Here in the conclusion of this two-part exclusive interview with Gulf Coast League Cardinals manager Steve Turco, he talks about a number of his standouts at the plate, most notably top draft picks Delvin Perez, Dylan Carlson, and Walker Robbins. Turco then discusses one of the sleepers, who showed plenty of promise in his stateside debut.
Derek Shore: Please tell me about Dennis Ortega at the plate and behind it?
Steve Turco: I think Dennis Ortega is a big-league prospect. He's going to catch in the big leagues. At this point, I could see him being a frontline catcher - just getting to the big leagues alone where you're a frontline or backup catcher is still exciting to know that you have a big league prospect in your midst.
"He's got size. I'm going to be honest with you, I like catchers ala 'Yadi Molina where they're barely 6-foot-0 tall, who have a low center of gravity and are able to go ahead and laterally move when they make throws to the bases. Their footwork is more consistent, of course, their legs are shorter, and their center of gravity is lower. I typically like those shorter, stockier catchers.
"Dennis Ortega, though. He's like Mike Matheny, who was a bigger catcher and Gold-Glover and there have been several who are bigger and have been great catchers. I think Ortega has a chance to be an outstanding defensive catcher. He also has the ability to hit, and when I saw ability to hit, I think he'll hit for more power than we've seen to this point.
"The thing I love about him is his head is very quiet, and he stays through the middle of the field while very often driving the ball to the middle and opposite gap. Because he does those things, I think he is going to have a good chance of staying on off-speed pitches and still driving fastballs because he's got enough bat speed to do this.
"I think that he's smart, athletic and has all the ingredients, intangibles that you like to see a young catcher have. I'm very excited about Dennis Ortega."
DS: How about first-rounder Delvin Perez?
ST: "This is a kid that played with a tremendous amount of confidence. When you draft shortstops, you look for guys that are capable of staying at that position. There were a bunch of things that he was doing that needed cleaning up defensively.
"Through work with several of our infield instructors, 'Pop' Warner, who did a really nice job with him and I think he related really well with Jose Oquendo. When he came down towards the end of the season, I think it was an immediate connection between the two of them and last few games during the playoffs he was a whole different player.
"There were times when he would get very frustrated when he made an error. He didn't like failing, and he didn't like not succeeding at the plate. This kid started out hitting close to .400, which at 17 years old early on in our season, it happens very rarely. High-school first-round picks that I've had have not done what Delvin Perez did to start the season.
"He did a very nice job of utilizing a good portion of the field to hit and drive the ball. Even though you are not seeing power yet, he's got tremendously strong hands. As he fills out that athletic body, I think he may hit with some power down the road.
"He's got plus speed with a desire to go ahead and run the bases. He loves to steal bases. He had difficulty sliding early on in the season, but he does head-first slides the way he steals bases.
"I think he's cleaning up his defense. Offensively, he had a heck of a year for us in his first year of pro baseball. I was very surprised to see somebody his age to do what he did to start the season, even though he had a dip off because he got hurt and tailed off a bit afterward. He rebounded and did a nice job after that for us. He was a quality pick and a kid that can remain at shortstop with quick feet."
DS: What do you think about the comparisons of Perez to Carlos Correa?
ST: "I think Delvin Perez is a very talented young man. I think that comparison between him and Correa right now - I wouldn't draw the comparison yet. Correa, right from the start, was much more mature at the same age and more fundamentally sound than Delvin is right now.
"I'm not saying you won't see Delvin progress to the point where you could make the comparison. I think that's unfair even to do that at this point. I know a lot of people have drawn those comparisons to him and I wouldn't do that at this point."
DS: How did you handle the crowded middle infield situation?
ST: "First of all, these guys were all shortstops. Everybody played shortstop in high school. It was a transition from shortstop and play somewhere else and had to fill in the way they did. That was the case because we had Delvin and Starlin Balbuena, who made the transition from shortstop to third base because of Perez.
"For me, Balbuena has a higher prospect status than either Brady Whalen or J.D. Murders. So, what was going to happen was if Perez wasn't playing shortstop? It wasn't going to be either of those other two. It was going to be Balbuena, who was going to his chance. We also had Edwin Figuera, who ended up playing a lot of shortstop when we spelled Delvin."
DS: Please tell me about Brady Whalen.
ST: I see Whalen, a long, loping strider when he runs - doesn't have that tremendous quickness with foot speed. I see him filling out, and I love his swing left-handed. He's a switch-hitter, who I got to see obviously hit more from the left side and he showed me a really disciplined swing. Good path and good discipline at the plate left-handed.
"He should have some power as he fills out that big body. I almost envision him being a corner infielder down the road, possibly first base maybe third base. I think his arm strength is just a little short to play on the left side of the field. If he's going to be an everyday guy, I can almost see him as a first baseman hitting with power from both sides of the plate.
"He's a baseball rat and loves being around the game. He's like a sponge - he absorbs the things you tell him, a very coachable young man."
DS: And J.D. Murders?
ST: "When J.D. got to us, he got to us later in the season, and we tried to give him as much playing time as we could. He was a little aloof at times and had to explain, 'The Cardinal Way' several times to him. His strength on the baseball field is his bat. I mean, this kid has got some bat speed. His defense needs some work. He doesn't run very well, and is probably a below-average runner.
