|Original Published Date: October 7, 2016|
The Cardinals have been passed by their rival, the Cubbies, as the crème of the crop in the NL Central. I know it’s painful for one of the best baseball cities in the country, but the Cardinals are getting older and their young players are not at the same level as the veterans they will be replacing. Plus, the Cubs are just really good.
In researching the Cardinals system, one word keeps coming to mind – uneven. Alex Reyes, the number one prospect in the system and the best pitcher in the minor leagues, has a chance to be a number one starting pitcher. After that, the system just drops off. Delvin Perez, the Cards first pick in the 2016 MLB Draft has a ton of upside but his stocked dropped when he tested positive for a drug test as an amateur. I also like Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver, but they are more mid-rotation starters and not impact players at the highest level.
After Perez, the top positional player in the system is Magneuris Sierra, an athletic top-of-the-order outfielder who is likely three years away. While a lot of people love Harrison Bader, I think he’s a tweener; more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. I also thought that about Randal Grichuk and despite a sub-.300 OBP, he is the current centerfielder for the team.
While the system is pointing down, I would not count the Cardinals out by any stretch. They have a long history of getting the most out of their talent and making small trades that seem to go in their direction. Will it be enough to catch the Cubs? I don’t think so.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Fantasy Ace
Alex Reyes season got off to a late start as the right-hander sat on the bench serving his 50 game suspension for testing positive for marijuana. Once he got back into game action, Reyes did what he’s always done: strike out batters at an impressive rate but also walking batters at an equally impressive rate.
In 14 games started in Triple-A, Reyes struck out 12.8 per nine but also walked 4.4 per nine. The Cardinals saw that and decided to do what they did with Carlos Martinez in 2013; promote Reyes to the major leagues as a bullpen arm and spot starter. He performed well, doing what he did in the minors, striking out a lot of guys but battling his control.
To make the point, we can look at his September 3rd outing against the Pirates. In 3.2 innings, he gave up two hits, struck out six and didn’t walk anybody. In his next outing, he pitched 4.1 innings of relief, gave up one hit, struck out four but walked six. It’s just a battle for Reyes, but I believe it will be one that he overcomes. We just need to be patient with him.
Scouting Report: Reyes has the size, arsenal and athleticism to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation. His inability to repeat his delivery is very common for pitchers at his age and development. It’s easy to write him off as a “reliever because he can’t throw strikes”, but remember, he just turned 22-years-old last August, making him the third youngest starter in the PCL. And for those of you down on Julio Urias, he was the youngest pitcher in the PCL, a full two-years younger than Reyes.
Reyes has 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 plus curve ball. 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.
Reyes also has very smooth mechanics with an easy delivery that looks like he’s just playing catch with his receiver. His source of control problems is his inability to consistently repeat his delivery. He will just get lost with his mechanics from time-to-time during a start and when that happens, he doesn’t finish off his pitches, missing his location badly. Again, I believe he will fix this over time and Cardinals fans and fantasy owners just need to remain steadfastly patient.
Fantasy Impact: I still believe Reyes has the highest upside of any pitcher in the minor leagues. I also believe he’ll be a starter. If the control doesn’t come around, could he move to the bullpen? Sure, but with a strong chance to be a closer. For a fantasy owner, it’s a win-win.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Shortstop
Delvin Perez was looking like a lock for a Top 10 selection in the 2016 MLB draft, but a failed drug test for steroids dropped his stock considerably. The Cardinals swooped in and took Perez with the 23rd overall pick and paid him a $2.2 million dollar signing bonus. While this was far less than what he would have received before the positive drug test, it was still a very nice pay day for the teenager. More importantly, hopefully it was a life lesson that the he will learn from.
Once Perez got back on the field, he flashed impressive skills both in the field and at the plate. In 43 games, he posted a .294 batting average with a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 12 stolen bases. In the field, he showed his plus glove and quickness, making both the simple play and the highlight reel.
Scouting Report: Perez’s defensive chops are clearly ahead of his offensive skills. He’s a true shortstop with excellent quickness, a strong arm, and impressive instincts. Sources have compared him defensively to the likes of Francisco Lindor and Tony Fernandez.
Offensively, he’s very raw. While he handled the GCL without problems, there is a long way to go. He does have excellent bat speed and enough physicality to handle advanced velocity. What he lacks is the ability to handle off-speed pitches. Given he played the entire 2016 season as a 17-year-old, that is not all that unusual.
His best offensive tool is his double-plus speed. In 43 games, he stole 12 bases while only being caught once. This skill should continue to translates as he progresses through the minor league system with the upside to steal 30 plus stolen bases at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: Perez is three to four years away for contributing at the major league level. That said, the fantasy upside could be high. His defense will allow him to get consistent playing time and at a minimum, a fantasy owner should be able to book 30 stolen bases. I do think he will hit and that his bat speed should allow him to hit a handful of home runs annually. If you add it all up, it’s a Top 15 fantasy shortstop profile.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
I first saw Luke Weaver last year in the Arizona Fall League and was impressed. He had good velocity, hitting 96 MPH on my radar gun and knew how to pitch. I wasn’t surprised when the Cardinals brought him up, basically skipping Triple-A (he had one start there) to provide some depth to the rotation when Michael Wacha went down.
