John Gant (Scott Rovak / USA TODAY Sports Images)

Monthly members-only, in-depth report on rising and falling St. Louis Cardinals prospects.

Looking at changes to The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect list from the off-season until now. There is plenty of movement.

Welcome to the first in-season St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospect List update from The Cardinal Nation for 2017. My plan continues to be to present and explain my then-current view of the top 50 prospects in the Cardinals system around the mid-point of each month during the regular season.

The time window considered this time is from when we published the site top 50 for 2017, which rolled out from November into the first of the year, to today.

As always, the challenge is to balance short-term spikes in performance with long-term potential. After all, we are barely two weeks into the regular season. So, the focus here is to use the former to help adjust the latter, but not to pick the Players of the Month. We have a separate process for that.

This time around, because it is so early, I did not make wholesale moves on and off the top 50. Instead, I primarily focused on tweaking the order within.

There is also a bit of a rub since this is my personal list, not created with input from others. That is different from the overall site top 50, in which my ranking carries a one-third weighting.

To be consistent with the main list, the ranking in the “Prior” column below reflects the blended site ranking from the off-season. Because of that difference, what may look like increases or drops may be more due to my opinion making up these entire rankings, rather than reflecting the view of the larger group.

 

Repeated reminders

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.)

 

Key changes

There are many individual ranking changes. However, most are up or down a few spots. Those are more due to general shifting of others raising or lowering the water for all, rather than anything significant.

When preparing the rankings, there were a number of explicit moves I made. I am listing them here.

On Off Risers Fallers Watch
Gant Cordoba Gallen Gomber Mercado
Ad Garcia Littrell Jones Arozarena Wisdom
V Garcia Flores Hicks Pearce Lucas
      Valera  
      Nielsen  

With three players going off, three came on. Allen Cordoba is doing well in San Diego, while neither Corey Littrell (suspension) nor Kendry Flores (contract voided) can say the same.

http://www.scout.com/player/215506-adolis-garcia?s=321

Since last winter, St. Louis added 40-man pitcher John Gant in the Jaime Garcia trade and signed Cuban free agent outfielder Adolis Garcia this spring. Speaking of Garcias, the Cards inked then-16 year old Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia to a $1.5 million deal last July. Victor was on my personal list last off-season and rejoins in April.

 

Key risers

I went out of my way to move three pitchers up in the rankings, all into the top 20. Connor Jones and Zac Gallen were so protected last season after signing, it was hard to get a read on them. Now, I am very comfortable with the second and third-rounders from last July being the top 20. They are members of the Palm Beach rotation.

http://www.scout.com/player/200621-jordan-hicks?s=321

The other big riser is Jordan Hicks. There is more than the multiple 101 mph gun readings I observed in spring training. The 20-year old is off to a very strong start at Peoria.

 

Key fallers

Perhaps my expectations were too high after his strong stint in the Arizona Fall League, but lefty Austin Gomber did not look particularly sharp in big league camp this spring and started slowly in his return to Springfield. It was Daniel Poncedeleon, not Gomber, who received the call when Memphis needed a starter.

We had little to go on for Cuban outfielder Randy Arozarena. For now, it seems he is behind Adolis Garcia, Oscar Mercado and Magneuris Sierra in the outfield pecking order at Double-A and high-A.

Never a hard thrower, Matt Pearce’s margin for error looks to be exposed at Double-A. Breyvic Valera’s fame is based on batting average and when he doesn’t have that, there is little to say. Trey Nielsen being moved to the bullpen makes his star less shiny.

 

Top 50 by level

Here is the breakdown of the top 50 by their current assignments. There is a pretty good balance across the various levels.

  Rank          
By level 1-10 11-20 21-30 31-40 41-50 total
St. Louis 1         1
Memphis 3 1 2 4 2 12
Springfield 3 3   1 1 8
Palm Beach 2 4 3 2 1 12
Peoria   1 4 2 2 9
EST 1 1 1 1 4 8
total 10 10 10 10 10 50

Eight of them are in extended spring training so will not have actual results for several months into the future. In addition, 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.

Another seven are injured, including the top two prospects and three of the top 10.

 

Prospect Rankings

Again, following each player’s name under “Prior” is where he was ranked by this site during the annual rankings. “NA” means “not applicable” and “NR” means “not ranked”. Next are the players’ current level, followed by primary defensive position.

