Welcome to the newest in-season St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospect List from The Cardinal Nation. My original plan for 2016 was to present and explain my then-current view of the top 40 prospects in the Cardinals system each month.
This season, I slipped down a slippery slope. With Players of the Month awards at the start of each month, these rankings were pushed later. In fact, the May rankings did not came out until the 23rd, for example.
Once June arrived, the draft took precedence. I wanted to see which of the Cardinals’ most interesting Class of 2016 draftees would sign. Right on the heels came the prospect of the Cardinals significantly overspending on the international class that opened on July 2nd – which is of course, exactly what happened.
So here were are at the mid-point of August, with less than a month of play remaining in the minor league seasons. So much has changed since late May, when Alex Reyes was just coming off suspension and Luke Weaver was yet to make his 2016 debut. Now, as you know, the two served as piggyback pitchers for St. Louis on Saturday in Chicago!
It is not much of a spoiler to point out the two right-handers, also teammates in the 2015 Arizona Fall League, are the number 1 and 2 prospects in these rankings.
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 May top 40 is the basis of the “Prior” column in the table below.
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 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.)
Expanding the rankings – making it 50
For the last decade-plus, we have ranked 40 prospects here at The Cardinal Nation. (Here is the proof.)
In recent times, as the Cardinals have improved their farm system and increased focus on the international markets, the challenge of narrowing down a list to 40 names has increased. With the influx of new talent this summer alone, the straw has finally broken the camel’s back.
After my list of honorable mentions reached 10, I knew that in reality, I had my numbers 41 through 50 prospects. So, that is what I have done – increased these rankings to the top 50 of roughly 275 qualified minor league players currently under contract in the system.
Though I turned my honorable mention or “HM” list into the final 10 in the rankings, it is fair to consider those who slipped out of the prior top 40 to be honorable mention candidates.
Out with the old, in with the new
I have never before made such major changes to my prospect list in-season. As a result, I have agonized over these rankings for many more hours than I should. Before we get into the details, here are a few general observations about what I did.
Even though I expanded the list by 10, eight players moved off the list from last time, made up of two graduations plus six players who I think have fallen by the wayside, passed by others. Half of the latter six have been bounced back and forth between Memphis and Springfield this season and two of them still remain on the 40-man roster – but then so does Dean Anna!
The simple math means, of course, that there are a whopping 18 new names on this top 50. Here is how they are broken out – both based on where the prospects are ranked (in blocks of 10) and where they came from (draft, international or already in the system, but previously unranked.)
The draft group of eight is largest, but in reality, the top five, all ranked in the top 40, were taken in the first three rounds this June. The other three were selected in the fourth, sixth and 11th rounds, respectively, and all land in the final 10.
While the draftees are not placed exactly as we thought in late June, they are pretty close to what was covered in this article, as Derek Shore and Scott Schook and I debated where the Cardinals draft class should have been slotted into the prior top 40.
Only four of the 18 July 2nd players to be joining the Cardinals have been included. Each of the quartet reportedly received a signing bonus of between $1.25 million and $2.3 million. To help put that into context of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft, that range would encompass the slot values of the 20th to 50th picks overall.
One of them is not yet even officially signed and another, ranked last at number 50, will not begin playing until 2017. Yet, one just made the top 20 in what I admit may be an aggressive placement.
Most of the in-house players making the top 50 this time are ones who would have been honorable mentions in the past, but instead are placed in the new 41-50 grouping. They include two leaders of the Dominican Summer League Cardinals, a group more prominently recognized in these rankings than ever before.
Top 50 by level
Here is the breakdown of the top 50 by their current level of play. 19 of them, or 38 percent, are still in short-season ball. In other words, they are at least five steps and as much as eight promotions away from the majors, so inherently, these players carry a higher risk of not reaching their potential.
