Editor’s note: Our Top 40 St. Louis Cardinals prospect countdown for 2015 would not have been as successful without The Cardinal Nation’s Springfield reporter, Derek Shore, who made his votes and penned 40 player capsules, providing his unique scouting orientation that goes more into depth than most reporting you will read.
Derek continues his contributions here, with write ups on five Cardinals prospects who received support, but fell just short of the weighted overall vote.
Following is the overall 2016 TCN top 40, with Derek’s list through #50 next to it. (Remember that we each ranked 50 names to develop a consolidated list of 40.) Highlighted are the unique names from his list to be discussed here.
|TCN top 40||Derek Shore|
|1||Alex Reyes||1||Alex Reyes|
|2||Jack Flaherty||2||Jack Flaherty|
|3||Marco Gonzales||3||Tim Cooney|
|4||Luke Weaver||4||Luke Weaver|
|5||Tim Cooney||5||Magneuris Sierra|
|6||Charlie Tilson||6||Marco Gonzales|
|7||Aldemys Diaz||7||Charlie Tilson|
|8||Nick Plummer||8||Aledmys Diaz|
|9||Edmundo Sosa||9||Nick Plummer|
|10||Magneuris Sierra||10||Carson Kelly|
|11||Sam Tuivailala||11||Harrison Bader|
|12||Carson Kelly||12||Edmundo Sosa|
|13||Harrison Bader||13||Sandy Alcantara|
|14||Austin Gomber||14||Junior Fernandez|
|15||Jake Woodford||15||Sam Tuivailala|
|16||Paul DeJong||16||Bryce Denton|
|17||Sandy Alcantara||17||Jacob Wilson|
|18||Junior Fernandez||18||Austin Gomber|
|19||Greg Garcia||19||Paul DeJong|
|20||Jacob Wilson||20||Greg Garcia|
|21||Bryce Denton||21||Jake Woodford|
|22||Daniel Poncedeleon||22||Luis Perdomo|
|23||Allen Cordoba||23||Daniel Poncedeleon|
|24||Patrick Wisdom||24||Anthony Garcia|
|25||Anthony Garcia||25||Ronnie Williams|
|26||Darren Seferina||26||Arturo Reyes|
|27||Ian McKinney||27||Darren Seferina|
|28||Trey Nielsen||28||Allen Cordoba|
|29||Luis Perdomo||29||Patrick Wisdom|
|30||Michael Ohlman||30||Trey Nielsen|
|31||Ronnie Williams||31||Corey Littrell|
|32||Oscar Mercado||32||Ian McKinney|
|33||Arturo Reyes||33||Oscar Mercado|
|34||Corey Littrell||34||Michael Ohlman|
|35||Ian Oxnevad||35||David Oca|
|36||Eliezer Alvarez||36||Chris Rivera|
|37||Andrew Morales||37||Ian Oxnevad|
|38||Alvaro Seijas||38||Andrew Morales|
|39||Matt Pearce||39||Jacob Schlesener|
|40||David Oca||40||Eliezer Alvarez|
Only two players who made Derek’s top 40 fell short of recognition on the overall site top 40 – Chris Rivera and Jacob Schlesener. They will be covered here. The other three discussed below are from Derek’s #41-#50 ranks who also placed in that range in the overall site rankings. They are Dean Kiekhefer, Luis Bandes and Chris Chinea.
In terms of sourcing, Bandes came from the international program. Chinea and Schlesener were 2015 Cardinals draft picks while Rivera was selected in 2013 and Kiekhefer was picked back in 2010.
Derek’s individual player rankings and commentary follows.
Chris Rivera (#36)
School: El Dorado High School, Placentia, California
As the Cardinals tried him all over the infield since his signing, Rivera entered last spring training as a third baseman. He left extended spring training with three months of work donning the tools of ignorance. Not surprisingly, with the move to catching, this was the former seventh-rounder’s first notice on TCN's Best of the Rest feature and he has yet to rank within the top 40.
I am quite high on Rivera, tabbing him as my 36th prospect because of positive early reports on the transition to catching while he continues to draw good marks from coaches for his advanced bat. In other words, this was ranking byproduct of the gut and going off the industry reports.
"The most difficult aspect of the transition was becoming more flexible and getting to know the pitchers in a short amount of time," said Rivera, to whom pitchers enjoyed throwing, according to his Johnson City manager, Chris Swauger. "I feel as the season went on that I progressed well with both."