He pitched well in the big leagues, posting a 5.85 ERA in seven starts. He did give up six home runs but because of his plus control, he was not hurt too badly. While many are saying that he profiles as a top-of-the-rotation talent, I’m taping the brakes on that upside and believe he’s more of a number three/four starter.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Luke Weaver looks more like a high school junior than a 22-year-old major league pitcher. Despite his rather thin frame, Weaver has a solid two pitch mix that consists of a fastball that sits 92 to 93 MPH and a plus change-up that can keeps both arm and glove-side batters off balance. His curve ball is still very much a work-in-progress and he rarely throws it. His stuff plays up because he has plus control and therefore limits the number of free passes.
While his polish and pitchability is what got him to the major leagues, I do worry about his small frame and whether he can log big innings. Additionally, his lack of plane on his pitches is also a red flag. I think he’ll be homer prone and that is why I’m projecting a low number three ceiling.
Fantasy Impact: Don’t be surprised if the league catches up to Weaver next season. While I understand the belief that Yadier Molina makes pitchers better, Weaver needs to improve his curve ball and introduce a two-seamer to help with his lack of plane. If he does that, then I think there is upside for fantasy owners.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
It was a solid year for Jack Flaherty as he posted a 3.63 ERA in 23 starts in the Florida State League. While the ERA might not look impressive, he struck out over a batter an inning while walking 3.2 per nine. He also did this as one of the youngest pitchers in the league.
The Cardinals continue to be impressed with his advanced feel for pitching and will continue to push him hard next year with an assignment to Double-A likely to begin the year. I expect him to pitch the entire season there with a chance to see St. Louis in 2018.
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, we love projectable athletic pitchers with very good raw stuff. While that fits Flaherty, the stuff did not take the uptick we had hoped in 2016. That doesn’t mean it won’t, but the ceiling might be more of a 3/ 4 instead of a 3/ 2.
Fantasy Impact: We still like Flaherty a lot as he can really pitch. If his fastball can tick up a notch, he has a chance to be an impact fantasy contributor. We are still not ruling it out but owners need to be patient and hope he continues to develop.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
After struggling in his first full-season ball as a 19-year-old in 2015, the Cardinals did a do-over with Magneuris Sierra and the Dominican outfielder responded very well. In 122 games, he hit .307 with three home runs and 31 stolen bases. The 31 stolen bases ranked third in the Midwest League.
Despite the setback last year, the Cardinals continue to be very high on Sierra and see him as a dynamic top-of-the-order bat. They will also continue to be careful with him over the next two years and will likely move him one-level at a time.
Scouting Report: Sierra’s carrying tool is his double-plus speed that he shows both on the base paths and in the field. He’s a plus defender with a great first step who runs good routes that will only get better as he gains experience. While he stole 31 bases last season, he also was caught 17 times. This shouldn’t happen with 70-grade speed and as he learns to read pitcher’s moves better, he will become a better base stealer.
His hit-tool is also very raw as the approach is very aggressive and he needs to learn to make better contact in order to allow his plus speed to play better. While he only hit three home runs, he has enough bat speed to project high single-digit home runs in the future.
Fantasy Impact: Raw is the best way to describe Sierra. While the ceiling is a Top 40 fantasy outfielder, there’s a long way to go. The power and hit-tool are still on the come. However, the speed is real and should play at worse as a fourth outfielder. I would be drafting him on Dynasty Leagues with 300 minor league players rostered.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP or Closer
Dakota Hudson was the Friday starter for Mississippi State and many thought he would be one of top three college pitchers drafted in the 2016 MLB draft. However, he pitched poorly down the stretch and fell to the Cardinals at pick 34. The Cardinals were thrilled and paid the 6-foot-6 right hander a well over slot signing bonus of $2 million dollars.
Given his heavy college workload, the Cardinals kept things pretty simple for Hudson, limiting him to 15 to 20 pitches per outing. He had little trouble, posting a 0.68 ERA across the GCL and High-A. I was actually pleased that the Cardinals moved him to High-A as that is an appropriate level for a player of his college-level experience.
Scouting Report: While on the surface, it appears that the Cardinals received a lot of value when Hudson fell to them, there are questions on whether he will remain a starter. He throws hard with a fastball that sits 93 to 94 MPH and a cutter that sits in the upper 80’s. He’s able to effectively change eye-level with a curve ball and change-up that can both miss bats. That’s two plus pitches and two average to above-average pitches…so what’s the problem?
The delivery is the concern as there is a lot of effort, landing awkwardly at times. In college though, he threw strikes and in his limited exposure in professional baseball, he’s thrown strikes. Regardless, he’s a big kid that throws hard and whether he comes up as a starter or a reliever, pitchers who throw in the mid-90’s and stand 6-foot-6 more times than not, make the big leagues.