"A left-handed hitter with bat speed that you would like to see how that turns out in how much he develops with the bat. Has potential as a hitter and needs to sharpen his defense while making the most of the lack of foot speed.
"Right now, we're trying to get more athletic at our major-league level. Well, even though guys who don't have tremendous speed can still be as athletic as they can be by doing things to help themselves, but foot speed is foot speed, and neither Whalen nor Murders are runners. Defense isn't what is going to get them to play at higher levels; it's going to be their bats."
DS: What did you see in Dylan Carlson?
ST: “Love Dylan Carlson. Love this kid. I think he is going to be a heck of a big-league player. He’s got the focus and all the intangibles things you want from a player he possesses. He’s got talent to boot. He played center field for us and did a decent job playing center. He was a first baseman/outfielder in high school and was thrust into playing center field, I don’t know if down the road he will be a corner outfielder, but he is going to hit for power.
"He's another 17-year-old young man. Starting out if he would've been with us throughout the season, this kid was hitting like .140 and he never really lost that mental edge to be the best player he can be. Wound up hitting .240 for the year and led our team in extra-base hits.
“He’s a switch-hitter and his swing path changed from the left-side that made him more productive, making better contact and driving the ball a little bit further. I think he’s going to hit for power and he’s a 17-year old young man who is mature beyond his years and with the focus you would hope a ballplayer who has the potential to be a big-leaguer would be. Love him to death.”
DS: What is Carlson’s power potential?
ST: "I think he's a guy that's going to hit 20-plus home runs. I reserve comment on any more than that because just to say a 17-year old will develop into that, who's more athletic than brute strength at this point. I just think he's going to wind up hitting 20-plus home runs a year and if he hit 30-plus, I wouldn't be shocked."
DS: Could Carlson hold down center field despite scouts projecting him as a corner guy? (Note: this interview took place before the Dexter Fowler signing.)
ST: "For the right team and right situation. I don't envision him as a Cardinal right now as we're in search of our center fielder. Grichuk played center field for us last year, but I think we're in search of somebody that covers more ground. I think that's what we're in search of. I think the same thing applies to Dylan Carlson.
"Not that he can't play center field, but when Wadye Ynfante came from the DSL - he was in extended spring with us, and I thought his return was going to happen a lot sooner than when it did. When Ynfante came back to us, we moved Carlson to the corner outfield position, and he was more comfortable looking to me in the corner outfield position.
"I think you could put him in left or right. His arm strength might be a little bit short for right, but I don't think you have to eliminate right field. I think you could play him either corner position. He has the versatility to play all three. Is he your prototypical center fielder? No."
DS: Please tell me about Walker Robbins.
ST: “It’s funny because he’s got good size and raw power. He’s got a good combination. He’s probably an average runner with plus raw power. I think what he did in high school you can get away with things, but as you get to pro ball, you’re going to have to make some adjustments. He drifted way too much (in his pro debut).
“In other words, he would get out on his front side, and his hands would follow, and he wouldn’t have anything to go ahead and hit at that point in time. He needs to go ahead and stay back at least keep his hands back where he can utilize the field to drive through. He really struggled with that. He knew what he needed to do and worked to get better at it.
“The transition was just a little bit slower, and he struggled most of the season. There was one stretch where he looked like he started to figure things out and unfortunately it had reverted to where he had been earlier in the season.
“He’s an athletic kid, who is a first baseman, had never played the outfield before, and we put him in left field."
DS: What about the late arrival, center fielder Wadye Ynfante?
ST: "If you asked me what he did for us (stateside), I would have to tell you he didn't do very much in 17 at-bats. I saw him in extended spring, and I've seen what he's capable of doing. He's got a slightly above-average arm, who can steal a base for you. He's a guy that can drive the ball through the middle of the field and play a solid center field.
"I think he's a young man, who has the chance to play at higher levels. Even though he hit .059, he made us a better team while he was with us."
DS: You mentioned Starlin Balbuena earlier. Please tell me more.
ST: "I think he's a young man that has got size. He's got plus arm strength. I think defensively he's going to be better at third base in the future that he was this past year. I didn't see him as a shortstop as the future would go, but he started out playing shortstop, and we moved him to third base obviously when Delvin showed up.
"Delvin was going to be our everyday shortstop, so to get Starlin his time, he was moved over to third. I think he's got good actions, good hands, and a plus arm with a good arm stroke, who should be an accurate thrower. He's got a 60 arm with plenty of carry on his throws.
"He's an athletic kid, moving from short to third base. I think he's going to hit with power. He's a guy that could be a sleeper in all this. He wasn't discussed a lot after he got a decent bonus to sign. He was promising coming into the season, but struggled a little bit and wound up having a respectable year for us. I think power numbers for this guy are really going to come around.
"He and Carlson hit for about the same average, and they both hit three home runs. Balbuena's a kid that will be really fun to watch in the future. I think Dylan obviously has more upside, but I like Balbuena as well."
Check out Part 1 of this interview, in which Turco talked about how his 2016 GCL team came together and highlighted five top pitchers from its staff.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
© 2017 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.