Despite residing in different countries of Latin America, 19-year olds Magneuris Sierra (nickname “Maggie”) and Edmundo Sosa have recently been connected as two of the St. Louis Cardinals’ budding prospects. Born 47 days apart in 1996, they signed on as Cardinals during the opening act of the July 2nd international signing period. Even though Sosa ($425,000) received a more lucrative pact than Sierra ($105,000), TCN's top overall prospect Alex Reyes ($950,000) was the most expensive signee of that stellar class.
Sierra, born in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, was a far less notable sign in 2012, but in officially making his Cardinal debut -- opened eyes by flashing the potential for all five tools at the Cardinals’ Dominican academy in 2013. Barely two years removed from signing, the precocious lefty hitter stormed through his first taste of stateside baseball with 2014 Gulf Coast League MVP honors as well as the circuit's batting title (.386).
In 2015, Sierra was in over his head as a result of perhaps an over-aggressive Midwest League placement to open the season. However, Cardinals player development officials said Sierra passed the Midwest League test, and challenging him was the plan all along. After a late-June reassignment to Johnson City, the outfielder rebounded and was named an Appalachian League All-Star. He hit .315/.371/.394 with three home runs and 15 RBI in Johnson City while playing superb defense. Overall, Sierra slashed .259/.304/.327 with four home runs and 22 RBI in 104 games.
In late-April, Peoria Chiefs manager Joe Kruzel told The Cardinal Nation, "Magneuris Sierra may be one of the best outfielders in the league, defensively."
Profiling as an above-average hitter, Sierra has a chance to be a Gold Glove contender as an outfielder who hits at the top of the order.
Sosa, a native of Panama City, Panama, was given the biggest signing bonus of any Panamanian in 2012, a country nowhere near as heavily scouted as the Dominican Republic. Some international scouts were halfhearted on Sosa's tool-set before he signed, but he particularly showed advanced in-game skills as an amateur that translated over to professional baseball and has contributed to easing his acclimation stateside in the Gulf Coast League. After taking instruction in extended, Sosa performed modestly .274/.338/.373 on the backfields in his first season stateside.
With rumblings of a full-season assignment in 2015, the Cardinals held off and remained conservative with Sosa. Moving into TCN's top 10 for the first time, the middle infielder hit the .300 plateau with seven home runs and 16 driven in and was named an Appy League All-Star in his second season stateside, first outside the complex. Baseball America and an external source have said he has the potential for average power with average tools across the board while playing a prime position in shortstop that will ultimately help him stay at the position.
With all that said, I reached out to 2015 Johnson City Cardinals manager and former Cardinals minor league standout Chris Swauger to talk about his up-the-middle stalwarts in Sierra and Sosa. I interviewed Swauger on August 31st of last year to discuss his playing career and his new job, available for TCN subscribers.
In that exclusive interview (link below), Swauger talked in considerable detail about the improvements the two TCN's top 10 prospects made offensively and defensively over the course of this past season.
Derek Shore: We'll start with Magneuris Sierra. After struggling in the Midwest League to begin the season, what sort of progress did he make defensively?
Chris Swauger: "Honestly, this guy (Sierra) is the best defender I've ever seen in all of my seven years of playing pro ball - nine years in professional baseball. He's the best outfielder I've ever seen, including corner outfield and center field. I spent a long time with George Greer (Johnson City hitting coach) all summer and George has been in all levels of baseball through the years, and he said he's one of the best he's ever seen.
"As far his improvements, we always were working on being more technically sound with what he is doing -- he's got so much natural ability -- so a lot of things come easily to him. When you're focused on what he's doing the job of like situationally and knowing what to do with throwing to the right base. That's where he still needs a little improvement, but he's got every defensive tool as far as arm strength, reading the ball off the bat, and arm accuracy. All of that stuff is there.
"The improvements he has made and has to make will come from playing more games where the situations develop and in anticipating. As far as defensively, he was already really, really good is what I'm trying to say. He just made improvements in situations, throwing to the right base, knowing where the tying run is, and do I keep the runner at second base or try to throw the runner out at home?”
DS: What did you see in him offensively?
CS: "Offensively, I think when he went into the Midwest League -- I think it was a good thing for him to struggle, good for any young player to struggle then have some success afterwards. It mainly shows that there able to sense the situation, figure things out, and do some problem-solving of their own and then work through it.
“You would much rather somebody struggle early in their career and learn to deal with it whereas later in their career when they're closer to the big leagues there's a lot more pressure and they just don't know how to handle it. I think it was a good learning year for him, especially from where he was (in Peoria).
"As far as what he did to improve, he started to become a professional hitter that can drive the baseball, which is something he should be, especially as an outfielder with the glove he has. The kid has only been playing professionally for two or three years but at lower levels (don't get me wrong), but in the GCL guys have success with just putting the ball in play, especially when they have the ability to run like 'Maggie' does.