Fantasy Impact: I’m actually bullish on Hudson as a fantasy asset. He’s big, strong, and throws hard. He does lack athleticism, which is what could push him to the bullpen, but even with that path, it’s closer stuff. I will not be sleeping on Hudson in drafts this winter and will be targeting him in the second or third round in a rookie draft.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15-20 Shortstop
The Cardinals pushed Edmundo Sosa very hard in his first full season of professional ball. They started the 20-year-old Dominican in Peoria where he batted .268 with three home runs and five stolen bases. He made 80% contact but also was extremely aggressive, walking only 5% of the time. In late July, he was promoted to the Florida State League where he played nine games before finishing the season on the DL.
Scouting Report: Sosa is a solid all-around player with enough athleticism and arm to stay at shortstop. Offensively, he has enough bat speed to have average, if not tick above average power. He’s only an average runner and as he continues to mature, will likely not be a threat on the base paths. Assuming, he can tone down his aggressiveness, he should develop an above-average hit tool with a .270/.320/.400 slash line ceiling.
While he bats from the right side and is smaller, his game does remind me of Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius. Sosa should be a solid defender with enough offensive to make him a starting shortstop in the major leagues.
Fantasy Impact: If his power develops and he tones down his aggressiveness, Sosa could be a top 15 to 20 shortstop in fantasy. That’s not a star, but a solid middle infielder in deeper leagues.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire OF
Harrison Bader was one of the most talked about players in the early going of 2016 as he dominated Double-A. Through April, he was batting .338 with five home runs and by the end of May, he had added another six bombs and was slugging .559. My twitter feed was full of “Who is Harrison Bader” tweets and I was seeing some impressive trades for him in Dynasty Leagues. In one trade that he me shaking my head, he went straight-up for Austin Meadows. Look, I like Harrison Bader but trading him for Meadows straight-up, come on now…
What Bader also had on May 31st, was a .392 BABIP, a 25% strikeout rate and a 5.1% walk rate. As things happen more than not, June was the correction month as Bader hit .221 with a 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He did get promoted to Triple-A, and wound up with a .652 OPS. This is about what his skills predict; a nice player with a chance to a solid fourth outfielder or a bit more.
Scouting Report: Bader has solid tools across the board but with no standout tool. He has average bat speed but has the size to hit 12 to 18 home runs annually. He’s also an average runner with a chance to steal double-digit bases annually. However, he doesn’t get good jumps on the base paths and this showed in his 9 stolen bases in 19 attempts in Double-A. He’s also a very aggressive hitter who doesn’t make great contact.
Defensively, he’s a tweener. He doesn’t have the speed to profile in center field but also doesn’t have the arm to profile in right. He would be fine in left, but I don’t think the bat will be enough there.
Fantasy Impact: Ok, so if you couldn’t tell, I’m not high on Bader. I think the ceiling is a second division outfielder but he’s likely a fourth outfielder in the major leagues and a guy who’s on the waiver wire in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues. For the guy who gave up Austin Meadows for him, I think you’ll be regretting that one…
Highest Level: DNP, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 Of
It was a lost season for Nick Plummer, the Cardinals 2015 first round pick. After breaking his hamate bone in Spring Training, he had to have a second surgery in April to repair a tear in his hand. Plummer did play in the Fall Instructional League and looked healthy and should be fine for next year.
Scouting Report: The lost year hurts but Plummer is extremely talented and should be able to make up for lost time. When healthy, he has mature approach that he showed in 2015 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’s stock should be down in the off season and that should create a buying opportunity. The tools are not extreme, 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.
Highest Level: Rookie Ball, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 Of
In what appeared to be a recipe to save money, the Cardinals selected 17-year-old high school outfielder Dylan Carson as the 33rd overall player in the 2016 MLB draft. Even though they saved money with the pick, the Cardinals decided to take him in the first round because they were convinced he would not be there when they picked again at pick 70.
As one of the youngest players taken in the draft, Carlson held his own in the GCL, batting .251 while posting a 3.25-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Scouting Report: Carlson doesn’t have a true carrying tool as the sum of the tools are better than any individual tool. As a switch hitter, he has enough bat speed and size that he should develop above-average future power. He’s currently an average runner, so speed will not likely be part of his profile long-term.
What most people believe is that Carlson should be able to hit. He has a good rhythmic swing and makes hard contact to all fields. While the Cardinals have him playing center field in the GCL, his lack of foot speed will eventually move him to a corner spot will he should be able to hit enough to become an everyday regular.
Fantasy Impact: Carlson is a player to keep an eye on in Dynasty Leagues. While the tools are not off the chart, the ceiling is a .270 hitter with 18 to 20 home runs annually.
2017 Emerging Prospect
The Cardinals signed Sandy Alcantara out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 and he’s been moving quickly through the system, reaching High-A last season. His money pitch is his 80-grade fastball that he can run up to triple digits. The problem is he has 30-grade control with a delivery that has a lot of effort. However, with that arm strength, Alcantara has a chance to make it to the big leagues as either a starter or a bullpen arm. If he is moved to the bullpen and assuming he improves his secondary pitches, he could have the arsenal to be a closer.