Happy New Year, everyone. It's looking like 2016 may not be a great year for El Birdos -- the club, not the site -- what with all the failures to upgrade the roster this offseason, though to be fair there are some definite points of inflection that, if things break positive for the club, could make big positive differences.
Since 2016 opens feeling a bit dark, let's see if we can't bring a little lightness of being to the proceedings, shall we? Today we're going to talk about the future. And, sure, the fact we're talking about a future beyond 2016 with the year barely begun isn't a particularly pleasant feeling, but hey, it's still a pretty nice future I think we're looking toward.
Last week the first half of this list was published, covering spots 21-11, from Corey Littrell to Harrison Bader. Today, we look at the big guns. Counting down from ten to one, these are the bright stars in the Cardinal constellation of the future. They're the terrible metaphors of the Cardinals' future poems, as well. So, you know.
Enough ridiculous banter. Miles to go before I sleep, and all that. Let's get this show on the road.
Remember: Player Comps are not meant to be qualitative in nature. I'm not running a projection system here. The comps are more to give reference for what a player's performance is going to look like; how well he actually performs is a separate question entirely.
#10: Ronnie Williams, RHP
Opening Day 2016 Age: 20
2015 Level: Short-season Johnson City
Relevant Numbers: 3.70 ERA, 4.80 FIP, 45 Hits allowed, 56.0 IP
So, what's so great about this guy?
It would be easy to look at Williams' 2015 line and call it disappointing. And, to be honest, the results were very much up and down, with probably a few more downs than ups. He walked far too many hitters, struggled to find consistency outing to outing with his secondary pitches, and just generally looked like a middling prospect much of the time.
However, obscured by the numbers somewhat is the fact that 2015 was a big step forward for Williams in his development, even if the results are not yet where one might hope. Remember, this was a player who never pitched full-time in high school, even his senior season when it became obvious his future paycheck was going to be on the mound. He played shortstop and center field both, taking advantage of his outstanding athleticism and speed. It's the arm that got him drafted, though, and it's the arm that's going to get him where he wants to go.
Early in the season, Williams struggled to find the strike zone, running up high pitch counts and high walk totals both. To wit, in his first six starts at Johnson City, Williams threw 28 innings, allowed 26 hits, and walked 17. Beginning with his first start of August, however, Williams made six more starts the rest of the year, threw 28 innings, allowed only 19 hits, and walked just eight hitters. That's a 1.53 WHIP through the 28th of July, and a 0.96 the rest of the way. That includes a real clunker in his second to last start of the season, when he recorded just two outs while allowing five runs (four earned), on two hits, two walks, and a home run to top off his afternoon.
So what happened? Simple: Williams improved. We might call 2015 an experimental year for Williams, if we wanted to be a bit generous, but also fairly accurate. He added a cutter/slider to his arsenal, and had a mandate from the development staff to work on his secondary offerings in general. Early in the season, he worked on mixing pitches, tinkering and experimenting, and the number of baserunners he allowed reflected a pitcher working out of the zone too often, trying to find consistency with his stuff, and being forced to groove too many pitches in deep counts in an attempt to limit the free passes.
As the season went on, though, Williams began to find consistency in his delivery, began to make real strides with both his breaking balls, and was able to start attacking hitters more aggressively earlier in counts, leaning on his fastball to set up his offspeed stuff, rather than trying to feel his way along. That clunker I mentioned in his second to last start of the season was followed up by his best start as a professional, when he closed out his first full year as a pitcher only by facing down a powerful Pulaski Yankees lineup. He threw five innings, allowed one run on three hits and a walk, and struck out seven.
In short, while the performance for Williams in his first full pro season was not astounding, he improved dramatically as the year went on, and made huge strides with his full repertoire. That being said, 2016 will be a big season for him. I expect the Cardinals will challenge him with a promotion to open the season at Peoria, his first shot at full-season ball. It's a big jump, and how Williams acquits himself there will go a long way toward determining whether he continues to move up these rankings, or whether he will continue to be a case of the stuff not translating into results.
