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Viva El Birdos 2017 Top Prospects List Part Six: Wrapping it Up

The lists have all been written now, and it’s time to take the longview.

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Good morning, everyone. Hopefully those of you in the area survived Icemageddon 2017 (copyright pending), which of course turned out to be more like half a day you would have preferred to stay inside, followed by a bunch of regular old rain, so I suppose we got somewhat lucky. (Snow I enjoy very much. Ice can just fuck right off.)

Prospect season is drawing to a close; it’s mid-January now, the big list has been entirely published, everyone else’s big lists have been published at their respective outlets, and in slightly less than one month we will officially be celebrating Pitchers and Catchers Report Day, that most glorious of rebirth-focused spring holidays. What’s that? Easter? Meh. Jesus comes back one time, and we have to hear about it for a couple thousand years. Baseball, though, pulls that same trick over and over every single spring. So how about some hailing to the king, baby?

Anyhow, blasphemy aside, we here at VEB Prospects Industries would like to offer thanks to all of you for reading and engaging with the material presented, and are pleased to bring you, by way of closing down prospecting season for another year — at least in so far as prospecting season ever really ends these days — this informative, efficient, convenient pocket guide to the world of Cardinals prospects in 2017.

The Master List

Not including the just-missed players (speaking of, here’s parts one and two of that section), who by dint of being presented as a jumble of players who — as the name suggests — just missed out on the list, are not officially ranked and thus do not fit the rubric nearly so neatly as the players assigned a proper place in the rankings, the list this year consisted of 26 total players. Planned as a nice round 25, the list expanded to 26 due to the author’s inability to actually remember all players as he was putting them into list form, and his later unwillingness to discard a scouting report he had written up very early in the process. (In case you’re wondering, the player I forgot was Jake Woodford, who in spite of being a very good pitching prospect seems to just sort of slide off the surface of my brain.)

The final list is as follows:

  1. Alex Reyes, RHP
  2. Luke Weaver, RHP
  3. Harrison Bader, OF
  4. Carson Kelly, C
  5. Jack Flaherty, RHP
  6. Delvin Perez, SS
  7. Austin Gomber, LHP
  8. Junior Fernandez, RHP
  9. Sandy Alcantara, RHP
  10. Ronnie Williams, RHP
  11. Paul DeJong, 3B/SS
  12. Edmundo Sosa, SS
  13. Dakota Hudson, RHP
  14. Magneuris Sierra, OF
  15. Jake Woodford, RHP
  16. Ryan Helsley, RHP
  17. Bryce Denton, OF/3B
  18. Nick Plummer, OF
  19. Zac Gallen, RHP
  20. Dylan Carlson, OF/1B
  21. Randy Arozarena, OF/2B
  22. Connor Jones, RHP
  23. Jeremy Martinez, C
  24. Eliezer Alvarez, 2B
  25. Jonatan Machado, OF
  26. Tommy Edman, INF

Broken down by position, that is:

  • Eleven Right-Handed Pitchers,
  • Seven Outfielders,
  • Two Shortstops,
  • Two Catchers,
  • One Left-Handed Pitcher,
  • Two Second Basemen, and
  • One Third Baseman.

Now, admittedly, there’s some wiggle room in those positions, clearly. Bryce Denton was a third baseman, but now he’s probably an outfielder. Unless he’s not, of course. Paul DeJong was also a third baseman, but now he’s taking grounders at short. (We’ll see how that experiment works out, but I’m a bit skeptical.) Dylan Carlson could end up manning a corner outfield spot or moving to first base; for now I counted him as an outfielder. Jeremy Martinez’s receiving needs work, and there may be limited opportunity for him to play behind the plate by the time he’s ready for the big leagues. Maybe he moves somewhere, depending on the bat. Tommy Edman I put down as a second baseman, but he really looks like a good fit for a Greg Garcia-shaped utility spot.

Last Year’s List

Looking back to last season, and once again taking off the unordered just-missed guys, the list was 22 names long, and looked like this:

  1. Alex Reyes, RHP
  2. Jack Flaherty, RHP
  3. Edmundo Sosa, SS
  4. Tim Cooney, LHP
  5. Luke Weaver, RHP
  6. Aledmys Diaz, SS (tie)
  7. Marco Gonzales, LHP (tie for sixth)
  8. Magneuris Sierra, OF
  9. Anthony Garcia, OF
  10. Sam Tuivailala, RHP
  11. Ronnie Williams, RHP
  12. Harrison Bader, OF
  13. Charlie Tilson, OF
  14. Junior Fernandez, RHP
  15. Nick Plummer, OF
  16. Carson Kelly, C
  17. Paul DeJong, 3B
  18. Darren Seferina, 2B
  19. Bryce Denton, 3B
  20. Oscar Mercado, SS
  21. Mike Ohlman, C
  22. Corey Littrell, LHP

Obviously, we have some names who fell off from 2016 to this year. Tim Cooney was injured all season and then went to the Indians on waivers. I still think he deserved a high spot, but part of TINSTAAPP is the injury risk, and that’s just what went wrong for the Coonster last year. Aledmys Diaz got off the list the best way possible; by playing his way into a major league future and competing for the Rookie of the Year award. Marco Gonzales I may have forgotten was still eligible for prospect lists, full disclosure. His future is cloudy enough at the moment he would have fallen substantially anyhow, though.

