April High Minors Review: Outfielders impress, corner infield is a mess, and a few spring surprises

Still #1 baby... - Rob Carr

There aren't many surprises, but there are a few, as well as a bunch of prospects performing right in line with pre-season expectations.

As you can probably surmise from reading the Daily Farm Reports the last month, the notable high minors (AA and AAA) prospects in the Cardinals organization have been basically on track through the first months of the 2014 season.  There have a been a few surprises -- nobody in the Oscar Taveras type mold among the position players but the Cardinals farm system continues to churn out a ton of depth on the hill.

Let's take a look at the top performers in Memphis and Springfield for the month of April.

Memphis Redbirds (14-14)

Outstanding Position Player: Oscar Taveras (.313/.370/.515 - 5 HR, BB: 7.4%, K: 12%)

Outstanding Pitcher: Tim Cooney (6 GS, 35.2 IP, K: 19.7%, BB: 5.9%, ERA/FIP: 3.28/4.72)

Taveras continues to do Oscar Taveras things.  Hit .300, slug .500, swing as hard as humanly possible and violently send baseballs on a long vacation:

It's not a question of if Taveras is going to be up into the big leagues but when...and what's going to have to happen at the big league level to make it happen. Injury? Trade?

Until then, I fully expect him to reserve this spot.

Cooney's FIP is a little scary, but a big chunk of that is the 5 HR he's given up so far this season putting his HR/FB up around 13.2%, a tad above league average, even for the PCL. The walk numbers are up from last year's unsustainable rate in AA and the strikeouts have fallen off a little bit, but he's been able to ring players up when he's needed it the most:

His first month numbers look a lot like a couple of other Cardinal left handers who preceded him at AAA: Jamie Garcia and Tyler Lyons. I think Cooney fits squarely in the middle of those two in terms of talent, so the results so far while predictable, are also comforting.

Player on the Rise: Stephen Piscotty (.298/.330/.433), Zach Petrick

Piscotty has made a believer out of a lot of Cardinals farm followers early this year, not only with his play at the plate but also his defense in right field, which has been stellar so far.

Petrick was unhittable at AA in his first 3 starts of the year, which was enough to get the 2013 Pitcher of the Year promoted to AAA when Tyler Lyons was called up for the injured Joe Kelly.  He's had some trouble adjusting so far in AAA, but he's a possible bullpen solution later in the year (although I think a few other guys get that call first) since he's got a good fastball and solid command.

Struggling Start: Xavier Scruggs (.217/.308/.293)

The strikeout (28.8%) and walk (10.6%) are about what you'd expect from Scruggs, but the power has been missing entirely: Only 1 home run and just 4 extra base hits so far for a team where just about everyelse is slugging in the .400's or better. The organization had hoped that Scruggs could provide some depth for them at a first base position that's become a big issue behind the Adams/Craig duo in St. Louis, but he's not been able to do so thus far.

Springfield Cardinals (14-14)

Outstanding Position Player: Jonathan Rodriguez - (.346/.418/.641, 4 HR, 12.1% BB, 18.7% K)

The numbers are pretty impressive, even with a .390 BABIP, which I would guess is due to hitting the ball hard all over the ballpark early in the year. Rodriguez was a pick of many to break out as a sleeper prospect this season and his 14 XBH in April certainly aren't going to have anyone backing off of those predictions even if they are a bit luck driven so far.  It's worth nothing that while the Texas League, and Hammons Field in particular, is pretty forgiving to left handed power hitters, that's not so for right handed batters like Rodriguez. Both the league and Springfield's home part are closer to neutral for RHH.

I noted a week or so back that I wasn't impressed with his defense at 1B so far this year, specifically digging low throws out of the dirt. Rodriguez was considered one of the better defenders in the Florida State League last season, so perhaps I've just seen some really bad throws. He's certainly a good athlete, he stole 21 bases a year ago, but I wonder if he might not play better in the outfield long term. The Cardinals certainly aren't going to mess with success, though, especially with Xavier Scruggs' rough start.

Outstanding Pitcher: Kurt Heyer - (6 GS, 36 IP, 3.22 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 18.9% K, 6.0% BB)

He just keeps confounding everyone: Hitters, evaluators, myself, pretty much everyone not named Joe Schwarz. Four really solid starts in a row solidified his status on the prospect radar, but you wouldn't call any of them dominant in the traditional terms -- Heyer  scatters a lot of baserunners around his innings but avoids giving up a lot of extra base hits and home runs. It's either death by a thousand cuts offense against him or you risk getting shut out.

I'm still down on his stuff as he doesn't seem to have any plus offerings, but he certainly makes what he does have play up to another level when he puts it all together.

Player on the Rise: James Ramsey (.314/.419/.539, 6 HR, 11.3% BB, 20.9% K), Aledmys Diaz (.307/.321/.520)

Ramsey set out to prove that his performance last year was not the mirage it seemed to be peripherally, and he's certainly done that, while also cutting his down his strikeouts. He's another possible regression due to some luck on balls in play (.362 BABIP), but he's another that just hits the ball hard everywhere, so that regression might be only slight. He's certainly not going to get outworked by anyone in the organization.

Diaz was the talk of March despite rarely playing at all in the spring due to both the size of his contract ($8M) and the similarly sized expectations that came with it. So far, I'd say he's lived up to both, smacking 3 homers so far and hitting over .300 prior to going on the 7 day DL with a back injury on Monday. The concerns are obviously the lack of walks (just 1 so far in 80 PA's) but after watching a lot of his PA's this spring I think that he's just and aggressive hitter who's seen a lot of strikes so far this season, hard as it is to square with what all of his teammates have done so far this season in terms of piling up the free passes.

Struggling Start: David Popkins (.222/.352/.378)

The Overlord's sleeper pick this season has gotten off to a rough start so far, hitting a ton of weak ground balls around the infield to go with just 5 extra base hits so far. His walk rate early this year is nearly double his rate from last season, but he just hasn't made enough good contact, flirting with the Mendoza line before a bit of a hot streak at the end of the month.  Hopefully that's a sign that he's ready to break out his slump.

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