Brennan Leitao (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Brian Walton discusses five top St. Louis Cardinals prospects who missed our new 2017 Top 50 list, led by pitcher Brennan Leitao.

Brian Walton discusses five top St. Louis Cardinals prospects who missed our new 2017 Top 50 list, led by pitcher Brennan Leitao.

As those who have followed our St. Louis Cardinals Top 50 Prospects countdown over the last month and a half here at The Cardinal Nation know, the selection of our master top 50 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 50. In addition, the Cardinals added two prospect pitchers in trade after our rankings were complete.

In these articles, we highlight those prospects – our “Best of the Rest”.

Before we get into it, though, let’s take a look back at last year first. The five players I profiled were Juan Herrera, Jordan Hicks, Wadye Ynfante, Bryan Dobzanski and Breyvic Valera. Hicks, Ynfante and Valera went on to join the 2017 top 50, with Dobzanski moving to Derek Shore’s Best of the Rest this year.

Following is the overall site top 50 for 2017, with my list through #60 next to it. Highlighted are the names from my list that were close to making the top 50 in the consolidated vote, those whom I will cover here. Again, we originally included 60 names to ensure we reached consensus on 50.

  TCN top 50     Brian Walton
1 Alex Reyes   1 Alex Reyes
2 Luke Weaver   2 Luke Weaver
3 Delvin Perez   3 Delvin Perez
4 Carson Kelly   4 Carson Kelly
5 Harrison Bader   5 Harrison Bader
6 Dakota Hudson   6 Magneuris Sierra
7 Jack Flaherty   7 Dakota Hudson
8 Sandy Alcantara   8 Sandy Alcantara
9 Austin Gomber   9 Jack Flaherty
10 Magneuris Sierra   10 Edmundo Sosa
11 Junior Fernandez   11 Jake Woodford
12 Jake Woodford   12 Austin Gomber
13 Paul DeJong   13 Paul DeJong
14 Edmundo Sosa   14 Eliezer Alvarez
15 Ryan Helsley   15 Marco Gonzales
16 Eliezer Alvarez   16 Junior Fernandez
17 Randy Arozarena   17 Nick Plummer
18 Johan Oviedo   18 Connor Jones
19 Alvaro Seijas   19 Randy Arozarena
20 Allen Cordoba   20 Johan Oviedo
21 Nick Plummer   21 Ryan Helsley
22 Dylan Carlson   22 Allen Cordoba
23 Marco Gonzales   23 Dylan Carlson
24 Connor Jones   24 Bryce Denton
25 Jordan Hicks   25 Alvaro Seijas
26 Bryce Denton   26 Mike Mayers
27 Jonatan Machado   27 Jonatan Machado
28 Ronnie Williams   28 Zac Gallen
29 Jeremy Martinez   29 Jordan Hicks
30 Mike Mayers   30 Ronnie Williams
31 Zac Gallen   31 Trey Nielsen
32 Ian Oxnevad   32 Darren Seferina
33 Derian Gonzalez   33 Jeremy Martinez
34 Matt Pearce   34 Daniel Poncedeleon
35 Tommy Edman   35 Sam Tuivailala
36 Daniel Poncedeleon   36 Matt Pearce
37 Sam Tuivailala   37 Ian Oxnevad
38 John Kilichowski   38 Rowan Wick
39 Breyvic Valera   39 Derian Gonzalez
40 Rowan Wick   40 Corey Littrell
41 Darren Seferina   41 Tommy Edman
42 Kendry Flores   42 Kendry Flores
43 Dennis Ortega   43 John Kilichowski
44 Trey Nielsen   44 Dennis Ortega
45 Andrew Knizner   45 Luke Voit
46 Luke Voit   46 Breyvic Valera
47 Corey Littrell   47 Wadye Ynfante
48 Carlos Soto   48 Brennan Leitao
49 Wadye Ynfante   49 Victor Garcia
50 Chris Chinea   50 Ian McKinney
      51 Andrew Knizner
      52 Bryan Sanchez
      53 Chris Chinea
      54 Walker Robbins
      55 Steven Farinaro
      56 Vince Jackson
      57 Bryan Dobzanski
      58 Carlos Soto
      59 Anthony Garcia
      60 Jacob Evans

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, four players from among my top 52 did not make the overall list – Brennan Leitao, Victor GarciaIan McKinney and Brian Sanchez.

Those four will be profiled here, along with one of the two new Cardinals pitchers who joined the organization in the Jaime Garcia trade. I will highlight John Gant, while Derek will discuss Chris Ellis in tomorrow's report.

The five selections I will highlight below have a wide variety of experience levels, from the Dominican Summer League (Sanchez) to having MLB service time (Gant).


Brennan Leitao (my #48)

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NR RHS 06 21 93 2015 26th

With so many high-profile arms at Peoria this season, Leitao was kind of lost in the shuffle. He earned a berth in the Midwest League All-Star Game alongside top 33 prospects Jake Woodford, Ryan Helsley and Derian Gonzalez and instead of top 11 prospects Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez.

