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Viva El Birdos Top Prospects List, Part Two: Six More Who Just Missed

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The second half of our list of non-list players. If that makes any sense.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll keep the preliminaries to a minimum this morning; I started the 2017 prospect list project on Sunday, and this is the second half of those players who felt just outside my officially ranked cadre of 26. There were six players in the first group, and we’ve got six more today.

There is a 2017 Top Prospects tag now; thanks to Craig for getting that up in such a timely manner. All reports will be tagged as such, so that there’s an easy way to access all the material.

As with the players covered Sunday, I will point out these individuals are not listed in any particular order; these are simply the players I found too intriguing not to talk about, but who fell outside what I felt deserved to be ranked. I will admit I may have frontloaded the unranked guys just a bit; I tried to make sure there was quality in both groups, but I probably covered the players I like just a little more first. Still, there’s some very interesting talent here.

#1: Walker Robbins, 1B/OF

6’3”, 210 lbs; L/L; 18th November 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I covered Walker Robbins ahead of the draft this year, and most of what I believed about him at the time stands now, seven months later. After all, it’s very difficult for a draftee to do anything so extreme in a hundred short-season at-bats that it completely changes your perception of him.

Which is a good thing in Robbins’s case, honestly; his pro debut went about as badly as it possibly could have, so any change in perception toward him would have to be negative.

Robbins took 115 plate appearances after being drafted, playing for the Cards’ Gulf Coast League team. (That was a loaded GCL club, by the way; all the Cards’ new pitching-side draftees made their way through there at some point this past season, and Robbins was joined by first rounders Delvin Perez and Dylan Carlson, both of whom show up quite highly on this list.) In those 115 trips to the plate, he hit .185, posted a 31 wRC+, struck out too much (27% K rate), walked too little (4.3% BB rate), hit for virtually no power (.009 ISO), and failed to hit a single home run. The good news is he stole three bases without being thrown out; the bad news is, well, everything else. He finished the season on a particularly tough run; in his last ten games, Robbins went 3 for 31 (.097), walked twice, and struck out thirteen times. I didn’t see him on the field in those games, so I can’t say for sure, but if asked I would hazard a guess that he was worn down, playing later into the year than he probably ever has before, and at a new level of competition. Still, it was very much the opposite of an encouraging performance.

Luckily, as I said before, ~100 plate appearances from a high school kid coming into his first taste of professional ball isn’t enough to really move the needle all that much in terms of the scouting report, and so I’ll stick by my assertion from May that Robbins’s hit tool stands out, as he sports an easy stroke that produces loud contact from left-center to the right field line. He has the build of a slugger, but as yet has shown only moderate power, largely due to his approach. He’s mature beyond his years at the plate, and is more likely to take what a pitcher offers and just try to get on base, rather than try to force the issue and get himself out selling out for power.

Honestly, at this point there isn’t a whole lot else to say about Robbins. He’s basically the same guy I covered in May of this year, with the caveat that his pro debut as an eighteen year old was considerably less encouraging than what Dylan Carlson did at seventeen. Make of that what you will. Which probably shouldn’t be too much, really, but there’s also a reason Carlson is ranked this year and Robbins falls into the honourable mentions/just-missed section.

Where Robbins will begin 2017 is an interesting question to me. I’m sure he’ll start in extended spring training, and the most likely assignment following would be Johnson City. As rough as his start was, though, there’s a chance he might be held back in the complex leagues, which would be both discouraging and concerning, that the internal scouting reports see him as unready for even Appy League competition.

Player Comp: Robbins moves well around first, potentially making him a plus defender with very good feel for hitting. If the power comes, he could end up looking like Adrian Gonzalez.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

#2: Carlos Soto, C

6’2”, 200 lbs; L/R; 27th April 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Like Walker Robbins, I’ve covered Carlos Soto in the past, and also like Walker Robbins, very little has changed in my opinion since. Unlike Robbins, however, Carlos Soto made a very favourable impression in his first go at professional ball, as he played this summer in the Dominican Republic and outclassed the competition. In 127 plate appearances, Soto walked nearly 20% of the time (19.7%, to be exact), got on base at a .441 clip, and overall posted a 154 wRC+. So, you know, pretty good.

Here’s my deep dive on Soto from July, based on watching some video of him doing various things around the field. As I said, my impressions haven’t changed all that much, beyond having some positive reinforcement in the form of outstanding numbers in the DSL this summer. Given that I feel that scouting report still stands up pretty well, I’m going to just let the previous version of me speak for myself on the subject of Carlos Soto.

#3: Ian Oxnevad, LHP

6’4”, 205 lbs; L/L; 3rd October 1996

So, what’s so great about this guy?