Speaking of the stuff, Williams has a premium arm, generating remarkable power from a frame that does not look like a classic power pitcher's. He works with a fastball in the 92-94 mph range, and it has heavy sink and squirrelly run when he keeps it down. It will be important, obviously, for Williams to continue developing his secondary stuff, but his fastball is good enough it's possible to imagine him dominating just on the strength of that power sinker for long stretches in the future. He can run it up into the 95-96 range at times, particularly when he elevates, but his bread and butter will likely be a little lower than that.
The best of his secondary pitches at the moment is a wicked changeup that has remarkable knucking action at times. I'm reminded of Rich Harden's knuckle/split/change thing he used to throw. When the fastball and change are both on, Williams can cruise on those two pitches and be nearly unhittable. He throws a curveball that shows nice spin and occasional shape, but the pitch needs plenty of work to be more consistent. At its best, it can flash 55 potential, but probably only on three out of every ten pitches.
The slider/cutter that Williams began throwing this year at the behest of the Cardinals is interesting. It's not a great pitch just yet, being occasionally slurvy and occasionally flat, but it makes for a promising complement to his sinker. I'm not a huge fan of pitchers who lean on the cut fastball heavily, in terms of long-term health, but as an occasional weapon to run a pitch near the velocity of his fastball in the opposite direction, a hard cutter could be devastating for Williams.
Williams also possesses perhaps my favourite delivery in the Cards' system, with a fantastic arm action I would hang in a museum if I could. His athleticism should help him repeat it well down the line, allowing him to throw more strikes than he does now, helping all his pitches play up.
Here's a bit of footage of Williams lighting up radar guns the spring he was drafted, as well as giving some feel for how much movement the fastball has.
via Scot Drucker:
Player Comp: the turbo sinker reminds me of Kip Wells; the array of intriguing offspeed stuff and a potentially dominant changeup reminds me of Rich Harden. He's also not dissimilar to Harden in terms of build.
#9: Sam Tuivailala, RHP
Opening Day 2016 Age: 23
2015 Level: Triple A Memphis, MLB
Relevant Numbers: 30.8% K rate (MLB), 97.19 mph average fastball velocity
So, what's so great about this guy?
It seems almost impossible that Tuivailala is still just 23, doesn't it? And actually won't turn 24 until after the 2016 season. After being drafted as a high school shortstop in 2010, and not hitting pretty much at all his first couple seasons in the minors, he was converted to pitching during the 2012 season. He then proceeded to fly through the system, reaching the big leagues in 2014 with just 122 minor league innings under his belt. He's been on the radar for what seems like forever, but has still only been a pitcher for roughly three years.
The good with Tuivailala is the stuff. He works consistently in the upper 90s with his fastball, topping out right around the century mark, and the pitch actually has plus movement as well. You don't see many fastballs deserving of a pure 80 grade, but Tuivailala's is probably one of them. He complements that heater with a breaking ball that began as a waterfall curve but is morphing into a large slider, as he's throwing it harder and with more tilt as time goes on. I understand the impetus, to try and disguise the pitch with more similar arm speed to his fastball, but I think I preferred the bigger, softer, more vertical curveball break, to be honest. Still, when he locates the pitch, it can be nearly untouchable as well. There are days when it might grade a 65, and days when he can't find the zone with it at all and it plays more like a 35.
There is also a cutter Tuivailala attempted to add to his delivery this past season at the behest of the major league staff, and Mike Matheny in particular had some very positive things to say about the new offering. So far, though, the pitch has gotten more publicity than results, and I'm hesitant to add too much to my opinion of Tui based on the suggestion he maybe, just maybe could be adding a third effective weapon to his arsenal. Developing...
Which brings us to the bad with Tuivailala: he's still very, very raw, and the command of his pitches just isn't there yet. He walks far too many, which as we see with Aroldis Chapman isn't necessarily a fatal flaw if you limit the hits and rack up the Ks enough to make up for it, but also lacks the command of his individual pitches to always put hitters away. It's a high-risk, reliever-only sort of delivery, so long-term durability worries me a little, but the fact he's only ever going to be a one-inning bullpen arm ameliorates those concerns to a certain extent.
