TCN 2016 Cards Prospect #10: Magneuris Sierra

The 2014 system-wide Player of the Year was challenged in Peoria before settling in at Johnson City.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

Hometown: San Cristobal, Dominican Republic

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
16 OF 04,07,96 5-11 160 R R 2012 FA

Selected 2015 stats

Peo 0.191 0.260 178 19 34 1 1 7 7 52 4 0.219 0.219 0.247 0.466
JC 0.315 0.378 216 38 68 8 3 15 19 42 15 0.358 0.371 0.394 0.765
total 0.259   394 57 102 9 4 22 26 94 19   0.304 0.327 0.632

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (13): When placing Magneuris Sierra in the prospect vote last year, several posters were very high on him due to his breakout campaign as the Gulf Coast League MVP during the 2014 season. This year, his support remained strong, despite his lackluster results in Peoria to begin the season.

SoonerinNC noted that Sierra might be the best center fielder in the entire system and shared GM John Mozeliak’s 2018 outfield prediction from last year’s Winter Warm-Up, where he guessed that Sierra would be among the three starters. BobReed said that Sierra’s defense has been universally praised and the bat was fine once he was placed in the age-appropriate Appalachian League in 2015. Blingboy offered some cynicism on Sierra, posting that he doesn’t want to get too excited about an under-sized singles hitter until he reaches the upper levels of the minors. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (5): Following his GCL batting title and MVP honors, Sierra rated as The Cardinal Nation’s 16th prospect during the winter of 2014-15. This time, Sierra cracks TCN’s top 10 despite being overmatched in full-season competition which exposed his raw hitting approach and pitch recognition skills until his reassignment to extended spring training on June 9th. However, let’s not forget he spent three months playing in a cold weather climate for the first time, and the fact his performance didn’t continue to stall was satisfying, albeit against much lesser quality of competition in the Appy League.

Sierra, 19, had a difficult line of .191/.219/.247/.466 in the Midwest League before slashing .315/.371/.394/.765 with Johnson City, where the former Cardinal Minors’ Player of the Year was named to the rookie league’s post-season All-Star Team as an outfielder. Also, Sierra was placed as 4th-best prospect (one ahead of Astros’ high-ceiling OF, Daz Cameron, son of former MLB standout Mike Cameron) in the Appy League and recently ranked as the organization’s 6th prospect in Baseball America’s rankings released in mid-November.

“He was an interesting one,” said Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America, who ranked Sierra 4th in the Appalachian League. “Sierra is just a guy, who tools just excited. He’s a guy that is going to play up-the-middle defense, have some feel to hit, good line-drive hitter and good speed. The things that were difficult (in full-season ball) with Sierra is he didn’t play well. He was in over his head in the Midwest League.

“With a guy, who is so young in a cold weather league for the first time (maybe) you give him a little break, especially as a 19-year old. It’s certainly not a good thing that he struggled there, but it’s not a deal breaker as far as a prospect goes. With the hit tool, I think he was a little aggressive to try him there at the Midwest League at this stage.

“When he went back down, the hit tool showed very well. He’s got great hands, inside-out stroke and can pepper it to both gaps. Good-looking prospect,” Belinsky concluded.

As Belinsky noted of Sierra’s comprehensive tool-kit, his speed (19 successful steals in 26 chances) - though unrefined as a skill - is said to grade out at the top of the scouting scale and he projects to be a center field mainstay with plus range and arm strength for the position. He does profile to be an above-average hitter the more he is exposed to advanced pitching and learns how to use his speed upon contact.

Sierra is said to fit best as a potential regular among Cardinals position prospects with the very chance of a Gold Glove in his future as a top-of-the-order catalyst. He is expected to make his second appearance to Peoria in 2016 with the hope of a bounce back.

Brian Walton (13): You may be surprised, but my number 13 ranking here is actually a considerable improvement over where I placed Sierra last winter. Coming off his standout 2014 - which included the Cardinals organization Player of the Year recognition on top of his league batting title and MVP award - I placed Sierra just 20th in my personal rankings.

