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St. Louis Cardinals

Original Published Date: October 18, 2019

cardinalsIt was hard to write the Cardinals report.  Sure, the Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman write-ups came easy.  They both have a chance to be full-time regulars in the big leagues.  After that, there’s a lot of fourth outfielders, utility player, and back-of-the-rotation arms in their system.  Unfortunately, a lot of those players are some of their best prospects.  So, I dug a little deeper and presented some names of players with more upside but are further away with a chance to never make it.  After all, many fantasy owners read our work and are not interested in the next 4.25 ERA middle reliever.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Dylan Carlson
  • Biggest Mover: Andrew Knizner
  • Emerging Prospect: Trejyn Fletcher

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

1. Dylan Carlson (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Power-speed with the ability to get on base.  The speed will fade as he matures, but the power should increase

We finally saw the blow-up year that many were expecting to see from Dylan Carlson.  Scouts always loved the upside, but in his three previous seasons, he never hit more than .250 showing modest speed and power.   However, when you scouted Carlson, you saw the bat speed and that he’s a solid runner who is a fine defender in the outfielder.  This year it all came together in Double-A.  In 108 games, he slashed .281/.364/.518 with 21 home runs and 18 stolen bases.  The effort earned him a promotion to Triple-A in August where he’s been even hotter posting a 1.099 OPS with five home runs.

While I know many fantasy owners will want to label Carlson a 20-20 performer and he could be that early in his career.  However, he’s not a burner and as he continues to fill-out, I think the speed will regress.  I do think he’ll hit with solid strike zone awareness and he’s always posted double-digit walk ratios.  This year, he averaged 10.5%.

He should get the call to the Major Leagues sometime in 2020 with a chance to put up solid numbers.  Again, I don’t see a 20-20 performer, particularly in his freshman year, but would instead dial it back to a 15-15 season with a .270 average and a .340 on-base percentage.

2. Nolan Gorman (3B)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: Huge power with huge strikeout concerns.  If you believe he’s Joey Gallo 2.0, go get him.  We are betting the under

I said it last year and I’ll say it again this year, I struggle with evaluating players like Nolan Gorman.  He has light-tower power and can hit a ball out of any ballpark.  However, his strikeout rate will be north of 30% and while he should post a solid walk rate, has just not done that yet.  In fact, the huge power totals he showed in Rookie Ball in 2018 also did not show up in 2019.  Across Low and High-A, he slugged .439 with 15 home runs.

Having said that, we must remember that Gorman is still a teenager and doesn’t turn 20 until next May.  He’s been nightly facing pitchers that are three to four years his senior with many of them pitching in advanced college programs.  While I know fans and fantasy owners might be disappointed in his season, please put the season in context of his age and competition level.

What is real is he has big power which will come with big strikeouts.  If he can walk like Joey Gallo, he has a chance to have a solid Major League career.  But, I’m betting the under and will not be ranking Gorman highly in our Top 100.  I believe there are so many hitters with his profile that I can get his skillset
later in the draft with the likes of Franmill Reyes, Hunter Renfroe, etc…

3. Andrew Knizner (C)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 catcher
  • Tools Summary: Nice hit tool with 15 to 18 home run potential. An obvious concern is when he will get a full-time job in St. Louis?

Andrew Knizner, like Carson Kelly before him, is the designated catcher behind Yadier Molina.  How long will that be?  Molina is signed through 2020 and will be 37 years old and despite some skill erosion, I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to play for a few more years.  If that happens, the Cardinals will be put in a difficult spot.  Would they really take playing time away from an all-time Cardinal great?  I don’t know, but Knizner can play and deserves more playing time than he will likely get.

Knizner had another strong offensive year across Triple-A and the Major Leagues in 2019.  In 66 games in Triple-A, he hit 12 home runs while continuing to control the strike zone very well.  He only struck out 13% of the time while walking 8.6% of the time.  The chance for him to hit for a high batting average and on-base percentage makes him an intriguing catching option for fantasy players.  Sure, I don’t see 20 to 25 home runs, but for a full Major League season, he could slash .270/.340/.425 with 15 to 18 home runs.  That’s a very nice fantasy option provided he gets the playing time.

4. Randy Arozarena (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF or an MLB Fourth Outfielder
  • Tools Summary: Plus speed and showed a better approach in 2019.  He’s on the edge for me between a full-time regular and a fourth outfielder

Randy Arozarena showed a much better approach in 2019 and rode that and a .400 BABIP all the way to the Major Leagues.  He’s an interesting fantasy player in that he has plus speed and makes enough contact that if it all comes together, he could be a top-of-the-lineup threat.

