Cards Prospects: Walton’s Best of the Rest

Brian Walton discusses his six top St. Louis Cardinals prospects that missed our 2015 Top 40 list, led by State College right-hander Trey Nielsen.

As those who have followed our St. Louis Cardinals Top 40 Prospects countdown over the last month and a half here at The Cardinal Nation know, the selection of our master top 40 list was a melding of multiple points of view.

As a result, a number of deserving players on each of our individual lists did not make the consolidated Top 40. In these articles, we highlight those prospects – our “Best of the Rest”.

Following is the overall top 40, with my list through #46 next to it. Highlighted are the names from my list that missed the top 40 which I will cover here. Again, we originally included 46 names to increase the chances of getting 40 names for which there was a consensus.

  TCN Top 40   Brian Walton
1 Marco Gonzales 1 Marco Gonzales
2 Alex Reyes 2 Alex Reyes
3 Rob Kaminsky 3 Rob Kaminsky
4 Randal Grichuk 4 Stephen Piscotty
5 Stephen Piscotty 5 Randal Grichuk
6 Jack Flaherty 6 Tim Cooney
7 Tim Cooney 7 Jack Flaherty
8 Sam Tuivailala 8 Luke Weaver
9 Luke Weaver 9 Sam Tuivailala
10 Charlie Tilson 10 Charlie Tilson
11 Carson Kelly 11 Carson Kelly
12 Aledmys Diaz 12 Aledmys Diaz
13 Tommy Pham 13 Jacob Wilson
14 Jacob Wilson 14 Tommy Pham
15 Breyvic Valera 15 Juan Herrera
16 Magneuris Sierra 16 Breyvic Valera
17 Juan Herrera 17 Nick Petree
18 Ian McKinney 18 Greg Garcia
19 Edmundo Sosa 19 Ian McKinney
20 Nick Petree 20 Magneuris Sierra
21 Greg Garcia 21 Edmundo Sosa
22 Malik Collymore 22 Oscar Mercado
23 Oscar Mercado 23 Mike Mayers
24 Bryan Dobzanski 24 Bryan Dobzanski
25 Mike Mayers 25 Malik Collymore
26 Cody Stanley 26 Cody Stanley
27 Patrick Wisdom 27 Patrick Wisdom
28 Rowan Wick 28 Zach Petrick
29 Zach Petrick 29 C.J. McElroy
30 Xavier Scruggs 30 Ronnie Williams
31 Ronnie Williams 31 Ronald Castillo
32 C.J. McElroy 32 Xavier Scruggs
33 Mason Katz 33 Mason Katz
34 Daniel Poncedeleon 34 Fernando Baez
35 Andrew Morales 35 Rowan Wick
36 Ronald Castillo 36 Juan Perez
37 Dixon Llorens 37 Daniel Poncedeleon
38 Fernando Baez 38 Trey Nielsen
39 Darren Seferina 39 Andrew Morales
40 Juan Perez 40 Darren Seferina
    41 Vaughn Bryan
    42 Boone Whiting
    43 Kurt Heyer
    44 Dixon Llorens
    45 Chris Perry
    46 Jery Then

Where there are certainly differences in the respective rankings, there is little significant variance between the names on my list and the consolidated view. That is not surprising since my vote was weighted heaviest. State College right-hander Trey Nielsen is the only name among my top 40 to not make the overall list.

Five other players were among my top 46, each with a shot at reaching the overall top 40, had the votes aligned. They are pitchers Boone Whiting, Kurt Heyer, Chris Perry and Jery Then, along with outfielder Vaughn Bryan.

In this article, I will highlight these six selections. They have a variety of experience levels, from Triple-A (Whiting) to the Gulf Coast League (Then). The latter is the only one of the six to have joined the organization this season, as a free agent. Nielsen deserves an asterisk. Though the right-hander was drafted in 2013, he did not pitch until 2014 due to injury.



Trey Nielsen (my #38)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR RHS 09,01,91 6-2 200 R R 2013 30th

School: University of Utah

Nielsen

The son of a former Major League pitcher finally got back onto the baseball field after missing both his college and professional seasons in 2013. Nielsen suffered a UCL strain that ended his University of Utah career before requiring Tommy John surgery. Then a third baseman, Nielsen pitched in just four games before signing with the Cardinals.

The Cards started slowly with Nielsen, with his first seven appearances coming out of the State College bullpen. After impressing with just three earned runs allowed in 17 2/3 innings, he was moved into the rotation. The Cardinals continued to take it easy with Nielsen, with his eight starts lasting between four and five innings, and he performed well.

Overall, the right-hander fanned 49 in 50 1/3 innings and walked just 14 while logging a 2.50 ERA and 3.22 FIP. Nielsen induced over two ground ball outs for every fly ball out while holding New York-Penn League hitters to a collective .201 batting average. He features a lively, mid-90s fastball, a solid breaking ball and mixes in a change-up.

If there was ever a sleeper prospect, it is Nielsen. That is why he landed in my personal top 40.




Vaughn Bryan (my #41)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR OF 06,05,93 6-1 180 S R 2013 35th

School: Broward College, Florida

Bryan

The Cardinals like what they have in the switch-hitting outfielder, their 35th-rounder from 2013. Bryan earned an all-star berth in the Appalachian League that summer before being selected to participate in instructional league camp for the first of two falls. To help put that into perspective, only five outfielders were invited to instructs.

