In this, our 56th installment of the series, we will dive into the numbers behind the The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Top 50 Prospect List for 2017 in terms of sourcing of players, distribution by position with comparisons to recent years and their ages.
First, we will start with the breakdown of our top 50 prospects by the year in which they became professionals. Eight prior years of data is provided.
The top 50 population is broken out in two ways. The rows indicate how the players were acquired – via the draft, as free agents from the Latin America program or in the US, their contracts having been purchased from other leagues, acquired in the Rule 5 Draft or in trade.
The other dimension, vua the columns, is the year the players became professionals, where N equals the most recent year/draft, N-1 being the prior year, etc.
Sourcing of Top 50 Cardinals prospects for 2017
|2017 Top 50||2016||2015||2014||2013||2012||2011||2010||2009||Tot|
|US free agent||1||1|
|Rule 5 acquire|
We will start with the rows. The total number of top 50 players acquired from the various First-Year Player Drafts is under two-thirds of the total, continuing a long-standing trend.
It is now becoming clearer and clearer that the international program is delivering more of the top prospect load, though one has to take into account the longer gestation period for the teenagers signed in that manner to work their way into ranking consideration.
Of course, the big 2016-2017 July 2nd class has to carry the load for the next three years, since the Cardinals will not be able to sign any international players for more than $300,000 until July 2nd 2019.
There is a slight uptick from year-to-year in the number of top 50 players from the most recent draft, as well. This year’s total is nine against 50 prospects compared to six from the 2015 draft in last year’s top 40.
Couple that with the growth of international signees from one to four, and the result is that over 25 percent of the new top 50 were not Cardinals one year ago – 13 of 50. In comparison, the absolute highest percentage of new blood to be ranked in any of the past years since I have been doing these rankings is 20 percent.
The raw number of top prospects in the N-1, N-2 and N-3 years is almost the same as the prior year, though there is a big increase in N-4 year prospects. N-4 is 2012, with an impressive group of six that includes Carson Kelly, Rowan Wick, Alex Reyes, Magneuris Sierra, Edmundo Sosa and Derian Gonzalez.
Very few players acquired in non-traditional manners made the top 50 – just two, including one first-timer. Kendry Flores was signed as a minor league free agent this off-season and Corey Littrell was a trade acquisition several years ago.
Top 50 Sourcing Mix – 2008-2017
Now, let’s look at from where the top prospects have come over time. This is where we can see the international gains more clearly. Of course, we have to be careful in comparing 2017 to the prior years, since there are now 50 prospects compared to 40 before.
|US free agent||1||1||1||1|
|Rule 5 acquire||1|
Future outlook - international
As I mentioned, the number of top prospects from the Latin American program is up, by an impressive 100 percent over the last two years – from eight in 2015 to 16 currently.
However, there could be an international “donut hole” ahead. After Alex Reyes drops off the prospect lists, which will occur in just four innings, the next wave, led by Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez on the mound and Magneuris Sierra, Edmundo Sosa, Eliezer Alvarez and Randy Arozarena with the bats could be a couple of years away from St. Louis.
I see another big gap after that. None of the next wave, whether pitchers Alvaro Seijas or Johan Oviedo or hitters like Jonatan Machado and Victor Garcia, have made it out of the Gulf Coast League yet. Some of them are really going to have to accelerate progress to directly backfill the names in the prior paragraph as they move up.
The next view is the top 50 by primary defensive position.
Top 50 Cardinals prospects – By position – 2007-2017
|Top 50 by position||17||16||15||14||13||12||11||10||09||08||07|
|LH Starting Pitcher||4||7||4||5||4||1||1||3||2||3||4|
|RH Starting Pitcher||20||14||12||11||10||11||11||10||13||13||13|
Looking at the top 50 overall, this year’s positional split is in favor of pitching, 27-23, showing a bit of improvement among position players compared to last year’s 22-18 split, also with pitching on top.
Future outlook – infield
Among the 23 position players, 10 are infielders, while five are catchers and the other eight are outfielders. That infield total includes eight up the middle, same as last year on a base of 40 and two down from 2015.
