|Original Published Date: October 19, 2018|
The Cardinals continues to be a middle of the road system but I do believe it is starting to trend up. The system has some impact players that are ready to contribute in Alex Reyes and Carson Kelly but in Reyes’ case, he’s hardly pitched in the last two years because of injuries and Kelly is blocked by future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina. Dakota Hudson saw time in the big leagues and could develop into a solid middle of the rotation pitcher.
Further away is 2018 first round pick, Nolan Gorman. He’s got double-plus raw power, perhaps 80 grade raw, but strikeouts will be a problem. Elehuris Montero and Malcom Nunez are two young Dominican’s that could turn into impact players. Montero is closer but Nunez destroyed the DSL and showed some very exciting skills including the ability to the control the strike zone. But, before you get too excited, he doesn’t turn 18 until March and has yet to play in the US.
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1. Alex Reyes (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2017 (debut) Fantasy Ceiling: Fantasy Ace
We’ve been nothing but bullish on Alex Reyes since the Cardinals signed him in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic for $950,000. He’s not only flashed great stuff but as he’s matured, he’s shown the athleticism and pitchability to eventually be a number one starting pitcher at the highest level.
The problem of course is he’s barely played over the last two seasons. He tore his UCL to begin the 2017 season and missed the entire year recovering from Tommy John surgery. Then after an impressive rehab, he made one start for St. Louis where he tore his lat muscle and missed the rest of the season.
Yeah, it’s been a rough two years for the 24-year-old. But, he has all the tools to be an ace. He has premium stuff, is very athletic and has great makeup. Let’s just hope he can stay healthy in 2019.
2. Carson Kelly (C)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2017 (debut) Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 C
Carson Kelly could have a long apprenticeship as Yadier Molina backup. Molina continues to play extremely well, hitting .261 with 20 home runs over the 2018 campaign. He’s also signed through 2020 and although he’s 36, the Cardinals could extend that contract. Let’s face it, he’s a Cardinal Hall of Famer for sure, and perhaps an MLB Hall of Famer. If he wants to play and is even passable as a starting catcher, he’s going to play.
Meanwhile, Kelly continues to show a lot of promise. He controls the strike zone extremely well, walking as much as he strikes out with a little bit of pop. While he only slugged .395 last season, I think he could slug .425 to .450 with 12 to 15 home runs annually. That could come with a solid .270 batting average. That’s a starting fantasy starter with some offensive upside, and better yet, he’ll hit enough to not hurt you at the most difficult position to fill.
3. Nolan Gorman (3B)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
Drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Nolan Gorman’s calling card is his 80-grade raw power. In fact, it didn’t take him long to display that power. In his professional debut, he slugged a long home run and wound up hitting 11 in 38 games in the Appy League before the Cardinals promoted him to Low-A. While it was a tiny sample size in Low-A, the home runs continued but so did the strikeouts. In 25 games, he struck out 34% of the time but also managed to walk 9.3% of the time as well.
In analyzing his profile, we might be looking at a true three-outcome player. He has tremendous power, strikes out a ton, but knows how to work a count. Honestly, these type of players really frustrate and confuse me. In a points league, they could be golden, but in a traditional roto-league, the batting average could be a real killer. Look no further than Joey Gallo. While Gallo is physically much bigger than Gorman, he too is a three-true-outcome guy. This past season, he hit 37 home runs with a .319 OBP but a .210 average. That earned value in most fantasy leagues, but to roster him in leagues that count batting average, you’ve got to be careful.
4. Elehuris Montero (3B)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
Elehuris Montero was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2014 and really put things together in 2018. He got off to a blistering start to the season, slashing .322/.381/.529 with 15 home runs. More importantly, he did a nice job at controlling the strike zone (19% K/9 and 8% BB/9), especially for a teenager. The effort earned him a promotion to Palm Beach in the Florida State League where he hit .286 in 24 games.
There’s a lot to like with Montero. He has the strength and bat speed to hit for future plus power and an approach that should allow him to have at least an average hit tool. If you add it all up, the ceiling is a .270 hitter with 20 plus home run pop. He’s a well below average runner, so stolen bases will not be part of the profile.
5. Dakota Hudson (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Dakota Hudson got off to a fast start to the season going 13-3 in 19 starts in Triple-A to begin the season. In 111.2 innings, he pitched to a 2.50 ERA striking out seven per nine while walking three per nine. The effort got him a promotion to the big leagues where the Cardinals pushed him to the bullpen to limit his innings. While he managed to pitch to a 2.69 ERA over 26 outings, his ability to strikeout batters disappeared as did his control.
So, who is Dakota Hudson? Starter? Reliever?
At 6-foot-5, he’s got starter size. He can also run his heavy fastball up to 97 MPH but sits 94 to 95 when he starts. He has an above-average curveball and a cutter to give batters different looks. Both are good pitches, but not plus. His change-up is well below average. In order for him to start, he needs to show a better feel for his change-up and that could come with time. Until then, he could struggle. My conclusion is that he’s a starter and if it all comes together, he has the ceiling of a solid number three.
6. Griffin Roberts (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP or Reliever
The Cardinals drafted ACC alum Griffin Roberts with a supplemental first-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. In his three-year college career, he produced some gaudy strikeout number (12.39 K/9 rate) but an ugly 5.0 BB/9 rate. In his brief professional career, it was more of the same. He struck out over 12 per nine in 9.2 innings but also continued to issue too many free passes.
Roberts has good stuff and can clearly miss bats, but his violent delivery is not allowing him to repeat his delivery. This is leading to the high walks and whispers that he’ll eventually be moved to the bullpen. The Cardinals will try and smooth out his delivery in hopes that he can remain a starter.
7. Andrew Knizner (C)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
The Cardinals have depth in the catching department. First, Yadier Molina while 36-years-old continues to play at a very high-level. Top 100 prospect, Carson Kelly is ready to see full-time at-bats at the highest level, and Andrew Knizner is close to being ready as well. While most prospect watchers have heard of Kelly, few have heard of Knizner.
Drafted in 2016, Knizner has had a very nice and quick rise to Triple-A. He’s showed excellent contactability but also, doesn’t walk much. Granted, he’s no Willians Astudillo, who is quickly becoming an odd but lovable player. His strikeout rate and walk rate are identical – 4%. Let that sink in. He doesn’t have a position, makes Kendrys Morales look fast, but the dude can hit; and the Twins asked him to add power and he hit 12 home runs in the minor leagues this year. He is the definition of fun.
While I wouldn’t characterize Knizner as “fun”, I do believe he’ll be a full-time catcher for someone. The ceiling is a .280/.320 hitter with 10 to 12 home runs. That’s not a star, but again, with catchers, you are looking for a guy who will not kill you, with upside. That’s Knizner.
8. Randy Arozarena (OF)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
After a nice 2017 season, particularly in Double-A, Randy Arozarena seemed poised to push for playing time in the big leagues as soon as 2018. While that didn’t happen, he nonetheless had another nice season, showing plus speed, the ability to control the strike zone, and a little pop in his bat.
Arozarena’s development was one of the reasons the Cardinals felt comfortable letting some of their more famous young players move last year, namely Tommy Pham and Oscar Mercado. While he’s still on the outside looking in, he can hit with 25 stolen base potential and the ability to add double-digit home runs. I don’t see a star, but he could be a sneaky add in a Dynasty League for owners looking for those under-the-radar players.
9. Malcom Nunez (3B)
Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B with extreme risk
The Cardinals signed Malcom Nunez on July 2nd and sent him to the DSL where he tore the place apart. In 44 games, he hit .415 with a .497 OBP and a .774 SLG. He walked nearly as much as he struck out, hit 13 home runs and added three stolen bases. Yeah, he destroyed it!
While the DSL is not the greatest test, the Cardinals have to be pleased by what they saw. He’ll likely hit the states next year and with his big power potential and the advanced approach he showed in the DSL, there could be something there. If you’re looking for that young kid who could be something, well, here you go.
10. Genesis Cabrera (LHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Reliever, Closer Potential
Genesis Cabrera was part of the trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Tampa Bay Rays at the deadline last July. He’s got a power arsenal that consists of a fastball that he can run up to the upper nineties and a slider that can miss bats. He’s yet to show a consistent feel for his change-up.
While he has a power arsenal, he doesn’t have a body that you like to see in a starter. He’s 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds. His delivery does not have a lot of effort, but he lacks balance and the ability to repeat his delivery. This is causing him to have poor control.
For me, you throw him in the bullpen, let him sit 96 to 97 with his nasty slider and let him get guys out at the big league level. The stuff is good enough that one day he could see save opportunities.
11. Luken Baker (1B)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
The Cardinals selected Luken Baker in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft in hopes that his 80-grade raw would translate. He hit 11 home runs as a freshman but never exceeded the total given the injuries he suffered in his sophomore and junior year.
In 45 games across Rookie ball and Low-A, he didn’t show his massive power but did hit .319 with an acceptable contact rate. If the contact rate is, in fact, real, the Cardinals could have something with Baker. At 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, he’s going to hit a lot of balls very far. Fantasy owners should pencil his name on your monitor list and see what happens next year where he’ll likely start the season in High-A.
12. Ryan Helsley (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 70 SP
Drafted in 2015, Ryan Helsley made it to Triple-A before experiencing shoulder fatigue and hitting the DL in June. He only lasted two innings in his first rehab outing and was done for the year.
He has a nice fastball/curveball combination with his fastball scraping 96 MPH. He doesn’t show a feel for a change-up and therefore, doesn’t throw it that often. It’s problematic as he has nothing to keep lefties at bay and once he hits the big leagues, this could be a real problem. Ultimately, this could lead to a bullpen role, but for now, the Cardinals continue to use him as a starter. The ceiling is a number four/five starter.
13. Dylan Carson (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
After being selected in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, the Cardinals gave the then 18-year-old an aggressive assignment to Low-A to begin the 2017 season. He held his own but did strike out too much, so the Cardinals worked with him during the Instructional League and reassigned him to Low-A to begin the 2018 season. He showed a much better approach and after two weeks, was promoted to High-A.
In High-A, he once again showed the ability to control the strike zone but only slugged .386. He did hit nine home runs, which is very respectable for that league. He has enough strength and bat speed to eventually hit double-digit home runs. Is that enough to make him a full-time regular at the highest level? It’s possible, but his ceiling is more likely an extra bat.
14. Justin Williams (OF)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
I first saw Justin Williams in the Arizona Fall League when he was a member of the Tampa Bay organization. I was impressed with his athleticism, his quick bat and an ability to make contact. However, his approach has always been very aggressive and consequently, he just hasn’t developed as quickly as I had thought.
He was part of the Tommy Pham trade at the July deadline and is even more blocked than he was in Tampa. There is some power, speed and if he can develop an approach, a chance for him to be at least a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, perhaps more.
15. Evan Mendoza (3B)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Extra Bat
Evan Mendoza got off to a hot start to begin the 2018 season hitting .349 in the first six weeks of the season in High-A. The results earned him a promotion to Double-A but with the promotion, he left his .412 BABIP behind and what resulted was a more reasonable .254 batting average with a .315 OBP.
While I believe Mendoza can hit as he makes good contact and understands the strike zone, there’s not much else there. He has below average power and doesn’t run well. I see the ceiling as an extra bat at the highest level.