Rk Prospect Prior Team Pos    
1 Alex Reyes 1 StL DL RHS    
  You already know the story.        
             
2 Luke Weaver 2 Mem DL RHS    
  Recurring back problems are slowing his progress toward StL rotation.
             
3 Delvin Perez 3 EST SS    
  Was not deemed ready for full-season club - yet. Still just 18 years old.
             
4 Carson Kelly 4 Mem C    
  Early power shown at Memphis is encouraging. Just needs reps.
             
5 Harrison Bader 5 Mem OF    
  Great spring with StL, but again a slow start with Memphis.   
             
6 Sandy Alcantara 8 Spr RHS    
  21-year old had good spring. One bad outing at Spr, but sky the limit.
             
7 Jack Flaherty 7 Spr RHS    
  21-year old does everything well and is dominating in Double-A debut.
             
8 Dakota Hudson 6 Spr RHS    
  Only 2 pro stats so far above GCL, but very promising potential. 
             
9 Magneuris Sierra 10 PB DL CF    
  Impressive spring with StL and good start with PB before concussion.
             
10 Edmundo Sosa 14 PB SS    
  21-year old batting .333 from 5th spot in Palm Beach lineup.  
             

The top 10

Really, there is not much new to see here. It is not ideal when your top two prospects are on the shelf, but that’s the way it is.

One can debate the sequence of the three Springfield starters among Sandy Alcantara, Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson, but why? Their performances will eventually sort it out.

It looks like Edmundo Sosa moved up, but I had him 10th over the winter, too.

Rk Prospect Prior Team Pos    
11 Junior Fernandez 11 PB RHS    
  20-year old had 2 ok starts before perfect game into 7th in last outing.
             
12 Jake Woodford 12 PB RHS    
  Very solid Florida State League intro for 20-year old  
             
13 Paul DeJong 13 Mem SS    
  Off to .313 BA, but no walks and K-ing 1/3 of plate appearances. 
             
14 Eliezer Alvarez 16 Spr 2B    
  Aggressive promo over Palm Beach means some patience needed. 
             
15 Austin Gomber 9 Spr LHS    
  22-year-old lefty has not rediscovered 2016 success - yet.  
             
16 Zac Gallen 31 PB RHS    
  Showing his 3rd round selection in 2016 draft may be a steal. 
             
17 Connor Jones 24 PB RHS    
  22-year old is right up there with Gallen after 2 FSL starts.  
             
18 Johan Oviedo 18 EST RHS    
  Lower spring velo from 18 y/o Cuban who received $1.9 MM.  
             
19 Jordan Hicks 25 Peo RHS    
  20-year old showed 101 mph and dominating early at Peoria.  
             
20 Adolis Garcia NA Spr OF    
  Cuban signed this spring for $2.5 MM. Knocking off rust.  
             

The second 10

Eliezer Alvarez gets a small boost with his jump over Palm Beach. Gomber falling and Gallen/Jones/Hicks rising have already been covered. I am comfortable placing Adolis Garcia into the bottom edge of the top 20 and bumping fellow Cuban outfielder Arozarena down, though it could surely change given their short professional histories in the US.

Rk Prospect Prior Team Pos    
21 Ryan Helsley 15 PB RHS    
  22-year old continuing 2016 success up a level in FSL  
             
22 Nick Plummer 21 Peo DL OF    
  Multiple years of injury woes continue.      
             
23 Dylan Carlson 22 Peo OF    
  Off to slow start after aggressive promo, but still just 18 in MWL.
             
24 Bryce Denton 26 Peo DL OF    
  Shift to OF enabled move up, but recovering from appendicitis.
             
25 John Gant NA Mem DL RHS    
  Atlanta acquisition looked good in MLB camp before groin injury.
             
26 Randy Arozarena 17 PB CF    
  22 y/o Cuban leading off for PB. Like Garcia, needs to play daily.
             
27 Marco Gonzales 23 Mem DL LHS    
  Waiting for progress coming back from Tommy John surgery.  
             
28 Alvaro Seijas 19 EST RHS    
  StL's big international signing in 2015 heading for JC or SC?  
             
29 Jeremy Martinez 29 PB C    
  Challenged with jump over Peo. Best C in system not named Kelly.
             
30 Ronnie Williams 28 Peo RHS    
  21-year old alternating rough and good starts in early going.  
             

21-30

It may appear that I am down on Ryan Helsley, but this is actually one spot better than I had the right-hander during the off-season. I see him a tick below the aforementioned top 20 hurlers, but still 21st is rarefied air among pitchers in this system.