After starting 2014 in extended spring training, Bryan was challenged to join Peoria in May. In an interesting note, once he arrived, the 21-year-old was placed in the Chiefs’ leadoff spot with C.J. McElroy moving to number two.

In the Midwest League, Bryan had an uneven season. He finished strongly, though, following up a .219 July with a .289 mark in August to bring his season mark up to .262. Bryan is a solid defender, making over 20 starts in all three outfield positions.

Overall, Bryan was a so-so 11-for-18 in stolen bases, but where his wheels are most evident are in his nine triples. That tied him for the most in the entire Cardinals system despite having just 317 at-bats and indicates how he may make his mark in the future.




Boone Whiting (my #42)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
30 RHS 08,20,89 6-2 175 R R 2010 18th

School: Centenary College, Louisiana

Whiting

I admit that I am slower than most to give up on a prospect who has shown he can perform well in the upper levels of the system. Such is the case with Whiting, our 30th-ranked prospect 12 months ago after coming in at number 24 the year before.

Whiting was a non-roster invitee to Major League camp, but was among the first cuts. With Memphis, the right-hander had four good starts followed by four awful ones, going 0-5 with a 5.15 ERA before sitting out for a month starting in mid-May due to a shoulder strain.

The 25-year-old pitched well upon his return, going 4-1, 2.41 in seven June and July starts, including his only shutout of the season. However, the success was short-lived. Whiting backslid in August with a 5.56 ERA over his final five outings, including 10 earned runs yielded in his final 10 innings of the season. That finish likely knocked him out of my top 40.

Whiting does not throw in the mid-90s, instead relying on an effective sinker, so his margin is thin. The reality of the situation is that he was left exposed the last two winters in the Rule 5 draft and was not taken. More work is going to be required at Memphis – and some luck – for Whiting to receive his shot.




Kurt Heyer (my #43)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR RHS 01,23,91 6-2 210 L R 2012 6th

School: University of Arizona

Heyer

Ironically, it was Whiting’s aforementioned injury that opened the door for Heyer to move up to Memphis in May. He was clearly not ready, having posted a 5.51 ERA in his first nine starts with Springfield after having split 2013 between Peoria and Palm Beach. Like Whiting, Heyer had been a late add to Major League spring training camp.

After getting smacked around in three Triple-A contests, Heyer returned to the Double-A Cards’ rotation in early June. There, his summer was uneven, with a 5.14 July raising his return Springfield ERA to 3.88.

The 23-year-old relies more on command than stuff, featuring a 90 MPH fastball and slider combination and likely projects as a reliever eventually. I think Heyer will perform better in 2015, likely back among Springfield's starting five.




Chris Perry (my #45)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR RHR 07,15,90 6-2 215 L R 2012 17th

School: Methodist University, North Carolina

Perry

Speaking of relievers, Perry had a very eventful 2014. For long stretches of the season, no other bullpenner had as much success as he, albeit in A-ball.

The 24-year-old moved from starting to the bullpen in 2014 and it helped to accelerate his career. In just his first full-season in the system, Perry excelled at Peoria, being named a Midwest League All-Star. While there, he earned the Pitcher of the Month award for the entire Cardinals system in May. That was in competition with all starters – an impressive feat.

In terms of ERA, Perry was even more effective following his promotion to A-Advanced Palm Beach, where he lowered his ERA from 2.20 to 1.93. The Cardinal Nation added our Reliever of the Month award for July.

Being named to the Arizona Fall League was a bit of a stretch for the right-hander, given his experience level to date. Dealing with shoulder soreness, Perry had a rough AFL campaign, yielding seven earned runs in 7 2/3 innings on nine hits and 10 walks. Perry struck out three before being shut down. Next stop appears to be Springfield.




Jery Then (my #46)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA RHR 05,06,95 6-2 195 R R 2014 FA

School: Western Oklahoma State College

Then

I readily admit that I placed the 19-year-old Then at number 46 on my list so I could speak about him here. Even putting aside the most interesting backstory about how Cardinals scout Ryan Franklin discovered him pitching in an American Legion game last summer, Then delivered on the mound.

After reporting to the Gulf Coast League Cards in July, the two runs Then allowed in his first professional outing were the only ones he would yield in the GCL while logging a 0.87 ERA.

In 20 2/3 GCL frames, including one emergency start of three innings, Then struck out 23 and walked just five, holding opposing hitters to a collective .157 average and logging a 1.77 ground ball out to fly ball out ratio.

At the end of the GCL campaign, Then was rewarded with a promotion to Johnson City, where he appeared in three games as the Cardinals marched on to the Appalachian League title.

Then was recognized as The Cardinal Nation’s August Relief Pitcher of the Month, our GCL Cardinals Reliever of the Year and our system-wide Rookie Reliever of the Year. Following the season, he was among 38 hand-picked prospects invited to the organization’s fall instructional league camp. The Dominican native is clearly a player to watch.




To reference our entire list of top 40 Cardinals prospects for 2015 and read about each individual player, click here. You can learn the voters’ philosophies in making their selections and much more.

Next up: This article series continues as we move next to our All-Prospect Team, the highest-ranked players at each position, dive into the numbers behind the top 40, take a look at our best and worst selections from 2014, the top prospects by level of play and those who left the top 40 from last year to this.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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