Welcome to the second 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 top 50 for April, which rolled out this time last month, to today.
As always, the challenge is to balance short-term spikes in performance with long-term potential. After all, we are barely six 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, I made three moves on (with others coming off) the top 50. One debuts (returns) as high as 37. I also spent considerable focus on tweaking the order within the remaining 47.
As a continued reminder, 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.
The ranking in the “Apr” column below reflects the player’s rank from last month.
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 for May
There are many individual ranking changes this time; however, many are up or down just a few spots. Those are more due to general shifting of others raising or lowering the water level for all, rather than anything significant.
When preparing the rankings, there were a number of explicit moves I did make. I am summarizing them here.
With three players going off, three came on.
After six weeks of sustained success with his new swing and approach at the plate, Oscar Mercado is winning me over. Arturo Reyes is dependable, but not flashy, so is often overlooked. Not now. And Patrick Wisdom is showing good power and production, but the strikeouts and subpar batting average remain.
Pushed off the tail end of the top 50 are last month’s 48, 49 and 50th-ranked prospects – Chris Chinea, Victor Garcia and Trey Nielsen. Nielsen has the best chance of returning soon. Garcia appears to need a lot of work, but will probably be given the longest runway.
I went out of my way to move several up in the rankings. It begins in the top 10.
Based on his stellar start on top of a good pedigree, I moved everyone’s April Pitcher of the Month Jack Flaherty from seventh to sixth. Magneuris Sierra’s impressive MLB debut also vaulted him from ninth to seventh. When Junior Fernandez is hot, he is really hot. That is enough for him to slip into the top 10 despite inconsistency as well.
I really feel that Paul DeJong deserves a top 10 spot for handing a new position, improving his batting average while still delivering his trademark power. As it is, the infielder has to settle for 11th this time.
A healthy, productive Marco Gonzales should not have been 27th, but it has been two years since that was the case. He has vaulted back to 16th, but still far from his earlier peak in the top three.
Just maybe, this refined curveball will be Sam Tuivailala’s ticket to remain in the majors. Then again, his option availability makes him the easy mark to move down to Memphis (as soon as when Tyler Lyons is ready, perhaps).
Matt Pearce, Andrew Knizner and Luke Voit are other top performers who received a positive bump in their rankings based on their 2017 showings.
At least three members of the opening Peoria starting five are falling short of expectations. Jordan Hicks has hit a rough patch after a strong start, while Ronnie Williams was sent to the bullpen to try to work out of his problems. Lefty John Kilichowski has also delivered subpar results.
At Palm Beach, catcher Jeremy Martinez may be suffering the ill effects of being jumped over Peoria into the offensively-challenged Florida State League. Pitcher Derian Gonzalez has the velocity, but the results haven’t been there.
Though the Memphis Redbirds have been playing very well, there are exceptions – even among the top prospect ranks. Starter Mike Mayers can’t seem to shake the doldrums that seemed to begin with he was prematurely called up to St. Louis last summer. Hard-throwing reliever Rowan Wick was hit hard before hitting the disabled list himself.
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 with little change from last month on a macro scale. The biggest moves were Sierra and Tuivailala to St. Louis.
Seven of the top 50 are in extended spring training so they will not have actual results for over a month 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. I am resisting any temptation to shift any of them other than as the result of movement of others.
Four are injured, down from seven last month, with the most severe and concerning the head injury suffered by Memphis pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon. Here is hoping he can soon start moving up the ranks again.
Again, following each player’s name under “Apr” is where he was ranked last month. “NA” means “not applicable” and “NR” means “not ranked”. Next are the players’ current level, followed by primary defensive position.
|1||Alex Reyes||1||StL DL||RHS|
|You already know the story. Nothing much to say until 2018.|
|Early returns from DL extremely positive to point he may be #6 starter.|
|Was not deemed ready for full-season club - yet. Still just 18 years old.|
|Quietly hitting very well, with a .329 average, 11 RBI over the last 30 days.|
|Respectable .284 avg, 4 HR, but just 9 RBI, 25% K rate last month.|
|21-year old does everything well, continues to dominate in Double-A.|
|Made surprising jump from high-A to MLB and hit in all seven games.|
|Fanned 26, but 40 hits, 11 BB in 28.1 IP means 7.81 ERA in last 30 days.|
|In first extended duty, 25/7 K/BB in 28.2 IP last month with 3.77 ERA.|
|2 FSL Pitcher of Week awards. Still up/down, but 2.96 ERA last month.|
The top 10
The top five remained the same as last month, though Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly deserve mention for strong performance. As mentioned above, Flaherty and Sierra received bumps up.
