The Cardinals minor league affiliates entered the season having graduated a significant amount of impact talent to the major leagues over the past three seasons, and, subsequently, there was expected to be somewhat of a lack of impact talent in the high minors with the exception of Oscar Taveras, who has been one of the top prospects in all of baseball for three years running. The expectation was that Oscar would get promoted sooner rather than later and that hopefully some cream would rise out of a deep system that lacked much, if any, great talent near the major leagues.
Looking at the farm system at the halfway point (which is actually beyond the halfway point for the full season teams and not quite halfway for the short season leagues, but I digress) a few notable trends emerge:
- The Cardinals farm system is far deeper than even most of us thought.
- There's a complete lack of offensive talent on the infield in the high minors.
- Holy s***, we have a ton of pitching.
Minor League Position Player of the Year
Rowan Wick, OF, State College
Yes, it's only 115 PA's, but damn if they aren't the best 115 PA's that anyone in the minors has taken so far this season:
.389/.496/.832; 12 HR, 6 2B, 24/18 K/BB ratio, .580 wOBA, 266 wRC+
That line is flat out cartoonish, even in a small-ish sample size, and Wick isn't young for his league at age 21 given that the Penn League is generally stocked with a lot of three year and four year college talent (albeit not the best three year and four year talent). Yes, the BABIP is the definition of unsustainable (.424 so far) and the ISO probably is too, since the only guys to carry a .442 ISO or better are guys like Ruth and Bonds. But even given that, his numbers are still impressive when you compare them to the rest of the league.
Is he a legit prospect? He certainly is now. Sure, we're going to have to wait and see what happens when he gets into a league with a little more talent, but that's legit power: 23 homers in his first 420 odd professional PA's, with a better than average walk rate and a K-rate that's shown some improvement over a year ago. I really want to see him in Peoria in August to see if there's a huge drop off in production from Low-A to full season ball, but it's hard not to be somewhat excited given what Wick has done so far.
Minor League Pitcher of the Year
Marco Gonzales, SP, Palm Beach/Springfield
79.1 IP, 2.38 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 81/20 K/BB
The first round selection from a year ago has acquitted himself quite well so far this season, enough to be considered for a couple of big league starts when the club needed them. Gonzales is striking out nearly 25% of the hitters he faces and doing it with stuff that would not normally be considered strikeout material. He's certainly had the best season of any Cardinals minor league hurler, although there are a few down in the lower levels of the system that might have more upside.
Gonzales was sent to AAA after his cup of coffee in St. Louis and it will be interesting to see how he's able to handle hitters with a more professional approach given the slurviness of his curveball at times and less than peak velocity. The changeup is plus-plus, as we all saw upon his call up, and that, coupled with his solid command should make him a rotation candidate for a good long time, given the opportunity.
Most Improved Player
Tommy Pham, OF, Memphis
206 PA, .324/.388/.519, 20 XBH, 9 SB, .387 wOBA,
Finally, Pham. Finally. We saw a little bit of this as year ago in the Texas League. Most of us who follow the Cardinals farm system have been waiting for it for the better part of 5 years.
Tommy effing Pham has finally put together half a season of studliness that we all glimpsed on occasion but were never sure we'd actually get in volume given all the struggles with injury.
There's certainly some regression possible here, with a .391 BABIP and a batted ball profile heavily weighted towards ground balls, but Pham should get plenty of playing time the next 7 weeks and could be a candidate for a call up when roster's expand given his ability to play all three outfield positions.
Most Improved Pitcher
Sam Tuivailala, RP, Palm Beach/Springfield
39.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.66 FIP, 67/18 K/BB
When you're striking out nearly 40% of the hitters you face, you must be doing something right, no matter what league you're playing in. That's Slingin' Sam in a nutshell.
All those strikeouts also came with a slight reduction in walk rate from a year ago, which puts him ahead of former Palm Beach teammate Dixon Llorens, and he's allowed just 29 hits in 39 innings with only 1 home run on the year. Impressive, even in the pitching haven that is the Florida State League. Batting average against: .207/.302/.264 on the season.
I'm usually loathe to put relievers on a list, but I think that this particular bullpen arm might be a pretty valuable one in the near future, and his ability to maintain a high K rate while reducing both hit and walk rates from a year ago while moving up a rung on the minor league ladder merits some serious consideration.
Players to Watch, Second Half:
- Ian McKinney, SP, State College/Johnson City
- James Ramsey, OF, Springfield
- Charlie Tilson, OF, Palm Beach
- Tyrell Jenkins, SP, Palm Beach
- Cody Stanley, C, Springfield
- Zach Petrick, SP, Memphis
- Kenny Peoples-Walls, OF, Peoria
- David Popkins, OF, Palm Beach
- Patrick Wisdom, 3B, Springfield
- Mike O'Neill, LF, Springfield
Right on Target:
- Rob Kaminsky, SP, Peoria
- Alex Reyes, SP, Peoria
- Stephen Piscotty, OF, Memphis
- Randal Grichuk, OF, Memphis
- Breyvic Valera, 2B/3B, Springfield