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System Sundays: The Allen Cordoba Scouting Report

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Scouting a now sadly departed prospect, with the hopes he’ll end up back in the fold.

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals
What? I just like this picture.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Hello, all. I apologise for the terribly late start I’m getting on this, but the day job tends to stick its nose in everywhere this time of year.

Anyhow, I’m currently deep in the top prospects list, and the first installment should roll out next Sunday. I’m not going to stick to Sundays only with it; in an attempt to get it out in a more timely fashion, I’ll just roll out all five parts of it consecutively on both my days. I may even start it on Wednesday, if there’s no other topic presenting itself, but we’ll see. I’m covering roughly 36 players this year: 26 ranked, fully-scouted prospects (and yes, it’s 26 because I once again forgot a player somewhere in the middle, and I hated to bump a guy I had already written up), and ten more players who fall into the just-missed/persons of interest sort of category, who come with slightly shorter scouting reports.

Today, though, I want to share with you the most frustrating scouting report I’ve had to write all year. Allen Cordoba was one of the biggest risers in the whole system for me this year; in fact, he was probably the number one helium guy on my list. And, of course, as you probably know by now, Cordoba was selected by the San Diego Padres in this past week’s Rule V draft. So that’s intensely frustrating, just to see a player who took such a huge step forward developmentally this season head out the door because of a 40-man roster crunch.

But it’s also a little extra frustrating for me, because I had tabbed Cordoba as one of my big potential breakout candidates this year after having seen him very briefly last season (and having looked at the numbers he put up as well), and I thus paid special attention to him all year. And considering how unusual it is to point to a breakout player and then have them do pretty much exactly what you were hoping they would, I was extremely excited about writing him up this winter. And so, the player I was most excited to write about, who I had spent a lot of extra time tracking this season, is no longer under the purview of this series. Again, frustrating.

All is not lost, however. As much as I love Allen Cordoba — and spoiler alert, I ranked him extremely aggressively — I would not in any way consider him major league ready. The Padres are going to be terrible this year, and that will give them some definite flexibility, but even they will have a hard time, I think, nursing along a player who should really be in Low-A ball this season. Personally, I’m hoping the Cardinals get him back not only because I’m very high on the player, but because I don’t want to see Cordoba lose basically a whole year of proper development work sitting on the big league bench. You know that debate we always have, about whether it’s better for a player to be in the bigs, sitting on the bench or in the minors, playing everyday and improving? (Think Carson Kelly 2017.) Well, as much as you can try to work with a player between games and the like, a 21 year old who just isn’t ready is going to lose a huge amount of development time riding the bench for a whole season. And sometimes, when you lose that development time at 20/21, you just plain lose it.

And the reason Cordoba wasn’t protected? So that the Cardinals could carry Seth Maness for an extra two weeks, basically. I try not to criticise too much the way the club handles its 40-man roster; it’s really, really hard trying to juggle all the things you have to worry about in relation to the roster in the offseason. But I have to say, John Mozeliak and the Cardinals have done a piss-poor job of managing the 40-man these past couple years. They lucked out not to lose Aledmys Diaz; they didn’t get so lucky with Cordoba. I’m sure the thought was that he was too far away to have to really worry about getting taken, but the fact is there is a ton of chaff on the current Cards’ roster, and the front office’s inability to find some way of winnowing the bloat of marginal players is a big issue.

Also, just for the record, I would have preferred to see Cordoba protected over Edmundo Sosa, but that’s really a secondary issue.

So what I present to you here today is my scouting report on Allen Cordoba, written up very early in the process. I ended up ranking him eighth, far higher than you’ll likely see on any other list this offseason (though obviously he will now be ranked on the Padres’ list). I like him that much, and given that context I hope you can see why I’m so intensely frustrated to see him out of the organisation now.

8) Allen Cordoba, SS

6’1”, 175 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

No other player in the Cardinal system made a bigger jump from 2015 to 2016, and that jump has Cordoba checking in far closer to the top of my list than you’ll probably see anywhere else. I liked him last year; quite a lot, in fact, and it was difficult for me to leave him off my official list. He was so far away, though, and had such a limited track record, that I ultimately couldn’t justify putting him on. However, in the unofficial list, the one I keep in my head, Cordoba was one of those player I was most keen on following this year, and more than just about any other player I’ve ever mentally tabbed in such a way (probably right there along with the three-year development of Zack Collins, who I shadow drafted out of high school in 2013, only to have him become a top ten overall pick this past summer), Cordoba did everything he could to justify my excitement level.

