It is almost time for the monthly refresh of The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Top 40 Prospect Rankings for June.
As the season moved toward its midpoint, the job of whittling down over 200 names to 40 was getting easier due to nearly three months of full season game results on the books. Yet, nothing is certain. How does one weigh a hot month or two or a cold period of play against a player’s career body of work?
Complicating the current effort is the influx of 32 signed 2016 draftees to consider, creating some interesting questions.
For example, how does one assess the potential of an 18-year-old yet to play a single professional game compared to a seasoned college star playing in rookie ball versus a minor league veteran currently performing well at Triple-A and on the cusp of reaching St. Louis?
Yet all of that and more is the challenge, to integrate old and new, younger and older, pitchers and position players, etc. into one ordered list.
Inherently, there is no right or wrong here, just opinions.
As noted above, one of the big challenges on the table is to integrate the new draftees into the top 40 prospect rankings. Here is the general process I followed.
First, I had to rank the draftees among themselves. Just ordering them by round taken or size of bonus received would not be sufficient as the new world of bonus pools and slotting complicates matters.
Next step is to try to assess how the draftees compare to the other players at their defensive position already in the system. For example, do I think newly-signed college hurler Dakota Hudson is a better pitching prospect than last year’s first-rounder, prep pitcher Jake Woodford?
Then, I had to decide which players came off the bottom of the list. After all, it would be easy to put 50 or 60 players in the top 40, but that is dodging another hard part of the monthly process.
The group challenge
Though I made my decisions in a vacuum, without getting input from others, I decided it would be a fun exercise to ask two other staffers from The Cardinal Nation how they would rank the new draftees in the top 40.
Derek Shore is in his third season as our local Springfield reporter and has worked on our annual site top 40 for the last three winters. Scott Schook is in his second year as TCN’s draft and prospect analyst.
As a basis, we all referred to the site’s May top 40 rankings for context, but did our work independently. Further, I also asked each to identify which players would be taken out of their top 40.
The big picture
Of the 32 signed draftees, six new Cardinals received top 40 mention from at least one of us, though two of us just ranked the same three.
Here is a summary table of our assessments.
|Top 40||Top 40||Top 40|
As you can see, Schook was the most conservative with his best new draftee at four and no others in the top 10. I had two top 10 players, but was at bit less aggressive in the 20s, as Scott and I both ranked just three draftees in our respective top 40s. Shore named a whopping six, with four placed between number 20 and 33.
What is similar?
As far as we went down the list, we agreed on the sequence. We all placed first the Cards’ initial pick this June, Delvin Perez, while we independently feel that the shortstop should be ranked between second and fourth overall in the system.
What is different?
A lot more.
St. Louis’ third first-rounder, high school outfielder Dylan Carlson, came in on Shore’s list at 27, just one spot ahead of third-round college pitcher Zac Gallen at 28th. Rounding out Shore’s new top 40 additions is former USC catcher Jeremy Martinez, now with State College, at 33.
Now, let’s look at how each of us individually view our choices.
Shore (2): Perez is truly too elite of a talent to not slot behind Alex Reyes and in front of the likes of Jack Flaherty, Marco Gonzales, Luke Weaver, and Tim Cooney because each has limited ceilings to the mid-to-back end of the rotation. I too believe in second chances and the positive PED test days before the draft has no relevance on my initial ranking of the Puerto Rican shortstop.
Perez has arguably the highest ceiling of any player in this year's class and while it may be bold to rank him #2 without any professional experience under his belt - he projects to be an electric defender at short with nearly a double-plus throwing arm, plus speed, and excellent hands to boot. Amateur scouts say Perez is a little immature, but he is a five-tool player with the potential to be an impact player with the bat emerging. The 17-year-old stands at 6-foot-3 and is getting stronger. This fits the definition of a high-risk, high-reward type, worth the gamble for the Cardinals.
Schook (4): With the success the Cardinals have enjoyed over the last decade, they rarely get a chance at the elite talent available in the draft. This year, Perez, a top-5 talent just two weeks before the draft, fell to the Cardinals thanks to a failed PED test. Perez has all the tools to not only stick at short but to excel there. His athleticism and speed lend to the idea that he should turn into an offensive force with fantastic wheels.