Rivera, 20, hasn't hit above .250 in his first three seasons, including two while repeating Johnson City. However, his lowest line of .208/.297.352 can be exempted as he was in the process of transitioning behind the dish. Defensively, Rivera caught 243 innings, had 17 passed balls, but amassed a .983 fielding percentage and threw out an impressive 46% percent of attempted base stealers with limited experience throwing out of a crouch. His arm strength is a plus, as he was reportedly able to pop 94 on the mound as high school pitcher.
Will Rivera have more value behind the plate or with a bat in his hands?
"They walk hand-in-hand with each other," said Swauger. "Good hitting catchers are very, very rare, but I think he has a lot of offensive potential. He suffered a little bit this year as far as numbers, but if you look at the auxiliary numbers like his isolated power he was actually above the league average.
"I think he was so focused on making the transition to catcher and try to do a good job on that it affected things. The transition to catcher for him - once he becomes comfortable with it - his hitting will come around where it was showing before. He's going to progress as a hitter because that's what he was drafted as, but it will develop more as catching goes on."
With the conversion to catcher, Rivera believes he picked up on additional nuances like pitch selection that will help him better approach opposing pitchers.
"With my hitting, I know I need to improve," said Rivera. "I tend to get myself out a lot of the time, but I feel like when I moved behind the plate, it gave me a better understanding of hitting as well, and what to expect.”
Scouts preferred Rivera's glove over his bat in high school -- liking him behind the plate because it allowed for more positional flexibility. Rivera hasn't shown much in-game hitting ability in professional baseball so far. In high school, he had a quick, short stroke with gap power and made hard contact to all fields when he was swinging the bat well.
In terms of preparing as a catcher, Rivera emphasized conditioning as what has differed in his offseason regimen this winter. Also, his goals follow suit.
"The one thing that has changed for me a lot this offseason is cardio and legs,” Rivera said. “Catchers are back there for the long haul, so I want to make sure I am conditioned enough for multiple games in a row. And I also want to ensure I have a strong foundation starting from the ground up.
"My goals right off the bat are to have a great spring training and making a full season team would be a big goal personally for myself. I want to stay consistent and healthy through the whole year. I just want to help the Cardinals in any way possible while still pursuing personal goals as well."
Jacob Schlesener (#39)
School: Logan-Rogersville High School, Rogersville, Missouri
One of the promising picks beyond the 10th round in the 2015 draft, the Cardinals grabbed a left-hander from their backyard in Springfield, Missouri in Schlesener. Despite a strong commitment to pitch at the University of Arkansas, a month after his draft, the Logan-Rogersville high school product decided to turn pro and accepted a reported $325,000 signing bonus. It was the equivalent of fifth-round money that was more than three times his slot value attached to the 371st overall pick (12th-round).
"It was a tough decision between the Cardinals and the (Arkansas) Razorbacks," Schlesener told WholeHogSports.com after signing with St. Louis. "I've loved them both for a while.
"I knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do. It felt like the right decision for me to pursue pro ball."
Schlesener, 19, pitched brilliantly in his second to last high school outing blanking the opposition through five innings while notching 12 punchouts in district semis and showed aptitude with the bat by launching a three-run homer. The next time out, the 6-foot-3,175 pounder took the loss after giving up seven earned runs on five hits in four innings pitched. He struck out six, but walked three and hit two batters.
"He is a very physically projectable left-handed pitcher with some upside," said Cardinals Midwest area scout Aaron Looper, who saw Schlesener twice during the spring and at the Cardinals pre-draft workout. "He is a good athlete as well. He was 87-92 in my looks with flashes of a good traditional curveball and change. An inconsistent release point caused some erratic command at times.
"With his projection, three pitch mix, and athleticism he was a very interesting starting pitcher prospect for me. Also heard his makeup was very good which is encouraging. Once he fills out and has a better for his delivery, then he could take off. A player that I am excited to watch develop."
While transitioning to professional ball in the Gulf Coast League, a typical destination for high school draftees, Schlesener was eased in by appearing in just five outings to start his new career. He made one start and had a 2.89 ERA in a limited 9 1/3 innings pitched. Reportedly barely scraping 90 mph with his fastball, Schlesener struck eight and walked six, but flashed a potential plus curveball that caught the interest of former Baseball Prospectus player evaluator Jeff Moore, now of 2080 Baseball.
"The depth of the Cardinals’ arms at the GCL level is impressive, and I liked Jacob Schlesener," said Moore when asked about who stood out. "He was a 12th round pick who signed for something like fourth round money and had a plus curveball, which is a really good starting point for a lefty."
