The St. Louis Cardinals minor league system is not as deep as it has been in the past. On Wednesday, the Red Baron came out with his "Dry Powder Inventory" post, which basically looked at trade bait in the system that included major and minor leaguers. Some of those minor leaguers may be featured in this post.
If you followed my writing in the past or follow me on Twitter, you probably have heard me talk about these players before. This group consists of prospects who probably aren't top 20 worthy and aren't prospects the everyday fan has heard of, but probably should. Consider this my "Favorite Prospects" post, not to steal an idea from Oprah. For each prospect I will give you a little background, some stats, a look ahead, and a video if possible.
Darren Seferina (5th round, 2014)
Darren Seferina may be one of my favorite prospects to follow in the minor league system and he may sneak into my newest top 20 prospect list that will come out in a week or two. Seferina was part of the pitcher-heavy 2014 draft that saw the Cards take 6 pitchers in a row to start the draft with Seferina the first position player. Coming out of Miami-Dade College, he was not a household name, but appears to be another scouting gem.
Seferina's prospect status is on the rise in 2015 with the Peoria Chiefs. The middle infielder has turned into primarily a second baseman and has had a strong season at the top of the Chiefs' lineup. He is second in the system with 19 doubles, behind Stephen Piscotty and his 7 triples are tied for the Midwest League lead. With a .305/.374/.456 slash line that is built around doubles and triples, Seferina represents a prototypical lead-off hitter.
At age 21, Seferina is probably in line for a promotion to High-A Palm Beach within the next month. The Cardinals like to give prospects who have had strong years a taste of the next level and that is likely what could happen here. Also expect to see Seferina start to play other positions as the clubs like their middle infielders to have multiple position experience.
Here is Seferina muscling up for a home run.
Austin Gomber (4th round, 2014)
Taken one pick before Seferina, Gomber has been a pleasant surprise in 2015. I have to give fellow VEB editor Joe Schwarz major credit for being onto Gomber early in his professional career. Like Seferina, Gomber comes from a smaller Florida school in Florida Atlantic University, although much bigger than Seferina's.
Gomber, 6'5" 205 lbs, has been a horse for the Peoria Chiefs this season. Over 16 starts, he has worked into the 7th inning 8 times with 4 7 inning starts and one 8 inning game. Gomber has shown great improvement in lowering his walks and increasing his strikeouts from his first professional season last year. His K/BB ratio is at 3.69, up from 2.00 last year. Gomber's 3.16 FIP is in line with his 3.10 ERA, showing that his season has not been smoke and mirrors.
Like his teammate Seferina, Gomber should be promoted to Palm Beach before the end of the season. Palm Beach's starting rotation is stacked with pitchers ready for the next level so I would expect a starting pitcher shuffle within the next couple of weeks. I think, at this point, Gomber profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Here is video of a May start for Gomber. You have to love his mound presence and repeatable delivery.
Corey Littrell (5th round, 2013) and Trey Nielsen (30th round, 2013)
I am combining these two pitchers because they are the underrated part of the studly Palm Beach starting rotation.
Alex Reyes (promoted to Double-A) , Rob Kaminsky, and Luke Weaver get the headlines while Littrell and Nielsen are quietly putting up soring numbers. Littrell came to the Cardinals in 2014 from the Red Sox with John Lackey, while Nielsen was drafted by the Cardinals.
Littrell has been a spot starter for the Beach Birds this season, but appears to have earned a permanent spot in the rotation after an impressive four start stint in late June and early July. Over those four starts, Littrell did not allow an earned run over 24 innings and had a 25/0 strikeout to walk ratio. Nielsen's career got a late start after Tommy John surgery and an interesting signing story. For Palm Beach this year, Nielsen has made 16 starts and has allowed 0-1 earned runs in 10 of them. Littrell and Nielsen have FIP's of 2.49 and 3.16 respectively.
There appears to be two issues regarding future development for both Littrell and Nielsen. First, they are both 23-years old and probably aging out of High-A, and should be given a Double-A shot pretty soon. Second, there is a train of starters who could be ahead of them on the depth chart who could get shots at higher levels first, like Weaver, Reyes, and Kaminsky. To say these two have a cloudy future would be putting it lightly.
Arturo Reyes (40th round, 2013)
Arturo Reyes is a great example of how well the Cardinals organization develops pitchers. The last Cards' pick in the '13 draft out of Gonzaga, Reyes has shot through the system and is on the doostep of Triple-A Memphis, with the big club not too far away.
Baseball Prospectus has an eyewitness report on Reyes by Colin Young when Young observed him on June 20th, 2015 and here is a snippet of what he saw:
The Cardinals have found a diamond in the rough with this 40th round pick. Reyes looks as polished as ten year vet while on the mound. He maintains great composure with runners on and can make the pitches to get out of jams. His tempo and rhythm mechanically are fantastic and as of right now I don't see anything that gives me any worry about future mechanic/physical breakdowns. He has the mental capacity and to carry his tools to the next level. He has a game plan and executes it very nicely working off the fastball and adjusting to the hitters well. The only worrisome aspect is his size at this point, but he overcomes that with deceptiveness and overall a great mental approach to the game. Reyes has a track record of consistency and with logging more innings I only see that remaining the same.
Reyes has turned himself into a legit prospect and could fins himself in my top 20. Reyes is not going to strikeout a ton as his K rate is at just under 7 per 9 innings, but he is also not going to give up the long ball, only 1 allowed this year. He should see time at Triple-A Memphis before the season ends and could be in line for a major league promotion in 2016.
Bonus Prospect: Jeremy Hazelbaker
Jeremy Hazelbaker is currently one of the hottest players in all of the Cardinals minor league system. For those that don't know, Hazelbaker came to the Cardinals as a minor league free agent mid-season after being released by the Dodgers organization early on in 2015. The Cardinals started him at Double-A Springfield and, after 40 games, promoted him to Triple-A Memphis. With Memphis in 17 games, Hazelbaker is slashing .460/.528/.889, obviously numbers that are not sustainable and are due to a small sample size.
The 27-year old is now with his third organization and actually has more minor league at-bats than career minor leaguer Tommy Pham. It is tough for me to get excited over Hazelbaker, but I would not be surprised to see him get a September call up as the organization likes to reward strong performances.
Let's let the rest of July and August play out before we anoint 27-year old Jeremy Hazelbaker the next big thing, however, I am not sure I have seen a hotter player in a long time.
I am sure there are prospects that you are interested in that I am missing and I would love to hear them in the comments. Thanks for reading!