April Low Minors Review: Pitching prospects, a spring surprise continues to emerge, and Mr. Consistent keeps on truckin'

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Cardinal arms in the low minors look excellent, but the bats have struggled quite a bit early in the year with the exception of a couple of players who will be climbing up mid-season prospect lists if they keep up their April performances.

Outstanding Position Player: Starlin Rodriguez (.296/.383/.490) .194 ISO, 149 wRC+

This just in: Starlin Rodriguez owns the Florida State league. Bought and paid for.  After spending last year in AA and struggling, he was sent back down to Palm Beach while transitioning to the outfield and picked up right where he left off before his promotion, but this time with a bit more pop in his bat thus far: In 800 odd PA's at Palm Beach coming into the season, Rodriguez had just 13 home runs but has 3 already in 115 PA's this season. The transition to outfield has also seemingly gone well, with an even split of games in each corner spot and while I haven't heard a ton of praise about his defense I haven't read or seen any negative reviews either.

Whether he has the bat to stick in an outfield corner in the long term is a bit of a concern, as is the fact that he's a good year and a half older than the rest of the Florida State League.  But until someone gets promoted or cut loose at Springfield, he's at Palm Beach for the foreseeable future.  It's tough being an outfielder in the Cardinals organization right now -- there's just so much talent.

Outstanding Pitcher: Marco Gonzales: 1.42 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 19.1% K, 5.6% BB, .244 BAA/.298 BABIP

Gonzales has been pretty much everything you'd expect from a polished college pitcher in High A, which makes me wonder why he's still there, considering the utter turmoil that is the last three spots in the Springfield starting rotation right now. Striking out 3.5 hitters for every 1 he gives a free pass, Gonzales' stuff has really been too good for the Florida State League so it's hard to evaluate where he is as a pitcher.

As long as his curveball remains inconsistent he's never going to have elite strikeout rates at any level. He gets enough of them to be dangerous and his excellent command and pitchability keep hitters off balance so that he can use his plus-plus changeup as an out pitch from time to time. Until he gets moved up a level and faces some better hitters it's hard to make any definitive declarations about him, and I would expect that promotion to come soon given his age and his results thus far.

Player on the Rise: Breyvic Valera (.328/.383/.426) .094 ISO, 135 wRC+

Mr. Consistent rarely takes an 0-fer night at the plate: In 29 games this season, he's gone hitless in just 6 of them.  That's partially due to putting the ball in play pretty much all the time (6% K-rate) when he's not getting the occasional free pass (7.5% BB-rate) but also due to his speed, which can be a considerable boost to his value when it turns doubles into triples, as it has on 4 different occasions this year.

Add to that his ability to play damn near any position on the field and the fact that he's 2 years younger than the rest of the Florida State League, and you have the makings of a solid B grade prospect.  If Mike O'Neill could run, throw right handed, and outrun a horse in a straight line race he might be Breyvic Valera

Peoria Chiefs (17-11)

Outstanding Position Player: Ronald Castillo (.340/.365/.495) .155 ISO, 140 wRC+

Castillo has been the  real surprise so far this year. He made a lot of noise in spring camp and hit in nearly every game in March and has just continued to rake the entire first month of the season, including a home run that was hit completely out of the stadium at home in Peoria.

He's always been a big guy, 6'5" and 200+ pounds, but power has not really been his strong suit thus far in the minor leagues -- it's been his contact rate. This year, some power has begun to emerge from his bat and he continues to put the ball in play quite a bit.  That, ladies and gents, is how a prospect goes from the fringes to the mainstream.  Castillo's biggest flaw right now is his approach: He rarely takes a walk and is a very aggressive hitter early in counts.  That makes him dangerous at Low A, but as he moves up pitchers with better command will be able to take advantage by making him chase balls out of the strike zone.

Outstanding Pitchers: Nick Petree (1.29 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 27.6% K, 11.5% BB), Alex Reyes (2.60 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 32% K, 18.7% BB)

The FIP's are a little scary, as are the walk rates (which is actually what makes the FIP's scary) but the K-rates for these two are pretty impressive and they get it done in markedly different ways.

Reyes is the uber-prospect: Dominant fastball, hammer curve, rough command, and a super high ceiling as a top of the rotation starter. Petree is all deception and pitchability.  The results are incredibly similar, even though Petree does have a few years of experience on the young phenom.

Neither has given up much hard contact so far this season, with just 3 homers and a smattering of extra base hits between them. That bodes well for the future, but the Midwest League is awfully cold in the month of April and especially so this year, so we'll see if the suppressed offense continues into the summer months.

The Chiefs added Rob Kaminsky to this staff over the weekend, which makes Peoria one of the more exciting low minors groups of pitchers that the Cardinals have had since Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez shared time with the Quad Cities a few years back.

Player on the Rise: Zach Loraine: (23.1% K, 3.9% BB, 2.13 ERA, 3.50 FIP)

The St. Louis native and late round pick from a year ago has been the leader of a solid group of relievers for the Chiefs in April and with most of the bullpen arms imploding throughout the rest of the minors, he stands a good chance to move up quickly if he can continue to get low A hitters out at a high rate. Here's to hoping that continues -- the Cardinals organization needs some good news to come out of a pretty crappy year for relievers thus far.


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