While Schlesener is mostly projection, his breaking ball is far advanced beyond the level most teenaged pitchers are as they get their feet wet. Command within the strike zone is the only obstacle holding the breaker back to be a present plus pitch. With a limited workload in the GCL, the Cardinals focused on building up his arm strength as he hit 92 mph as an amateur. Evaluators say there is a sizable chance that Schlesener gains a velocity tick or two as his body fills outs and grows into an ideal pitcher's frame.
Overall, he offers an intriguing profile as a starting pitcher, but will require much development time. If all comes together, Looper sees a plus fastball and curve with an average change. Schlesener’s command limits his ceiling, but he could have mid-rotation upside as a starter if he throws quality strikes.
The obvious 2016 placement for Schlesener will be a return to the GCL after a full off-season and extended spring training under his belt as a professional.
Dean Kiekhefer (#42)
School: University of Louisville
“Left-handed One Out Guys” (LOOGY), shouldn't warrant prospect consideration on my terms because they are a plentiful commodity and the role speaks for itself in relative value. In Dean Kiekhefer's case, he has defied the odds with two different arm slots (high on righties then drops down sidearm on lefties) with an ability to fill up the bottom part of the strike zone. Kiekhefer has proven to be effective as a non-traditional lefty reliever who pitches multiple innings thanks to exceptional efficiency.
Saber-geeks wouldn't advocate Kiekhefer in a left handed relief role based purely on his 2015 righty-lefty splits (.295 against righties and .267 against lefties in the Pacific Coast League). For his minor league career, his splits are clearly the definition of reverse lefty-righty (.195 against lefties and .276 against righties).
"I want to be a guy that can do about any role out of the bullpen," Kiekhefer told The Cardinal Nation. "If it is come in and get one left-handed batter, then that is what it is. If it's to throw two or three innings, then that's fine, too.
"I try to keep the pitch count low, and that has to do with getting ahead of batters and being able to throw strikes."
The former 36th-rounder repeated Triple-A Memphis and stuck to his reputation with a 5.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He walked just seven batters in 59 2/3 innings and posted a 2.41 ERA. With the Rule 5 clock ticking, Kiekhefer covered 15 1/3 innings (nine appearances) as a single/multiple inning hurler for Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. That was sufficient for the Cardinals to add him to the 40 man roster, thus avoiding the Rule 5 draft.
As mentioned about his multiple arm slots, Kiekhefer hides the ball that helps his below-average stuff play up. He slings an 87-89 fastball and mixes a change and slider. His slider is his biggest weapon and toughest pitch in his repertoire. At the plate, hitters don't often take quality cuts against him when he’s working around the zone, changing speeds, and add-subtracting off a fastball and change to righties and manipulates fastball movement sinks when he drops down to lefties. While pounding the zone with the fastball to lefties, Kiekhefer utilizes that slider as an out-pitch, and one of his strengths is keeping the ball on the ground at a high rate.
"Going back to instructs in 2012," said Kiekhefer in the AFL this past November. "After the season, I was in High-A and learned a breaking ball helped me out a lot. Before that, I was more of a sinker and changeup guy. Now, I'm working with my slider to be better against lefties and changeup to righties for a little extra weapon.
"If you saw me in 2012 and compared me to now, it would be night and day. I'm able to throw a breaking ball in any count when I want to now. It's something to be said for the (Cardinal) organization that they work with every single guy."
With the departure of veteran Randy Choate for 2016, it looks as if Kiekhefer will receive a longer look and more of an opportunity with St. Louis in spring training. The consensus on Kiekhefer is a left-handed specialist or left-handed reliever who can go multiple innings. I expect him to be shuttled back and forth between Memphis and St. Louis next year.
Luis Bandes (#44)
Hometown: Ocumare del Tuy, Venezuela
Bandes was unranked in TCN's top 40, with this winter being his first mentioned as a Best of the Rest prospect. The first-timer was the system's 44th prospect in my personal rankings and 42nd according to the TCN message board community vote.
Bandes, 19, was the Cardinals third highest-bonused July 2nd signing out of the 2012 crop that featured top prospects Alex Reyes, Edmundo Sosa and Magneuris Sierra. The Venezuelan outfielder signed for $350,000 as a then 16-year old who trained under Ciro Barrios. Bandes was said to have a thick 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame and impressed Cardinals international scouts with his offensive potential.
A brief post-sign scouting report written on Bandes from Baseball America said he had a good approach, hung in against breaking pitches, used the whole field and showed usable power in games. Also, he moves better than his listed height and weight but has a fringy arm and profiles best in left field. If that's true, that ultimately means he'll have to hit and hit for power to be his driving force in his ascent up the minor league pipeline.