Anthony Garcia was terrible in Triple A this past season, and I have to cop to probably getting overly excited by what looked like a resurgence in 2015 from a player I always really liked. Sam Tuivailala just hasn’t quite polished himself up enough yet to stick in the big leagues. Converting to pitcher is tough, and takes longer than we probably think in terms of developing an ability to actually, you know, pitch.

Charlie Tilson was traded for Zach Duke. Darren Seferina was pretty bad, while the system got a lot better around him. Mike Ohlman was okay, then signed with Toronto in the offseason. Oscar Mercado was bad, failing to justify my intrigue in his offensive profile, and then got moved to the outfield, where he’s still bad and doesn’t have shortstop to absorb some of that badness. Corey Littrell was good in Double A, bad in Triple A, and the system around him improved enough to push him out.

Overall, though, last year’s batch mostly performed well enough, and the fact so many players from last year showed up again this year is fairly encouraging. A certain amount of continuity from year to year indicates a strong system; too many new draftees on your list means the prospects you had weren’t all that good. It’s a little strange to have the list virtually the same at the top two years in a row the way this particular list is, but the Cardinals also got sort of weirdly lucky that Reyes and Weaver both got to the big leagues and came up just short of losing their eligibility.

We see a couple of very notable risers, with Harrison Bader and Carson Kelly both jumping up multiple spots to very near the top of the list. Paul DeJong is kind of a fascinating case, in that he had the sort of season one looks at and feels slightly disappointed, yet when I looked at what he had actually accomplished, and at what experience level, I had to move him up fairly aggressively, just because of how much more certain I think it is at this point that he is, in fact, a major leaguer. Jake Woodford jumped from just-missed to fifteen (actually, from just-missed to just-remembered), and Sandy Alcantara made maybe the biggest move of any player in the system as a whole.

Edmundo Sosa was one of the bigger fallers for me, outside of the few players who fell off entirely due to poor seasons. And yet, even as he showed me his ceiling is probably lower than I had hoped, and his offense really stagnated, he also somewhat oddly cemented himself in the system as a very solid shortstop prospect. One without the star ceiling I thought he potentially possessed last year when the power and contact both looked much better, but one very likely to stay a shortstop, and who offers a solid blend of tools and skills.

If you look at the just-missed section of last year’s list, you’ll notice Allen Cordoba’s name. Cordoba would have been the biggest riser in the system this year for me along with Alcantara had he still been in the system. Alas, such is not the case, and we are left to just hope he proves so unready to contribute that even a shitshow like the Padres cannot justify keeping him around this season.

An Alternate Take

My colleague Josey Curtis, she of the weekend DFRs and excellent Arizona Fall League coverage, was kind enough to put together her own list. It is as follows:

  1. Alex Reyes, RHP
  2. Harrison Bader, OF
  3. Carson Kelly, C
  4. Luke Weaver, RHP
  5. Jack Flaherty, RHP
  6. Magneuris Sierra, OF
  7. Austin Gomber, LHP
  8. Paul DeJong, 3B/SS
  9. Edmundo Sosa, SS
  10. Sandy Alcantara, RHP
  11. Dakota Hudson, RHP
  12. Ryan Helsley, RHP
  13. Jake Woodford, RHP
  14. Marco Gonzales, LHP
  15. Delvin Perez, SS
  16. Ian McKinney, LHP
  17. Allen Cordoba, SS
  18. Junior Fernandez, RHP
  19. Darren Seferina, 2B
  20. Eliezer Alvarez, 2B

And her others worth mentioning section:

  • Nick Plummer, OF
  • Connor Jones, RHP
  • Jeremy Martinez, C
  • Rowan Wick, RHP
  • Bryce Denton, 3B/OF
  • Corey Littrell, LHP
  • Ronnie Williams, RHP

Nothing too surprising here, though there are a few interesting divergences. Both of us kept Flaherty up, rather than dropping him the way the BA/Goold list did, and the two of us somewhat eerily both ended up with Austin Gomber at seven, which I was quite surprised by. And really, one shouldn’t expect a huge amount of variation from list to list in terms of the names contained within any given segment, even if they’re ordered slightly differently. So Reyes/Bader/Kelly/Weaver are pretty much the consensus group, as far as the top guys go, and you can put them in pretty much any order you like. (Well, any order so long as Reyes is always number one.)

However, there are also a few key differences. Josey did not react as strongly as I did to mediocre seasons from Sosa and Sierra, and is a bit more circumspect in her ranking of Delvin Perez right off the bat. There’s also one very interesting name on her list that didn’t make mine, nor my just-missed section (though he was basically the first guy left out for me, along with Luke Voit on the position side): Ian McKinney. I don’t wish to put words in the mouth of Ms. Curtis, and so I’ll let her speak for herself in terms of scouting McKinney, and explaining her list. I’m sure she’ll be writing about it relatively soon.

