Welcome back to The Cardinal Nation’s in-season St. Louis Cardinals Monthly Top 40 Prospect List. Each month during the season, I present my then-current view of the top prospects in the Cardinals system.
With all that is going on early in the season, especially with so many new players adjusting to higher levels of play, I decided to wait awhile for the first monthly rankings. It is now time, with at least six weeks of games on the books and most starters having made seven or eight appearances.
As always, the challenge is to balance short-term spikes in performance with long-term potential. The focus here is to use the former to help adjust the latter, not to pick the Players of the Month. We have a separate process for that.
The site’s 2016 top 40 as announced during the winter is the basis of the “Prior” column in the tables below.
New and repeated reminders
While any rankings with numbers attached appear very absolute, I suggest you look at players in groupings. For example, there is little difference in prospects number 21 through 25, for example, or 23 through 27.
It should be reiterated that we always have separate awards for the top Players of the Month. What I am trying to do here is take a longer-term, prospect-oriented view, instead. Current performances do matter, but not as much until they are demonstrated over a greater period of time. A good month can reinforce an earlier opinion, while a bad month does not usually materially affect a prospect’s ultimate future.
As always, this report reflects my opinions and not that of the entire The Cardinal Nation staff, so feel to address any comments or questions through the premium message board.
Note: Players remain eligible for the list as long as they maintain their prospect status (less than 50 innings pitched or less than 130 plate appearances in the major leagues.)
Honestly, I am excited about two players right now – Alex Reyes and Harrison Bader. Many of the rest of the top 40 who are already playing full season ball, I wanted to move down. The problem is there were few excelling to move up to replace them. As a result, some players have a better ranking simply because so many others fell.
Six players moved off the top 40, including two graduations. Of course, six others came on – all pitchers. That on/off count was solely based on the number of players I felt deserving of being ranked.
The honorable mention or “HM” list has just three names, but it is fair to consider those who slipped out of the top 40 to also be among them.
Again, following each player’s name under “Prior” is where he was ranked by this site during the off-season. Next are the player’s current levels, followed by their primary position.
The top 10
What a mess! What does one do when three of the top five are injured, one is suspended and the other is struggling and only one player pushing them from below? My answer so far is to leave them alone.
Reyes remains head and shoulders above the others. Bader streaked ahead of seven other players to the number six spot, including passing fellow center fielders Charlie Tilson, Nick Plummer and Magneuris Sierra. Essentially, Bader slotted into the area vacated by Aledmys Diaz.
I am not excited about either Sierra or Edmundo Sosa’s starts at Peoria, but left them in the top 10 because no one else is pushing them out.
|1||Alex Reyes||1||Mem RL||RHS|
|Finally off suspension and is poised to claim StL #6 starter position.|
|Just 20 years old, but not yet adapted to Florida State League|
|3||Marco Gonzales||3||Mem DL||LHS|
|Shoulder problem, then elbow led to Tommy John surgery.|
|4||Luke Weaver||4||PB DL||RHS|
|Should be ready to activate soon. Will he go to Double-A? I think yes.|
|5||Tim Cooney||5||Mem DL||LHS|
|Ongoing shoulder limbo suggests a surgery avoidance plan.|
|Based on recent performance, one could argue a jump to no. 2 here.|
|Good April, rough May with CF competition from above and below.|
|Hamate surgery could mean getting into hitting groove could take awhile.|
|Getting hits (.265), but taking few walks (5.4%) in Midwest League debut.|
|Just 4 BBs in almost 2 months = sub .300 OBP. 6-of-13 in steals, too.|
The second 10
I made very little change in the second 10, with a number of players moving up one spot due to Bader’s major leap.
Carson Kelly, Austin Gomber and Paul DeJong are doing fine while adapting to higher competition challenges.
Hard-throwing youngsters Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez passed their first test in that they have shown they belong in the Midwest League. Consistency should come during the hot summer months.
A pair in whom I have been disappointed are Memphis infielders Greg Garcia and Jacob Wilson. Sent down from St. Louis, Garcia needs to make a statement to get back and isn’t doing it. Wilson slid out of the top 20 and could fall more when others step up.
I moved the most underrated player of the young season to date into the top 20. I am referring to Peoria second baseman Eliezer Alvarez, who seamlessly made the jump from Johnson City into the Midwest League.
The 21-year-old second baseman is batting third in the Chiefs lineup, behind Sierra and Sosa, and has a line of .301/.373/.445/.819. Alvarez leads the Chiefs in doubles, RBI as well as stolen bases, and in rate stats, slugging and OPS.
|Working on secondary pitches, preparing for next opportunity to help StL.|
|Hitting for average but little power in Texas League debut. Still young.|
|22-year-old lefty continuing solid results in Florida State League intro.|
|Org's top 2015 P signee has under 3.00 ERA in jump from GCL to Peoria.|
|.224 BA concerning, but tied for system lead in RBI. Still new at AA.|
|5.5 BB/9 is bad, 10.5 K/9 is good. Still learning in big step to MWL.|
|Fewer strikeouts and walks than Alcantara, but bottom line almost same.|
|Getting rave comments from coaches in EST, but still just 18 years old.|
|Surprisingly quiet time in AAA (.653 OPS) since sent down from StL.|
|Outplaying highly touted IF partner in Sosa. Leads Peo in most off. categories.|
The third 10 is well represented by Springfield and Palm Beach pitchers.
Three up from Palm Beach – Daniel Poncedeleon, Trey Nielsen and twice-promoted Corey Littrell are among this group. I don’t normally favor relievers here, but if the lefty Littrell continues to pitch as he has so far, he could end up in the St. Louis picture before long.