While he hit 12 home runs in Triple-A this year, Arozarena doesn’t have much power and because of that, he has fourth outfielder risk.  But the Cardinals are always looking for outfielders (why they moved Oscar Mercado, I’ll never understand), and Arozarena should get a chance to show what he can do in 2020.  The ceiling is a Top 60 outfielder, but again, he’s more likely a fourth outfielder at the big-league level.

5. Elehuris Montero (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: Nice power with good hand-eye coordination.  However, 2019 wasn’t good and we need to see a bounce-back.

We were aggressive in ranking Elehuris Montero in our pre-season lists and Montero responded by hitting .194 in 59 games in Double-A.  He started the season off slowly and then spent six weeks on the Injured List and could just never get it going.

What happened?  Well, after making good contact in 2018, he struck out 31% of the time in 2019.  He’s always been a bit of free swinger and when you are striking out that much, you’re going to make a lot of outs.  Montero is still just 21 and there is good power in his bat.  Hopefully, things will turn around for him next year as it’s likely the Cardinals will send him back to Double-A.

6. Genesis Cabrera (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP or High-Leveraged reliever
  • Tools Summary: Plus stuff but has not been able to throw enough strikes to be effective.

When your fastball sits 96 to 97 MPH from the left side, you’re going to get a lot of kicks at the can to pitch in the Major Leagues.  Genesis Cabrera got his first shot this year and it went poorly.  In five games, two starts, he pitched to a 6.17 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 11.2 innings, but he also walked seven.  Therein lies the problem.  He has an electric arm with swing and miss stuff but just cannot throw enough strikes to be effective.  So, the question is…will he ever?

He’s a smallish lefty, so we can rule out getting his body in sync with his arm action.  Something that plagues taller pitchers.  Instead, there is a lot of effort in his delivery and it’s causing him to be imbalanced on his landing. In fact, the delivery probably works better in the bullpen.  The Cardinals will continue to start him, and the good news is he only walked 3.5 batters per nine in 20 games in Triple-A.  It’s a small sample size, but nonetheless, it was encouraging.

The ceiling for me continues to be a mid-rotation starter with a strong chance he moves to the bullpen.  We should know his fate in 2020 or 2021 at the latest.

7. Zack Thompson (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: Above-average arsenal with average-at-best control. History of elbow problems also adds concern to the profile.

Zack Thompson was the Cardinals first-round pick last June’s draft (pick #19).  He pitched college ball in Kentucky in the SEC and was the Friday starter where he put up some pretty gaudy strikeout numbers.  In 14 starts covering 90 innings, he struck out 130.  He also walked 34, which was just over three per nine.   Control has always been an issue with Thompson but his stuff misses plenty of bats.

In his first exposure to professional ball, the strikeouts were again significant.  The Cardinals pushed him hard giving him 14 innings in High-A to finish up the season.  The stuff is solid with a good fastball and secondary pitches but with his control, I think his ceiling maxes out as a mid-rotation starter or number four.  Plus, he missed time throughout his college career with elbow soreness which also adds risk to the profile.

8. Ryan Helsley (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Closer
  • Tools Summary: A two-pitch pitcher that has moved to the bullpen and his stuff is playing even better.  He still has poor control.

The Cardinals had hoped that Ryan Helsley could break into their starting rotation at some point.  However, his poor control and lack of third pitch forced a moved to the bullpen.  All of a sudden, his fastball that was sitting 94 to 95 is now sitting comfortably in the upper nineties.  He pairs that with a plus slider and is getting guys out at the Major League level.

In 27.2 innings in the Majors, he’s pitched to a 1.98 ERA striking out over a batter an inning.  He didn’t pitch in high-leverage situations, but I believe that will come in the future.  Once Jordan Hicks returns from TJ Surgery, you would assume he returns as the closer, but Helsley has the stuff to closer as well.  He’ll get his time, as most high strikeout pitchers usually do.

9. Jhon Torres (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing offensive tools with plus power potential and a semblance of an approach.

Originally signed by the Indians, Jhon Torres really impressed the Cardinals in his brief AZL stay in 2018.  At 6-foot-4 and plenty of tools, he looks the part.  So, they decided to aggressively assign him to the Midwest League in mid-May and things did not go well.  After 21 games and nearly a 40% strikeout rate, the Cardinals brought him back to the complex before reassigning him to the Appy League.  Things went much better. In 33 games, he hit .286 with a .527 SLG and six home runs.  The strikeout rate was still a little high, but he continued to show a solid walk rate at 14.3%.

Torres might be the most intriguing Cardinals prospect on this list. He has the size and bat speed to hit for future power.  Plus, I like the swing and think he’ll hit with what appears to be a very nice approach.  He’s only 19-years-old, but he’s the young player to watch in the organization.

10. Ivan Herrera (C)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: Offensive-oriented catcher who is still learning the ropes behind the plate.

