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System Sundays: Minor Seasons in Review, Part Two — #21-11

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Continuing our review of the seasons put up by all the prospects fit to obsess over in the Cardinals’ system.

Oakland Athletics v St Louis Cardinals
One of the more successful Redbird prospects of 2016.
Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

Okay, so I know that Alex Reyes is about to make his first major league start in a little over an hour as I begin writing this, and I’m very tempted to simply scrap this current post to talk about what he did and how he looked in the morning, but I’ve not gotten around to doing this particular post yet, and I hate to put it off any longer. Thus, I shall just assume that Reyes was awesome, managed to hold his control together well enough not to walk four batters in five and a third, and just generally made everyone forget about poor Mike Leake and his incredibly painful shingles.

I covered the just-missed guys last time; those players who merited honourable mention status on the big list. This time, we’ll start with the last official prospect on the list, and move on down through the lower half from there. Next Sunday (hopefully), I’ll cover numbers ten through one, wrapping it up (hopefully), with how Alex Reyes made his first major league start a little over a week ago and was awesome, managing to hold his control together well enough to not walk four batters in five and a third, and just generally making everyone forget about poor Mike Leake and his incredibly painful shingles.

#21 — Corey Littrell, LHP

2016 Relevant Stats (Triple A): 4.01 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 21.8% K, 11.1% BB (37 Games, One start)

Littrell, who you may remember as the other player acquired by the Redbirds in the John Lackey deal, actually began the season in Double A, and got off to a brilliant start. He struck out a quarter of the hitters he faced, while walking slightly less than 2%. That’s...pretty good.

It’s been tougher for the lefty since moving up to Triple A; most concerning is the elevated walk rate, which is completely out of character for the type of pitcher he’s been, particularly since coming over to the Cardinals. He’s a reliever now, and still has a heavy low-90s sinker that’s very impressive when he’s on. He should be relatively immune to heavy platoon split issues, and if he can get back to attacking the zone as aggressively as he did in 2015, he will very likely end up making his MLB debut sometime next season.

#20 — Mike Ohlman, C/1B

2016 Relevant Stats

Double A: 96 PA, .301/.365/.373, 10.4% BB, 19.8% K, .364 BABIP, .072 ISO

Triple A: 166 PA, .289/.343/.467, 7.8% BB, 30.7% K, .402 BABIP, .178 ISO

It’s been a disappointing season for Ohlman, who has spent time at both Springfield and Memphis, showing an oddly bifurcated approach. At Double A, he’s been patient and made pretty good contact, with an under-control (read: low power), approach at the plate. At Triple A, however, he seems to be trying to slug his way to the big leagues, striking out far more often, being much less patient, and just generally trying to do a Randal Grichuk sort of thing. Problem being, that .178 isolated slugging number is not nearly high enough to justify the poor on-base skills and low contact rate, and considering he’s looking more and more like a first baseman instead of a catcher, it’s looking like Ohlman may just not have enough of any one tool to get him over the hump.

#19 — Oscar Mercado, SS/OF

2016 Relevant Stats (High A): 467 PA, .207/.291/.264, 8.8% BB, 14.8% K, .057 ISO, .246 BABIP, 67 wRC+

If it’s been a disappointing season for Mike Ohlman, it’s been a borderline disaster for Mercado. I was encouraged and intrigued by the amount of contact Mercado was making over the past couple years, but the absolute lack of any functional strength is going to torpedo his ability to be a productive hitter, I fear. It would be easy to look at the BABIP and say he’s getting unlucky, but in ~1400 career plate appearances Oscar’s BABIP is under .270. The fact is, he simply doesn’t make hard enough contact to produce offensively.

Worst of all, he’s now been moved off shortstop. Whether due to his own high error totals or the fact the organisation simply believes other players to be better options, Mercado’s one remarkable tool when he was drafted is now nullified. He won’t be making my list this offseason, and is bordering now on non-prospect status. (And I may be being too generous with the bordering thing.)