As a Puerto Rican shortstop, he's naturally drawn comparisons to Carlos Correa. ESPN's Keith Law compared him to Byron Buxton and Justin Upton in terms of the kind of ceiling Perez possesses. The failed PED test puts a mark on his record, which, for me, keeps him from landing at #2 on the list. Apart from Alex Reyes, Perez has arguably the most talent and tools of anyone in the system, but the failed test and his distant from the bigs lands him here.
Walton (3): I knew I would not place Perez ahead of Alex Reyes and the recent resurgence of Jack Flaherty kept his number two spot safe – for now. Marco Gonzales, currently third, will slip a bit due to his season-ending Tommy John surgery.
I had quite a bit more trouble deciding whether I would put Perez ahead of Luke Weaver, currently fourth, but ultimately, I am giving the young man who was arguably the top high school hitter in the draft the benefit of the doubt. Hence his third-place ranking in the entire system before he made his first professional at-bat.
Shore (7): Many media outlets tabbed Hudson to go in the top 20 picks, but he fell due to concerns about his delivery and strike-throwing ability. Hudson isn't the typical Cardinals college right-hander with polish and pitchability, instead a collegian with big stuff and command issues. His fastball averages 92-94, touches 96 at its best. He will counter that heater with a hard curveball at 78-82 that flashes plus, with an upper 80s cutter and solid changeup to neutralize left-handed bats.
Hudson remains raw in the facets of pitching, but the potential to be a rather dominant starter is there if he learns to harness his high-octane stuff.
Schook (11): Hudson brings an exciting arsenal to the table. First, he throws a 93-95 mph fastball with run and sink. He adds in a devastating slider/cutter that makes hitters look foolish. His changeup and curveball are definitely behind the first two options, but they aren't absurdly so.
Hudson was heralded as a potential top-10 selection leading up to the draft yet fell to the Cardinals at 34 due to a late season scuffle. He has the talent to move quickly through the system, and if the Cardinals so desired, Hudson could hit the big leagues by next summer in the bullpen. The right-hander should become a strong mid-rotation starter for several years in the big leagues.
Walton (7): The placement of Hudson here was very easy. As I have written a number of times before, my belief is that there is a significant drop-off in top prospect quality after Harrison Bader at number six. I view Hudson as the next man up.
The potential progression for Hudson through the system mentioned by Scott is intriguing as it reminds me of young Michael Wacha. I bet most of us could live with that.
Shore (20): I like Jones as the Cardinals 20th best prospect behind polished lefty Austin Gomber and high-upside Latin fireballers Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez because he is one of the safest college right-handers in 2016 draft class and looks to be a fast-riser. Jones relies on hitters to pound his heavy low 90s sinker on the ground and can reach back to 95-96 mph with his four-seamer to miss bats.
Many scouts feel Jones’ slider grades as a plus pitch with additional refinement along with an average splitter, operating in the high 80s range, though he is still developing more of a finesse pitch. His ceiling is that of a No. three starter or back-end of the rotation for the less optimist. If he can't make it as a starter, Jones' fastball/slider combo could make for an easy transition to the bullpen.
Schook (23): Jones, like Hudson, fell from where he was expected to go into the Cardinals' laps. Jones reminds me quite a bit of a discount Lance Lynn. He throws a heavy fastball that sits in the 90-92 mph range and touches 94. Jones throws a slider that has all the makings of a plus pitch. He adds in a curveball that he can throw for strikes but still needs to work on in order to turn it into a big league offering. Jones is also able to throw a solid changeup.
Jones does not look like he will become an impact starter, but he should become a back-of-the-rotation contributor. Being developmentally behind other similar pitchers keeps him here on my list.
Walton (26): With more proven college-trained starters Daniel Poncedeleon (22), Trey Nielsen (24) and Mike Mayers (25) already ranked between 22nd and 25th, I did not feel comfortable putting Jones ahead of any of them – just yet. Corey Littrell is the current 26, but has been moved to relief, so that is where I would slot Jones initially. From there, let’s see what happens on the field.
Shore (27): Carlson has fielded comparisons to TCN's #17 prospect Bryce Denton, so I'm ranking the 33rd overall pick in the same place where Denton started out of the draft last year - as the 27th best prospect. The switch-hitter was a money-saving pick at that spot, and the Cardinals gave him $550,000 under slot, $1.3M signing bonus.
Like Denton, Carlson is one of the youngest prospects in this year's draft class at 17 years old and five months on draft day. The Elk Grove High School standout has average tools across the board, and he could be a .270-.280 big-league hitter if he reaches his potential. Scouts believe Carlson could grow into plus-plus juice from both sides of the plate down the road and has the athleticism to play right field. He has terrific makeup with an arm that clocked at 90 mph off the mound.
