook for week 11, with all the news about the team, running each Saturday morning all season long.
I decided to forgo the classic 20-80 scouting scale and make more general observations about the players for two reasons, 1) many of these players are in their first year of professional baseball, which can be a difficult adjustment for some, and 2) because these players are so young, and inexperienced professionally, a lot can change from one year to the next.
This is the first of five posts breaking down the State College roster. Today the focus is on the Spikes’ infielders and catchers. Danny Diekroeger and Darren Seferina are the highlights of this bunch, but players like Luis Cruz, Alex De Leon and Brian O’Keefe are worth keeping an eye on.*Only current players with more than 25 games played will be covered in this post. Players who have been promoted or have played fewer than 25 games will be discussed in the final installment of Scouting the Spikes.
** Stat summaries from MiLB.com and defensive stats from Baseball Reference. All stats are as of the NYPL All-Star break.
|Cruz, Luis||C||R/R||6-2||180||5/26/93||Cotui, DR||Int. FA 11/30/10|
|De Leon, Alex||1B||R/R||6-1||215||2/9/91||Woodland Hills, CA||23rd Round, '13|
|Diekroeger, Danny||3B||L/R||6-2||205||5/25/92||Woodside, CA||10th Round, '14|
|Garcia, Ronnierd||3B||R/R||6-2||175||1/1/93||Coro, Venezuela||Int. FA 9/8/09|
|O'Keefe, Brian||C||R/R||6-0||210||7/15/93||Albany, NY||7th Round, '14|
|Reyes, Robelys||SS||S/R||5-9||150||7/25/90||Mao, DR||Int. FA 4/21/10|
|Seferina, Darren||2B||L/R||5-9||175||1/24/94||Willemstad, Curacao||5th Round, '14|
|Stone, Jake||1B||L/R||6-0||220||10/22/93||Wilmington, NC||27th Round, '13|
Luis Cruz – C
Luis Cruz is one of the players I am most excited to write about in this series, so it is only fitting that he be the first. The Dominican catcher has played in just 24 of the Spikes’ 63 games, but has impressed in his limited time. While the Spikes’ backstop duo has been less than stellar defensively, Cruz has proved to be a relatively safe option, and has improved defensively as the season has gone on.
In 23 games at catcher, Cruz has made two errors, allowed six passed balls, and 16 stolen bases on 26 attempts (38% CS%). Behind the plate, Cruz shows good footwork and gets the ball out quickly but can get lazy at times. The biggest knock on Cruz defensively is that he is inconsistent when it comes to blocking pitches in the dirt. Finding a way to consistently stay in front of pitches, and keep baseballs from squeezing through him, will be key to his defensive progression, and ultimately his status as a prospect.
Offensively, Cruz has yet to hit his stride, but playing irregularly may have something to do with that. Cruz has a compact swing, and a subtle load that keeps his body fairly quiet. The 6-foot-2 catcher has an efficient, line-drive approach that will produce more gap-to-gap doubles than towering home runs, although Cruz does have one home run on the year and consistently leaves the yard during batting practice.
Overall, I like Cruz’s makeup, and I think some consistent playing time would serve him well, but the biggest question surrounding Cruz’s development is going to be whether or not he can improve behind the plate and find his swing with more consistent playing time.
Alex De Leon – 1B
Playing in the shadow of Rowan Wick, De Leon has put together a solid season and made significant improvements in his second season in State College. In his first professional season, 2013, the Kansas product hit just .197 with four home runs and four doubles in 38 games. But through 55 games this year, De Leon has eight home runs, 15 doubles and is hitting .261. De Leon’s .463 slugging percentage is over 100 points higher than his 2013 mark.
While his power numbers and batting average are up significantly, the most positive sign for De Leon is his strikeout and walk rates. In 38 games in 2013, De Leon punched out 36 times and walked just 11, but he has struck out 40 times and already walked 25 times in 2014. Plate discipline is key to De Leon’s effectiveness in the box, and having a second season in the NYPL seems to have helped him develop a better approach.