The young outfielders are all in a pack in the 20s, as we wait for them to distinguish themselves in full-season ball. Getting healthy first is key. Gant and Marco Gonzales are both on the Memphis disabled list and could shoot up when healthy. Challenged with a jump over Peoria, catcher Jeremy Martinez bears watching.

Rk Prospect Prior Team Pos    
31 Jonatan Machado 27 EST CF    
  18-year old Cuban with $2.35MM bonus looks headed for short-season.
             
32 Daniel Poncedeleon 36 Mem RHS    
  Moved ahead of Gomber as first Spr promo to Mem and looking good.
             
33 Tommy Edman 35 Peo SS    
  Batting .362 in early going with over half of hits going for extra bases. 
             
34 Mike Mayers 30 Mem RHS    
  Still looking for right-hander to overcome 1 rough start for StL in 2016.
             
35 Ian Oxnevad 32 Peo LHS    
  20-year old with so-so MWL start, but making jump from JC.  
             
36 Darren Seferina 41 PB 2B    
  Picking up in FSL where left off before 2016 injury with .333 BA.
             
37 Sam Tuivailala 37 Mem RHR    
  Off to a hot start with Memphis, but will he ever stick with StL?
             
38 Rowan Wick 40 Mem RHR    
  Dominated at PB, less at Spr in 2016. Good start at Mem.  
             
39 Derian Gonzalez 33 PB RHS    
  22-year old had one clunker in two starts to date in PB return.  
             
40 Matt Pearce 34 Spr RHS    
  Margin for error small for control artist at back of Spr rotation.   
             

31-40

Poncedeleon, Tommy Edman and Darren Seferina are on the rise. On the other hand, Jonatan Machado is bumped down by others, while Mike Mayers and Matt Pearce are scuffling.

Rk Prospect Prior Team Pos    
41 John Kilichowski 38 Peo LHS    
  22-year old lefty off to slow start in return to MWL.   
             
42 Dennis Ortega 43 EST C    
  Lowest level catcher to get major time in StL spring camp.   
             
43 Andrew Knizner 45 Peo C    
  Initial jump from JC going very well - .375 BA in early going.  
             
44 Luke Voit 46 Mem 1B    
  26-year old has one hot week and one cold in his AAA debut.  
             
45 Breyvic Valera 39 Mem 2B    
  Having trouble replicating 2016 progress. DeJong passing him by.
             
46 Carlos Soto 48 EST C    
  17-year old was a .300 hitter in 2016 DSL. Now in the US.   
             
47 Wadye Ynfante 49 EST CF    
  .331 BA and .429 OBP in DSL last summer before brief GCL intro.
             
48 Chris Chinea 50 PB 1B    
  Batting cleanup for Palm Beach after move to first base from catcher.
             
49 Victor Garcia NR EST OF    
  Venezuelan 16-year old received $1.5 MM. Will debut in US  
             
50 Trey Nielsen 44 Spr RHR    
  Dealt with spring injury, then moved to bullpen upon return.   
             

41-50

John Kilichowski, Valera and Nielsen are among the fallers this month. Luke Voit and Andrew Knizner each move up a couple of spots with good starts. Four in this group will likely not play official games until June as they are in EST.

Rk Prospect Prior Team Pos    
off Allen Cordoba 20 JC SS    
  Looks like Rule 5 pick may stick with San Diego Padres.   
             
off Corey Littrell 40 Mem  LHR    
  PED suspension means a later re-boot will be needed.   
             
off Kendry Flores 42 AAA RHP    
  Failed spring physical ended his Cards stint before it began.  
             
Rk Prospect Prior Team Pos    
HM Oscar Mercado NR Spr CF    
  Surprisingly strong start by former SS definitely bears watching. 
             
HM Patrick Wisdom NR Mem 3B    
  Started well in MLB camp and with Memphis. Can he sustain?
             
HM Josh Lucas NR Mem RHR    
  6-6 righty had good MLB camp, but so-so start with Memphis.
             

Dropped out and honorable mentions

The drops were all covered above. The honorable mentions (denoted by "HM") could easily join this list at a later date, but I am looking for longer-term momentum before they bump others off the top 50.

In conclusion

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?

 

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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