Fernandez slipped into the top 10, as Edmundo Sosa dropped down several places. In fact, I made a cognizant decision to rank DeJong ahead of Sosa.
|Quietly raking. 7 HR, 20 RBI last month leads entire system.|
|21 y/o batted .282 last month, but 17 Ks, just 4 BB means OBP low.|
|Too many baserunners (1.6 WHIP) led to 3.86 ERA last month.|
|22 y/o lefty returning toward prior consistency after so-so start.|
|Quietly off to one of best starts in system. Polish + results|
|Like Weaver, strong comeback from injury. Can help StL.|
|17||Eliezer Alvarez||14||Spr DL||2B|
|Before high ankle sprain, hit .212 with 37.5% K rate last month.|
|Great start to season turned into 5.71 ERA last 30 days.|
|Lower velo from 18 y/o Cuban who received $1.9 MM.|
|Respectable .264 average, plated 15, stole 5 of 7 last month.|
The second 10
I mentioned Marco Gonzales’ rise above and was tempted to improve Zac Gallen’s ranking further, but will continue to watch before moving him ahead of Jake Woodford and Austin Gomber.
Eliezer Alvarez takes a hit both due to a tough start at Springfield and a significant injury. Connor Jones’ recent difficulties are also troubling, but those right behind him are not excelling.
|Back from injury again. .429 OBP, .545 SLG promising, but it is early.|
|Finally made 2017 debut on Wed 5/17. 1 R in 3.1 IP.|
|20 y/o had promising start, but last 30 days has 5.96 ERA.|
|22-year old has ugly 8.31 ERA over last 30 days.|
|.254 average last month better, but only two RBI.|
|StL's big international signing in 2015 heading for JC or SC?|
|Really struggling with .169 avg., .210 OBP, 1 RBI last month.|
|3 HR, 9 RBI, .253 average last month ok, but not eye-popping.|
|Newly-mastered breaking ball changing MLB perceptions.|
|18-year old Cuban with $2.35MM bonus headed for short-season.|
I imagine everyone wants to see Nick Plummer shed the injury-prone label and succeed. The very early returns, just 14 games in, are encouraging.
Like Gonzales, John Gant should either move up (or possibly down) with a few more starts under his belt.
Several players in this group are scuffling, including Hicks, Ryan Helsley and Bryce Denton.
As noted above, Tuivailala has parachuted into this grouping.
|31||Daniel Poncedeleon||32||Mem DL||RHS|
|Best AAA starter before serious head injury. Hoping for best.|
|Settling into MWL. .292 average and 11 RBI over last month.|
|20 y/o with good peripherals last month, but just 4.66 ERA.|
|Really struggling with .174 avg, all singles, 0 RBI last month.|
|Thriving as Palm Beach leadoff man since Sierra left.|
|Control artist went from rough patch to dominating stretch.|
|Prospect rebirth continues. 20 G hitting streak, 12 SB last month.|
|Line similar to Hicks last month. Too many walks, ERA at 6.|
|Leading Peo - 6 home runs, 17 RBI in last 30 days alone.|
|26 y/o showing no signs of slowing down in big AAA debut.|
As mentioned up top, Jeremy Martinez and Mayers are among those who dropped, while I see positive momentum from Pearce, Mercado, Knizner and Voit.
|Very consistent 3.06 ERA, 24/9 K/BB in 32.1 IP at AAA.|
|21-year old's struggles bad enough to cause move to pen.|
|43||Rowan Wick||38||Mem DL||RHR|
|Decent AAA start deteriorated (8.31 ERA) before injury and DL.|
|Too many baserunners (1.7 WHIP) leads to 6.64 ERA last month.|
|22 y/o lefty with poor 5.49 ERA in last month of MWL return.|
|Lowest level catcher to get major time in StL spring camp.|
|Ice cold start, then red hot since. .330 average last 30 days.|
|17-year old was a .300 hitter in 2016 DSL now in the US.|
|.331 BA and .429 OBP in DSL last summer before brief GCL intro.|
|6 HR, 19 RBI, but .253 average, 28% K rate in last 30 days.|
Three pitchers in this grouping skidded from the 31-40 grouping last month – Williams, Wick and Derian Gonzalez. Arturo Reyes is the key newcomer here.
|Palm Beach cleanup man scuffling with .209 average last month.|
|Venezuelan 16-year old sent down to DSL from spring trainng.|
|Earned promotion to Memphis. Too early to assess impact.|
|22 y/o moved into rotation and logged 2.55 ERA last month.|
Dropped out and honorable mentions
The drops were all covered above. The only honorable mention who caught my eye is new Peoria starter Mike O’Reilly. Of course, we are not far away from major changes as the 2017 Draft is conducted and short-season ball gets underway.
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?
Join the discussion at The Cardinal Nation’s members-only forum to offer your comments and questions about these rankings – and any other Cardinals topics on your mind.
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