So far into his professional career, Bandes debut as a professional went sour with a .185/.258/.279 line in 61 Dominican Summer League at-bats in 2013. He also had troubles translating that "good approach" immediately with a 50-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, Bandes improved dramatically at the plate in his second season at the Academy with a 101 point boost over his rookie performance and tied for the most home runs despite missing a month due to injury.
"Power hitter with a right field profile," said Cardinals director of international operations Moises Rodriguez back in April 2014. "His numbers don't show it, but that first year, especially the ones that come (to extended spring training camp) with a significant competitive bonus they come here with a lot of expectations and how they deal with those expectations (is a part of the adjustment).”
Bandes' transition stateside was flawless to the extent of a .319/.349/.449 line at the Gulf Coast League. Impressively, he showed rare power for a 19-year adjusting to the game in an entirely different environment and atmosphere. Bandes slugged four home runs and drove in 24 RBI in 38 games on the Florida backfields.
“Luis Bandes is a very powerful young man who shows a lot of potential with the bat," said Cardinals minor league hitting coordinator Derrick May. "He already possesses something we need, and that is raw power. I think it is just a matter of him staying healthy, taking care of himself and continuing to make necessary adjustments."
Defensively, Bandes has split time between both corner outfield spots in his first two years. In his third, the Cardinals as they so often do with their position players are looking to increase his versatility a bit. Bandes was introduced to first base in 2015 and played it almost exclusively.
"He is a right fielder who we put over at first base but he has taken to it," said May. "We will see what happens, but he looks good at first. It's always good to be versatile.”
It looks as though Bandes has seen his past two seasons cut short by injury, but I cannot confirm the latter season. I see him sticking at the complex throughout extended spring training and repeating the GCL with hopes of more consistent time in the field to gain necessary repetitions.
Chris Chinea (#47)
School: Louisiana State University
In his draft year, instead of ranking as a top 40 prospect, Chinea is one of the five prospects featured in this Best of the Rest feature. A product of Louisiana State University, Chinea was my personally ranked 47th prospect, and the community ranked him 44th.
Chinea, 21, didn't become a full-time regular for the powerhouse LSU baseball program until his junior year, though he lettered in all three seasons. In 2015, he led the Tigers' offense with 11 home runs and 58 RBI and was second with a .355 batting average before his draft selection in the 17th round by the Cardinals. Also, he was noted for making the hardest contact of any LSU position player (routinely averaging 98-100 mph in exit speed) as a strong catcher and first baseman who runs well and is athletic enough to handle multiple positions.
Cardinals area scout Charles Peterson has known Chinea on a personal level for eight years before scouting him in college, to eventually signing him. Peterson left me with this impression of Chinea.
"The first thing you notice is his bat," said Peterson. "He's strong and had a tremendous feel to hit, especially on the highest level. He very rarely missed fastballs. When everything is on time; he puts a charge on the ball. That's the thing that struck me the most."
After tearing up the Southeastern Conference, Chinea acclimated with ease by belting six long balls and driving in 27 runs while batting .309 with .849 OPS between rookie-ball Johnson City and Short-A State College, the latter a two-game stint. He split time between first base and catcher in Johnson City.
Can he stick at catcher in professional baseball?
"I think he has a chance to stick," said Peterson. "He has a lot of tools to stick. I doubt if he's able to be a plus catcher, but he definitely has several tools behind the plate. The main thing you are buying with him is the bat.”
Chinea's projection and the ceiling is an unknown at this point with the position uncertainty. Even if he is eventually a first base-only player, his bat is his calling card with plus power potential and above-average bat speed that will carry him well through the lower levels and perhaps at the higher levels. If he sticks, he fits as a possible backup catcher if all goes well.
"That's hard to tell," said Peterson of his ceiling if he has the defensive chops to play catcher. "I'm hoping for some power, a power bat. A power hitting guy with a chance to catch. I think he's athletic enough to where he can play left field, first base, and catch. The main thing is you want to get his bat in the lineup every day, so wherever that is he's athletic enough to handle a corner position or behind the plate."
Ultimately, Chinea matured his approach at LSU which paid dividends in his results, and has proven he can perform in professional baseball, so that doesn't seem to be a long-term issue. I would like to see Chinea shipped to the Midwest League and get the ball rolling on his first full season with the Cardinals. That would also be more telling of how advanced his bat actually is and if he is up to the test of handling the rigors of catching.
To reference our entire list of top 40 Cardinals prospects for 2016 and read about each individual player, click here.
Next up: This article series continues with Brian Walton’s Best of the Rest. 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 2015, the top prospects by level of play and those who left the top 40 from last year to this.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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