Tuivailala gains his high spot on this list by dint of being major-league ready and having the upside of a shutdown late inning reliever. That being said, he still isn't a finished product, and how well he can improve his ability to harness and locate that premium stuff this season will determine how close he comes to that ceiling.
Player Comp: pick your favourite hard-throwing closer with a dominant breaking ball. Robb Nen is a good choice, as is Brad Lidge. If you want a more curveball-oriented choice, think Bobby Jenks when he broke in with the White Sox.
#8: Anthony Garcia, OF
Opening Day 2016 Age: 24
2015 Level: Double A Springfield, Triple A Memphis
Relevant Numbers: 12.4% BB rate, 149 wRC+ (Spr), 119 wRC+ (Mem), .194 ISO
So, what's so great about this guy?
Simply put, Anthony Garcia can hit.
Actually, scratch that.
Anthony Garcia can produce. That's probably a better way to put it.
The reason I say produce instead of hit is because saying a player can simply hit calls to mind a certain type of offensive profile, that of an elite bat-control hitter, capable of peppering line drives to all fields and making contact with nearly everything a pitcher throws his way. Anthony Garcia, on the other hand, simply produces offensively.
Which isn't to say he isn't capable of peppering line drives to all fields; Garcia has a balanced, line drive-heavy approach to hitting that should serve him well as he moves up to the big leagues. He has the strength in his swing to hit the ball out of the park, but his approach leads to more doubles to right-center that moonshots pulled to left.
Garcia has also, at times in his career, shown outstanding patience at the plate, though admittedly that approach comes and goes. His introduction to Cardinal prospect mavens came back in 2010, when he beat up on Appy League pitching as a member of the Johnson City Cardinals, posting a 13.0% walk rate and just 12.3% strikeout rate as an eighteen year old virtual unknown from Puerto Rico. As introductions go, one could hardly ask for much better.
As Garcia moved up the ladder, though, his plate approach didn't always hold together. In 2012, making his full-season debut at low-A Quad Cities, he struck out 24% of the time, while walking just under 8%. He still managed to put up a 137 wRC+ that season, though, compensating for his fading patience at the plate with a .245 ISO that included 19 home runs in under 450 plate appearances. It was a fairly remarkable power spike for the Midwest League, and pointed toward Garcia perhaps being a slightly different kind of hitter than we had initially believed.
Then came Palm Beach.
In 2013, Garcia was promoted up the ladder to High Palm Beach, in the Florida State League. The FSL is a fairly brutal place to hit in general, and Roger Dean Stadium, where the Cardinals play their spring training games, host their complex league clubs, and also field the team called Palm Beach (though it's actually in Jupiter), has become especially notorious the last few seasons. Garcia went there, and he basically tanked.
The 2013 season was a rough one, as Garcia saw his plate discipline decline even further, striking out nearly a quarter of the time (24.6%, to be exact), and seeing his walk rate fall all the way below 7%. His overall line for the season, .217/.286/.383, was actually good enough to translate to a 90 wRC+, to give you some idea of how awful the hitting conditions in the FSL are, but for a bat-first corner outfielder whose calling card was always going to be offensive production, that's not going to get it done.
His season line was pulled down even more by a .257 batting average on balls in play, but while it would be easy to write that off as bad luck, I have to admit to being a bit concerned.
One of the intriguing things about Garcia, particularly the last few years, is his propensity for hitting the ball in the air. Since 2012, the first season Garcia demonstrated that power spike, he has consistently had some of the lowest groundball rates among his batted-ball profile of any player in the Cardinals' system. Which, for the most part, is a fairly good thing; flyballs don't turn into hits quite as often as grounders, but are much more likely to be impactful hits when they do. Why it concerns me with Garcia is when you look at his two seasons in Palm Beach, both come with BABIPs in the .250s. To me, that looks like a possible indication of a player hitting the ball in the air a ton, but not having enough oomph in the bat to overcome a difficult offensive environment, i.e. a ballpark that plays big, and feeling a disproportionate level of damage done to his production.
Which, of course, would be fine if it was just the Florida State League. You know, if it wasn't for the fact the Cardinals also happen to play in a park that suppresses power to a huge degree.