A big thank you to Josey for contributing to this. I wanted to bring some other viewpoints into the mix this year if I could, so that we could all look at a different view of the facts and hopefully get a more well-rounded presentation overall.

So, finally, a few thoughts in general on the Cardinals’ system as a whole as it sits here in early 2017:

This system is incredibly deep.

I thought the Cards’ system was pretty deep last season when doing these rankings, if sorely lacking in star power outside of a couple obvious candidates. Looking at the list this year, it’s absolutely remarkable how much more depth has been piled on in just the last calendar year. Randy Flores had one of the best drafts of any team in the league this year, I think — it helps to have extra picks, admittedly — and the Cards’ spending binge on the international market added a couple players of note, particularly toward the bottom and in the just-missed sections, that help to lengthen the tail considerably.

The system has some real star potential.

Whereas last year, I had my doubts about very many players possessing the kind of ceilings that could make them stars, I have far fewer concerns about that this time around. Delvin Perez gives the club an elite talent up the middle the likes of which they haven’t seen in years. The trio of Fernandez/Alcantara/Williams could easily produce a star-level pitcher between them, and Dakota Hudson offers the kind of power package that’s easy to dream on near the top of a rotation. Dylan Carlson could be an absolute monster if things come together for him. And Randy Arozarena is the guy I would go to if someone asked me for the dude who will have the biggest buzz at this time next year. Jordan Hicks is another further-off player who could be special, though he’s got more to do in terms of development, obviously.

The system is still pitching-heavy, but not as much as it has been.

When the Redbirds had that monster prospect class a couple years ago, it was Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, and Oscar Taveras driving the value primarily. Kolten Wong was in there as well, and a few others, but that group of five were The Guys who made it the best farm system in the game. Looking at that group, it’s pretty obvious what the common thread is. Whereas the Cubs’ recent monster farm system was built almost entirely on hitters, position players, with very little pitching to speak of toward the top of the system, the Cardinals’ effort was bedrocked by pitching.

This current crop of talent is still slanted toward pitching, particularly of the right-handed variety; the breakdown does have eleven right-handers among the group of 26, and three of my top five are accompanied by the RHP appellation. But overall, this group has a better balance, I think, than that group of 2011-’13. Then again, considering Matt Carpenter was such an unheralded player until he came up and got heralded the shit out of, perhaps it’s only fair to note that the Cards seemed to specialise in developing stealth hitters in the latter years of Jeff Luhnow’s run as scouting tsar. But still, seeing middle infielders in this group is very encouraging. Seeing athletes with tools to contribute in multiple ways is extremely exciting. Being somewhat less reliant on arms, which can break (see: Miller, Shelby and Wacha, Michael just from that group I mentioned a moment ago, not to mention Rosie’s ups and downs), for your value in the pipeline would be, I think, a big positive.

The Cardinals are heading for another 2013 farm class.

It’s going to be interesting to see how much the Cards’ system falls down next year. Reyes will graduate. Weaver will almost certainly graduate. It’s possible Carson Kelly does, and Harrison Bader, too, though it’s less likely on those guys. It depends on the circumstances, really. We could see Paul DeJong make it to the big leagues this year if there are injuries.

However, the majority of the Cards’ talent in the system right now is a little lower down than that; Peoria was absolutely loaded last year, as was all three of the short-season league clubs. Palm Beach could be a monster this year, depending on who gets assigned to High A and who is challenged with the jump to Springfield. (Or, alternately, who is protected from the nightmare of trying to hit in the Florida State League.) The trio of Jones/Hudson/Gallen, all drafted together this past year, will be very interesting to watch as they move up as well.

My point is this: in one year’s time, we could be looking at a system that lost a top five overall prospect, another top 25 guy, and potentially one or two others rated in the top ten of the system. But if some players continue to develop the way I think they could, we might not actually see the system fall off as far as that would suggest. And in two years’ time, should things break in the Cards’ favour in the system, it’s possible we’re looking at another top five system in all of baseball. Maybe a number one, depending on just how right things break. The guys who would probably make that one happen are going to be Perez, and Carlson, and Johan Oviedo, and Arozarena, and Hudson and Hicks, and Kilichowski, and those sorts of names.

So where does this farm system rank in the game as a whole right now? Well, honestly, it’s a little tough for me to say; I pay attention to the minors, but I don’t have nearly a strong enough understanding of every team’s farm system to try and do a realistic ranking. However, if pressed, I would say I see the Cards’ system somewhere in the 5-8 range at the moment. They’re a clear step behind clubs like Atlanta and the Yankees who have built themselves huge bumper crops based on trades. There are a few other teams with high-end systems where the talent is concentrated a little closer to the top than the Redbirds’. But they have remarkable depth, and the most intriguing, exciting group of players concentrated at Peoria and below that I’ve ever covered. Admittedly, that pushes the system down a little, simply because the best talents are largely down at the lower levels, a long ways away, but as that group percolates toward the top, I think there’s a chance the Cards blow past pretty much any other team in terms of farm system rankings.

In other words, the future is bright, my friends. Very, very bright.