Again, following each player’s name under “Prior” is where he was ranked by this site during the prior rankings. “NA” means “not applicable” and “NR” means “not ranked”. Next are the players’ current level, followed by primary defensive position.
|Early returns in majors are very positive. Likely up for good.|
|In a surprise, made 1st MLB start ahead of Reyes.|
|Ups and downs, but overall great start; power and speed ahead of defense.|
|Aggressive promotion to AAA, but power, OBP lagging.|
|Just 20 years old, but having uneven introduction to Florida State League.|
|Earned PB promotion and good early start there after MWL all-star nod.|
|Great defense, steals, BA, 5th in system in RBI; few walks, no power though.|
|Moved ahead from GCL phase of Wacha Plan to Palm Beach pen.|
|Hitting improving since promotion from Double-A, so getting closer to show.|
|Still too many walks, but hard thrower earned Palm Beach promotion.|
The top 10 - risers
Where there had been stability before, we now have wholesale changes, starting with the top 10.
Alex Reyes remains at the top but Luke Weaver has made a jump from fourth to second. Harrison Bader earned his improvement to fourth, while the rising tide lifted Edmundo Sosa, Magneuris Sierra and Carson Kelly, with the latter rejoining the top 10.
Based on ceiling, pitcher Sandy Alcantara slipped past Jake Woodford and Austin Gomber and into the final spot in the new top 10.
The two prospects landing in the top 10 in their prospect list debuts are, not surprisingly, the two selections from the 2016 draft who received the most bonus money – shortstop Delvin Perez at number three and pitcher Dakota Hudson at eight.
The top 10 – fallers
The only member of the current top 10 to slip in the rankings from last time is pitcher Jack Flaherty, who moved from second to fifth. That is in part due to his own uneven year at Palm Beach, as well as the improvement shown by Weaver and Bader and the arrival of Perez.
|Org's top 2015 P signee has 3.03 ERA in jump from GCL to Peoria for 2016.|
|22-year-old lefty's consistency earned him AA promo. 2nd in system in Ks.|
|13||Marco Gonzales||3||Mem DL||LHS|
|Shoulder problem, then elbow led to Tommy John surgery.|
|14||Nick Plummer||8||GCL DL||OF|
|Hamate and follow on surgery means 2016 ended before it began.|
|2nd in system in HR and RBI, but 2nd in strikeouts and BA under .250.|
|Only 19, but very rough introduction to high-A, even in pen, worrisome.|
|17||Tim Cooney||5||Mem DL||LHS|
|Shoulder surgery concerning, leading to big fall in rankings.|
|2nd rounder moved out of GCL into State College pen, but will start in 2017.|
|Leads Peo in most offensive stats. In top 5 in system in steals and RBI.|
|21 y/o Cuban should pop into full-season ball when rumored deal is done.|
11-20 - risers
As I mentioned, Alcantara slipped past Woodford and Gomber, though the latter two also improved their relative standing since last time to lead the new second 10. I also flipped the two based on Woodford’s strong Peoria performance the year after Gomber, who is three years older, was there.
Junior Fernandez and Eliezer Alvarez moved up just one spot from the prior rankings. Fernandez, who had always been ranked neck-and-neck with Alcantara to this point, has struggled since joining Palm Beach. Alvarez is probably not yet getting his fair recognition, having outplayed Peoria teammates Sosa and Sierra this year.
New top 50 members in this group include second-rounder Connor Jones at 18 and newest and still unofficial signee Randy Arozarena at 20.
11-20 – fallers
This is the scratch-and-dent section, where three former top 10 players, none of whom played an official inning of baseball in 2016, have slid. 2015 first-rounder Nick Plummer had hamate bone surgery followed by a tear this spring that scuttled his season. As a result, he dropped six spots and out of the top 10.
Because there is a shoulder component to the injuries of both lefties Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney, I finally pulled them both out of the top 5. Because Gonzales’ procedure was ultimately on his elbow, he fell 10 places compared to Cooney’s 12.
