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System Sundays: Minor Seasons in Review, Part Three — The Top Ten

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Finishing up our look around the offseason top prospects’ 2016 performances with the top ten in the Cards’ system.

San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

And now we come finally to the last installment of our 2016 top prospect statistical update series. We looked at the just missed guys, we looked at the guys in the teens and twenties, and we looked at those players who were so recently drafted into the system as to have not yet shown up on any prospect lists.

Interestingly, this will almost certainly be the shortest of the installments, even though we’re looking at the players who are likely to be of the most interest. Not because they’re less worthy or less intriguing to look at, mind you; rather, this will almost certainly be the shortest installment of the series because at least a few of these players don’t necessarily need me updating you on their progress, because you’re probably pretty acutely aware already of how they’ve performed this year.

After all, a good number of the players in the top ten have been putting up their numbers in the big leagues for a pretty decent chunk of the season.

#10 — Ronnie Williams, RHP

Relevant Stats (State College): 46.1 IP, 17.6% K, 3.7% BB, 2.94 FIP

Relevant Stats (Low A): 29.0 IP, 24.4% K, 12.2% BB, 6.03 FIP

Williams was one of my more aggressive rankings coming into the season, as I was banking more on the quality of the stuff and the delivery more than results so far to justify my belief. It’s been a very interesting season for Williams, as he came out of the gate in State College in much the same way he has in the past, aggressively attacking within the strike zone with a power sinker the majority of the time. The approach led to virtually zero walks, relatively few strikeouts, and good numbers overall.

In Peoria, from what I’ve seen of him via milb.tv, either he or the coaching staff has made throwing his offspeed pitches much more a very high priority. The result has been far more strikeouts (nearly 10 per 9 innings, if you prefer that metric), but also more walks due to having less command of the pitches and also a much more mistake-prone sort of performance. It’s always important to remember that minor league numbers only tell part of the story, and the context of a player potentially working on a long-term goal at the expense of short-term success is something to at least keep in mind. It’s not always the explanation; sometimes players just struggle. But there are also plenty of times when a player may be working on a specific aspect of his development (this is especially the case with pitchers oftentimes), and looking worse than he might otherwise as a result.

I kept meaning to write the piece “System Sundays: Ronnie Rising”, this year about Williams’ development, and just haven’t found the time. It’s frustrating to me that I haven’t.

#9 — Sam Tuivailala, RHP

Relevant Stats (MLB): 6.0 IP, 21.2% K, 6.1% BB, .500 BABIP, 9.00 ERA, 2.82 FIP

The story with Tuivailala is pretty well known by now; he throws hard, has two complementary pitches, one of which is usually decent on a given night, and struggles occasionally to throw strikes. To his credit, he’s actually made a lot of progress on the strike-throwing front this season; there were long stretches in the minors when he walked barely anyone. Occasional backsliding aside, Tui is ready to contribute at the major league level. Not having been dinged for a .500 BABIP would probably have helped him stay with the big club this season.

#8 — Anthony Garcia, OF

Relevant Stats: 8.0-8.5% BB rate, 17-18% K rate between Double and Triple A, 107 wRC+ (AA), 78 wRC+ (AAA), .295 BABIP (AA), .236 BABIP (AAA), disappointing ISOs at both stops

It has been a huge disappointment of a season for Anthony Garcia, coming as it has on the heels of his breakout 2015, when he put himself back on the map with a brilliant show of plate discipline in Springfield and then held his own, while hitting for plus power, upon being moved up to Memphis. This year, his plate discipline has been decent, closer to his Triple A numbers from 2015, but well short of the near-1:1 ratio he posted in Springfield, which suggested a player very nearly ready to face big league pitching.

What’s gone wrong for Garcia this season has been the almost complete evaporation of his power; in 2015 he posted isolated slugging figures of .191 and .207, respectively, at Springfield and Memphis. This year, those numbers have been just .123 in Double A and .165 in Triple A. The brutal batting average on balls in play at Memphis isn’t just bad luck, either; Garcia simply struggled horribly this season to make hard contact. He’s back in prospect limbo, after looking so promising just last offseason.

#7 — Magneuris Sierra, OF

Relevant Stats (Low A): 556 PA, .309/.338/.397, 4.0% BB, 17.6% K, .371 BABIP, .088 ISO

The speed, defense, and an ability to slash line drives to all fields have been on display for Sierra this season; he’s stolen over 30 bases (though also been caught 16 times, so that’s not as good), runs down everything in the outfield, and that .371 batting average on balls in play, while certainly somewhat luck-driven, is also a function of lots and lots of sharp contact, and a willingness to go to any field. The bad news: he’s still not showing much power at all (and looking at him, I’m a little hesitant to project he’ll ever hit for much), and his plate discipline is moderately terrible. Admittedly, when you’re hitting over. 300, it’s hard to complain a player isn’t walking more, but even so, a player without much power who strikes out four times as often as he walks is going to have a tough time contributing offensively.

