Peoria Storylines

Kurt Heyer performed well in the Cape Cod League, and so now he finds himself in the Cards' farm system. - Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE

The Peoria Chiefs (single-A) have some highly ranked prospects (Wisdom and Kelly), toolsy outfielders (Tilson and McElroy), an unexpected power source (Wilson), a Cape Cod League standout (Kurt Heyer), and intriguing bullpen arms (Petrick and Llorens).

Can Patrick Wisdom continue to power up?

Back in December, I explained why Patrick Wisdom should be considered a top prospect for the Cardinals. He had performed way above the league average levels for Batavia and had a well-regarded glove that was expected to stick at third base. If power is what you're worried about, then have no fear. Wisdom has already matched his HR total for Batavia in approximately one-third of the plate appearances. His isolated slugging is above .250 but his overall offensive value has been dragged down by a .241 BABIP, a number that's sure to improve given his strong line drive percentage (20%). Hitting for average could be a concern as nearly 25% of his plate appearances have ended in a strikeout.

Can Carson Kelly hang with the older kids?

Only 18 upon reaching a full-season team, Carson Kelly has plenty of time to develop, but he's already turned some heads by showing raw power (9 HRs and 10 doubles) and contact skills (14.7% K-rate) for Johnson City last season. In 41 plate appearances for Peoria, he has four doubles but zero home runs. Thus far, he has walked more often (12%, up from 4%) but has also struck out more often (20%, up from 15%). Batted ball data from Minor League Central suggests he has been struggling to square up the ball thus far (4% LD, 61% GB). The Cardinals are giving Kelly a chance to prove himself as a third baseman by giving him that defensive position and sliding Wisdom over to first base when they are both in the lineup.

How long can Jacob Wilson make us pay attention?

The Cardinals selected Jacob Wilson in the 10th round of last year's draft. Wilson won Conference-USA player of year as a senior for the University of Memphis, a year in which he hit a park and schedule adjusted .414 wOBA, as noted by Jeff at the time of the selection. His professional debut in Batavia was acceptable enough but he's shown a more pop this season by surpassing his HR total in approximately half of the plate appearances. Of those with at least 40 plate appearances in the Midwest League, his isolated slugging percentage (.330) and home runs (7) rank first. He hasn't walked much (6.9% career) but has kept his strikeouts at an acceptable level (16.8%) and, according to FanGraphs' wRC+, his offense has been 49% above league average. I know nothing about his defense but John Sickels of Minor League Ball referred to him as having, "a very good glove."

Which toolsy outfielder will make good on his potential?

In the 2011 draft, the Cardinals deviated from their typical strategy by picking two raw talents straight out of high school. Drafted in the second and third rounds of the 2011 draft, Charlie Tilson and C.J. McElroy represent a deviation from the Cardinals' typical strategy, which is to draft highly polished college hitters. Neither player's numbers have spoken to their potential thus far. A shoulder injury wiped out Tilson's entire 2012 season. C.J. McElroy is getting his first taste of full-season ball after 300+ plate appearances in rookie leagues.

The data that does exist for McElroy is not exactly inspiring. The Cardinals have tinkered with his swing twice, making it more compact to yield better contact and then asking him to switch-hit. Not many of McElroy's hits have gone for extra bases as his batted ball data points to ample ground balls and few line drives. Strikeouts have not been a problem but, if he wants to utilize his speed on the base paths, he's going to have to start getting on base at a better clip, either by generating a higher BABIP or developing more patience at the plate. In case you missed it, Jeff wrote more about McElroy last December, arguing that he should have made our top prospect list.

Because of the injury, Tilson did not get as much time to work out the kinks in rookie ball, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the assignment to Peoria. His 80 plate appearances have only included two extra base hits, a home run and a double. 70% of his balls in play have been grounders while less than 10% have been line drives. He's also struck out in nearly one-quarter of his plate appearances, so he's clearly not making great contact right now.

While this data may be underwhelming, they're both still just 20-years-old, so they have plenty of time to make adjustments and develop into better players. You can see why drafting more polished college hitters is so tempting. While Tilson and McElroy are toiling to put things together despite being drafted nearly two years ago, guys like Ramsey and Piscotty are knocking on the door to Springfield less than one year removed from their draft.

Can Kurt Heyer become another fast-moving SP?

Kurt Heyer posted impressive numbers in the Cape Cod League thanks to a deceptive windup, as noted by Jeff at the time of his selection. In one of Baseball Prospectus' Minor League Updates, Zach Mortimer commented that Heyer has four pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup) and, "enough polish to have his way in Low-A." He recently left a start early after being struck on the right hand/arm by a comebacker but did not miss his next turn. In 16.2 innings, Heyer has a 1.66/2.55 ERA/FIP and struck out 28% of the batters he had faced.

How many bats can Zachary Petrick and Dixon Llorens continue to miss?

Zachary Petrick and Dixon Llorens are right-handed relievers who have been racking up strikeouts at impressive rates. In 63 innings split between Johnson City and Peoria, Petrick has struck out 29% of the batters he has faced. Llorens has missed bats at an even higher rate (38%) in his 50 innings at the same two levels. Petrick has better control and generates more ground balls but, If Llorens can walk fewer batters, he's probably the better prospect since he is three years younger.

Who else?

There are surely other worthwhile names such as Breyvic Valera and Alex Mejia but the above names are the most intriguing to me. Less data is available for players at this level, and so they are harder to distinguish from one another unless they come with well-established scouting reports. So, who did I miss? And what other players could earn promotions to Peoria before the end of the year?

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