Through the first half, Leitao was dominant, logging a 2.84 ERA, but ran into considerable trouble afterward, with a 6.20 mark over his final seven Peoria starts. He was promoted to Palm Beach for the final month and held his own at the higher level, with a 3.86 ERA over his four outings there.

Despite the ups and downs, Leitao’s 133 2/3 innings pitched ranked seventh in the Cardinals system in 2016. His season walk rate was a low 2.0 per nine innings. During spring training, I clocked his fastball in the 89-91 mph range.

A return to the Beach Birds for 2017 seems most likely for the 23-year-old.


Victor Garcia (my #49)

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NA OF 09 16 99 2016 IFA

The July 2nd signing from Venezuela received the third-largest known bonus received by the Cardinals’ 25 international signings to date this year. However, because Garcia is just 16 years of age, he will not start play until 2017.

As far as I am concerned, there were $1.5 million reasons why I made sure Garcia placed among my top 50, despite zero official career at-bats to date.

“Garcia has a high offensive ceiling with run-producing potential at a corner outfield position,” said Cardinals Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez in July.  “He possesses a strong combination of hitting ability and future power.” 

Because of his age, it seems Garcia will open 2017 in the Dominican Summer League.


Ian McKinney (my #50)

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
27 LHS 11 18 94 2013 5th

Though the left-hander has slipped in our rankings in each of the past two winters after peaking at #18 in 2015, McKinney has continued to perform well enough to not be forgotten.

Despite 2016 having been his fourth year in the system, McKinney was just 21 years of age while pitching most of the season at high-A Palm Beach. He also had a brief Double-A preview and showed well in two starts.

McKinney was a durable, dependable starter. Overall, he threw 132 1/3 innings, eighth-most in the system and tops among left-handers. Other than teammate Jack Flaherty, McKinney logged the most innings of any Cardinals minor leaguer under the age of 22.

That workload may have shown in his results in a good season with a bad middle. In April-May, he posted a 2.79 ERA, but in June-July, McKinney struggled to a 5.49 mark, almost double.

To his credit, in four August starts, his ERA was just 2.86, but due to lack of offensive support, he still took three losses. After his promotion to Springfield, his Double-A ERA was 2.89.

McKinney’s main problem is walks, 3.9 per nine innings in 2016. Coupled with a so-so strikeout rate of 7.3 per nine puts his strikeout to walk ratio on shaky ground, less than 2-to-1.

In the spring, he will be bidding for a berth in the crowded Springfield rotation.


Brian Sanchez (my #52)

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NR OF 04 18 96 2014 IFA

What to do about Brian Sanchez? Passed over for a promotion to play in the US this season, the outfielder repeated the Dominican Summer League in his age 20 season, competing against teenagers as much as four years younger.

To his credit, Sanchez absolutely dominated the entry rookie-level league of 42 teams, winning the DSL Player of the Year Award after finishing first in the circuit in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. Further, three of his four slash line stats led the entire Cardinals system, with only Allen Cordoba’s batting average higher.

On the other hand, Sanchez was clearly at the wrong level of competition - a man among boys. His defense is not yet where coaches want it to be and his odds of reaching the majors are very low. Still, I feel I have to recognize his 2016 dominance.


John Gant (late acquisition)

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NA RHS 08 06 92 2011 21(NYM)

We did not alter our top 50 mid-stream when Gant, Chris Ellis and Luke Dykstra were acquired for Atlanta for Jaime Garcia. With exactly 50 innings pitched in the majors, Gant will like lose his prospect eligibility before my first monthly rankings.

Having never seen Gant pitch, I checked with others. They include’s John Sickels, who has placed Gant an aggressive 12th among prospects in the Cardinals system heading into the 2017 season.

MLB Pipeline has Gant ranked 26th among Cardinals prospects. I feel better about the latter, having a hard time seeing him ahead of Junior Fernandez, Edmundo Sosa, Jake Woodford, etc. On the other hand, if Sickels is proven right, the Cards may have robbed the Braves.

Gant has a funky delivery and throws three pitches, none of which are great, but all are average. His ceiling appears to be as a back end of the rotation starter, but there is a lot of completion for those jobs with St. Louis.

It will be interesting to see how the Cards use Gant in the spring. Will the 24-year-old help anchor the Memphis rotation with homegrown prospects Luke Weaver and Mike Mayers or move to the bullpen? If the latter, could he stick in the bigs and maybe allow Matt Bowman to return to starting, at Memphis? After all, Gant had a big spring in 2016 and went North with the Braves. It could happen again.

The key, though, is that the Cards added another good pitcher with some flexibility and upside.

For more

To reference our entire list of top 50 Cardinals prospects for 2017 and read about each individual player, click here. You can learn the voters’ philosophies in making their selections and much more.


Next up

This article series continues as we move to Derek Shore’s Best of the Rest. Next will be our All-Prospect Team, the highest-ranked players at each position, a dive into the numbers behind the top 50, a look at our best and worst selections from 2016, the top prospects by level of play and those who left the rankings from last year to this.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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