Anyhow, Garcia's second season in Palm Beach was much better. He improved his approach dramatically, pushing his walk rate back up close to 10% and dropping his strikeout rate to 16.4%. His isolated slugging was still bad that year at .157, and a .252 BABIP still speaks of a player not being able to overcome the environment, but the 34 point boost in OBP from 2013-'14 was proof positive of a hitter who had seen the light as far as plate approach.
Garcia opened 2015 in Springfield, finally, and promptly set about demolishing the league, putting up a 149 wRC+ with a 13.0% walk rate and just 15.6% K rate in 346 plate appearances. For most players, moving up from High A tou Double A is the biggest, most difficult jump they've made to that point in their careers; for Garcia, escaping Palm Beach was liberating. His ISO in Double A was very good, if not eye-popping, at .191, and his BABIP was a very normal .317. He hit the ball hard, hit the ball to all fields, and controlled the strike zone. He didn't get exceptionally lucky en route to that near-50% better than average hitting line; he earned every bit of that.
Late in the season, Garcia moved up to Memphis, and wasn't overwhelmed by Triple A pitching any more than he had been Double A. The walks went down and the strikeouts went up, but not dramatically, and he posted a .202 ISO in the cozy parks of the Pacific Coast League. After the season, Garcia was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule V draft, and there is every reason to believe he could be one of the first players called up to the big club if an injury occurs to a corner outfielder.
As you can probably tell by the detail with which I just recounted Garcia's trip through the minors, I find him to be one of the more fascinating players in the system. At his best, he controls the zone, forces pitchers into throwing him hittable pitches, and is capable of driving the ball to all fields. He gets on base at a high clip due to an above-average walk rate, and doesn't strike out a ton. In short, he's essentially the perfect Cardinal hitter, at least of the past half-decade, when the prototype seems to be players like Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, David Freese (the 2012 version of Freese, especially), and some version of Matt Carpenter, as well as the hitter Stephen Piscotty specifically looked like in 2015 at Triple A, which is also the performance that got him called up to the big leagues. Garcia checks most all of the boxes the Redbirds seem to like in their hitters, and I can't say I'm not excited to see him get to St. Louis and start performing in the same understated but tremendously effective way so many of the Cards' other hitters have in recent years.
That being said, I also worry about what we saw with Garcia in Palm Beach, when a difficult, power-suppressing hitting environment both seemed to rob him of potency and severely undermine his approach. I wonder if hitting a handful of flyballs that were home runs in Quad Cities but suddenly died short of the track in Palm Beach got into his head, or if it's a simple reality of the way he hits that a park that kills power is going to kill him specifically. He's not a great defender, nor a great baserunner, so all the value you're going to get from Garcia is by necessity going to come from the bat. And if Busch Stadium does to the bat what Roger Dean did, then there may be a real problem.
Nonetheless, I'm betting on Anthony Garcia. He's become a forgotten prospect among national list-makers, I can only assume due to two full seasons stuck at Palm Beach putting up lackluster numbers. His overall package of offensive production, though, could make a big-time impact at the major league level if it translates, which is something I can't say for many other prospects in the upper levels of this system.
Player Comp: I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Matt Holliday's offensive skillset is a remarkably good fit for what Garcia brings to the table. He may never have the power of peak Holliday, but the on-base skills, better than average contact rate, and all-fields line drive approach are very much in line with what I think we could see from Anthony Garcia.
#7: Magneuris Sierra, OF
2016 Opening Day Age: 19 (turns 20 early April)
2015 Level: Low A Peoria, Short-season Johnson City
Relevant Numbers: 117 wRC+ (JC), 15 SB - 2 CS (JC), 7.9% walk rate (JC)
So, what's so great about this guy?
Magneuris Sierra won the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year award in 2014, following a campaign which saw him hit .386/.434/.505 as an eighteen year old in his first season stateside. He was challenged with a promotion to full-season ball to begin 2015, and it...did not go well.
Playing at Peoria, Sierra posted a 33 wRC+, was caught stealing five times against just four successes, and looked completely overmatched at the plate, striking out almost 30% of the time and walking less than 4%. The Cardinals wisely demoted him to short-season ball once those clubs got underway, and Sierra rebounded nicely, putting up solid numbers in the Appy League, though nothing close to his otherworldly 2014.
