|Original Published Date: October 20, 2017|
The Cardinals have gotten more out of their farm system last season than I would have thought. I never thought Tommy Pham or Paul DeJong would develop into the players they have become. Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver also flashed the kind of stuff that might make them solid mid-rotation starters. They miss though an ace and that guy probably spent the entire season recovering from Tommy John Surgery. That player, of course, is Alex Reyes and continues to lead the list. Assuming he comes back healthy, has number one starter upside.
While the Cardinals had some wins in their development process, they also had their share of disappointments. The biggest being that of Delvin Perez, their 2016 first round pick. He had a tough season but is still very young but did continue to flash elite defensive skills.
The NL Central is stacked and the Cardinals are well positioned to compete over the next several years. With the big free agent class of 2019 coming and money to spend, they could complement their core of young players with some missing pieces to compete for the whole shooting match by 2020.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Fantasy Ace
Alex Reyes crushed a lot of Cardinals fans souls as well as fantasy owners, yours truly included, when he tore his UCL in his right elbow early in Spring Training and was lost for the season. It’s the time that real baseball and fantasy baseball merge. No matter why you follow a player, losing him for the entire season, well…sucks…. You have so much hope and it’s all dashed, even before the season starts.
He has already started the long process of rehabbing. He started a throwing program in July and has recently started throwing off a mound. While he’ll likely start 2018 on the DL, a return back to competitive play seems likely in May or June at the latest. Will he return as the potential dominant pitcher we saw before the injury or something less?. As an owner, or a fan, you simply have to cross your fingers and hope that he will.
Scouting Report: This is what I wrote last year. Until we know more, nothing has changed with Reyes’ upside, just the risk has increased significantly.
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 curveball. The curveball 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 curveball. 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 curveball.
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: Do you sell Reyes or hold-on? I own him in one Dynasty League and have elected to hold him. In fact, at this point, you might as well see how it all plays out. My best guess: he’ll struggle early with his control but eventually will return to the form we thought he would be. Remember, he’s a great athlete and that could be the difference in his recovery.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
We’ve been writing about Jack Flaherty since he was taken in the first round (pick 34) of the 2014 MLB Draft. Our key message was patience.
He arrived in the Cardinals organization as a tall, skinny kid that oozed projection. This year we finally saw the tick-up in fastball velocity and with it came improved statistical performance. While we waffled on his pure upside, I think we can safely say that he’s more of a 2/3 starting pitcher instead of a 3/4.
How good was he? In 10 starts in Double-A, he posted 1.42 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning while walking a microscopic 11 batters in 63.1 innings. It was more of the same upon his promotion to Triple-A where he pitched to a nearly identical stat line. All of this led to him pitching meaningful innings in St. Louis down the stretch.
Assuming Alex Reyes comes back healthy, the Cardinals might have their future 1-2 combination that all championship teams need at the top of the rotation. Now, all they need is a big bopper in the middle of their lineup and they might start challenging the Cubs again for dominance in the NL Central.
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 now sits 92 to 94 MPH, bumping 96. He also throws an 84 to 86 MPH two-plane slider that took a nice step forward last season. His change-up though is his best pitch. It’s an advanced pitch that he can throw consistently for strikes and to-date, it has been his primary out-pitch.
Fantasy Impact: While we admittedly have been waffling on the upside of Flaherty, it’s nice to see him rounding into shape. I think his floor is a solid number four on a fantasy team with the upside to be a top 30 starting pitcher in baseball. He has the plus arsenal, throws strikes and is quickly learning how to pitch.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Catcher
The ascension of Carson Kelly to one of the top prospects in the game is a great story. Drafted at 17-years-old by the Cardinals in the 2013 Draft, teams were mixed on whether he would be developed as a third baseman or a right-handed pitcher. The Cardinals made the decision to have him move off the bump and man third, but changed their mind in 2014 and moved him behind the plate. He really struggled to adapt, but from all accounts, worked extremely hard on his defensive game and has worked himself into the logical successor for Yadier Molina. The problem with being the successor to Molina is that Molina is signed through 2020.
2016 was Kelly’s true breakout season, playing 10 games in St. Louis. He continued to improve both his offensive and defensive game last year and was back in the big leagues in August. While he has yet to hit at the big league level, that was not a problem for him in Triple-A. In 68 games, he hit .283 with an impressive .375 OBP and 10 home runs. Plus, he improved his OPS by 100 points from 2016.
Scouting Report: Developing offensive oriented catchers is difficult. Developing both offensive and defensive-minded catchers is nearly impossible. It looks like the Cardinals are well on their way to accomplish that with Kelly. He controls the strike zone very well with an excellent understanding of the strike zone. He does have good pop but his swing plane is more geared for contact as opposed to over-the-fence power. Because of that, it’s hard to project him to hit more than 15 home runs at the highest level. However, if it comes with a .275 batting average and a .360 OBP, he could be an all-star.
