2014 St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Preview: Peoria Chiefs (A)

MiLB.com

The Cardinals second season back in Peoria features a squad laden with high upside talent: A New Jersey native who comes to the Cardinals via the Dominican Republic, a high school bat adjusting to a new position, a second baseman from the bayou with lots of pop, and an outfield full of big time athletes.

****UPDATE****

VEB Reader Tackle Box attended the Chiefs' home opener last week and shot a bunch of video which he's generously put into a Fanpost. Go give it a look as it's rare to get this much live video of low-A players.

*********

The Chiefs have a ton of talent starting the year in Peoria, and there could be a significant amount on the way later this summer as more of the Cardinals' 2012 and 2013 draftees starting in the short season leagues begin to trickle up into their Midwest League affiliate.

The high impact players, as with nearly all the lower levels of the Cardinals system, are on the mound. But there are some other intriguing players here too, and a team loaded with players who've already put up highlight reel action in just the first couple of weeks.

Starting Rotation:

  • Alex Reyes (R)
  • Silfredo Garcia (R)
  • Nick Petree (R)
  • Arturo Reyes (R)
  • Chase Brookshire (L)
  • Jimmy Reed (L)
Alex Reyes is the big name here, the guy with the pro level stuff even if he can't necessarily command it just yet. He's had a near equal number of walks to strikeouts in his first two starts of 2014 and will likely be innings limited during each start. Which means you better get to the ballpark on nights when Reyes is slated to pitch: With as many BB's and K's as the young righty is racking up, he'll be lucky to get to the 5th inning in most of his starts.

Chase Brookshire had a solid year as a reliever last year with State College after being the 20th round selection of the 2013 draft. Another college pitcher the Cardinals targeted in the later rounds, like Spikes teammates Chris Perry and Kevin Herget (both in the Peoria bullpen so far in 2014), Brookshire is attempting to move into the rotation with mixed results so far in his first two turns through.

The sleeper of the group is Petree, the Missouri kid who has the "most overpowering 89 mph fastball you'll ever see" according to John Sickels at Minor League Ball. Similar to Kurt Heyer, Petree's real value is his deception: It just looks like he's throwing a lot harder than he actually is since he hides the ball really well and also features two average breaking balls and an excellent changeup with good command of all four pitches.

Pitchability also ranks high on his scouting reports: Petree is able to sequence pitches and keep hitters off balance while getting far more swings and misses than a fastball in the high 80's should create. He's two years removed from Tommy John surgery now and could move quickly up to Palm Beach when Marco Gonzales gets promoted to Springfield. Petree could very well the breakout pitcher in the organization this year, similar to Zach Petrick in 2013 and Tim Cooney in 2012.

Bullpen:

  • Chris Perry (R)
  • Kevin Herget (R)
  • Joseph Scanio (R)
  • Kyle Barraclough (R)
  • Zach Loraine (R)
  • Christopher Thomas (R)
  • Blake McKnight (R)

Loraine is a St. Louis area native and had an impressive debut season last year for Johnson City after being taken in the 21st round of last year's draft out of Coker College. Armed with a plus fastball and average-plus slider, the 23 year old posted a 4:1 K/BB ratio last season and was The Cardinal Nation's minor league rookie reliever of the year besting teammate Kyle Grana and current teammate Chase Brookshire. I expect Loraine to get plenty of work in Peoria this season and could be on the fast track through the organization much like Lee Stoppelman was last year if he can continue to put up lots of K's and be stingy with baserunners.

The rest of the bullpen is a myriad of late round college picks by the Cardinals with the hope that one of them will turn into a valuable arm. Perry and Herget were both solid in limited action with State College last year and Perry led the NCAA in K/9 as a senior at Methodist University with just under 13 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Catchers:

  • Steve Bean (L)
  • Carson Kelly (R)
  • Gerwuins Velazco (R) - 7 Day DL

Kelly is obviously the big story, having moved behind the dish from the hot corner in instructionals last fall. He's got the quick feet, size, and requisite great arm to be successful behind the plate, but it's going to take time -- hopefully he can continue to develop as a hitter while making what's probably the toughest position change in the game. He'll be just 20 this season, and if his offense develops he's certain to be a top 50 prospect next year provided his defense isn't completely worthless as a backstop.

Steve Bean has had a number of struggles for what was a promising catching prospect at one time. He's struggled considerably defensively, especially with his throwing, and his left handed bat hasn't taken off in his brief career either. Add in a few injury issues and you have what amounts to a broken prospect at this point. He'll get plenty of chances to catch, either in Peoria or in the Penn league once short season ball starts up, and hopefully he can turn it around. Between Bean and Ehrlich at Palm Beach, someone needs to step up and fill the catching void in the farm system while Carson Kelly gets more comfortable at the position.

Infielders:

  • Juan Herrera (SS) (R)
  • Mason Katz (2B) (R)
  • Michael Schulze (3B) (L)
  • Jake Stone (1B) (L)
  • Cesar Valera (SS) (R)

Katz was a 4th round pick out of LSU a year ago, bringing some potential power to a middle infield position and has three home runs so far in 2014 in only 34 PA's. The problem: He's hitting just .167 and hit only .249 with 49 K's last year for State College in just 229 PA's. Over a full season, that's 170+ strikeouts.

Herrera came over from Cleveland in the Mark Rzepczynski trade and was one of the best gloves in the entire Penn league last year. Solid hitter in short-season leagues the last three seasons and batted .271 in a short stint with Peoria after the trade. If he can maintain his solid contact and plate discipline (9.5% walk rate a year ago) he could be a pretty valuable player considering his outstanding glove. Hopefully one of he or Oscar Mercado can really break out in the next couple of seasons and give the Cardinals a good SS prospect. If history is any guide, however, neither of those things is likely as the Cardinals never seem to have any luck with developing them.

The corner infield at Peoria this year could be a real black hole: Stone was a 27th round draft choice a year ago and had a solid half season in the GCL but is more of the contact hitter variety rather than the power one. Schulze played all over the infield at Missouri Western State, and was a 19th round selection in 2013 and had a decent year with State College and looks to be the regular 3B for Peoria -- also not much of a hitter and will have to really hit as a 23 year old in A ball to garner any notice. It's possible that one of these guys becomes Matt Carpenter or Matt Adams, but I'd bet against it: Neither has the power potential that Adams did and only Schulze has any utility.

Outfielders:

  • Jimmy Bosco (LF/RF) (L)
  • Ronald Castillo (LF/RF) (R)
  • C.J. McElroy (CF) (R)
  • Kenneth Peoples-Walls (LF/CF/RF) (R)
  • Matthew Young (LF)

Peoples-Walls was the Peoria SS for most of 2013 but was moved to the outfield last fall to take better advantage of his athletic ability. He can play any of the three positions, but looks more like a corner outfielder than a center fielder to my eye in the limited number of games I've seen him play this season. McElroy is a high school project coming off of being dinged up and ineffective in his first few years, shades of what happened with Charlie Tilson. The difference is that McElroy hasn't come out of his funk yet and doens't possess the power hitting tool, so his upside is fairly limited.

Ronald Castillo is the best bet for a sleeper, although the cat seems to be out of the bag at this point after his mammoth 460 foot homer at Peoria on Saturday. The wind was blowing out, but still, that's quite a bomb:


Best Lineup:

  1. C.J. McElroy (CF)
  2. Juan Herrera (SS)
  3. Ronald Castillo (RF)
  4. Carson Kelly (C)
  5. Matthew Young (LF)
  6. Mason Katz (2B)
  7. Jake Stone (1B)
  8. Michael Schulze (3B)
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