At 15, Paul DeJong is the first prospect since Reyes to hold his spot. The third baseman is showing good power and production, but the strikeouts and batting average are holding him back here.
|20-year-old passed State College test and is in full-season ball now.|
|4th in Appy League at .333 for 2015 GCL MVP/batting champ, age 20.|
|Good progress after slow pro start at GCL for 17-year old.|
|Relatively quiet 2016 at Johnson City for 19-year old.|
|Been two years since StL debut, but still working on secondaries.|
|1 rough start for StL does not take away from strong comeback year.|
|Steady performer in 1st season at AA. 2nd in system in IP.|
|28||Trey Nielsen||24||Spr DL||RHS|
|ERA climbed to almost 4 before trip to DL. 4th in system in IP.|
|17-year old Cuban with biggest int'l bonus in team history, $2.5MM.|
|30||Darren Seferina||29||PB DL||2B|
|Leads FSL and system in steals (32), but .247 BA, injuries disappointing|
21-30 – risers
Pitcher Ronnie Williams heads the third 10, having advanced through State College and showing well at Peoria. Another underappreciated prospect, Allen Cordoba, is quietly putting up another strong summer after an MVP campaign in the Gulf Coast League last season and The Cardinal Nation’s overall Player of the Year nod.
Newcomer outfielders Dylan Carlson (draft – first round) and Jonatan Machado (July 2nd) break into the top 50 in this group.
21-30 - fallers
Much of the third 10 is represented by players sliding in the rankings, though most are so minor they should be considered insignificant.
Sam Tuivailala suffered a similar fate as the other relievers in this top 50. With many new and emerging starters showing promise, the bullpenners are being backed off. In Tuivailala’s case, he seems in about the same place here late in 2016 as he was two years ago – still on the outside looking in.
2015 draftee Bryce Denton slid six spots, from 18 to 24. The youngster did nothing wrong, nor is his offense at Johnson City consistently standing out.
Mike Mayers, Daniel Poncedeleon, Trey Nielsen and Darren Seferina have a number of positives this season, enabling them to remain in the third 10, even with all the additions around them.
|Reports of upper 90's heat from 18 y/o Cuban who received $1.9 MM.|
|StL's big int'l signing for 2015 pitching well in GCL with 2.61 ERA.|
|Only one of big 3 college P draftees still in GCL, but doing fine.|
|Pitched great for PB despite lack of run support and will finish at AA.|
|19-year-old with sub-3.00 ERA, 48/10 K/BB ratio in 54 IP.|
|Sub-2.00 ERA, better than 9K/9IP before injury to 22-year old.|
|Dominated at Palm Beach, less so at Springfield. Had DL time.|
|21-year old earned PB promotion after 2.39 ERA at Peoria.|
|Move to pen stunted some value; up and down 1st year with Mem.|
|Leads system in HR (27), but also 1st in strikeouts (147).|
31-40 - risers
I did not realize it until afterward, but the first nine of the 10 players in this grouping are pitchers.
Three are new to the top 50, headed by Cuban Johan Oviedo, who is drawing rave reviews from the DSL in his first month after signing. St. Louis’ third-rounder from this June, Zac Gallen, also makes his prospect list debut here.
The third newcomer to the rankings was an honorable mention last time, Derian Gonzalez. Less prominent than Alcantara and Fernandez, yet it was Gonzalez who was a Midwest League All-Star and quickly followed his past and present rotation mates to Palm Beach. When I last saw him pitch, the 21-year-old worked in the 91-94 mph range and showed a curve at 77-79 and has a changeup as well. Last summer at this time, all three - Alcantara, Fernandez and Gonzalez - were pitching in the Gulf Coast League and are all now in the high-A Florida State League.
Alvaro Seijas, Matt Pearce and Ryan Helsley each earned bumps up a few spots in the rankings, again notable given all the new names vying for attention.
31-40 – fallers
The only real droppers in the group are two relievers who were promoted aggressively this season in Springfield right-hander Rowan Wick and lefty Corey Littrell. Both moved from the third 10 to the fourth 10, passed by promising starters.