Among my red flags were his short season of just 52 games at the lowest level of play in the US coming off a very average performance the year before in the Dominican, an unsustainable .444 BABIP in the GCL and what appears to me to be an unsure plate approach versus breaking pitches. Further, I don’t think his size, a listed 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, suggests a future power hitter.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not down on Sierra. I am just not nearly as confident as those who think the Cardinals have here a five-tool player who is sure to become a major league regular. I sense that expectations were set unreasonably high based on his 2014.

But let’s talk about 2015.

Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque feels Sierra passed his Midwest League test to open the season.

“The plan worked – so far - very well,” LaRocque said. “We wanted him to see Peoria. We like young players with different opportunities to see the next level. What it does is that it forces them to realize, one, they can play there, but two, that they have work to do. Most of the players that we walk out on the field have an inner confidence. They got signed, they have tools, they have ability. An when they see the next levels – and there is plenty of them – for them to look up to, the sooner we get them exposed to seeing what it is about, the sooner they catch up to the league.

“In this case, ‘Maggie’ went to Peoria - and I chuckle because he is just a young guy stepping into the Midwest League first time - and actually if you ask most people who watched him play, they would say he did an outstanding job defensively. In that league every night, against older, more experienced pitchers, it was going to be a new challenge for him. That is exactly what we wanted.”

LaRocque and Sierra

Putting aside what I still feel was an overly-aggressive placement at Peoria to open 2015 (same as I said last year at this time), let’s consider Sierra’s results after he went down to Johnson City. In the big picture, his .765 OPS there was pretty ordinary - just sixth among his team’s regulars.

While his batting average and OBP were good, his slugging was not. Sierra’s .394 SLG was a distant sixth on his own squad, behind an outfielder, both catchers as well as the starting second baseman and shortstop. Backing that up were just 11 extra base hits (eight doubles, no triples and three home runs) to go with 57 singles.

I asked LaRocque specifically about Sierra’s lack of pop.

“We are not worried about the power factor,” the farm director said. “The power factor is the last thing that usually comes along for players, He is still learning his strike zone – understanding it more and more. He’s got a great swing, but he’s got some natural power that will play eventually. Physically, he is still maturing, so there is time.”

To me, the issue was not just lack of power, but also very limited production.

Sierra did lead Johnson City in steals and runs scored, but was simply mediocre at driving runners in. Unlike at Peoria, were he was tried as the leadoff man, he was placed in a production spot in the JC lineup, batting third every day.

Even so, despite team-highs of 212 at-bats and 53 games played, Sierra managed just 15 RBI, which included himself three times. Coincidentally, that 15 was the same total that Paul DeJong amassed before his promotion to Peoria - in just 10 games – five batting just ahead of Sierra and five games hitting right behind him.

It is pretty easy to see why Sierra was not plating runners. His Johnson City average with runners in scoring position sat smack on top of the Mendoza Line, .200. With the bases empty, he hit .379, which helps explain how he batted .315 overall.

Sierra’s BABIP, which was a below-par .260 at Peoria, exploded to .378 at Johnson City, a mark that would seem difficult to sustain ahead.

For those who might suggest that Sierra’s Appalachian League results represent a small sample size, I would point out that both his 2015 Johnson City games and at-bat totals are slightly higher than he accrued in his entire standout 2014 season in the GCL.

To date, I see a plus defender in center field with good contact at the plate and developing baserunning skills who might grow into a pretty good leadoff hitter - yet who is still very young, and is light years away from the majors. At this point, I don’t see him as a top 10 player in the system.

I hope that Sierra can simply develop as a regular prospect without the weight of five-tool, Player of the Year, future MLB starter and Gold Glove expectations getting in the way. Let’s see what is next in 2016.

(Note: For TCN members, the link to the full LaRocque interview is below, with further remarks about Sierra and the organization’s overall approach. He also goes into depth on a number of other Cardinals minor leaguers beyond Sierra.)

Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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