Defensively, he’s not Yadier Molina and likely will never be, but he does have a chance to be a plus defender. He’s still learning the craft, but he has a great arm (remember, he started as a pitcher and third baseman) and is improving quickly as a receiver.
Fantasy Impact: Kelly’s profile is very appealing except for one point. He’s blocked behind a potential hall of fame catcher and Cardinal-lifer. While Dynasty League owners can hide him in the minors for now, what happens when he loses minor league eligibility and you now have to start him? You’ll be losing stats at the catcher position with a part-time player. That might work in a two-catcher deep league, and that might be a stretch, but it definitely won’t work in shallow leagues or one catcher leagues.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
I really thought that Tyler O’Neill would help the Mariners this past season. However, they had other plans and eventually shipped him off to St. Louis for lefty Marco Gonzales. Since I’ve never been a huge fan Gonzales, I thought it was a nice deal for the Cards.
In 2017, O’Neill had a similar season to the one he had in 2016. He slugged nearly .500, hit 31 home runs but struck out 28% of the time resulting in a .246 batting average. While he has improved his strikeout rate over the years, it’s just never going to be Altuvian, so he’ll likely always have downward pressure on his batting average.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to see O’Neill last fall in the AFL and I was left with a very positive impression. First, the guy is jacked. In fact, he reminds me of Gabe Kapler, who when he played had arguably the best body in baseball. However, he never lived up to his ceiling and many people believed it was because of his excessively developed upper body and arms. That argument was supported by an interesting conversation I had with a scout at the AFL and the need to have flexibility in the upper body to be a successful hitter.
Secondly, not only is the power real but it’s more than just pull power. What I saw was a guy who had power to all fields and it was easy power. Batting practice was impressive with fence-clearing blasts all over the place. Finally, he has enough foot speed to steal a handful of bases annually.
The problem is contact or lack thereof. While I know the game has changed, guys who strike out 30% of time wind up with a sub .240 batting average. At some point, teams will change their tune and put more value on getting on base. When that happens, O’Neill’s value will be hurt.
Fantasy Impact: I think a good fantasy comp for O’Neill is Jay Bruce. Bruce had a very high and quick peak before tapering off. I think the same could happen with O’Neill. But while he’s at his peak, it could be 30 home runs with a .240 to .250 batting average and 5 to 10 stolen bases. If it all comes together, that’s an impact fantasy player. Just know that the strikeouts are going to be a problem and that .240 to .250 could become .220 resulting in a bench role…or worse.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
I was really high on Magneuris Sierra last season, ranking him number five in the Cardinals organization. When I re-read what I wrote, I laughed when I saw the following:
…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.
So much for one level at a time. On May 7th the Cardinals plucked Sierra out of High-A, put him on a plane to Atlanta where he started that night in the Major Leagues. He played well that evening and for the rest of his short tenure. In 13 games, he hit .385 and contributed two steals. He saw a few more at-bats the rest of the season in the big leagues but primarily spent the remainder of the year in Double-A. In 81 games, he hit .269 with an 83% contact rate and 17 stolen bases.
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. He did improve his stolen base percentage but still has work to do to become an elite base runner.
His hit-tool has improved but he is still too aggressive at the plate. If he improves his selectivity, it should result in more free passes. That, in turn, will put him in position to become the future leadoff batter for the Cardinals. If he doesn’t, he’s likely a fourth outfielder. While that’s a huge difference in his ceiling projection, he has no power, so getting on base and wreaking havoc is his game. In case you’re wondering, the key is getting on base.
Fantasy Impact: Speed is at a premium in fantasy and Sierra has plenty to share. However, will his approach improve enough to allow his speed to play? The Cardinals clearly think it will, but I’m not so sure. He should definitely be owned in Dynasty Leagues that roster 150 to 200 minor leagues, but know there is risk to his upside.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
Every year I write that Harrison Bader is likely a fourth outfielder and every year he hits close to .300. This year, he took his game to the major leagues and even scored the winning run in his major league debut. I watched the game on TV and I will say one thing. The joy in which he played the game was impressive. Sure it was his first game in the majors, but he truly seemed happy. His hard play and great smile were incredibly appealing.
The stat line continues to be great. In 123 games in Triple-A, he slashed .283/.347/.469 with 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases. The red flag continues to be his aggressiveness at the plate. In his minor league career, he has posted a 6.2% walk rate. It was slightly worse in 2017 (5.9%). But when you combine that with a lifetime 23% strikeout rate, I still maintain he’s more of a fourth outfielder than a full-time regular at the highest level.
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 16 attempts in Triple-A. As mentioned, 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: I know there are many who are very high on Bader. I think he’s a major leaguer for sure, I’m just not sure how good of a fantasy player he will be. If he continues to post a .340 BABIP, he’ll have an impact, but that is likely not to continue. Temper your expectations and if I were you, I’d be selling.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Drafted in the first round (pick 34) of the 2016 MLB Draft, Dakota Hudson is making quick work of the minor leagues. He pitched just 13.1 innings in 2016, but the Cardinals were impressed enough to start him in Double-A to begin the 2017 season. He didn’t miss a beat and came out firing.