On the defensive side of the ball, De Leon split time between catching and playing first base last season, but he has exclusively played first base or DH this season. In 273 chances this year De Leon has made just two errors, multiple diving stabs and consistently scoops throws out of the dirt.
Although I wouldn’t consider De Leon to be a high-level prospect, he is worth keeping an eye on. He can do anything that would be asked of him at first base, and, if he can figure out how to become more consistent in his approach, he has the power you want in a first baseman.
Danny Diekroeger – 3B
The Cardinals’ 2014 10th-round pick struggled early in State College, but as the season has matured, so has Diekroeger. The former Stanford Cardinal spent his sophomore and junior seasons at second base, and played first base in his senior season. But Diekroeger was thrown right into the hot corner upon his arrival in State College. On June 19th, his second game with the Spikes, Diekroeger had a four-error night at third base, and committed six errors in his first five games.
Despite the inauspicious start to his professional career, Diekroeger has put in countless hours of defensive work and made significant improvements at third. In 49 games Diekroeger has made 37 appearances at third, and 11 errorless appearances at second, but the 6-foot-2 infielder looks far more comfortable now than he did earlier in the season. Diekroeger’s decision-making, footwork and arm-strength have all improved, as he looks more like a third baseman with each passing game.
While his defensive play has varied, Diekroeger has proved to be a consistent force, batting third in the State College lineup for most of the season. Diekroeger has the second highest average on the team at .287 and is tied for second on the team with five home runs.
Diekroeger has struggled against lefties, hitting just .206 against southpaws, but is batting .304 against righties. These splits are not terribly surprising, considering this is his first professional season, but I don’t expect this to be a trend as he advances through the system.
Diekroeger has a very compact swing, and hits the ball between his hips, allowing pitches to travel a little farther before deciding whether or not to pull the trigger. His arms stay close to his body and his lower half stays fairly quiet while his hands do most of the work. The Stanford product is short to the baseball, but long through the strike zone as his hands generates a surprising amount of power from such a compact swing.
Diekroeger is poised for a strong finish to 2014 and an impactful season next year as there is not much competition blocking his path to Peoria or High-A Palm Beach.
Ronnierd Garcia – 3B/1B
Garcia has bounced around a little bit this year, and struggled to crack the lineup in State College while posting subpar offensive numbers and playing shaky defense. The Venezuelan native is stuck behind Diekroeger at third and both De Leon and Jake Stone at first base, so playing time has been limited for the 21-year old.
Garcia has not done enough to force his way into the lineup, batting just .230, and, with Diekroeger’s improvements defensively, does not provide a defensive upgrade either. Garcia is bigger and less nimble than his 175 lbs. listed weight would suggest, and has less range than any of the three infielders he is currently behind on the depth chart. At the plate, Garcia’s biggest problem is balance. He has a big swing, that can produce some solid power, but Garcia’s high trigger-step is likely the root of much of his timing issues. Garcia rests with about 75% of his weight on his back half, but begins his weight transfer when stepping with his front foot, rather than waiting until it hits the ground. When everything clicks, Garcia can really drive the ball, but he is off-balance far more often, which leads to ground balls or weak fly balls.
Note: Garcia was returned to Peoria on Friday.
Brian O’Keefe – C
O’Keefe, the seventh-round pick of the Cardinals in June, has caught 38 games for State College and is an interesting case. The 21-year old, much like Cruz, has been suspect defensively at times for the Spikes, allowing 11 passed balls and committing five errors this year. O’Keffe has also caught 16 of 55 base stealers, a decent 29%, but should be throwing out runners at a much higher rate. The St. Josephs’ product has a great arm, but sluggish footwork and a hitch in his delivery. If O’Keefe can improve his footwork, and work the hitch out of his throwing motion, I would expect his CS% to go way up.
