|Original Published Date: October 16, 2015|
The Cardinals have done an amazing job of building a continuous winning major league club through intelligent trades and free agent acquisitions, but also through excellent drafting and player development. While they’re not perfect as was evident from the Rob Kaminsky for Bradnon Moss trade (we hated it!), overall, the Cardinals are one of the best major franchises in the game.
While their farm system has thinned, they still have one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues in Alex Reyes. Uber-athletic with electric stuff, Reyes has a ceiling a number one, with a chance to see St. Louis as soon as next year. Marco Gonzales is the most big league ready prospect in the system and in fact has pitched 37.1 innings already at the big league level. After that, the Cardinals get very young.
Like Reyes, left-handed starter Jack Flaherty is another very athletic pitcher with a great arm. Mind you, he’s not in the same class as Reyes, but he could be a solid mid-rotation starter. Nick Plummer, the Cardinals first round draft pick in 2015, is another promising talent with a chance to be a solid-regular outfielder at the major league level.
While the system is thin, there is talent and the Cardinals know how to develop that talent. Consequently, the system should never be ignored as the likelihood that several of their players will exceed their scouting profiles is high.
|2016 Age: 21||Ceiling: #1 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
A member of the Mount Rushmore of the best minor leagues pitchers (Lucas Giolito, Tyler Glasnow, Julio Urias, and Alex Reyes), Alex Reyes is quickly moving up prospect lists as his performance is starting to support his scouting report. To start the season, Reyes dominated the Florida State League by striking out almost 14 per nine while not giving up a home run in 63.2 innings. The dominating performance continued upon his promotion to the Texas league where he struck out 13.5 per nine while posting a 3.12 ERA. His control is getting better but it’s still inconsistent, resulting in an inflated 4.53 walk per nine rate across his 21 starts in 2015.
The Cardinals know that they have something special in Reyes and will continue to move slowly with him. He just turned 21 in August and while there is a chance he sees St. Louis in 2016 it could come in the bullpen (ala Carlos Martinez). All he needs is time to harness his plus arsenal. When it comes, it’s going to be special.
Scouting Report: Where to start…when you see Reyes on the mound, three things jump out at you:
- The smooth mechanics that are born out of extreme athleticism that with time, he should be able to repeat them consistently. When he does, and it’s happened several times, he can put up monster numbers. For instance: June 17, Reyes faced 25 batters and struck out 13 while walking one; on August 14, Reyes faced 19 batters, striking out 10 and walking one.
- A power arsenal that consists of a fastball that sits 94 to 98 MPH, but usually hits triple digits at some point during each game and a curve ball that might be outlawed in five states. The curve ball is a classic 12 to 6 downer but thrown at 78 to 81 MPH. With the increased velocity, it has a slightly sharper break than a traditional curve ball. The change-up is his third pitch and also thrown hard at 88 to 91 MPH. Some believe it could be just as effective as his curve ball.
- Mound presence. It’s hard to write about it but when you see Reyes, he has it. He commands the diamond, looks the part and provides a level of moxy that elite athletes can bring.
Reyes has the arsenal and athleticism to be an ace. He just needs time to develop more consistent control and fastball command. Once it’s there, watch out.
Fantasy Impact: Reyes was a buy-low candidate last year but no more. He’s a top 10 prospect and rising. You still have to believe that his command and control will improve, but his extreme athleticism and smooth delivery points to high probability that it will happen. He has ace future potential.
|2016 Age: 20||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2018-19|
Taken in the first round of the 2014 first year player draft, Jack Flaherty has quietly had a very good year starting for the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League. In 95.0 innings, he posted a 2.84 ERA with a strikeout an inning and a very good 2.94 walk-per-nine rate. He did spend nearly a month of the disabled list with a back issue in April, but it did not seem to have any lasting effects on his year.