In 18 starts, he posted a 2.53 ERA but did give up almost a hit per inning. He demonstrated great control (2.68 BB/9) but despite having good stuff, only struck out a little over six per nine. Still, he showed the Cardinals enough to get a promotion to Triple-A in late July where he started seven games, pitching to a 4.42 ERA. Clearly, the Cardinals have him on the fast path to the major leagues with an excellent chance to make his major league debut sometime next season.
Scouting Report: Despite some delivery issues, the Cardinals seemed convinced that Hudson can be a starter. As the old saying goes…so far, so good. 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 curveball and change-up that can both miss bats. That’s two plus pitches and two average to above-average pitches.
Given his stuff, it is surprising that his strikeout rate is not higher. The primary reason was the Cardinals desire for him to pitch more to contact in order to pitch efficiently. While this is clearly a great goal, I would love to see his strikeout rate closer to eight than six. When you strike someone out, he can’t get a hit. If he hits the ball in play, there’s a 30% chance that the ball will become a hit.
Fantasy Impact: I continue to be bullish on Hudson as a fantasy asset. He’s big, strong, and throws hard. He does lack athleticism, so I think his upside is more of a 3/4 despite could stuff and the ability to throw strikes. I have heard some concern that his delivery will lead him to a career as a bullpen arm.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Oscar Mercado had a nice breakout season in 2017 posting a slash line of .287/.341/.428 in 120 games in Double-A. What was the most encouraging is that he improved his slugging from a woeful .271 in 2016 to .433. He even added 12 home runs. As he has done in the past, he also used his plus speed to steal 38 bases. While it was still a step down from the 50 bases he stole in 2015 at Peoria, it was against superior competition.
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 30 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 a utility player and he has enough athleticism to play multiple infield and outfield positions.
Fantasy Impact: While Mercado doesn’t have a huge ceiling, he has speed and that should put him on Dynasty League owner’s radar. I’m not convinced that the 13 home runs he slugged last year is sustainable but believe 5 to 10 is a more reasonable baseline.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2029-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Due to the much-publicized shenanigans of the Cardinals front office, they did not have a pick until the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft. With that pick, they took college outfielder Scott Hurst out of Cal State Fullerton.
In 55 games in the New York Penn League, Hurst played well. He slashed .282/.354/.432 while hitting three home runs and stealing six bases. He struck out too much at 24% but did show a good understanding of the strike zone, walking 9% of the time.
Scouting Report: Hurst has plenty of tools with plus bat speed to go along with being a 60-runner. Whether he’ll hit enough to get to his tools has always been the question. He will expand the strike zone and start reaching for pitches which leads to strikeouts. If he can cut down on that tendency, he has a chance to be solid-regular major leaguer. But, you can say that about most minor league players.
Fantasy Impact: Hurst has fantasy friendly tools and therefore should be on all Dynasty League owner’s radar. If the strikeout rate decreases, then it will be time to jump on. For now, I have him on my watch list.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS (with increased risk)
It’s been a difficult start to the career of Delvin Perez. First came the revelation of testing positive for PEDs prior to the 2016 MLB Draft and then what can only be described as a bad start to his career. Not only was he held back from a full season assignment to begin the year, but he hit just .140 after 13 games in the Appalachian League and was demoted back a level to Rookie Ball (GCL) where he didn’t do much better. However, the Cardinals decided after two weeks in Jupiter to put him back in the Appy League. Eventually, his season ended with a broken hand in early August.
The net result of all of the moving back and forth was a slash line of .203/.314/.271. If you’re looking for some positives, he walked nearly as much as he struck out in 23 games in the Appy League. Also, remember, he’s a kid. He only turns 19 in November and given the investment the Cardinals have made, he will be given every opportunity to hit his ceiling.
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 and that was clearly evident in his performance last season. He does have excellent bat speed and enough physicality to handle advanced velocity. What he lacks is the ability to handle off-speed pitches.
His best offensive tool is his double-plus speed. In 77 games to-date in the minor leagues, he has stolen 17 bases while only being caught six times. This skill should continue to translate as he progresses through the minor league system with the upside to steal 30 plus stolen bases at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: There are clear warning flags with Perez, but as stated last year and again this year, he’s offensively raw with a long way to go. The athleticism and bat speed are still there for future success and that is what Dynasty League owners need to hold onto. In fact, I would be a buyer of Perez. I wouldn’t overpay, which is more than 75 cents on the dollar, but you buy low and sell high. This is a buy low situation.
2018 Emerging Prospect
The Cardinals took Jordan Hicks in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft as an arm strength guy who needed to turn from a thrower to a pitcher. After a slow 2016 season, he had a mild breakout last season posting a 2.74 ERA with a strike-to-walk-rate of 2:1 in 19 starts across Low and High-A. There’s still a long way to go, but if his secondary stuff continues to improve, he has the upside of a number three starter, if not more.