Basically holding firm are pitcher Ian Oxnevad and outfielder-first baseman David Washington, the latter a red-hot or ice-cold hitter. Without leveling out the bumps, getting on the 40-man roster and joining St. Louis will remain a challenge.
|Among Texas League and system HR, RBI, OPS leaders.|
|0.863 OPS, 33BB/19K, 13/14 in steals makes nice package.|
|.320/.435/.408/.843, 24BB/11K and good behind plate.|
|Great start, slowed down, but still earned Palm Beach promotion.|
|2015 3rd rounder made quick move from JC to SC.|
|Defacto 26th man and proven dependable in StL pen.|
|0.82 ERA at SC drove Peo promo. 1st bad game 8/13 (7 ER).|
|Leads system in RBI, SLG, OPS, but at 20, far too old for league.|
|4th in DSL in BA at .353, 3rd in OBP at .455 and just 18.|
|50||Victor Garcia||NA||DSL '17||OF|
|Venezuelan 16-year old received $1.5 MM. Will play in 2017.|
41-50 – risers
As I mentioned before, this group started out as the honorable mentions, but really deserved to be ranked, so they are.
Five of the 10 have been in the system, led by Springfield slugger Luke Voit, who is contending for Texas League MVP honors. 2015 third-rounder Jordan Hicks, in his first partial season, has already worked his way up to State College. Dean Kiekhefer is a dependable lefty who will be back with St. Louis no later than September.
Then we have two DSL outfielders, June Player of the Month Brian Sanchez and 18-year-old Wadye Ynfante. The pair are leading their talented roster to the best record to date in team history.
Three members of the 2016 draft class have earned their way onto the list. All started with State College, with lefty John Kilichowski now with Peoria after dominating New York-Penn League hitters.
Former Stanford shortstop Tommy Edman and ex-USC catcher Jeremy Martinez have an important similarity beyond being former Pac-12 stars and current roommates. The two have each collected about twice as many walks as strikeouts and are batting over .300 as well.
July 2nd outfielder Victor Garcia signed a 2017 contract and should vault up this list next season, once he begins play. In the meantime, the 16-year-old holds down the last spot on the new top 50.
41-50 – fallers
Only one of the final 10 was previously ranked and pitcher Brennan Leitao recently earned a promotion to Palm Beach. The right-hander was pushed down the list by others.
|MLB||Charlie Tilson||7||CWS DL||OF|
|Season-ending injury in first game with the Chicago White Sox.|
|Solidified role as useful middle infielder, but bat is slumping|
Infielder Greg Garcia has officially ended his prospect time forever, while former top 10 prospect Charlie Tilson was traded to the Chicago White Sox for reliever Zach Duke. Unfortunately, Tilson suffered a season-ending hamstring tear during his very first game in the bigs.
|Back from demotion to Double-A in a lost season.|
|Takes ball every 5th day, but too many baserunners (1.5 WHIP).|
|Injury on top of consistency issues which continued at AAA.|
|Like Wilson, demotion, so-so results, but hanging onto 40-man spot.|
|Improved offense on Memphis return, but strikeouts still concerning.|
|Hit wall at Palm Beach before landing on DL.|
Falling out of the rankings are six players – including three Memphis Redbirds who were backtracked to Springfield for various time periods this summer – Jacob Wilson, Anthony Garcia and Michael Ohlman. Instead, their teammate Patrick Wisdom was sidetracked with a two-month disabled list stint.
Two pitchers fell off – both from Palm Beach - lefties Ian McKinney and Jacob Evans. The two have not excelled in what is known as a pitchers’ league.
All could easily rejoin this list at a later date, but currently lack the momentum to hold off the new top 50 members noted above.
That is it for this time. Thank you for reading these somewhat voluminous rankings. I know it may be a lot for some, but how much good is a list of names without explanations?
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