At number 25, S-Cards starter Mike Mayers makes the highest new debut, but in his case, it is really a return to the top 40. Before his 2015 thoracic outlet surgery, I thought the 2013 third-rounder had a chance to open last season at Memphis.
Rowan Wick is another unheralded player making big noise this season, jumping back into the top 40 for the first time as a pitcher at 28. Like I said, I don’t get excited about relievers, but soon the Jason Motte comparisons will start flying around.
Among those sliding due to performance are Palm Beach teammates Darren Seferina and Ian McKinney. I am most surprised that Seferina’s game has not yet translated to the bigger ballparks of the Florida State League.
|21||Jacob Wilson||20||Mem DL||2B|
|Dreadful start (.192 BA), then trip to DL makes for rough 2016 to date.|
|Uneven transition to AA but peripherals suggest better times ahead.|
|2015 GCL MVP/batting champ waiting to play short-season ball.|
|Solid transition from high-A to AA. 3.09 ERA thru 1st 8 starts.|
|Had been ranked before injury. Strong at Spr and good fill-in at Memphis.|
|Move to pen has accellerated career - quick promo and strong AAA intro.|
|20-year-old should be headlining State College rotation this summer.|
|Impressive jump from GCL to PB. 13K/9, 1.04 ERA, 95-97 mph fastball.|
|.297 OBP makes for disappointing FSL debut. 10/14 in steals.|
|Decent 2.94 ERA, but 1.5 WHIP indicates too many baserunners.|
As always, the final 10 is a mixed bag of fallers and new names, with a lot of competition for these spots.
Leading off the group is the skidding Memphis trio of Patrick Wisdom, Anthony Garcia and Michael Ohlman. Garcia is especially frustrating in that it could be him instead of Jeremy Hazelbaker in the majors, but he just cannot find consistency. Wisdom is delivering more of the same while Ohlman’s whiff rate has become alarming.
If I rated based on 2016 performance alone, their recent Memphis teammate David Washington would be ranked above all three. The outfielder/first baseman makes his top 40 debut as the system’s most productive hitter in the early going.
The final five include four starters – two each from Palm Beach and Peoria. Steady Matt Pearce is joined by teammate Jacob Evans, who skipped the Midwest League and a pair who opened last summer in Johnson City and are impressing in Peoria – Ryan Helsley and Brennan Leitao.
|Similar consistency issues at AAA as he had at AA.|
|Very streaky player has struggled badly (.184 BA) in 2016.|
|.710 OPS in AAA intro ok, but 40% strikeout rate very concerning.|
|19-year-old should be key member of JC rotation this season.|
|StL's big international signing for 2015 to make pro debut - in GCL?|
|Spotless 2.01 ERA thru 1st 7 FSL starts. Not flashy, just gets it done.|
|Jumped over Peo. 2.11 ERA at PB. Ground ball machine has low K, BB.|
|Even better at Mem than Spr. Leads system in HR (10), RBI (25 tied).|
|Seamless jump over SC with 2.25 ERA and better than 1K per inning.|
|Better results than Fernandez and Alcantara, .220 BAA, 1.01 WHIP|
As mentioned above, Aledmys Diaz has accumulated enough bats to no longer be considered a minor leaguer and Luis Perdomo looks to be sticking in San Diego’s bullpen – at least long enough to exhaust his prospect status.
|Where would StL be without his hot bat? Defense remains a question.|
|After a rough MLB start, the 23-year-old may stick in San Diego's pen.|
Falling out of the rankings - at least temporarily - are pitchers Arturo Reyes, Andrew Morales and David Oca as well as shortstop Oscar Mercado.
The first two pitchers are performing at high levels, Double-A and Triple-A, respectively, but I am not seeing enough from them to forecast MLB time ahead - at least as starters. Oca, the former number 40 who is still in extended spring training, was pushed off by others who are in live action.
Mercado is just plain disappointing. He has 13 errors in 40 games, is batting under .200 with no power and a .272 OBP. The 21-year-old is going to have to earn his way back onto these rankings. (As a point of reference, Diaz has 10 miscues in 41 games with St. Louis.)
All could easily rejoin this list at a later date, but currently lack the momentum to hold off the new top 40 members noted above.
|No matter how many steals, a .272 OBP just isn't going to cut it.|
|Middle of the road results (4.58 ERA, 29K/15 BB) means move off top 40.|
|4.06 ERA in 2nd shot at Double-A says good, but not great.|
|Nothing against the 20 y/o lefty, but 2016 is time to accelerate career.|
My honorable mentions list for this month is short, but as noted above, could also include those who dropped out of the top 40.
Along with Plummer, another player I am most interested to see debut is 2015 third-rounder, pitcher Jordan Hicks.
With the talent in the Peoria rotation, I did not want to overlook Derian Gonzalez, who like Fernandez and Alcantara, made the big jump from the GCL.
Finally, I could just let it pass, but instead I want to give a nod to Dean Kiekhefer, whose results and perseverance helped him reach the big-league pen. The lefty was never a flashy prospect, but never beats himself and truly earned his way to the top – a reminder that prospect rankings are not the be-all, end-all.
|3rd rounder has to wait until short-season to show what he has to offer.|
|Only Peo starter not in top 40. Good 2.60 ERA but walks high.|
|Finally earned MLB spot at 26 years of age after 101 games at AAA.|
That is it for this time. Thank you for reading these monthly rankings. With the draft coming in less than three weeks, the next installment of this series may not come until after we see who is among the first, major wave of new signings.
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