Alex Reyes has now walked two hitters in two innings. (Frowny face.) Also, super exciting to look bad against a garbage pitcher yet again.

Oh, wait. Randal took time out from answering questions to hit a dinger. Awesome.

Also, the unis are pretty cool. I would like to see pinstripes on the road greys; the Cardinals’ road uniforms are fucking boring.

#18 — Bryce Denton, 3B

2016 Relevant Stats (Short Season): 208 PA, .291/.356/.392, 7.9% BB, 17.2% K, .082 ISO, .342 BABIP, 106 wRC+

In his first full season of professional ball, Denton is more than holding his own playing for Johnson City. It’s a little strange to me the power hasn’t shown up yet, considering the most notable quality Denton brings to the offensive side of the game is plus-plus bat speed, but the contact rate is better than I had expected, and the in-person reports have him smacking line drives all over the field pretty consistently. Having turned nineteen less than a month ago, Denton is still incredibly young, and the early returns are extremely intriguing.

#17 — Darren Seferina, 2B

2016 Relevant Stats (High A): 309 PA, .247/.311/.320, 8.1% BB, 22.0% K, .073 ISO, .321 BABIP, 86 wRC+, 32/38 SB

Seferina has not followed up his outstanding 2015 campaign (132 wRC+ in 451 PAs for Peoria), with the kind of season one would hope, but there are still some positives. His walk rate is nearly identical to his 2015 mark, he’s stolen 32 bases against just six times being caught, and the reports on his defense are generally quite positive. Unfortunately, he’s seen a complete evaporation of any power he showed in the past, and that 22% strikeout rate is just too high for a player whose power on contact is so weak. There is a semi-silver lining, though, in that Seferina would not be the first Cardinal prospect to find Palm Beach an impossible place to hit; he’ll move up to Double A Springfield next year and perhaps then we’ll get a better look at his numbers when not hitting in a black hole. (Then again, he might also get the Descalso Effect going for him in Hammonds Field, and suddenly I’ll be convinced he’s an .800 OPS gold glove second baseman. So look forward to that!)

#16 — Paul DeJong, 3B

2016 Relevant Stats (Double A): 515 PA, .249/.317/.447, 7.6% BB, 26.4% K, 21 HR, 117 wRC+

A slightly strange season for DeJong, which has seen the former Illinois State Redbird continue to hit for power, particularly in the center and right-center areas of the ballpark, which is extremely intriguing (he’s a right-handed hitter), but also decline pretty severely in terms of plate discipline and approach. Coming out of college, I found DeJong’s combination of thump and a mature, patient approach to hitting to be very encouraging. This season, however, Double A pitching has proved to be a tough hill for DeJong to climb, as his walk and strikeout rates have both gone in very bad directions. He has, however, improved as the season has gone on; that 26% strikeout rate is actually a marked improvement from the beginning of the season, when he was putting up Randal Grichuk-level K rates. The walks still aren’t there, but the contact and avoidance of strikeouts has been a welcome development as he’s settled into Double A in what is still just his first full pro season.

#15 — Carson Kelly, C

2016 Relevant Stats: 115 wRC+, 236 PA (Double A), 93 wRC+, 113 PA (Triple A)

For three years running, Carson Kelly showed generally solid plate discipline numbers, terrible power numbers, and rather abysmal BABIP numbers, all of which added up to a player whose offensive profile was incredibly underwhelming, and yet, if you squinted, had the look of a pretty solid contributor at the catching position. This season, Kelly’s BABIPs have been much better, potentially a sign of better overall quality of contact, but the power is still nearly nonexistent. Since moving up to Memphis, though, he’s shown an outstanding approach at the plate (8.8% BB rate, 15.0% K), and continues to draw rave reviews for his defense behind the plate. (To my eye, from occasional milb viewing, he looks every bit as good as the reputation, but catcher defense is so, so tough to evaluate.) He likely won’t inherit the backup catcher role next season, but an apprenticeship, a la Matheny/Molina a dozen years ago, could be a very positive thing for him in the near future.