O’Keefe has struggled at the plate, batting just .234 this year, and just .194 at home, compared to .279 on the road. He has dominated left-handed pitching, batting .346 against southpaws, but is batting just .206 against righties.
Although the transition to professional baseball has been tough sledding for the 2014 Johnny Bench Award Semifinalist, it’s worth noting that O’Keefe has played over 90 games this season, and started most of them at catcher, so his lackluster offense might just be a case of tired legs. I don’t see O’Keefe pushing any of the catchers above him in the system just yet, but next season will likely be a better indicator of what kind of pro O’Keefe might be.
Robelys Reyes – SS
Robelys Reyes, who turned 24 in July, is the elder statesman for State College, and has been a cornerstone of the Spikes’ infield. Reyes has started 40 games at shortstop and batted second in Oliver Marmol’s lineup almost every night.
Despite Reyes’ experience and athletic ability, he has made 15 errors this year (12 at shortstop, 3 at second base). Fortunately though for State College, most of Reyes’ errors have not been costly and have come in bunches. For most of the season, Reyes has been solid defensively and is one half of the Spikes’ All-Star double play duo.
The Dominican native has also been one of the Spikes’ most effective table setters, batting .286, reaching base a .327 clip and scoring 29 runs. Reyes does not have the tools of either of his predecessors, Juan Herrera and Cesar Valera, but might bounce around for the next few years mentoring younger players like Darren Seferina.
Darren Seferina – 2B
Darren Seferina is the other half of State College’s All-Star double-play tandem. He missed a few games early in the year because of visa issues, but has become a sparkplug for the State College offense.
The Curacao native is batting .308 with seven doubles, three triples and 13 stolen bases. Seferina has a classic lead-off batter inside-out/slap swing that produces a lot of hard ground balls and line drives, although it does not provide much in the power department. The biggest problem for Seferina is his strikeout rate, having struck out 41 times in 41 games, while walking only 16 times. If Seferina can improve his strikeout rate, he is going to become a significantly more effective offensive player as he is a very good base stealer, having been caught just three times in 16 attempts this year.
On the defensive side of the ball, Seferina brings a lot to the table as well. He has made seven errors in 177 chances (.960 fielding percentage) but has turned 29 double plays. Seferina also has a strong baseball IQ, and has made multiple run-saving plays by making simple, heads-up decisions.
One example of this was throwing out a runner at home who tried to score from second on a ground ball up the middle. Seferina fielded the ball deep in the hole, a solid five or more steps into the center field grass, and immediately turned to throw home. While this play was the product of some overly aggressive base running, many NYPL infielders would fail to recognize the runner early enough, if at all.
With second base increasingly becoming a power position at the Major League level (ex: Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, etc.), Seferina does not fit the bill for the power hitting second baseman, but gives you everything you want defensively and is a solid table setter.
Jake Stone – 1B
Jake Stone has been a rock for the Spikes defensively, making just one error in 301 chances at first base, but has been much more inconsistent at the plate. Stone is batting .250 on the year with four home runs, four doubles and 29 RBI, but has seen some deep slumps. Heading into the All-Star break, Stone was second on the team in RBI, but was also batting just .222 in his last 10 games before the break.
Stone was the 27th-round pick by the Cardinals in 2013 and hit .298 for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals before regressing to .250 this year. The Tennessee Wesleyan product has a short, compact swing, and can surprise with power in batting practice, but has struggled to take that power into games.
A lot must change for Stone to become a semi-legitimate first base prospect for the Cardinals, but his defense might give him an extra year to find his footing.
TCN members should look for the final four installments of this series coming this next week. They will cover Outfielders, Starting Pitchers, Relief Pitchers and finally, the others – those who were promoted or do not have a qualifying number of at-bats or innings pitched.
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Take advantage of our seven-day free trial.
Follow Robert Davidson on Twitter @robo_tweets.
© 2014 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.