The lack of third base depth represents a major problem. Despite it having been a focus area in recent drafts, the players cannot cut it defensively and keep getting moved to other positions as a result. The exception seems to be Paul DeJong, moved to a more challenging assignment at shortstop. But it he sticks there, no Matt Carpenter/Jhonny Peralta replacement exists in the system – unless perhaps Aledmys Diaz is moved over. But then, who would be ready to play short? It remains to be seen if DeJong could be an every-day shortstop in Triple-A, let alone the majors.
This reinforces my opinion that the Cardinals will likely have to look externally to address third base over the long haul.
Outfield depth at the corners remains another major concern, in my view, with a dearth of power-type hitters anywhere in the system. More athletic center field types are in prevalent supply, which is great, but where’s the beef?
First base is not represented at all by anyone who looks to be future MLB starting material. This is not particularly worrisome, especially with Carpenter likely to be there for at least the next four years, other than it is often the home of power hitters, that ongoing scarce commodity.
The lack of catching after Carson Kelly continues to be a bit concerning. While the number of top 50 catchers is up to five, no one else is yet in full-season ball. While there are some promising Latin players, it will take time to see if a Dennis Ortega or Carlos Soto will pan out. I can’t be overly worried, though, because if Kelly can start in the majors, signing cheap backups off the free agent wire can hold the fort for years if needed until a homegrown reserve can be developed.
Because of the uniqueness of his position and lack of alternatives, Kelly is arguably the last prospect the Cardinals should consider trading - not that it is likely being considered.
Future outlook - pitching
The quantity of top 50 starting pitchers at 27 seems appropriate, however all the increase was among right-handers. The drop in left-handers is especially worrisome.
With Jaime Garcia gone, the Cardinals would probably ideally like a lefty in the rotation. Tim Cooney is no longer an option and Marco Gonzales remains a question mark. That leaves Austin Gomber as the best port-sider hope anywhere close to the majors.
The right-handed pipeline looks great at pretty much every level, with Dakota Hudson having the capability to pitch his way into the picture by late 2017.
Rowan Wick has the tools to become the next “Closer of the Future”, now that we can see that Sam Tuivailala is probably not going to fill that role. But even if not, the wealth of starters increase the likelihood of a decent relief supply pipeline flowing as needed.
2017 Draft focus
Possible gap areas to consider in the 2017 draft may include catchers, third basemen, corner outfielders and power-hitting anything. Then again, this is exactly what I wrote 12 months ago in this space.
The addition I would make to the shopping list for the 2017 Draft is left-handed pitching. The international program is stepping up nicely with middle infielders, center fielders and right-handed pitching.
Top 50 Cardinals prospects – By age – 2017
|Top 50 by age||26||25||24||23||22||21||20||19||18||17||Tot|
|LH Starting Pitcher||1||1||1||1||4|
|RH Starting Pitcher||3||1||1||5||4||3||1||2||20|
The top 50 continues to trend toward youth. Half of the top 50 are 21 years of age or younger, comparable to last year’s all-time high of 55 percent. The sweet spot is ages 21 and 22, with 40 percent of the top 50 aged in that two-year spread.
The oldest player from last year has moved on in lefty reliever Dean Kiekhefer. None of this year’s four oldest are among the top tier of prospects. They are 25-year-olds Mike Mayers (30), Kendry Flores (42), Trey Nielsen (44) and Luke Voit (46).
Younger trend continues
|Top 40/50 by age||27||26||25||24||23||22||21||20||19||18||17||Tot|
In the table above, you can see the age shift to the right from recent years to 2017.
The percentage of players 23 and older this year is just over 25 percent (13 of 50 or 26 percent). That is way down from 35 percent (14 of 40) one year ago. In 2014 and 2015, just under half of the top 40 were age 23 or older, so this continued shift toward youth over time is huge.
If a fair number of these younger players can come through, the Cardinals' future may shine even more brightly.
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.
This article series nears its conclusion as we take a look at the best and worst picks from the 2016 top 40, the top prospects by level and finally those players that left the top prospect list from last year to this.
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