Walton (HM): The Denton comparison is an interesting one, but the reality is that no one felt the 2015 draft pick was a reach as some have said/written about Carlson. At this point, I am going to wait and see, with the beauty of this process that I will have a chance in another 30 days to re-asses.
Shore (28): I appreciate the upside Ronnie Williams offers and Rowan Wick has made an impressive transition to pitching with a high 90s fastball but neither have the proximity or performance resume Gallen has. He has been the Tar Heels Friday night starter since blossoming his sophomore season and projects to ascend swiftly up the Cardinals pipeline with a back-end starter profile.
Gallen commands four pitches (89-92 mph fastball, good cutter, changeup, and curve) for strikes and has an advanced feel for pitching with the makeup to excel right away in pro ball.
Walton (NR): Where to put a good, but not great college pitcher? I don’t know, but my gut says not in the top 40 in this system yet.
Shore (33): I have no problem ranking Martinez at this position because of the utter lack of quality catching prospects not named Carson Kelly in the system. I also like Martinez's chances of carving out a big-league career as a catcher than Michael Ohlman after his recent demotion from Triple-A Memphis.
The USC standout doesn't do anything particularly well, but has a high-contact ability with pull power while showing an improved ability to use the whole field. Martinez has showed more of an advanced approach at the plate, taking more walks than strikeouts his junior year for the Trojans. He is also a decent receiver with plus-plus makeup and has a chance to be an everyday catcher.
Walton (NR): Being placed the highest of this group in the system, at State College, should offer a good challenge for this polished college hitter. There will still be top 40 room for Martinez if he can perform well in the New York-Penn League. I will definitely be watching.
Shore (HM): Robbins follows in his oldest brother’s footsteps and rejected his baseball scholarship to Mississippi State to immediately turn pro. The Cardinals were linked to the Georgia prep outfielder as early as the first round. He is an exciting two-way player with the consensus being a position player with the carrying tool his power potential from the left side.
Robbins may be limited to first base and if so, will be extremely dependent on his hit tool to move up through the system. If it doesn't work out as a position player, he has the mound as a fallback. Robbins sits in the high 80s and is said to reach the low 90s.
Walton (NR): I remember once writing very similarly about a Cardinals second-rounder named Robert Stock – and we all know how that turned out. Maybe Robbins is a first-round talent – and maybe he is not. All I know is that the fifth-rounder settled with the Cards for fourth-round money. Again, I will wait and see.
Top 40 drops
|Off top 40|
|Anthony Garcia||32||Patrick Wisdom||31||Patrick Wisdom||31|
|Michael Ohlman||33||Anthony Garcia||32||Anthony Garcia||32|
|Jacob Evans||37||Michael Ohlman||33||Jacob Evans||37|
There is general agreement about which current players would be bumped off the back end of the top 40 by the new arrivals. It is difficult to argue vigorously against any of them.
Two players made all three drop lists – outfielder Anthony Garcia and left-hander Jacob Evans. The 40-man roster outfielder has stalled out to the point he was demoted to Double-A and the pitcher, who succeeded as a control artist last season at State College, is being pummeled by long balls at Palm Beach.
Named on two lists are catcher Michael Ohlman and third baseman Patrick Wisdom. Like Garcia, Ohlman had to take a step backward to Double-A and like Garcia, his hold on his 40-man roster spot may be shaky. Putting the unproven catcher in Martinez ahead of him isn’t crazy.
Wisdom hasn’t yet been demoted like his two former Memphis teammates, but improving to the point he becomes a viable consideration for St. Louis seems far away.
So there you have it. Three very different views of where six top Cardinals draftees from 2016 stack up in the system. No answers can be proven right or wrong at this early stage, but we hope you have enjoyed our points of view.
If you want to share your own opinions, please head over to The Cardinal Nation’s insiders message board.
As more signing and roster information is learned, it will be noted on team rosters here at The Cardinal Nation as well as on the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog. The latter source also is tracking the status of all 42 draftees.
To go deeper on any of the Cardinals’ 42 draftees, check out this article.
By clicking on any highlighted player name, you will be taken to his individual player profile page. There, a wealth of past information about him is available – articles, injury news, photos, videos, interviews and more - all in one place.
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