Scouting Report: Flaherty comes from the pitching factory of Westlake High School in California, home of Lucas Giolito and Max Fried. Like his two predecessors, Flaherty has a great pitchers body and stuff that is starting to emerge as he grows and matures. His fastball currently sits 90 to 93 MPH but the Cardinals have been working on his mechanics and there is likely another grade in there. He throws an 84 to 86 MPH two-plane slider that isn’t yet a great pitch as it lacks bite. However, his change-up is very advanced and has been his primary out-pitch.
At Prospect361.com, we love projectable athletic pitchers with very good raw stuff. That fits Jack Flaherty to a tee. As he matures, the upside is a strong number three starter with a good chance to be more.
Fantasy Impact: Despite our best efforts last year, Flaherty is not a household name yet in Dynasty Leagues. He’s good, with a chance to be really good and now is the time to go acquire him. The upside is a strikeout an inning with much better than league average ratios; pitching for a great organization with a history of developing pitchers. What’s not to like…
|2016 Age: 19||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht: 5-10 Weight: 200||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2019|
Over the past several years, the Cardinals have taken arms, particularly college arms as their first pick in each June’s first year player draft. In 2015, they changed course and took a high school outfielder in Nick Plummer. That said, in keeping with their conservative drafting approach, Plummer has excellent skills but doesn’t have those crazy tools that many teams look for in the first round. In other words, Plummer has a high floor but a low ceiling that should allow him to move quickly through the system.
Scouting Report: Despite batting .228 in 51 games in his first taste of professional ball, Plummer demonstrated his mature approach by posting a 56K/39BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. His contact rate was not great but the swing mechanics suggest that he should in fact make better contact than what he has shown to date. He has plus bat speed and at 5-foot-11 and a solid 200 pounds, he has the tools to have above-average future power. While he also has current above-average speed, as he fills-out, stolen bases will become less part of his game than it is today.
Defensively, Plummer has the athleticism to play center field, but again as he fills-out, he will likely be moved to a corner with left being the most likely spot.
Fantasy Impact: Plummer should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues with 200 or less minor league slots. The tools are not loud but he has all the elements to have a plus hit-tool and the bat speed to project to hit 12 to 18 home runs. Add it all up and the profile suggest a top 50 outfielder with a ceiling of a .270 batting average, .340 on-base percentage, 12 to 18 home runs, and 8 to 10 stolen bases.
|2016 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2014|
For their first pick in the 2013 first year player draft, the Cardinals decided to go with a high-floor college starter in Marco Gonzales. It was a drafting pattern that worked the previous year when the Cardinals took Michael Wacha in the first round. While Gonzales stuff is a grade lower than Wacha, he still has the skills to be a mid-rotation starter at the highest level.
If you believe in good bloodlines and amateur success than that gives Gonzales another plus in the pro-column. He won four consecutive high school championships and his father, Frank Gonzales, was a career minor league pitcher and eventual pitching coach and minor league manager in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Scouting Report: Gonzales is more command and control, than pure stuff. His fastball sits 88 to 91 MPH with a double-plus change-up and a slider that he uses as a change of pace pitch. He can throw all three offerings for strikes with plus fastball command. His career minor league walk rate of 2.18 demonstrates the level of control he has; which was much better than what he showed in his limited exposure in the big leagues in 2014.
While the stuff is not plus, Gonzales is a bit more than just a classic “command and control pitcher.” Typically, pitchers that rely entirely on spotting their pitches are no more than a number four or five starter. Gonzales should be better than that with a number three ceiling very achievable.
Fantasy Impact: The Cardinals know how to develop pitchers and that should help Gonzales meet his ceiling. He has the upside of a mid-rotation starter with seven strikeouts per nine and league average ratios. He does pitch in the lower half of the zone, so home runs should not be an issue.
|2016 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 170||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017-18|
After getting a late start to the season with some arm soreness, Luke Weaver put up impressive numbers in the Florida State League. In 19 starts, he posted a 1.62 ERA, good for fourth best in the league for starters, while striking out 7.52 per nine and walking a meager 1.62 per nine. It was an impressive performance, but one you might expect from a college arm taken in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Weaver will likely start the 2016 season in Double-A with a chance to help the Cardinals in the second half if injuries hit the big league club. The upside is a solid mid-rotation starter.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Luke Weaver looks more like a high school junior than a 21-year-old top prospect in professional baseball. Despite his rather thin frame, Weaver has a solid three pitch mix that consists of a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH, a classic 12 to 16 downer curve, and a plus change-up that can keeps both arm and glove-side batters off balance. Most importantly, he has present control and command of each pitch and therefore limits the number of free passes.