Cordoba spent a long time kicking around the very lowest levels of the minor leagues, playing two straight years in the Dominican Summer League, and that extended stay in the DSL before finally making his way stateside in 2015 kept him flying under the radar for quite a while. Why the delay in getting him to the U.S. and climbing the ladder I don’t know, but I do know that by the time he finally got here he looked more than ready. In 2015, playing in the Gulf Coast League, Cordoba simply outclassed the competition, putting up a 149 wRC+ over the course of 229 plate appearances. He hit .342/.401/.421, and posted a walk to strikeout ratio that was nearly 1:1. He whiffed in just under 9% of his plate appearances, and walked in just under 7%. Contact, at the time, seemed to be his specialty.

Well, this year Cordoba moved up to Johnson City, and cemented that perception in a big way. In 220 Appalachian League plate appearances, Cordoba hit .362/.427/.495, good for a wRC+ of 157. Yes, both his 2015 and ‘16 numbers were buoyed by high batting averages on balls in play (.366 and .399 the past two seasons, respectively), but in the low minors that can be a function of a player who’s simply too good for the league as easily as it can simple good fortune.

To those huge contact numbers, Cordoba also added elite plate discipline, as he actually walked more often than he struck out this season, with a 9.5% walk rate and just an 8.6% strikeout rate. That’s how you put up a .427 on-base percentage. He even hit for more power this season; he failed to hit any home runs this year, after hitting two in each of the previous two seasons, but overall he collected more bases, nearly doubling his isolated slugging from 2015 to ‘16, from .079 to .133. With sixteen doubles and five triples in those 220 trips to the plate, Cordoba collected an extra-base hit almost once per ten plate appearances. All in all, it was an astoundingly good year.

Where Cordoba excels most is bat control; he has one of the best feels for hitting in the entire Cards’ system, if not the best, and he’s capable of going from foul pole to foul pole with slashing line drives. He has plus strike zone awareness, plus plate coverage, and almost never pops the ball up. In short, Allen Cordoba is, in my estimation, the best pure hitter in the whole system right now. He doesn’t have the power projection of many other players, including Delvin Perez, who we’ll see shortly on this list and who represents Cordoba’s chief contender for the designation of top shortstop in the system, but he has the purest feel, and the best ability to put the ball in play with authority, of anyone I saw this year.

The rest of the tools are at least solid, as well, aside from the power projection. Cordoba is an easy 60 runner, potentially a little better, even, and he has outstanding basestealing instincts. He swiped 22 bags this year, getting caught just four times, after having stolen 11 of 14 last season. In the field, he moves well at short and has more than enough range for the position, but just an average arm. If there’s one tool that could limit him defensively, it’s that arm, which could make him a better second base fit than a shortstop down the road. For now, though, he should stay at short where his value is highest.

The power is the other tool that doesn’t grade out so well; there’s more strength to come for Cordoba, who still has room to fill out his skinny frame, but the swing doesn’t suggest to me a ton of power in the future. He hits from a wide open setup and closes up as the pitch comes in, and his approach and bat path are just geared more for line drives than fly balls. He may hit ten or a dozen homers some year, but I think most years it will be more like half a dozen dingers, but 40 doubles. That’s just the kind of hitter he is.

In case you hadn’t figured out already, I’m extremely high on Allen Cordoba. His ability to control the strike zone, along with elite bat control, makes me think we could be looking at something very special developing right now in the Cards’ system. One doesn’t have to squint too hard to see a potential up the middle combination of Delvin Perez and Cordoba taking over for the Cardinals in a few years, and providing an elite combo on which to build for years to come. That’s obviously a long way off for both players, but in all my time following the minors I’ve never been as excited about a pair of middle infield prospects in the Cards’ system as I am right now.

Player Comp: Elite bat control, plus speed, and a middle infield profile all suggest to me something like Dee Gordon, but I honestly think Cordoba’s offensive ceiling is even higher than that. I think he ends up with better on-base skills, and a better overall package. I won’t say something like the Blue Jays version of Roberto Alomar, because comparing a prospect to a Hall of Famer is always unfair and feels a little silly. But, I’m going to think it fairly loudly, and if you happen to hear me, well....