Zac Gallen (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

More of the St. Louis’ Cardinals best prospects start 2017 at the highest level of the system.

You may already know the assigned levels for St. Louis Cardinals prospects. Now, go deeper into why, plus look at the big movers and key changes from last year.

In this article, we will focus on how members of The Cardinal Nation top 50 prospect list for 2017 fared in their season-opening roster placements in the St. Louis Cardinals system and consider why.

These new assignments across the entire system are available via the newly-updated Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation Blog.

Alternatively, you can explore each team’s roster right here at The Cardinal Nation. They are current as of the start of the regular season. By clicking on player names, you can view bios, photos, videos, articles, news items and much more – everything you need to know about a player’s history in one place.

 

Full-season clubs

St. Louis Cardinals

Memphis Redbirds

Springfield Cardinals

Palm Beach Cardinals

Peoria Chiefs

 

With the initial 2017 rosters set, here are the assignments of the Cardinals top 50 prospects as ranked here at The Cardinal Nation during the off-season.

The right columns indicate where the players ended 2016 and the number of teams between their old and new levels of play. (I left September-only call ups to St. Louis, such as Carson Kelly, with Memphis for this exercise.)

(Note: Prior number 20 prospect Allen Cordoba remains with the San Diego Padres. Prior to my first monthly prospect list update, I chose to slot newly-signed Cuban outfielder Adolis Garcia into Cordoba’s old spot. In addition, #42 prospect, pitcher Kendry Morales failed his pre-camp physical and his contract was voided. So that spot remains temporarily open. As a result, our top 50 here has just 49 players.)

    StL Mem Spr PB Peo Oth 2016 Lvl
Rk TCN 2017 Top 50 (2) (10) (9) (12) (9) (7) end chg
1 Alex Reyes DL           StL 0
2 Luke Weaver   X         StL -1
3 Delvin Perez           X GCL  
4 Carson Kelly   X         Mem 0
5 Harrison Bader   X         Spr 1
6 Dakota Hudson     X       Spr 0
7 Jack Flaherty     X       PB 1
8 Sandy Alcantara     X       PB 1
9 Austin Gomber     X       Spr 0
10 Magneuris Sierra       X     Peo 1
11 Junior Fernandez       X     PB 0
12 Jake Woodford       X     Peo 1
13 Paul DeJong   X         Spr 1
14 Edmundo Sosa       X     PB DL 0
15 Ryan Helsley       X     Peo 1
16 Eliezer Alvarez     X       Peo 2
17 Randy Arozarena       X     DNP  
18 Johan Oviedo           X DSL  
19 Alvaro Seijas           X GCL  
20 (Adolis Garcia)     X       DNP  
21 Nick Plummer         X   GCL DL 3
22 Dylan Carlson         X   GCL 3
23 Marco Gonzales   DL         Mem DL 0
24 Connor Jones       X     SC 2
25 Jordan Hicks         X   SC 1
    StL Mem Spr PB Peo Oth 2016 Lvl
Rk TCN 2017 Top 50 (2) (10) (9) (12) (9) (7) end chg
26 Bryce Denton         DL   JC 2
27 Jonatan Machado           X DSL  
28 Ronnie Williams         X   Peo 0
29 Jeremy Martinez       X     SC 2
30 Mike Mayers   X         Mem 0
31 Zac Gallen       X     GCL 4
32 Ian Oxnevad         X   JC 2
33 Derian Gonzalez       X     PB 0
34 Matt Pearce     X       Spr 0
35 Tommy Edman         X   SC 1
36 Daniel Poncedeleon     X       Spr 0
37 Sam Tuivailala X           Mem 1
38 John Kilichowski         X   Peo 0
39 Breyvic Valera   X         Mem 0
40 Rowan Wick   X         Spr 1
41 Darren Seferina       X     PB DL 0
42 (out of organization)                
43 Dennis Ortega           X GCL  
44 Trey Nielsen     DL       Spr 0
45 Andrew Knizner         X   JC 2
46 Luke Voit   X         Spr 1
47 Corey Littrell   RL         Mem 0
48 Carlos Soto           X DSL  
49 Wadye Ynfante           X GCL  
50 Chris Chinea       X     Peo 1
    StL Mem Spr PB Peo Oth 2016 Lvl
Rk TCN 2017 Top 50 (2) (10) (9) (12) (9) (7) end chg

What leapt out to me initially from the visual representation is the stratification of top prospects by level. The first block is at Triple-A Memphis, then the six through nine prospects group is at Double-A Springfield. Next is 10 through 17, set mostly at high-A Palm Beach. Only as we get into the 20s do we encounter the first prospects at Class-A Peoria, clustered in the 21-28 range.

I have never seen this so clearly delineated before and am not sure why. Perhaps when ranking, we feel most sure about those prospects closest to the majors. What could also be a factor is the organization’s care taken with that June’s draftees, managing their workload in the Gulf Coast League against lesser competition.

 

Shift toward the top

Following is the data summarized, split out by level for both the top 20 and top 50. The same table from this time last year (when we ranked 40 prospects instead) is provided alongside for comparison.