His polish and pitchability will be what gets him to the major leagues, but there is worry about his ability to log big innings given his frame. Candidly, it’s not a frame conducive for adding weight and therefore it could be a problem going forward. However, he’s good, very good and should be able to help the Cardinals as early as 2016.
Fantasy Impact: Weaver will be one of those guys that has instant success upon his promotion to the big leagues. While the stuff is not nearly what Reyes can bring, he can control it and knows how to pitch. Durability is a concern but until then, fantasy owners can expect seven strikeouts per nine and better than league average ratio and of course, the opportunity for plenty of wins.
|2016 Age: 20||Ceiling: Solid Reg
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 160||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2019|
While the Cardinals have played it safe in the Rule 4 draft, they have not in Latin America. They have signed several toolsy players and Magneruis Sierra epitomizes that strategy. Signed for $100,000 in 2012, Sierra excelled in his first exposure outside of the Dominican Republic when he batted .386 in 52 games as an 18-year-old in the Gulf Coast League. The Cardinals decided to reward Sierra with a full-season promotion to start the 2015 season and it was overwhelming. In 51 games, he batted .191 with 52 strikeouts and seven walk.
While fans never like to see failure in their minor league players, it’s part of the process and can actually help in the development process. Sierra bounced back once he was deployed to the Appy League and played very well, posting a .765 OPS.
Scouting Report: Sierra is extremely athletic with plus foot speed that should continue to translate into stolen bases. He has plenty of bat speed but the swing is currently more line drive oriented. He has added some bulk since last year and the strength has been evident in batting practice. As he adds more strength and bulk, the ceiling is 12 to 18 home runs annually.
The approach is where the Sierra and Cardinals need to focus. He can be very aggressive and can be fooled by spin. That was one of his biggest problems in the Low-A. Again, it’s part of the process and something the Cardinals will work on as he progresses through the system.
Fantasy Impact: We say it all the time, for every 5 to 10 minor league players on your squad, you need a high-risk, toolsy player. Sierra is one of those lottery picks. If the approach doesn’t improve, he might not make it out of Double-A, but if it does, the ceiling is a top-of-the-order hitter with 30 plus stolen bases and 12 to 18 home runs. It’s a lottery pick but you need those on your team.
|2016 Age: 23||Ceiling: 2nd Div
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 175||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2016|
We’ve always liked Charlie Tilson. In fact in 2012, we wrote the following about him:
While he lost an entire year of development, there is still a ton of upside. I really like Tilson’s swing and believe he’ll make excellent contact and with plus-speed, he has top-of-the-order potential.
It took a while but 2015 was his breakout. In 133 games in Double-A, he batted .297 with an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio and 46 stolen bases. His 46 stolen bases were indeed impressive as he had never stolen more than 15 bases in a year.
Scouting Notes: Tilson is very athletic with a nice compact swing that is short to the ball. It’s a swing more oriented to gap power than over-the-fence power but he’s strong enough and with enough bat speed to hit a handful each year. His strike zone awareness took a step forward moving from a middling 6.0% in 2014 to 8.3% in 2015.
His carrying tool is his plus speed that translates both well in the outfield and on the base paths. As a center fielder, he’s a plus defender with good route-running ability that is made better by his speed. On the base paths, he improved his reads on pitchers and that translated into increase in stolen bases.
