Keith Law placed three Cardinals prospects in his Top-100 last week, but this week he went in-depth on every Major League Baseball farm system and provided rankings and reports for more prospects. The entire section on the Cardinals is well worth a read, but Law also took some time to take part in a conference call where he answered questions, including several of mine regarding the Cardinals.
Perhaps Law's most aggressive ranking when it came to a Cardinals player was for Junior Fernandez, an 18-year-old with under 60 innings pitched in the United States. When our rankings first came out at the beginning of the year, we thought that 13th in the Cardinals' system was aggressive for Fernandez. Law put hat notion to bed by putting Fernandez in his just missed list off of the Top-100 prospects. I asked Law about the difficulty of ranking a player like Fernandez, with very little experience, next to Marco Gonzales, who has already spent time in the majors.
[T]o compare that to a guy like Junior Fernandez who's 18 and throws 100 and has secondary stuff and has feel and everybody loves him...How do you compare those guys?...[I]f you're saying I want the star, it's very easy to just point to Fernandez and say, well, that's what a star looks like at age 18. That guy is going to be a star if he clears all of these developmental hurdles and stays healthy, which we have no idea.
So the separator for those guys was just the difference in Major League readiness...Marco could go right into a Major League rotation...[If] Junior Fernandez does everything exactly the same, making 25 starts from Peoria, then you have to put him on the list. Suddenly you're a fool if you don't have him on the list.
As for Marco Gonzales, Law is still a fan:
I saw him on Team USA, saw him take batting practice, like who the heck is this guy, he's out‑hitting a lot of the hitting prospects, and then I saw him pitch the next spring, and I thought, I love this guy. I could watch that every day. A guy who's got ‑‑ yeah, the fastball is a little short for you, but it's the plus‑plus changeup, he's got a breaking ball, he goes right after guys. He pitches like he's built like Aaron Judge, and he's the little guy who I'm sure has been underestimated his entire life.
He expanded a bit on his role as an evaluator, indicating that he does favor stars, but high-floor players are important as well.
I feel like a big part of my job is to identify future stars for the readers, whether you're just a fan of a specific club or you're a fantasy player and you're trying to find the future stars to stash in your fantasy team's farm system. It's all the same. People want to know who are the next superstars. People are less interested in who is the next Marco Gonzales, but it's still part of the job to identify those guys because they do have Major League value. Sometimes they turn into Mike Leake and they get these gigantic deals as free agents and end up contributing to playoff teams, so I've got to balance the two, but I will generally favor the future stars as long as they're a little bit closer to the Big Leagues.
There is likely concern among some that the Cardinals are in the middle-third of teams. Having a top-rated farm system is beneficial, but continuing to develop players who can contribute in the majors is the most important role of a farm system. Keith Law put a lot of players without a ton of experience in his top ten like Junior Fernandez, Edmundo Sosa, and Magneuris Sierra, so I asked him about their potential and the system's potential to take a leap forward this year.
I agree with that, and it's part of why they were ranked I think as low as I've had them in five or six years in my org rankings because there's a gap, too, if you look at what was in Triple‑A and Double‑A and even to some extent in high A last year, it was pretty light. They've traded a lot of guys, they've promoted a lot of guys, they have a couple of high picks that just haven't panned out, the Luke Weavers of the world who look like they're relievers or maybe fifth starters. It's created a little bit of a hole in the pipeline, but that could be quickly filled if Sierra and Sosa and Fernandez go to Peoria and all go off this year. We could be talking on June 1st about how Peoria is one of the best prospect teams in the minors. There's certainly going to be enough talent there to have that conversation, but it's a lot of guys who have got to show that they're ready for that next level, whereas somebody like Sierra wasn't last year, and all of those guys I think have certain questions, though, they'll have to answer.
As for who will break out, it is too early to know.
I don't feel like I could point to that group of guys or guys like [Sandy] Alcantara who's got the golden arm and can't hit the broad side of a barn. Every one of those guys there's some question of whether they'll perform right now at Peoria, and I feel like the jump to full‑season ball is one of those steps where, okay, now you've answered some questions, now I feel more comfortable assigning more value to you, because all these rankings, it's about what do I think the value of this player right now, if you put this player in the ‑‑ if there were a stock market for baseball players, you put this player out there, what's he worth as an asset. Well, they're worth a lot more once they get to full‑season ball and start performing because then we know that the tools have started to translate.
As for the Cardinals' number one prospect and eighth-best prospect in all of baseball according to Law, I asked him about Reyes' curveball in relation to his change as Law had the change ahead, but there is not uniform agreement on the subject.
[T]he curveball was more of a get‑me‑over pitch. It's very hard. It did not seem to have especially tight rotation. I didn't really see him manipulate it to get a lot of swings and misses out of the zone, whereas the changeup, he's got great arm speed. He seems to have really good feel for it. I also talked to a bunch of scouts focused on the Cardinal system who agreed with that assessment and felt like the changeup had made huge strides this year, whereas the curveball, still a good pitch, but the curveball was much less consistent. He's just got better feel for the changeup.
For more information on Keith Law's rankings, here are the links to his most recent relevant pieces:
For more information on Cardinals Prospects from Viva El Birdos, visit out 2016 Prospects Hub, with in-depth reports on more than 20 prospects including many of the players mentioned above, including: