*Hatchlings: Become Outfielders, Resistance Is Futile

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Hatchlings is a Future Redbirds series profiling the top prospects in the Cardinals minor league system. The series will conclude with a community vote to rank the pre-season top 20 Future Redbirds.

Stephen Piscotty

Age: 23

Position: LF/RF

Acquired: Draft, 2012 - 1st Round (Supplemental), #36 Overall

Bats: R

Throws: R

Player Profile:

Piscotty was a member of the Three Amigos, the trio of third baseman drafted by the Cardinals in 2012, with Patrick Wisdom and Carson Kelly filling out the other sombreros. Of that group, only Wisdom remains at the position and only Piscotty has demonstrated future value with the bat (making him Steve Martin, the lead Amigo).

Moved to the outfield during the 2012 season, Piscotty took to the position well. His excellent arm and good athleticism made him a natural fit in RF and his bat plays there as well. Ranked #10 on Baseball America's list of Cardinal's prospects a year ago, Piscotty is a consensus top 5 on those lists heading into 2014 due to a solid year in High-A and AA and a stellar showing in the Arizona Fall League.

Offensive Profile:

There's just a lot to like about Piscotty's offensive skills. He makes a ton of good contact, hitting lots of line drives and hard ground balls, doesn't strike out much at all, and has shown some improvements in his approach suggests that he could draw a few more walks as he matures.

Not blessed with tons of raw power like draft-mates Kelly and Wisdom, Piscotty certainly has more of the usable variety to this point than his compadres, hitting 15 home runs between two levels last season. He uses the whole field and his gap-to-gap line drive ability should play pretty well at the higher levels of the minors. What to wish for is an uptick in power potential, similar to what Matt Holliday experienced from age 23-24 when he went from a .400 slugging guy with good gap power in AA to a near .500 slugger in the big leagues with 50 XBH in ~500 PA's.

The one thing you notice immediately is the hands. They're quick through the ball and quiet pre-swing. And although he does lift them just a little bit during his load it doesn't seem to cause him any issues with making contact. Short stride, gets to his front side well (but could probably use it a little better), and the barrel stays in the strike zone a long time. That's what allows Piscotty to make such good contact, and it shows: I count one swing-and-miss in all the PA's in the video. I've watched three other 8-10 minute clips and I counted 1 more. Hard to strike out a hitter that doesn't miss when he swings, and that bodes well for him as he advances in the minors.

This is footage from him in the AFL last fall. You can see that he's spread out just a little bit more than he was earlier in the year at Palm Beach, and that may be an adjustment to allow him to use his front side more to drive the ball. The back elbow is also starting out higher as well as his hands, removing the hand lift from his pre-swing load.

What's most impressive about the PA's in this second video, to me, is the approach he takes at the plate. Piscotty knows the pitches he can hit and the ones that he can't and isn't afraid to take a strike if it's not one he can hit hard somewhere. When he gets two strikes, he's looking to put the ball in play somewhere and protect the plate a bit more as you can see in a couple of PA's later in the clip. The fact that he knows what he wants to hit is what makes me so bullish on Piscotty as an offensive player: He's got a plan, and while it's not Mike O'Neill's three dimensional chess, it's better than most.

Defensive Profile:

Let's start with this:

Even as someone who's less inclined to value spectacular plays as a measurement of good defense, watching an outfielder rob another player of a home run is still just one hell of a fun play. There just aren't that many plays on defense where you literally take a run off the board all by yourself.

Piscotty has the athleticism and speed to be a good outfielder, but is still learning the position and that leads to a few bad routes on occasion. Still, he takes a good route on the ball here, finds the wall, and then jumps and makes the play. He doesn't look like Nelson Cruz running around out there and couple that with an above average arm and you have a league average right fielder.

2014 Outlook:

Piscotty is likely starting the year in Springfield, where he finished a season ago, but he's certainly ready for AAA in my book. He's just not Oscar Taveras, who I expect to at least start the season in RF for Memphis with a possible quick hook to the majors in late April or early May. I'd expect Piscotty to take Oscar's spot on the Memphis roster when he gets called up and I anticipate him hitting the cover off the ball in the Texas League until he does.

With a good half season in Memphis he's likely a call-up when rosters expand too, so we should see Piscotty in St. Louis in September if everything goes well.

Value:

Piscotty is a top 100 prospect, and those guys always have significant value. He'd have a lot more, though, if he could have stayed at 3B. Still, it's possible that he's a trade candidate for this club just due to the logjam at the big league level and in Memphis.