With the wave of pitching talent that is beginning to build in the Cardinals’ system right now, headed by the likes of Junior Fernandez and Sandy Alcantara and bolstered by an infusion from last year’s draft, it would be easy to overlook Ian Oxnevad. One should try very hard not to do so, however, given the level of ability he’s shown already.

Oxnevad’s primary skill, as of right now, is an ability to fill up the strike zone with average stuff. He won’t wow you with mid-90s heat — his fastball tops out around 92, and sits closer to 89 most days — but he puts his heater at the bottom of the strike zone consistently, and with pretty good sink. He throws a curveball with good size and shape, but occasionally lets it get big and lazy, without enough power to really make the pitch play any better than a 45. When he commits, it’s average. His split-grip changeup may be his best pitch, and it gives him an honest swing and miss offering when it’s on. Whereas the curve fluctuates between a 45 and 50, the changeup is more a 50 to 55 on any given day.

Admittedly, none of that sounds particularly inspiring, and to be honest, it’s really not. The stuff is average across the board, with only the splitter/change showing potential to really be much more. Oxnevad is in and around the zone with everything he throws, though, and never beats himself with free passes. In his pro debut in 2015, he walked less than 8% of batters he faced; this season he pushed that number down from good to excellent, issuing free passes to just 4.3% of hitters who came to the plate against him. Modest strikeout totals are less of a concern when a pitcher makes hitters earn their way on base.

Oxnevad still has some room to fill out, even though he’s already added some mass since being drafted. There might be another tick of velocity in there as he matures and gets stronger, but I wouldn’t project that. In terms of stuff, I think Oxnevad probably is what he is, and any improvements are going to take the form of refinement and development rather than big jumps in terms of the raw ability. I think he’s ready for Low A in 2017, and will pitch the entire season at 20 years old.

Player Comp: With an average sinking fastball, big but occasionally loopy curve, and solid-average split-change, all of which he throws for strikes at the bottom edge of the strike zone, not to mention a big frame that helps him get downward plane, Oxnevad comps pretty well to someone like Mark Mulder. The stuff isn’t quite as dynamic as early-Oakland Muldoo, but is sharper than most of what we saw of him in a Cardinal uniform. Oxnevad featured a slider in high school, but has scrapped it as a pro. Perhaps he can bring it out of mothballs and tighten it up into a cutter to really cement the similarity of repertoire.

#4: Daniel Poncedeleon, RHP

6’4”, 200 lbs; R/R; 16th January 1992

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Daniel Poncedeleon was the single hardest player for me to leave off the list this year, and not just for the 80-grade name. There’s very intriguing stuff with Poncedeleon, but he’s still lacking polish in some very key areas that would make him a much more effective, viable starting pitcher. He took a very circuitous route to pro ball, being drafted multiple times and ending up at Embry-Riddle, and that’s put him behind the curve compared to where you might expect a near-25 year old pitcher with premium stuff.

Start with the pluses: Poncedeleon’s fastball is actually a cutter, and it’s one hell of a cutter. It comes in at 92-94 mph, and has wicked horizontal movement to it. Righthanders catch it off the end of the bat, lefties hit it up on the trademark. It isn’t a pitch that generates tons of empty swings, but it does appear to be borderline impossible to square up most nights. He improved his primary offspeed pitch, a hard curveball, this season to the point he was able to miss some bats with it. He also stayed healthy all season.

Now the negatives: the command is still very much a work in progress, and there are nights when watching Poncedeleon pitch is at least mildly torturous when he just can’t quite find a good release point. The changeup is not good. The curve improved this year, but it’s still inconsistent. The arm action is very worrisome to me.

Add it all up, and I believe there’s the makings of a great one-pitch reliever here. Poncedeleon’s cutter isn’t quite at that Mariano Rivera/Kenley Jansen level, but it’s not that far away. It’s at least as good as that of Rafael Soriano, who had that run as one of baseball’s better relievers around 2009-’11. I’m sure the Cardinals will continue trying to develop Poncedeleon as a starting pitcher for now, but the clock is ticking, as he’ll turn 25 before the 2017 season, and the overall package of stuff hasn’t quite come together. To me, moving him to the bullpen and allowing him to concentrate what he does best into short bursts could allow him to take off in a big way.

Player Comp: He throws a cutter. I just named a bunch of cutter-based relievers. Take your pick.

via minorleaguebaseball:

#5: Victor Garcia, OF

6’1”, 200 lbs; R/R; 16th August 1999

So, what’s so great about this guy?

As one of the Cardinals’ biggest splashes on the international market this year, Garcia represents the kind of one-shot big impact signing the Cards haven’t really made a ton of coming from Latin America. The Redbirds have, in years past, preferred to spread their international dollars over a wider crop of players, making smaller investments in more players, hoping to catch a couple big fish in their net by dint of covering more territory with it.

This year, as you all probably know, the Cards blew past their signing pool limit, incurring all sorts of penalties which are now going away as part of the new CBA. They still spread their money out, but made some big investments, too, with Carlos Soto already presenting a player in this particular post who was a benefactor of the team’s spending spree. Victor Garcia was an even bigger splash, receiving a $1.5 million signing bonus.

What Garcia presents in terms of tools is power. Big time power. He grades out as having top of the scale raw power, maybe the best of any player signed this July 2 (including Lazarito, who received so much of the attention ahead of time), and enough pure hitting ability one can hope he’ll tap fully into that power. He has yet to appear in any official games, only turned seventeen in mid-August, and will probably spend all of 2017 at the Cards’ academy in the Dominican Republic. In other words, don’t expect to see him any time soon.

Still, the raw tools are intriguing, to say the least. He has both strength and bat speed in his swing, and puts on a show during batting practice. He doesn’t have to pull the ball to hit it a long way, either, which is perhaps the most exciting part of his profile to me. I’ve come to believe opposite-field power is one of the more telling indicators of a hitter who could be successful down the line, and Garcia has already shown it at sixteen.

The bat will likely have to carry Garcia, because he’s a somewhat limited prospect otherwise. He’s a big kid already, and could get bigger, and he doesn’t run all that well even now. He’ll be limited to an outfield corner or first base, though he does at least have the arm for right. You’re betting on the bat to be special with Victor Garcia. Luckily, there’s more than enough raw material there to think the bat could indeed end up very special.

Player Comp: Garcia is so far away that I hate trying to put any kind of comparable on him, really. Understand that the power will be the carrying tool, stick him in right field, and hope he develops the plate discipline to walk 12% of the time. The perfect-world version of Garcia is probably something like Jose Bautista.

#6: Alvaro Seijas, RHP

6’0”(?), 175 lbs; R/R; 10th October 1998

So, what’s so great about this guy?

First off, a word about that question mark next to Seijas’s height above: I cannot, for the life of me, pin down a good listed height for him. He was listed at 5’8” when he was signed in 2015 (another July 2 guy), but he’s grown a few inches since then. No one seems to have any concrete numbers, though, or at least no concrete number they feel compelled to share with me even when I ask.

Suffice to say, Seijas is not a huge guy, especially by pitcher standards, but is also no longer so short as to have real concerns regarding his height. (Even I, who tend to think most of the worrying over shorter pitchers is complete bunk, was a little concerned over a guy who stood just 5’8”, as that does limit the plane on which he could work pretty significantly.)

If the height is somewhat unknown, and almost assuredly nothing to write home about, the stuff is much more impressive. He was reported throwing 89-92 when he signed in 2015; that velocity has now jumped up to 93-94, bumping 95 pretty consistently. He tends to work up in the zone with the heater, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it appears to have some of that Mike Fiers magic, where a flat fastball from a shortish pitcher plays havoc with hitters’ swing planes. The high fastball also works to set up Seijas’s best pitch, which is an absolute hammer of a curveball that grades out as one of the better breakers in the whole system already. Even in just limited viewing, the curve jumps off the page as a potential big time offering. It could end up a 65 pitch down the road. Maybe a 70. It’s that impressive.

I’m told the changeup improved markedly this season, but I have to admit to not having seeing enough of the pitch to personally vouch for that. I trust I’m being told that in good faith, and I trust the accuracy of the report, but I don’t want to mislead anyone into believing I’ve seen it as a productive pitch. The fastball and curve I’ve seen, and have come away duly impressed with both. The changeup is still a mystery to me, so take all that info for whatever you think it’s worth.

Seijas will pitch at eighteen years old for all of 2017, and looked good enough in his stateside debut this past season that I would expect the Cardinals to challenge him a bit. He’ll definitely start the year in extended spring training, I would have to think, but after that I think an assignment to Johnson City, rather than the complex league in Florida, would be a good level of challenge for the young Venezuelan.

Player Comp: A power pitcher with a great curve, but of modest stature. Works up in the zone, mostly. Hmm. Someone like Tom Gordon comes to mind.

via Fangraphs:

Apologies to everyone for the lateness of the post; the holiday season is always rough on my writing schedule, but this year has been exceptionally brutal. I’m hoping once things die down somewhat to get back to something regarding normalcy, where my posts are only an hour and a half late instead of six hours late because I couldn’t get it done days ahead of time and there’s simply no chance to write at my usual times.