*Note, if you just want to see where the players ended up, and skip all the other words, just scroll through to each table*
The Cardinals won last night! And to boot, a lot of the help came from unexpected sources. Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz, two players that entered Spring Training as long shots to make the 25-man roster, both supplied homers. That's just the type of thing that makes you smile. Of course, I always find enjoyment when a player wearing the birds on the bat homers, but the special thing about those homers is that you know they meant quite a bit to the individual players who hit them.
For Diaz, he last played in the Cuban league in 2012 before defecting. Like a lot of Cuban defectors he was unable to play in any type of advanced league the following season and as a result wasn't quite in playing shape going into the 2014 season. After a year and a half of putting up lower than expected numbers, Diaz had a hot second half of 2015 followed by a strong performance in the AFL. After Jhonny Peralta, Ruben Tejada, and Tommy Pham all hit the DL he was promoted a little ahead of schedule.
Hazelbaker had different circumstances, but also took the long road to the MLB, taking over 3,000 plate appearances at the minor league level over the last seven years before reaching the show. Last night was his second career homer in just six career PA, certainly a dream come true for a man who one can assume had many moments of doubt in the last several years.
What Cardinals' minor leaguers will provide these types of moments in the coming years? MLB.com released their Top 30 prospects for each team during the offseason, and with the minor league seasons starting up as well they reported what level each prospect was starting the season. Here at VEB however, we're partial to the VEB Top Prospects list amassed by our prospect guru, The Red Baron. Back in February, I guessed where those players would start the year, and now, we get to see how those guesses performed. I decided to just leave Alex Reyes off, for obvious reasons. Here's how Triple-A looks:
With the exception of Diaz making the Major League team, my predictions for who would end up at Triple-A were spot on. That's no amazing feat though, while these players can be rightfully deemed prospects, they are more so the ancillary arm of the current Major League roster. Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales are the next men up in the rotation. Sam Tuivailala and Dean Kiekhefer will both be among the options if and when any other relievers get hurt. Charlie Tilson and Anthony Garcia are next up as far as outfield depth, same with Mike Ohlman behind the plate. Jacob Wilson and Patrick Wisdom, barring a break-out, are break in case of emergency type options, and at this point probably one of them will be the next man up if another infielder goes down.
Double-A is where I think things get more interesting:
I went ahead and left Trey Nielsen and Andrew Morales on here, as players ranked by MLB.com but not here at VEB, just so that anyone who might be interested would know where they are playing.
It's a bummer to know Weaver is starting the year on the DL, as I had a soft spot for him being a late season starter if everything went right, and enough has already went wrong to mostly rule that out. I guessed that Weaver would start there as well as the offensively struggling Carson Kelly and Corey Littrell, the other piece of the Lackey trade. But I did not predict that Harrison Bader and Paul Dejong would start the year at Double-A, skipping High-A after performing well at Full Season A in their draft year. The promotion seems to be one part challenge, one part "let's just avoid the screwy low scoring environment of Palm Beach and the Florida State League." And to give props, The Red Baron indeed did have a feeling that the Cardinals might make such a move with these two.
Bader and Dejong's promotions are exciting to me at least, as it's easier to see them in the majors sooner. They're fairly likely to spend most, if not all the year at Double-A, but either could spend time in the AFL this year and both are relatively likely now to start the 2017 season at Triple-A, and if all goes well we could see them in the majors that year as well at some point. It'll be very interesting to see how the two do against more advanced competition.
Next up is High-A:
With the exception of Bader and Dejong, it appears I was right on what top prospects would start the year at High-A. I say appears because Darren Seferina did not make it on MLB.com's Top 30, so it's not clear to me which level he's starting at. With a strong season at Full season A last year, and no reason to rush him with Wong installed at second, it seems to be a good bet that he will indeed start the year at High-A. Flaherty is both VEB's and MLB's number two prospect on the Cardinals, so he's definitely one to keep track of as the season progresses. I'd look for him to put up some strong numbers in his offensively-challenged environment, and I'd love to see him get a cup of coffee at Double-A before the season is out.
And the full-season league, A ball:
In my original post, I combined Full season A and Low-A, and with the possible exception of Allen Corboda (who I assume is still in Extended Spring Training at this point) all of those players were sent to Full season A, which is great for us since we get to see their performance now rather than when the short season leagues start. Sierra fell flat on his face last year when he started the year at full season ball, but hopefully he's in a better spot on the development curve this time around, at age 20. Junior Fernandez has been getting a bit of buzz in prospect circles, so seeing that the Cards like him enough to push him to full season now is a good sign as well.
Lastly, those still at Extended Spring Training:
No surprises here, as those shown here who made the VEB Top Prospect list are all recent high school draft picks or international signings with little state-side playing time. The exception is Herrera, who I would agree with the Baron (and apparently the Cardinals) that if he's a prospect, he's a very fringe one at this point. MLB.com ranked him in their top 30, so I figured I'd keep him along for the ride just for those who want to know what's going on with him.
I have a soft spot for Bader, Dejong, Sosa, and Sierra. Pitching is just so stacked and so unpredictable both in the majors and in the minors to get excited about any individual pitcher, but i will also be looking forward to how Flaherty and Fernandez do at their respective levels. Which prospects are you most excited to see progress, VEB?