#6(a) — Aledmys Diaz, SS

Relevant Stats (MLB): 401 PA, .312/.376/.518, one All-Star appearance

I think we all know what happened with Aledmys Diaz this season. I said he was going to hit, a lot. And then he got a chance with the big league club and he hit. A lot. I still think he would be better suited at second base than shortstop, where his throwing issues are much more glaring, but the Cardinals might have just found themselves a five-year solution somewhere on the infield.

#6 — Marco Gonzales, LHP

Relevant Stats: One replaced UCL

I thought Marco Gonzales could be a consistent, durable contributor to the Cardinals for years to come, in the mold of so many other #3-4 starters who also just happen to be left-handed and have good changeups. Well, that’s not looking too good now; he had Tommy John surgery this spring. We’ll see how he looks sometime next year, most likely, but for now, Gonzales is a non-entity.

#5 — Luke Weaver, RHP

Relevant Stats (MLB): 21.0 IP, 29.2% K, 7.9% BB, 3.86 ERA, 4.15 FIP

Another player whose performance this season really doesn’t need much updating, Weaver has matriculated his way to the big leagues already, and looks like he belongs. Probably not an ace, but potentially a very solid mid-rotation starter. I was too low on Weaver coming in, but the delivery and the health history (remember, he missed a sizable chunk of time in 2015 with forearm soreness/tightness/whatever), still scare me. If he stays healthy, though, he looks like a keeper.

#4 — Tim Cooney, LHP

Relevant Stats: Has Not Pitched

I had Cooney this high based on what I believed to be a solid repertoire in that same soft-tossing lefty mold as Marco Gonzales, and the fact he was basically a finished product. Unfortunately, 2016 has seen Cooney fight shoulder issues all season, culminating in surgery. Fingers crossed Cooney isn’t going the way of John Gast (remember him?).

#3 — Edmundo Sosa, SS

Relevant Stats (Low A): 378 PA, .268/.307/.336, 5.0% BB, 18.8% K, .068 ISO, 90 wRC+

Another player near the top of this list who has had a somewhat disappointing season, Sosa’s first turn through full-season ball has not been particularly encouraging. He first burst onto the prospect scene in 2013 and ‘14 by posting remarkably strong plate discipline numbers as a 17-18 year old in rookie ball. Last season, playing for Johnson City, the plate discipline wasn’t as strong, but Sosa showed intriguing emerging power, putting seven balls over the wall in just 200 at-bats and posting a .185 ISO overall.

This season, neither the plate approach nor power potential have really shown up, and the numbers reflect that. The good news is he’s still playing shortstop, and it appears he’ll stick there long-term. I’d be lying, though, if I said he hasn’t been passed by at least one other middle-infield prospect now in the system, and potentially a couple.

#2 — Jack Flaherty, RHP

Relevant Stats (High A): 134.0 IP, 22.3% K, 8.0% BB, 3.56 ERA, 3.19 FIP

It’s been an interesting season for Flaherty, as he got off to a brutal start to the year, but has managed to right the ship and put up a very solid line as a 20 year old pitching in the Florida State League. More and more, Flaherty is looking like a polish-over-power mid-rotation starter with enough stuff to potentially have a ceiling a notch or two higher. The strikeout rate is very solid, and in something like half his outings he’s been very efficient. Somewhat strangely, though, his walks have tended to come in big bunches this season; he’ll show up in the box scores with four or five walks in an outing more often than you would like, but then rattle off two or three games where he walks zero or one. He’s still honing a very diverse repertoire, but the overall track is about as encouraging as one could really hope for.

#1 — Alex Reyes, RHP

Relevant Stats (MLB): 20 IP, 30% K, 12.5% BB, 1.35 ERA, 2.25 FIP

What can I say about Alex Reyes here that hasn’t already been said? Coming back from his pot suspension, Reyes picked up right where he left off last season this spring, striking out legions of minor league hitters and forcing his way to the big leagues when circumstances conspired to open a spot. The command still kind of sucks, and the control is only marginally better; the walk rate is still definitely problematic. But the stuff is awesome — his changeup has been particularly surprising, though still not as devastating as the curve to my eye — and he has enough command of the zone to contribute as a reliever right now. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get pigeonholed into a relief role while the club waits for him to finish polishing up the tools.

And that’s the stats, folks. It was an outstanding year for the Cardinals’ new draftees, a good year for the 11-20 guys (mostly), and kind of a mixed bag for the top ten. The pitchers at the very top took big steps forward, but the Cards also lost two of their most polished pitching prospects to long-term arm injuries, and their two most exciting young positional prospects showed significant weaknesses in their games moving up to full-season ball.

Still, with all that said, this is a farm system that took a big step forward as a whole this year, and depending on what we see in terms of graduations (i.e. if Reyes and Weaver remain prospect list-eligible this offseason, which they probably will), we’ll see the Cards’ system ranked much, much higher than last year. Particularly since they now have one of the top shortstop prospects in all of baseball to join their seemingly neverending supply of quality arms. The consensus on the Cardinals’ farm system last year seemed to be something like 18th-21st ranked; heading into 2017, this is an easy top ten system, and maybe close to the top five.