It will be one of the big storylines in the Cards' minor league system this coming year, watching what Sierra does as he tries full-season ball again. He'll be 20, which is still young for the Midwest League, but not necessarily young for a prospect in the Midwest League. The plate approach looked very advanced his first two years of pro ball, but disintegrated completely facing Low-A opposition, and it's fair to wonder, I think, if he could really have possibly grown and developed enough in one year to somehow reclaim his status as a wunderkind after being so brutalised last season.
Sierra is wiry-strong, undersized a bit at 5'11" and 160 lbs, but there is room on his frame to add probably 15-20 lbs, at least, without compromising his speed and agility. He already possesses well above-average bat speed, and when he connects he's capable of hitting the ball remarkably hard for a player who doesn't necessarily look like a slugger. That being said, for now it's below-average game power, and one has to worry about whether the physical maturity and strength gains to add thump to the bat will actually come about or not.
Defensively, though, there's much less concern. Sierra is the fastest runner and best center fielder in the system, better even than Charlie Tilson, whose glove tends to get plenty of love around the minors. Sierra might legitimately grade as a 70 runner, and a 65 or 70 defender. The floor is still quite low, because there is a chance he simply doesn't hit at all at the upper levels, but elite defense at a premium position can take a player a long way, and Sierra has that in spades. It's a big arm, too; enough to play right field if need be, or just make highlight-reel throws from center all day long.
Player Comp: Kevin Kiermaier is a potential comp as an elite center field defender with enough bat to be very valuable, as are players like Juan Lagares and (gulp), Peter Bourjos. Sierra's offensive upside is, I believe, higher than most of those players, though, with potentially plus contact skills and above-average gap-type power both possibilities. In that case, someone like Lenny Dykstra doesn't feel entirely inappropriate. Only hopefully without, you know, being Lenny Dykstra. Ugh.
via ThePeoriaChiefs (watch 'til the end, as the last couple minutes have some Sierra highlights, including a throw, a catch, and his only home run at Peoria):
#6A: Marco Gonzales, LHP
Opening Day 2016 Age: 24
2015 Level: High A Palm Beach, Double A Springfield, Triple A Memphis, MLB
Relevant Numbers: 5.08 FIP (Mem), 1.30 HR/9 (Mem), .358 BABIP (Mem)
So, what's so great about this guy?
Okay, so here's the thing: I hesitated for awhile about putting both Gonzales and the next player on our list on here. Marco because I barely think of him as a prospect, even though he very much still fits into the prospect rubric, and the next player because, technically, I believe the standard for whether a player is considered for most of these lists tends to exclude international players outside the bonus pool system, i.e. former pro players from Cuba, Japan, etc. In the end, I decided to include both players, in order to try and give a fuller picture of what's going on in the organisation. Technically, that actually makes this a Top 22 list, rather than 21 (at the time I wrote the first installment I had decided to exclude the next player to keep with MLB style guidelines, but then decided that's stupid), but I'm not going to go back and change the title of the first post at least to reflect this fact. With that said, moving on...
Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to say about Marco Gonzales at this point. Everybody here know the story on him, and the story is this: Gonzales was drafted out of Gonzaga in 2013, blasted through the minors, reach the big leagues in mid-2014, and then spent much of the year in 2015 on the shelf with a pectoral/shoulder injury. When he came back, he wasn't good.
This ranking reflects my own best feeling for where Marco stands in the organisation right now. He still has the potential to be a dependable, reliable #4 starter, with a plus changeup and three other average pitches that give him enough weapons to be effective at the major league level. He's also a risk at this point, having suffered one serious arm injury already and struggling to keep the ball in the ballpark when he was on the field.
In fact, keeping the ball inside the stadium has been an issue for Marco in general to this point in his career; he's been homer-prone in both Triple A and the big leagues, and I wonder if his style of pitching is just always going to be vulnerable to the long ball. He's more of a flyball pitcher than I expected him to be, and he can't overpower hitters up in the zone to make up for it.