Prediction:

There just doesn't seem to be a path to the big leagues right now for Stephen Piscotty. I think he's going to have to mash like Allen Craig for a couple more years in the minors if he stays with the Cardinals. But I believe in the bat enough to say that he's going to jump into the top 50 prospects in baseball, possibly by mid-season.

*********

Starlin Rodriguez

Age: 24

Position: OF

Acquired: International Free Agent, 2010

Bats: R

Throws: R

Player Profile:

Starlin Rodriguez really likes playing baseball in Palm Beach. As a member of the Palm Beach Cardinals, he's hit over .300, slugged over .400, and been named the Florida State League's best defensive second baseman for the 2012 season. That campaign was also his best thus far in a Cardinal uniform and was enough to get Rodriguez some run on a number of top 20 lists a year ago, including our own. Let's see what we said back then:

While I'm usually ready to pounce on the bandwagon of any middle infield prospect who hints at offensive potential, Starlin missed my list by just a few spots because he doesn't do anything exceedingly well. He doesn't hit for much power or draw walks, but he does enjoy tremendous results on balls in play. - AndyB83

If his BABIP numbers go to hell, he's going to fall apart as a prospect. If they don't, he'll hit for average and enough power to keep him a threat at the plate. As a legitimate middle infielder, he's worth watching. - azruavatar

Offensive Profile:

So who had the crystal ball last year? Both guys did, actually: Rodriguez saw his BABIP number regress considerably, and he continued to not do anything at an above average rate. Including, apparently, playing second base since he got moved to the outfield in the middle of the 2013 season, another casualty in the Cardinals effort to turn every player in the minor leagues into an outfield prospect. More on that later.

The move to Springfield was brutal for him in June: He hit only .254/.309/.391 there in the hitters paradise that is the Texas League. Rodriguez saw his K-rate shoot up, BB-rate fall off, and his BABIP clock in at a career low .311 despite a 19.3% line drive rate, which was a career high. You can chalk that up to poor batted ball classification (my vote) or Rodriguez being really unlucky despite all the other drop in rate stats going on around that sterling batted ball profile.

Sent back to Palm Beach to transition to OF, his bat recovered putting up a .362 wOBA in his final 150 PA's of the season.

Rodriguez also came into last season as switch hitter and finished batting only right handed, which I actually take as a positive sign: He never hit right handed pitching all the well from the left side in his career (.262/.328/.378) and in Springfield posted the exact same wOBA against them from the right side as he did from the left in a comparable number of PA's. Rodriguez really tunes up lefties in his minor league career (.347/.409/.507) but even that took a dive against better pitching with just a .740 OPS in a small sample of 50 PA's at Springfield so perhaps with a little more time seeing right handed pitchers from that side will lead to some improvement at the plate against them -- that would make Rodriguez stock go up considerably if that were to happen.

Defensive Profile:

The move to the outfield is one that doesn't make a ton of sense to me. Rodriguez isn't fast enough to play CF, he doesn't have the bat to play in a corner to this point, and he's 24 years old, so it's not like there's any projection left in his bat. It's unlikely he shows up this spring slugging .500+ and hitting balls 450 feet. So why make the move? Colin Walsh and Breyvic Valera might be better prospects than Rodriguez is, but so are more than a handful of corner outfielders in the Cardinals farm system. Puzzling, for sure.

2014 Outlook:

Seems like Rodriguez enjoys Palm Beach so perhaps the Cardinals should send him there to play some corner outfield, because there's no way he should be taking PA's away from better prospects like Piscotty, Ramsey, or Rafael Ortega at Springfield. I'm not sure where that leaves him though: I like Tilson, Longmire, and Garcia a lot too, and those guys are all slated for High-A to start the year at least.

Seems like Rodriguez is a man without a home, and if he starts out 2014 like he finished last year, he just might be.

Value:

He was B value heading into last year, but I think both his performance and moving off of a premium defensive position knocks him down to C level, maybe C+ if you wanted to trade from him and move him back to 2B. A possible throw in to a trade, but one that has to happen this spring because of the lack of places for him to get PA's in a farm system full of OF depth.

Prediction:

Making a slight rebound with the bat at AA while getting PA's anywhere he can steal them from better players. I can't see how he makes it through this year still in the Cardinals system unless they're far higher on him than I am. The Rays once signed him back in 2009, perhaps they be interested in a swap of some sort?

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