2017 level Top 20 21-50 Top 50   2016 level Top 20 21-40 Top 40
St. Louis 1 1 2   St. Louis 2 0 2
Rule 5 MLB 0 0 0   Rule 5 MLB 0 1 1
Memphis 4 6 10   Memphis 6 4 10
Springfield 6 3 9   Springfield 3 4 7
Palm Beach 6 6 12   Palm Beach 3 4 7
Peoria 0 9 9   Peoria 5 1 6
Other/extended 3 4 7   Other/extended 1 6 7
Total 20 29 49   Total 20 20 40

The system’s power is at the top. Specifically, 16 of the 20 top prospects are opening the season at Memphis, Springfield and Palm Beach.

The big contrast from 2016 is lack of top 20 prospects at Peoria. Whereas a year ago, the Cardinals pushed a number of top prospects from the Gulf Coast League into the Midwest League, that did not happen in 2017. The most likely comparable promotes into Peoria this year, pitcher Johan Oviedo and shortstop Delvin Perez, were instead kept behind in extended spring training.

http://www.scout.com/player/177999-connor-jones?s=321

Further, all three of the top college-drafted pitchers from 2016 are opening in the rotations at more appropriate levels of competition – specifically the high-A Florida State League and above – Connor Jones and Zac Gallen at Palm Beach and Dakota Hudson at Springfield.

http://www.scout.com/player/168778-dakota-hudson?s=321

Together, those two factors – no big international moves into the Midwest League and the top drafted pitchers skipping the level - led to a lack of top 20 star power at Peoria. However, it is very possible Oviedo, Perez and others could be promoted into the Midwest League at any time. They are going to be playing regularly in EST, to be ready when called upon.

 

Promotions slowing – a bit

Now, we will review a summary of the movement of the top prospects from last year to this.

2016-2017 Top 20 21-50 Top 50   2015-2016 Top 20 21-40 Top 40
Promo 4 level 0 1 1   Promo 4 level 0 0 0
Promo 3 level 0 2 2   Promo 3 level 3 1 4
Promo 2 level 1 5 6   Promo 2 level 4 1 5
Promo 1 level 7 6 13   Promo 1 level 6 9 15
Flat 6 11 17   Flat 6 4 10
Not applicable 5 4 9   Not applicable 1 5 6
Down 1 level 1 0 1   Down 1 level 0 0 0
Total 20 29 49     20 20 40

Even though there were not the mass aggressive promotions from the GCL to Peoria like we saw last season with Sandy Alcantara, Junior Fernandez and Jake Woodford and others, there were still a number of big jumps this year.

http://www.scout.com/player/206199-zac-gallen?s=321

Because Gallen was excused in August to return to college for the fall semester, he remained in the GCL for 2016. That makes his jump to Palm Beach four levels, though it should probably be noted with an asterisk.

http://www.scout.com/player/197200-nick-plummer?s=321

After missing all of 2016 due to hand injuries, Nick Plummer will move up from his last official at-bats in the 2015 GCL to Peoria to open this season. Fellow outfielder Dylan Carlson, a key member of the 2016 GCL champions, is making the same jump.

http://www.scout.com/player/158983-eliezer-alvarez?s=321

The most notable of the six top 50 prospects skipping a level for a two-level move may be second baseman Eliezer Alvarez. Thought by many to be the least-heralded of the trio of offensive sparkplugs for the 2016 Chiefs – along with Magneuris Sierra and Edmundo Sosa - Alvarez is the only one of the three to open 2017 at Double-A.

That slight slowing of the pipeline – at least initially – is indicated by the total of 17 top 50 members starting at the same level as they ended last year. That 35 percent mark compares to 25 percent not moving the year before (10 of 40).

The most visible of the single-level moves are outfielder Harrison Bader and shortstop Paul DeJong from Springfield to Memphis. The top 20 prospects and 2015 draftees impressed in their first St. Louis spring training camp and could make their big-league debuts later in the season. Same could be said for reliever Rowan Wick, if he continues to progress.

http://www.scout.com/player/179139-luke-weaver?s=321

The one top prospect to drop a level is Luke Weaver, though it may not be fair to hang that label on our second-ranked prospect. The right-hander was rushed to St. Louis last August 13 after just one Triple-A start and was needed in the bigs for the remainder of the season. There is no doubt the right place for Weaver to open 2017 is in Memphis’ rotation.

Though not a top 50 member - at least yet - reliever Ross Vance deserves mention. The left-hander, a spring camp standout, earned an impressive three-level jump from Johnson City into the Palm Beach bullpen.

 

In closing

Always keep in mind that all of this is just point in time analysis. The organization has shown its willingness time and time again to promote selected prospects during the season – as well as move ones back down who show they are not ready.

Those who are initially repeating the same level but may appear ready for an additional challenge and could easily become candidates to move up with fast starts and some help from above. Same with several of the extended spring training participants.

To keep up with the action, check out our daily Cardinals minor league notebooks with all the action from the night before. In addition, our in-depth weekly team notebooks will commence with Peoria on Tuesday, April 11.

 

Bookmark the Roster Matrix

To see the full 2017 season-opening rosters by level and position for the entire Cardinals system on one page, along with every transaction all season long, check out the Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.

 

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

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