Overall, the simple truth of the matter is this: if Marco Gonzales is healthy, he's probably still what we thought he was. If not, well, he wouldn't be the first pitcher to see his career derailed by injury.
Player Comp: Mark Buehrle is still the player who comes to mind first when I watch Gonzales pitch, but the flyball tendencies and pitch mix also make me think of Eric Milton.
#6: Aledmys Diaz, SS/INF
Opening Day 2016 Age: 25
2015 Level: Double A Springfield, Triple A Memphis, Arizona Fall League
Relevant Numbers: 549 PAs, 17 HR, 36 2B, .240 ISO (Mem), .301 ISO (AFL), 10.3% BB, 8.6% K rate (both Mem)
So, what's so great about this guy?
When I first saw Aledmys Diaz swing a baseball bat, back in the early early spring of 2014, when his name first started really popping up in relation to the Cardinals, two words came to mind: fast hands.
Nearly two years later, having watched Diaz miss much of his first full season due to injury, struggle early and surge late in his second, and reclaim a spot on the 40 man roster with an absolutely monstrous trip through the Arizona Fall League, it's still those fast hands at the plate that make the biggest impression, for me, and point toward the kind of pop in the bat that could make Diaz a rarity among his peers in the middle of the diamond.
Diaz's 2015 season was interestingly bifurcated by his removal from the 40 man roster midseason, when the Cardinals outrighted him to make space as they attempted to cobble together a major league lineup in spite of a spate of injuries. It has been noted ad nauseum that Diaz hit much, much better after his removal than before, and more than a few prospect-watchers have gone for the immediate easy trope of the Wakeup Call, in the sense that all Diaz really needed was a stiff kick in the pants, and he got it in the form of losing his MLB roster spot. After that, he pulled his head out of his ass, did something something bootstraps, and became Aledmys, Destroyer of Worlds with the bat.
All of which, of course, is bullshit. Or mostly so, anyway. What mostly happened to make such a difference for Diaz was the simple fact he finally worked himself back into proper playing shape and got his timing back after a long layoff following his defection from Cuba. He had a difficult road to reach the U.S., and ended up going nearly two years without playing proper competitive ball before getting back on the field in 2014. He then suffered an injury, likely the result of that long layoff, suddenly going all-out at showcase events to try to find a deal, and not being 100% ready to go physically, and lost even more time. He was rounding into form just as the 40-man move happened, and the rest, as they say, is history. It was a coincidence of timing, and I can tell you from talking to the one or two people in the Cards' player development wing who actually speak to me that the organisation as a whole was sweating bullets, hoping he would make it through without being claimed on waivers.
Which isn't to necessarily say the roster move had absolutely no effect on Diaz; I think the physical issues were by far the more meaningful changes, but it's not impossible to imagine him playing with a bit of an extra chip on his shoulder afterward, determined now not only to perform for himself, but with a little bit of desire to Prove Them Wrong. There are players who actually do use slights, perceived or real, as extra motivation to drive their moment-to-moment concentration. Diaz may or may not be one of those players; I honestly don't know enough about him to say for sure.
What I can say for sure is this: Aledmys Diaz can hit. Those fast hands translate into loud contact on a consistent basis, allowing him to drive the ball to all fields with authority. Nearly all of his over-the-fence power comes to the pull side, when he gets a pitch out in front of the plate and pulls it in the air, but he's capable of going from foul pole to foul pole when it comes to hard-hit line drives. Velocity doesn't phase him, either, from what I've been able to see of him, as the simple, effective load in his swing allows him to catch up to even high-octane stuff.
In the field, Diaz has good hands and an average arm, as well as decent range. Overall, he's a little short of what you want from a starting shortstop in the big leagues, if I'm being honest. All year, every time I've watched him, he's come across to me as a guy who will make his living either moving around the diamond in a utility role, or possibly settle in at second base, where the range+arm equation is a little less demanding. That being said, I don't think he would kill a team forced to start him at short; it's just not an ideal solution. He's seen a little time in left field here and there, as well, leading me to believe the Cardinals likely view his best long-term fit as a super utility player too.