Ivan Herrera is starting to open eyes within the Cardinals organization as his bat is making significant noise.  A modest international signee in 2016, Herrera slashed .284/.374/.405 across Low and High-A showing an excellent approach at the plate.  There is plenty of bat speed and the power started to appear as he hit eight home runs in Low-A.

Defensively, he’s still a work-in-progress with whispers of him ever having the ability to be a big-league catcher.  But the bat should work and with the Cardinals history of developing catchers, I still think there is hope.  Plus, I’m not sure he could play anywhere else as there is no speed or quick-twitch athleticism.

11. Malcom Nunez (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 3B
  • Tools Summary: 18-year-old who is demonstrating a nice approach at the plate.  His bat speed also points to plus future power.

After tearing it up in 2018 in the DSL, the Cardinals moved 18-year-old Malcom Nunez stateside as they thought the bat was good enough for a Low-A assignment.  After struggling in 21 games, although a .232 BABIP was the major contributor to his struggles, the Cardinals brought him back to the Complex and sent him to the Appy League in June where things went much better.

Nunez continues to demonstrate a nice approach at the plate, making plenty of contact (22% strikeout rate).  He has excellent bat speed and as he fills out, should develop plus power.  The upside is not an all-star player, but he could hit enough and provide enough pop to be a full-time regular at the highest level.

12. Conner Capel (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: The scouting report continues to be good but the game production has yet to appear. There is good speed and power, but it comes with an aggressive approach.

In the ill-advised trade of Oscar Mercado last year, the Cardinals did receive Conner Capel as one of the players in the trade.  He has good speed with very good bat speed that if it all comes together, could turn into a player like, er…Oscar Mercado.  I’m sorry, I just had to do that.

Seriously, I like the potential of Capel.  At this point, that’s what it is – potential.  He showed very good power in 2017 when he hit 22 home runs in Low-A.  Despite good bat speed, he’s never come close to repeating that total.  He did steal nine bases in Double-A in 2019 but given the times I’ve gotten from home to first, there should be more in the tank.  It’s also an aggressive approach at the plate, but he does make good contact.

If it all comes together, the upside is a Top 45 to 60 outfielder with good speed and power.  But he needs to start showing that potential during games and soon.

13. Trejyn Fletcher (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Short-Season ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing power-speed potential, but a 40% strikeout rate in his first taste of professional ball says there is work to be done.

Trejyn Fletcher was selected in the second round last June as a two-way high school player out of Maine. Players from cold-weather states are risky to draft given their short baseball calendar.  In fact, it was one of the reasons Mike Trout was not taken higher in 2009. That year, it was a long New Jersey winter and then it rained a lot in spring.  Evaluators were just unable to see him a lot.  Clearly, the Angels were and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fletcher is an intriguing prospect.  He’s a plus runner, has plus bat speed and can run a fastball up to 95 MPH.  The question, as is many times the case, is can he hit.  While it was only 43 games, Fletcher struck out 40% of the time across the GCL and Appy League.  Ok, so there is some work to be done.

But, from a fantasy perspective, he’s the type of player you want to monitor.  Few players have that type of speed and power combination.  Now, he might not ever hit, but if he does…

14. Jake Woodford (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 75 SP
  • Tools Summary:  Good size with average stuff.

A first-round supplemental draft pick in 2015, Jake Woodford is on the doorstep of the Major Leagues.  He had a solid season in Triple-A posting a 4.15 ERA in 26 starts, or nearly six innings per outing.  The stuff is solid, but he’s a pitch to contact pitcher instead of a strikeout pitcher, although he struck out his highest percentage of batters of his career in 2019 (7.8 per nine).

He’s never had great control and in 2019, he walked his highest percentage of batters of his career (4.5 per nine).  Perhaps his increase in strikeouts affected his ability to control his arsenal.  If you add it all up, the upside is a back-of-the-rotation starter, likely a number five.

15. Edmundo Sosa (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Utility Player
  • Tools Summary: Can play multiple positions and has a little power.  However, his aggressive approach has put his ceiling at a utility player.

We’ve been writing about Edmundo Sosa for years.  He was signed in 2012 out of Panama as a defensive first talent that the Cardinals hoped would develop some offensive skills.  To his credit, he’s making better contact, has developed some power and the package has given him a taste of the Major Leagues.

What’s missing and is a real problem is he swings at everything.  In 2,294 plate appearance in the minor leagues, he’s walked 129 times.  That’s 5.6% of the time.  In 2019, he walked 3.4% of the time in Triple-A.  Unless you make contact 90% of the time, at that walk rate, it’s very hard to post a .300+ OBP and that usually will not work in the big leagues.

While I like the power Sosa can provide and he can play multiple positions, the ceiling is a utility player at the big league level.

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