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 three 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 site top 40, with my list through #50 next to it. Highlighted are the names from my list that finished closest to making the top 40 in the consolidated vote, those whom I will cover here. Again, we originally included 50 names to ensure we reached consensus on 40.
|TCN top 40||Brian Walton|
|1||Alex Reyes||1||Alex Reyes|
|2||Jack Flaherty||2||Jack Flaherty|
|3||Marco Gonzales||3||Marco Gonzales|
|4||Luke Weaver||4||Luke Weaver|
|5||Tim Cooney||5||Tim Cooney|
|6||Charlie Tilson||6||Charlie Tilson|
|7||Aldemys Diaz||7||Nick Plummer|
|8||Nick Plummer||8||Edmundo Sosa|
|9||Edmundo Sosa||9||Carson Kelly|
|10||Magneuris Sierra||10||Sam Tuivailala|
|11||Sam Tuivailala||11||Jake Woodford|
|12||Carson Kelly||12||Aledmys Diaz|
|13||Harrison Bader||13||Magneuris Sierra|
|14||Austin Gomber||14||Austin Gomber|
|15||Jake Woodford||15||Sandy Alcantara|
|16||Paul DeJong||16||Greg Garcia|
|17||Sandy Alcantara||17||Jacob Wilson|
|18||Junior Fernandez||18||Patrick Wisdom|
|19||Greg Garcia||19||Paul DeJong|
|20||Jacob Wilson||20||Harrison Bader|
|21||Bryce Denton||21||Junior Fernandez|
|22||Daniel Poncedeleon||22||Bryce Denton|
|23||Allen Cordoba||23||Allen Cordoba|
|24||Patrick Wisdom||24||Trey Nielsen|
|25||Anthony Garcia||25||Luis Perdomo|
|26||Darren Seferina||26||Daniel Poncedeleon|
|27||Ian McKinney||27||Ian McKinney|
|28||Trey Nielsen||28||Ronnie Williams|
|29||Luis Perdomo||29||Darren Seferina|
|30||Michael Ohlman||30||Anthony Garcia|
|31||Ronnie Williams||31||Michael Ohlman|
|32||Oscar Mercado||32||Oscar Mercado|
|33||Arturo Reyes||33||Eliezer Alvarez|
|34||Corey Littrell||34||Juan Herrera|
|35||Ian Oxnevad||35||Corey Littrell|
|36||Eliezer Alvarez||36||Arturo Reyes|
|37||Andrew Morales||37||Ian Oxnevad|
|38||Alvaro Seijas||38||Alvaro Seijas|
|39||Matt Pearce||39||Jordan Hicks|
|40||David Oca||40||Wadye Ynfante|
Where there are certainly differences in the respective rankings, there is little significant variance between the names on my list and the consolidated view. Still, three players from among my top 40 did not make the overall list – Juan Herrera, Jordan Hicks and Wadye Ynfante.
One of my ranked prospects has been released since his suspension in catcher Cody Stanley, who has fallen a long way since reaching St. Louis last September. The final one of my unique selections is left-handed pitcher Jacob Evans, who quietly impressed at State College after being selected in the sixth round last June from Oklahoma.
The five selections I will highlight below have a variety of experience levels, from Double-A (Valera) to the Dominican Summer League (Ynfante) to none at all (Hicks).
Juan Herrera (my #34)
Hometown: Bani, Dominican Republic
We know Juan Herrera is a promising shortstop. In fact, The Cardinal Nation ranked the 22-year-old 17th in the entire Cardinals system last winter. Coming off a 2014 season in which he was our Peoria Player of the Year, Herrera was our second-ranked shortstop in the system. Only Aledmys Diaz was ahead and those behind included Edmundo Sosa, Greg Garcia and Oscar Mercado. Allen Cordoba was not yet ranked.
What changed so drastically in just 12 months for Herrera to slide from a top 20 player to getting just one top 48 vote in total from our three raters and being at best the sixth-ranked shortstop in the system?
Herrera is still one of the organization's better defenders. He has everything one wants in a shortstop – good range, soft hands, quick feet and a strong and accurate arm. Offensively, he is fast and despite not being a prototypical base stealer, he swiped 28 bags in 2014. Herrera is more of a contact hitter but could definitely draw more walks and not surprisingly, lacks power.
The Cardinals’ take in the 2013 Mark Rzepczynski deal was not the first hitter to struggle in his Florida State League introduction, which occurred in a 10-game trial late in 2014.
Back with Palm Beach in 2015, he went down with a season-ending injury in mid-June, which took him off the radar of many. At that time, the right-handed hitter’s line for the season was .265/.315/.292/.605. It was a far cry from his 2011-2014 line of .274/.347/.360/.707.
Despite missing the entire second half of 2015, Herrera may be moved ahead to Springfield in the spring. There should be room as Diaz is already at Memphis and Mercado could take the Palm Beach job. The Texas League could help Herrera offensively, and the Cardinals have just two more seasons to decide if he deserves a place on the 40-man roster and potentially has an MLB future. I am not yet ready to count him out.
Jordan Hicks (my #39)
School: Cypress Creek High School, Houston, Texas
If you are like many, you may have read the name Jordan Hicks and said to yourself, “Who?”
