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System Sundays: Minor League Seasons in Review, Part One — The Just-Missed List

Checking in on those Cardinal minor leaguers who just missed out on the offseason rankings.

MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Morning, all. I’m going to try and keep this relatively brief, mostly because I’m getting a late start. I’m also going to try and not do that thing I so often do, where I announce at the beginning of a column that I’m going to try and write a short column, then drone on and on for 500 words longer than my usual post length for some odd reason. Of course, talking about how I’m trying to keep this short isn’t really helping the cause of keeping it short, so perhaps I should move on to the topic at hand.

Anyhow, what I’m going to do in the relatively near future is give updates on how the prospects found on our offseason top prospects list have performed this season. The Daily Farm Reports and weekend updates do a nice job of keeping everyone abreast of the raw goings-on, I feel, but the macro is a little harder to keep in mind. If you have a favourite pet prospect perhaps you follow their numbers closely enough that you know where they are at any given moment, but it’s really hard to keep track of an entire system.

Of course, once we get into the process of prospect-listing this offseason, all the performances will be discussed and considered and all that. However, that’s still months away, and this is much more casual, just updating you all on how the creme de la creme of the Cardinals’ system has performed so far in 2016.

I’m going to start today at the bottom of the list, with the players who didn’t actually quite make the list. There were seven honourable mention types to go along with the list proper, and several of those honourable mentions have improved their respective stocks markedly. And a couple others....haven’t.

Austin Gomber, LHP

2016 Relevant Stats (High A): 107.2 IP, 2.93 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 23.3% K Rate, 5.5% BB Rate

Gomber has been nothing short of stellar this season, clearly in an attempt to discredit my rankings and scouting report where I said I thought he was a funky reliever long term. However, my concerns are mostly in regards to the arm action and health, so in reality all I can do is cross my fingers and hope to be wrong, in much the same fashion as I look at Luke Weaver, who sits much higher in these rankings.

The former Florida Atlantic ace has been promoted to Double A Springfield, and the numbers so far aren’t pretty (well, other than the sparkling 0.69 ERA, driven by a 90% strand rate and no homers allowed yet), but it’s also thirteen innings at a brand new level. So, no real useful information from those numbers just yet.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Gomber’s low professional walk rates, since I recall him having occasional issues repeating his mechanics and throwing consistent strikes in college. That hasn’t been any kind of issue in pro ball, though, and it seems much more likely now that, if he can stay healthy, Gomber has a solid chance to make it to the big leagues in a starting capacity.

Sandy Alcantara, RHP

2016 Relevant Stats (Low A): 90.1 IP, 4.08 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 29.8% K%, 11.3% BB%

Oof. I feel like I really underestimated Alcantara, even if the run-prevention numbers show a pitcher still very much in the nascent stages of his development.

Alcantara is currently going through much the same process as Alex Reyes, only earlier on. And actually, he’s probably more advanced than Reyes was at the same age (Alcantara is still a month shy of his 21st birthday), with similar raw stuff. Reyes was pushed a bit faster by the organisation, but Alcantara’s feel for pitching and command of his stuff is a little further along than Reyes’s a year ago, I think.

That being said, it’s only this season that the huge raw stuff for Alcantara has started to translate into commensurate strikeout totals. I don’t think I would count on him knocking on the door of the big leagues this time next year, the way Reyes is at 21 years and 11 months, but it’s possible we could very well be talking about a similar level of prospect if Alcantara can continue refining his stuff.

Alcantara, like Gomber, was recently promoted. His first start at Palm Beach was ugly, for whatever that’s worth.

Jake Woodford, RHP

2016 Relevant Stats (Low A): 95 IP, 2.94 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 17.5% K%, 7.1% BB%

Woodford has acquitted himself admirably this season, performing at a solid level in full-season ball despite it being just his first full season in the pro ranks. He’s done a nice job limiting walks, which is going to be extra important for a grounder-heavy lower-strikeout pitcher, and hasn’t really been hurt by the long ball, either.

One potential point of concern for me: according to the stats, Woodford has actually gotten more outs in the air this season than on the ground. For a guy whose sinker was his only real plus pitch coming out of high school, that could be a real worry. Then again, he seems to be doing a solid job managing contact in general, so it’s probably not yet a thing worth attaching too much importance to, particularly since it’s possible the organisation has him trying to do things other than go out and simply succeed with his best pitch all the time. Always tough to keep in mind, that minor leaguers are often working on things that can interfere with their short-term performances, but always important to try.