Fantasy Impact: If Tilson had more power, he would have the skill-set to be an impact player at the highest level. However, a contact-oriented speedster could make him a better fantasy player than major league player. While playing time could be a concern going forward, particularly in St. Louis, the fantasy upside could be a .280 hitter with 30 plus stolen bases.
|2016 Age: 19||Ceiling: 2nd Div
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2019-20|
Taken in the second round of the 2015 first year player draft, Bryce Denton struggled in his first exposure to professional ball. In 155 at-bats in the GCL, he posted a .194 batting average while striking out 32 times. While I’m sure he would have loved to have performed better, Denton was one of the youngest players in the draft class and was likely just adjusting to life as a professional athlete.
Scouting Report: Despite his slow start, Denton has a very nice swing with plenty of bat speed that should eventually translate into future above-average, if not more power. In batting practice, he takes professional swings, showing hard contact and power to all fields. He has average current speed which will likely further diminish as he continues to mature and fill out.
He primarily played third base in high school and has a strong arm that should translate well in right field if the Cardinals decide he can’t stay in the dirt. So far, he has played exclusively at third base.
Fantasy Impact: The bat should play for Denton and that should put him on all watch lists for Dynsty League owners. While he could start next season at Quad Cities in the Midwest League, the Cardinals will likely keep him in extended spring training to start the season and then to a short-season affiliate for the remainder of the year. There’s something there, but he’s very young and should only be owned in the deepest of fantasy leagues.
|2016 Age: 19||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 210||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2019|
In the competitive balance section of the 2015 first round, the Cardinals selected prep right-hander Jake Woodford. Woodford got late helium given his projectable frame and his ability to touch the mid-90’s with his fastball. His introduction to professional ball went well, highlighted by a crazy 41 to 3 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that ratio before, but it does show how hard his heavy fastball is to elevate.
Scouting Report: Woodford is a Dir. of Player Development’s dream. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he’s got great size to go with good athleticism with a fastball that can hit the mid-90’s. He flashes the ability to spin a curve ball, but he’s primarily a fastball thrower. If you’re looking for raw upside, it’s the right profile. Plus, the Cardinals have a history of turning that type of talent into a major league pitcher. Will it happen with Woodford? Time with tell…
Fantasy Impact: Woodford is not ownable in a Dynasty League but he’s a name that owners should be familiar. The raw tools are there, let’s see if the Cardinals can make something of it.
|2016 Age: 21||Ceiling: 2nd Div
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 175||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2018|
Oscar Mercado provided a glimpse on why the Cardinals went over slot in the second round of the 2013 draft to sign him away from his commitment to Florida State. In 117 games in 2015, he slashed .254/.297/.341 with four home runs and 49 stolen bases. It was the 49 stolen bases that got our attention and the inclusion into the Top 10 list.
Scouting Report: Mercado has natural bat-to-ball skills with a level swing to go along with good bat speed. The swing is line-drive oriented but he has enough strength to hit a handful of home runs annually. Where his skills shine is on the base paths. While he grades out as a 60 runner, he has great instincts with the ability to time pitchers moves. While we would prefer a bit more raw speed, he should be able to steal 20 plus bases per year as he moves through the minor leagues.
Defensively, Mercado has improved and most observers believe he should able to stay at the position long-term. However, the profile is really that of utility player and he has enough athleticism to play multiple infield and outfield positions.
Fantasy Impact: The Cardinals system thins out in a hurry and in most organizations, Mercado would not make a Top 10 list. However, if you steal 50 bases, fantasy owners should know about you.
2016 Emerging Prospect
Edmundo Sosa (OF)
Signed out of Panama in 2012 for a $425,000 signing bonus, Edmundo Sosa had a very nice season as a 19-year-old in the Appy League. He has a good approach at the plate and makes solid, hard contact and with his plus speed, should develop into an above-average hitter. While he only stole six bases in eight attempts, he has plus speed that should translate into 20 plus stolen bases annually. Remember, speed is one thing…learning to steal bases is another. We saw the progression with Charlie Tilson and should see the same thing with Sosa.