"So, what happens is when they get comfortable slapping the ball, putting the ball in play, and hitting gaps -- defensive players like this past year they adjust. What 'Maggie" learned and what he really, really improved upon was hitting the ball up to his potential. It's striking the ball up to his potential instead of just slapping the ball in play and trying to beat it out. He attempted to drive the baseball and do damage, and then if he mis-hit a ball or was early or late he ended up hitting a groundball, but he still had his speed in his back pocket to be able to beat it out.
"That's why his average was low, but his power numbers and ability to drive the ball was there, and so were the improvements made in the mindset of the type of hitter he is and can become. His career down the line is so much better."
DS: Can Sierra eventually develop home run power down the road?
CS: "I don't know if you have ever seen him play in-person but in BP (batting practice) he can hit the ball out almost at will to his pull-side. He can hit the ball out to the middle of the field and then to the opposite field it's almost like a line drive but flashier. He has power potential. It's very obvious in batting practice, and there's sometimes in games it doesn't get translated.
"He's 19 years old, and you try to keep it in perspective like what I was doing and when I was able to do it at 19 years old in my first year of college. He hasn't gotten advanced instructs yet, and I'm really excited to see what will happen when he does because he's a talented kid and can do all these things.
"As he continues to develop, his potential is real - really exciting. Personally, he's got some power potential because he's got a very good swing path; he's short to the ball. As he gets older as he continues to make steps, the ball will start to have better exit trajectory on it, naturally.”
DS: Many evaluators hinted Sierra got overmatched in the Midwest League but rebounded well in the Appy League. With your experience playing and short-time as a coach, can he make the permanent leap to full-season ball this year (2016)?
CS: "Absolutely, this is just not even my opinion, but Gary LaRocque (Player Development Director) - I can't speak for him. If he goes and has success then great, he's above where we expected him to be, but it's a natural progression a year ago from the GCL (Gulf Coast League) and Johnson City. He's going up, and he had a lot of success in Johnson City, he's right on track to where he should be.
"Again, he's 19 years old, one of the youngest kids in the league (MWL) by far and was one of the best players in our league (Appy League). We were fortunate that he didn't have success before, but like I said it's probably a good thing to learn how to deal with it because every player is going to struggle and have to learn how to deal with it.
"It's not a question of if he's ever going to stick permanently there. The short answer is yes he'll stick there and go much farther beyond that. With it being such an aggressive move, the silver lining was we had a kid who saw failure but rebounded and had success."
DS: One of your other Appy League All-Stars, Edmundo Sosa, had a solid first season outside the complex leagues. What stood out to you in Sosa's improvements?
CS: “Sosa has a different skill-set, but it's still a very exciting one and what he brings to the table is along the same lines as 'Maggie' does as far as a natural ability that is hard to teach. These two are 19 years old and, however, long they have been playing -- they kind of have just done it on their own. It's not something anybody has ever taught them; it's how to position themselves on the baseball diamond learning it by playing.
"Sosa is such an instinctual player; probably one of the most instinctual infielders I've seen around. I know I'm probably throwing out the superlatives, but we had some talented players on this team that I managed last year. His pre-pitch recognition of what pitch is coming, who the base-runner is, and how well does he run. He's almost got a step on the ball before contact is made because he's got awareness and intelligence.
"With anything, the five tools are pretty much obvious to anyone that watches the game. In scouting, those are obvious because they are the separators to the intangible things. Edmundo’s biggest growth in the whole aspect of this was his maturity. In years past, if he had a bad at-bat, he would carry it out in the field with him, and if he had a bad game it would carry over. You could see it in his body language and how he carried himself and at no point during this season was it ever an issue and we challenged him.
"We challenged him to ‘act like you are a man, and you are older and you're a professional baseball player, you should act accordingly, you have all the talent in the world, and you should play in the big leagues.' He knows that, and we know that that's how we went about it and challenged him to be the player he has the potential to be.”
DS: As the speed of the game picks up, do you see Sosa be able to stick at the shortstop position?
CS: "That's one of those things where his play will tell us. It's hard to predict that; you can insight all sort of examples on both sides of the spectrum. Guys with limited tools that were able to play shortstop on championship clubs. The one that comes to mind is David Eckstein, who was severely short on defensive tools but was a starting shortstop.”
DS: As far his bat, Sosa posted career-highs in power numbers in 2015. Is his power potential for real?
CS: "His power developed as the year went on with what he did with George (Greer) just little adjustments here and there. It's not even changing his swing; it was just to be more consistent with what he was doing in his swing and his approach. A lot (of the power) was byproduct of getting more pitches and showing a lot more patience as the season went on.
"I think he can stick at shortstop, no doubt. If he can't, he'll find his way off of there. Right now, he's playing it at a level where he's an above-average shortstop. He was above the league average for a shortstop, and then you add in his ability to hit which makes for a pretty exciting combination."
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Ex-Springfield Outfieder Swauger Still Leads
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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