The downside with Diaz looks something like this: the batspeed doesn't translate to the big leagues, as clubs are able to take advantage of his aggressiveness and use his tendency to try and pull the ball for power against him. The strikeouts stay moderate, but his groundball rate shoots through the roof, nerfing his power. The glove is just average at second or third, and he can't play shortstop at all. You're left with a tweener bat, with no really good position, who's incapable of making a real impact in any phase of the game. At that point, Diaz is just a garden-variety utility infielder, of the sort we've seen play the game all our lives, and is only occasionally lauded as a reasonable value signing by the Cards out of Cuba.
For my money, though, Diaz could, and should, be a much, much more dynamic player than that. When he reached Memphis late in the season, he looked like a hitter well and truly locked in at the plate, and Triple A pitchers approached him as such. They worked him with extreme caution, and to his great credit, Diaz refused to expand his zone whatsoever. The resulting numbers were startling. I don't expect him to run a 10%+ walk rate in the big leagues, nor a .200+ ISO, in all likelihood, but the fact he moved up to face the most advanced pitching this side of the big leagues and absolutely dominated was a real eye-opener. Diaz going on to beat up on the Arizona Fall League was icing on the cake, even if it's always appropriate to keep in mind the hitting environment in the greater Phoenix area.
The Cardinals' trade for Jedd Gyorko is interesting for Diaz, in that it greatly clouds his potential path to the big leagues. He and Gyorko are both right-handed hitters, and while I personally think Diaz could be a much better pure hitter in the majors than Gyorko, the power potential of the former Padre will almost certainly keep his bat in the lineup on a fairly regular basis. The fact Gyorko is also signed for the next four seasons is also curious, if the Cardinals as an organisation value Diaz and believe he could be a contributor in St. Louis anytime soon. He's 25 years old, and there are only two years left on the four-year contract Diaz signed with the Cardinals last spring, so the clock is ticking, to a certain extent.
To me, I think the best route for Diaz to the big leagues is as a super utility player; a right-handed quality hitting complement to the potential on-base excellence of the lefty-swinging Greg Garcia. But if I'm being honest, I can also say that if you handed me a crystal ball, pointed it to 2017 sometime, and showed me Aledmys Diaz starting at second base for the Cardinals, and Kolten Wong moved in a deal for a position of greater need, I wouldn't be completely shocked.
I would be surprised, yes. But shocked? No.
Player Comp: Interestingly, both names that come to mind for me first when speaking of Diaz are members of the Pittsburgh Pirates currently. The right-handed high-contact, somewhat above-average power hitting profile, combined with positional versatility, puts me in mind of Josh Harrison, whom I know I've brought up in relation to Diaz before. I'm hoping Diaz ultimately has more patience at the plate than Harrison, but there are definite similarities. The other name I don't believe I've invoked before is of the Pirates' currently-injured Korean wunderkind and brilliant investment, Jung-Ho Kang. Also somewhat interestingly, while he's physically smaller, Diaz's overall hitting profile isn't all that different from the Cardinals' current starting shortstop, Jhonny Peralta.
As I look at the word count underneath the post editor here, I see that I am currently sitting just shy of 5950 words, having written about half the players I planned to today. While I never shy away from going full-on long form on this website, as I believe the audience here appreciates in-depth analysis and has no attention-span issues as a whole, there's also the possibility finishing this up in similar fashion to the way I've begun could push the total count for the article somewhere over 10000 words, and that feels a bit extreme to me. Blame my insistence on depth in covering Anthony Garcia, if you want to blame a specific thing.
Therefore, I'm making an on-the-fly decision here, and am going to cut the top ten prospects into two separate posts. This was not my original intention, certainly, and I'm going to simply finish up the list and publish it Wednesday, rather than drawing things out for an entire week longer. I'll bump my next draft post on positional favourites to next Sunday, most likely.
For now, we'll call this a post, and I'll be back on Wednesday with the top five in the Cardinals' system. And I promise, no further shenanigans with the numbering system; the only reason for the weirdness here is because I ultimately decided omitting Aledmys Diaz, even for reasons that hold other places, when I think so very highly of him, would be a serious mistake and take away some of the validity of this exercise in general.
So until Wednesday, this is your resident prospect gusher, signing off.