Dean Kiekhefer, LHP

2016 Relevant Stats: 15 Major League Appearances

I don’t feel like I really have to give much of an update on Kiekhefer. He’s made a bunch of appearances for the big club, and basically looks like exactly what we thought he was: he’s a LOOGY, one with a funky delivery and a very nice breaking ball, and it’s nice to have a guy hanging around on the Memphis shuttle route you know can get some situational outs. And like I said in December, having a guy like this potentially keeps you from having to pay Trever Miller or Randy Choate.

Still very much an open question how much opportunity he’ll get, though, seeing as how the Cardinals seem to be favouring a less specialist-heavy bullpen arrangement at the moment, Trevor Rosenthal (bases on balls specialist), notwithstanding.

Jacob Wilson, INF

2016 Relevant Stats (AAA): 231 PA, .231/.294/.409, .258 BABIP, 7.4% BB%, 20.8 K%

It hasn’t been a great season for Wilson, who struggled at Triple A and then was pushed down to Springfield, where he’s currently playing. He’s shown an ability the last two seasons to be very patient at the plate in Double A (>12% BB rate both years in Springfield), but Triple A pitching seems willing to challenge him, and his on-base skills haven’t caught up.

What’s interesting is that Wilson’s biggest bugaboo at the moment appears to be batting average on balls in play; over the past two seasons Wilson has played at both Double and Triple A, and his .258 BABIP in Memphis this year is the highest mark he’s produced. One might argue it’s a weirdly long stretch of bad luck (a little over 750 plate appearances of sub-.260 BABIPs), and maybe it is, but I think there’s also a bit of batted-ball profile coming into play here. Wilson hits the ball in the air a ton, from what I’ve seen watching him on, and while he has solid power, it is by no means of the light-tower variety, such that a huge bias toward fly balls would be ideal. Then again, it could simply be bad luck, and Wilson might still turn out to be a useful piece. I haven’t given up, but I’m not holding my breath, either.

My scouting report in December compared Wilson to Jedd Gyorko, and I still like that comp. It’s not tough to see how small a margin one would have to lose in terms of power off of Gyorko’s profile to suddenly have a nearly unplayable guy on the roster, though.

Patrick Wisdom, 3B

2016 Relevant Stats (AAA): 218 PA, .234/.317/.359, 3 HR, 10.6% BB%, 27.1% K%

It’s kind of amazing Patrick Wisdom has managed to advance all the way to Triple A, considering how poorly he’s performed for the vast majority of his minor league career. The tear he went on midseason in 2015 now looks like nothing more than a blip on the radar, and he’s in real danger of simply losing his prospect status entirely.

What’s strange with Wisdom is the disappearance of his power; coming out of college he was a low-contact slugger without the plate discipline to mask his swing and miss tendencies by getting on base. Now, though, he’s actually shown the best patience of his career this season, and the strikeouts, while high, are not completely unmanageable. But his power has virtually disappeared, leading to him walking more than 10% of the time and carrying a normal BABIP, but only managing an 81 wRC+.

Not a total non-prospect yet for me, but honestly, trending that way.

Allen Cordoba, SS

2016 Relevant Stats (Johnson City SS): 142 PA, .346/.415/.480, 10.6% K%, 10.6% BB%, .394 BABIP, 10/12 stolen bases

Cordoba has been outstanding this season in his first assignment to a non-complex stateside league. Sure, you could look at his line and say it’s largely driven by a high batting average on balls in play (and that’s partially true), but that would be ignoring the one to one strikeout to walk ratio and occasional gap power. He has true plus speed and excellent command of the strike zone, not to mention above-average bat to ball skills. It’s very tough not to like where Cordoba’s development looks like it’s going. (It sort of looks like it’s going toward Aledmysville, actually.)

Cordoba is just fine for the Appy League age wise, but as he’ll turn 21 this December, I’m really hoping the Cardinals push him a bit more aggressively next spring and assign him to Peoria, rather than holding him back and moving him up just one level to State College, the club’s higher-level short season affiliate.

I’m told he puts the ball on the ground a lot, which could definitely be a limiting factor in terms of developing any real pop. The combination of grounders and speed could keep him on the higher side of the BABIP curve, but I would much rather see him try to figure out how to drive the ball. Hopefully as he matures and gets stronger that will happen naturally, but it’s something I’m going to be keeping an eye on, certainly.

The overall package, though, is tough not to like from a middle infielder. Contact, discipline, and speed. It could be definitely be worse.

And that’s the just-missed list, out of the way. Of the seven, I’d say four — Alcantara, Gomber, Cordoba, and Woodford — have improved their stocks, three of the four pretty substantially. Wilson and Wisdom (especially Wisdom), have seen their stocks take a hit. And Kiekhefer is exactly what we thought, and that’s fine.