#14 — Nick Plummer, OF

2015 Relevant Stats: Has Not Played

Unfortunately for Nick Plummer, he suffered a wrist injury early this year that has kept him out entirely. He’ll try to get healthy and back on the field for 2017. The lost year of development for a guy who’s already 20 is discouraging, though.

#13 — Junior Fernandez, RHP

2016 Relevant Stats (Low A): 78.1 IP, 3.33 ERA, 18.8% K, 10.2% BB

Fernandez, still only nineteen (he’ll finish the season as a teenager, in fact), has had a tough season to get a good grasp on. Given he’s still in his teenage years and has already been promoted to Palm Beach as a starter, you can’t help but consider the 2016 campaign to have been a rousing success so far, and the fact he’s more than held his own in terms of run prevention only accentuates those positives. On the other hand, while Fernandez has shown absolutely amazing stuff and a certain something when it comes to avoiding damage and hard contact, his peripheral stats are not the sort of elite marks one might hope to see. He’s also struggled, badly, since being promoted to High A ball, but that is neither shocking nor damning at his age.

Overall, it’s been a very successful season for Fernandez, but one that makes you realise he has much growth and refinement still ahead before the stuff really begins to translate into big-time numbers.

#12 — Charlie Tilson, OF

2016 Relevant Stats: 1.0 ZDR (Zach Dukes Returned)

Charlie Tilson was in the midst of another very solid, but unspectacular, Charlie Tilson-y sort of season when he was dealt to the White Sox for Zach Duke. There were a few people here who I know considered a season and a half of a lefty setup reliever to be a poor return on a second-round draft pick, but that seems to me to mostly be a problem with perception. Tilson played well enough to return real value to the Redbirds, in this case via trade, and that’s a solid result. You can always hope for stardom, but the MLB draft just doesn’t contain that many guarantees. The Cardinals just keep creating value from their minor league pipeline, and Tilson is a prime example of how that happens.

#11 — Harrison Bader, OF

2016 Relevant Stats: 314 PA, .286/.350/.491, 142 wRC+ (Double A), 161 PA, .231/.298/.354, 74 wRC+ (Triple A)

Following his turn as one of the real draft breakouts for the Cardinals last season as he began his professional career by decimating both short season and Low-A pitching, he got off to a similarly fast start this year while being aggressively promoted to Springfield. He hit for lots of power, hit the ball hard in general (his batting average on balls in play at Double A was .352, and to my eye most of that total was earned via hard line drives), and just generally put together the sort of numbers that make a prospect geek hyperventilate. The only really troubling aspect of his game was an aggressive plate approach that led him to striking out roughly four times as often as he walked, but when you’re hitting the ball as consistently hard as he did in Springfield it’s tough to argue too much.

Since being promoted to Triple A, the story has been quite a bit different, as older, more experienced pitchers have seemingly adjusted to, and taken advantage of, Bader’s hyper-aggressive ways. He’s walking less than 7% of the time, and striking out in roughly 24% of his trips to the plate. What we have here is a player who has hit a wall, and is likely going to have to make some real, meaningful changes to his approach and game before he can return to excelling.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. Or at least half of that, given there are still ten more players who have done various and sundry things this season. As should probably be expected from a big group like this, the results are kind of a mixed bag, with performances on both the positive and negative sides of the ledger. For my money, Bryce Denton and Carson Kelly are the two biggest winners of the group, with Junior Fernandez having raised his stock a fair amount as well. Ohlman and Mercado have, unfortunately, almost dropped out of the picture at this point. Everyone else is somewhere on the spectrum in between.

I’ll be back next Sunday (most likely), with the top ten, beginning with one of my favourite pitchers in the entire system, and one who has done quite well for himself this year. Until then.