The now-19-year-old Texan, despite having been the Cardinals’ supplemental third-round draft pick this June, has yet to throw his first professional pitch. The former Houston prep star had some shoulder inflammation after signing and worked carefully on building up his strength in workouts, rather than pitching for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
Being out of sight and out of mind apparently was the reason Hicks does not appear on either one of the other top 50 lists. So despite my #39 ranking, the right-hander is among those who just missed out on the site top 40.
The fact that Hicks received more than 10 percent over his slot value to sign told me that the Cardinals liked the 105th overall pick a lot. His $600,000 signing bonus, albeit to help convince the high schooler to turn his back on Tulane, was the same amount that the two collegians drafted just ahead of him and after received combined. They are a pair of pretty good players in Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong.
And other than scouting reports, that is about all we have to go on.
The potential is there. Known for his arm strength, Hicks hit 96 mph on scouts’ guns this spring, up from the lower 90’s he registered earlier. He also features a curveball that has solid movement. I am willing to bet that Hicks will quickly earn a place on this top 40 - based on results rather than reputation - once he finally takes the mound in short-season ball this summer.
Wadye Ynfante (my #40)
Hometown: Santiago, Dominican Republic
The downside? We are talking about a player who spent all of the 2015 season except the final week at the age of 17 playing in the Dominican Summer League.
The positives include a center fielder who batted .311 and was second on his team in doubles and slugging and was recognized as a DSL All-Star. Ynfante was also second on the DSL Cards in RBI and third in runs scored.
“We initially signed him as a shortstop, second base, middle infielder and we decided last year to move him to center field,” Cardinals director of minor league operations Moises Rodriguez said. “He’s got a little speed. Also, a kid that in 2014 struck out a lot, really struggled.”
Ynfante cut his strikeout rate from 37.3 percent of his 2014 at-bats to 19.8 percent this season and was a changed player.
“He played real solid defense in center field, hit over .300, showed some power,” said Rodriguez. “He is a really wiry kid that started to fill out a little bit physically. Very young. He played most of this year at 17 and put together a nice offensive season and he will be one we will see next year in extended (spring training, starting in April).”
Maybe it is too much to expect for Ynfante - The Cardinal Nation’s 2015 DSL Cardinals Player of the Year - to follow on the heels of Magneuris Sierra two years ago and Allen Cordoba last season, but it is clear the Cardinals international program is delivering more hitters than before. Ynfante could be next in the pipeline to emerge.
Bryan Dobzanski (my #45)
School: Delsea Regional High School, Franklinville, New Jersey
Continuing the general theme of the Herrera capsule above, just how badly do we dock a promising teenaged pitcher who missed almost all of his season due to injury?
Our message board community voters could not find room for Bryan Dobzanski in their top 50 despite the teenager having been ranked 24th just one year ago. Much of that lofty placement was due to his potential and $700,000 signing bonus received in June 2014.
Dobzanski remains raw, but has the same size and potential as the year prior. The problem is that he could not show it in 2015.
Assigned to Johnson City, the now-20-year-old was out from July 7 until he made one relief appearance during the final week of the Appalachian League schedule. His 16 total innings pitched (during which he fanned 13 and walked just two) was actually down from his 27-frame Gulf Coast League introduction in 2014.
The right-hander had soreness in the front of his shoulder, but it was not considered significant enough for an MRI. The Cardinals took him out of action as a precaution with rest the prescription. For that reason, Dobzanski also took it easy during fall instructional league camp with a plan to hit the ground running in 2016.
Breyvic Valera (my #46)
Hometown: Montalban, Venezuela
What a difference 12 months makes!
At this time last year, Breyvic Valera’s career was firmly on the rise. He carried a .313 career batting average over five professional seasons and had drawn more walks than strikeouts on the way to a career .365 on-base percentage. The switch-hitter had been an all-star in two consecutive years (Midwest League and Florida State League) and concluded his 2014 with a berth in the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase. Befitting such progress, Valera placed 15th in these rankings last winter.
The then-23-year-old was rewarded with a non-roster invitation to Major League spring training camp. Though he did not see extensive action, Valera survived until the fourth round of cuts, same as fellow infielder Greg Garcia.
From there on, 2015 went amazingly bad for Valera.
In his second shot at Double-A, he had almost as rough of a start as teammate Patrick Wisdom, opening by batting .205 without even one extra-base hit in April. Valera improved to .253 and .254, respectively in May and June, before skidding back to .234 in July.
With a season line of just .240/.299/.297/.596 to that point, Valera was demoted to Palm Beach on August 8. After tearing up the Florida State League for 14 games, Valera’s reboot was considered complete and he was returned to Springfield to close out the final two weeks of the season.
Obviously, his 2015 represented a very bad turn of events for a player whose one standout tool had been his hit tool. Yet, some positives in his game did not change. Valera still has his batting eye, drawing more walks than strikeouts over the season. He continued to expand his versatility, playing six positions defensively – second, third and short along with all three outfield spots.
Still, if Valera does not hit enough to impress, his Cardinals career will almost certainly be over after the 2016 season concludes. Free agency will be his most likely avenue unless he can earn a 40-man spot. Just one year ago, the latter seemed quite possible.
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 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 2015, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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