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2018 Viva El Birdos Top Prospects List, Part Two: #30-21

Counting down the top prospects in the Cardinals’ system, heading into 2018.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Here we are, folks. The official Viva El Birdos Top Prospect List for 2018. I won’t engage in an extended preamble here, seeing as how I expect all of these to make for very long posts. I will point out again that I decided to leave players recently traded on the list, so as to present as much context as possible for what the Cardinals lost. I have also, I should say, decided to actually put the two prospects received in return for Stephen Piscotty into the list, since the deals went down early enough I had time to do a little shuffling.

Finally, I wanted to put in a word for Daniel Castano, the left-handed starter the Cards moved in the Marcell Ozuna trade. You won’t find Castano on this list anywhere, and his name actually did not appear in the honourable mentions section either. He should have appeared there, and I had meant to include him, but as I was writing up other players his name just sort of kept getting knocked down by another prospect I had something specific to say about, or a guy who seemed to have a little more pressing cause for being included, or whatever.

So anyhow, while Castano isn’t a top guy, and I missed writing him up entirely, I have to say I don’t think he’s strictly a throw-in prospect. He’s never going to wow anyone with his stuff, being that he very rarely breaks 90 with the fastball, but he has outstanding command and two very good offspeed pitches in his slider and changeup. It’s very much the John Tudor archetype of lefty pitcher, slow and slower, disrupting timing and generating weak contact, but Castano’s ability to put the ball where he wants it the majority of the time gives him a real chance, I think. Not much more than a chance, mind you, but a chance all the same. The other three players all appear at one point or another on this countdown, but seeing as how Castano was shut out despite being as good as several of the other players I chose to focus on instead, I wanted to at least give the info I have on him. I like him, a fair bit actually, and consider him a legitimate part of that trade package.

And with that, we’re ready to kick things off officially, with:

#30: Jacob Patterson, LHP

6’2”, 200 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Left

DOB: 30 October 1995; Drafted Rd. 13 2017

Level(s) in 2017: Johnson City (SS)

Notable Numbers: 35.9% K, 23.3% K-BB, 1.93 ERA, 17.6% IFFB

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Jacob Patterson was one of my favourite picks the Cardinals made in the draft this year. Not in terms of feeling like he was one of the very best players, mind you — although I do think he’s very talented — but in terms of the player combined with the spot the club managed to get him. That combination, of a premium left-handed strikeout artist and the thirteenth round, is tough for me not to get excited about.

Patterson’s first couple seasons at Texas Tech were not good; he walked about as many hitters as he struck out, was way too hittable for a pitcher who’s always had plus stuff, and just generally kind of scuffled along.

And then, in his junior season, Patterson improved a little in his walk rate. He gave up just as many hits as ever, but with the drop in free passes he allowed fewer baserunners overall. It wasn’t a huge improvement, but it was improvement.

Oh, and also he started striking out a ton of batters.

Funny thing is, when he got into pro ball he struck out even more.

I don’t know what changed for Patterson heading into the 2017 season; he wasn’t on my radar before this past spring. But I do know that he broke out in terms of doing one very specific thing — missing bats — that also happens to be one of the most predictive qualities a pitcher can possess. And when he got to Johnson City, he didn’t slow down for a second. Which is interesting.

It’s a relief-only profile for Patterson; he’s got a deceptive, slingy arm action that looks very risky to me, but also makes him tougher to pick up, and a two-pitch arsenal that would suffer badly in multiple trips through a lineup, I believe. The fastball is pretty average in terms of velocity, though it does move when it’s up in the zone and is really tough to get on top of. The pitch that really separates Patterson out as a potential arm of great future interest is his slider. It’s a big breaker with great tilt, and when he throws it with conviction he’s able to completely overmatch hitters. Lefties have no shot, and the pitch is good enough he can backfoot right-handers with it almost as effectively.

Maybe the most intriguing thing about Patterson is that he walked far fewer hitters in pro ball than he did in college, even his quite successful junior season. This is a pitcher who is really just starting to come into his own, I believe, and already has one great weapon he can deploy.

If he’s good, it will look like: Pick your favourite low arm slot lefty with a great breaking ball. No, not Andrew Miller. Your most realistic low arm slot lefty with a great breaking ball. Tony Watson? Not a bad choice. It will be interesting to see if Patterson can add any velocity as he matures in pro ball, but even if he doesn’t he has a chance to have an impact. Personally, I think back to how much fun Tyler Johnson was back in the 2006 playoffs. Patterson’s slider is close to that.

via rkyosh007:

#29: Brady Whalen, 3B

6’4”, 180 lbs; Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

DOB: 15 January 1998; Drafted Rd 12 2016

Level(s) in 2017: Johnson City (SS)

Notable Numbers: 230 PA, 109 wRC+, .221/.348/.416, .236 BABIP, 14.8% BB, 16.1% K

So, what’s so great about this guy?

In going from Jacob Patterson to Brady Whalen, we are careening from one end of the spectrum to the other a bit. By that, I mean Patterson is, while still unpolished, a narrowly-defined talent whose future is going to be almost entirely summed up by how well one or two tools develop. If Patterson succeeds and makes it to the big leagues, we’re looking at a limited number of outcomes. Brady Whalen, on the other hand, has as many potential outcomes as any player in the system, and as risky a profile as just about anyone.

Whalen was a high school pick in 2016 as a switch-hitting shortstop with intriguing power potential from both sides of the plate and makeup that garnered rave reviews from the couple scouts I spoke to who knew of the kid. In other words, if we took Dylan Carlson and made him a middle infielder, there’s Brady Whalen.

Even at the time, though, Whalen was thought to be too big to stay up the middle over the long haul, and he moved to third base pretty much immediately in pro ball. He does have a huge frame, with tons of room to add strength, so picturing him at short long term was never in the cards.

An interesting thing has cropped up in the first two seasons of Whalen’s pro career, though. While the power potential that was pointed out in high school has shown up only in fits and starts, with his quality of contact probably being the weakest consistent skill on his card, Whalen has shown an absolutely remarkable approach at the plate. In his first taste of pro ball, he walked 9.6% of the time, against just a 10.8% K rate. This year, he struck out a bit more often against Appalachian League competition, at a little over 16%, but his walk rate jumped up to just shy of 15%. A near-1:1 K:BB from a player this young is incredibly unusual, and honestly a little tough to contextualise.

Whalen did post a .195 isolated slugging this year, showing off some of that power potential, but his BABIP was just .236. Could be a fluke, of course, but in 2016 his BABIP was an even more dire .188, and what little I got to see of Whalen this year seemed to include a lot of popups and weak fly balls. If pressed, I would lean toward the low BABIPs being more representative of inconsistent contact than simple poor fortune.

Defensively, Whalen fits well at third. Solid-average arm, pretty good hands, moves around well over there. He’s not fast, but he has pretty good feet from what little I’ve seen. He should be able to stick at third, but there’s always the concern that maybe he gets bigger, slows down, and ends up without the mobility to play anywhere but first base. If that’s the case, the bat would have to play way, way up, and his prospect stock would fall way, way down otherwise. Personally, I don’t think that’s a huge concern, but there is that caveat to keep in mind with a guy this young who has a lot of filling out to do.

Probably my biggest concern right now with Whalen is that he’s not a very good hitter from the left side. Righty I like him, quite a lot. Lefty, oof. His timing isn’t good, and all his struggles basically flow from that. He could probably drop switch-hitting and go strictly right-handed, but that should be a conversation for a little further down the road, I think. The advantages still outweigh the developmental hurdles for now, I think.

If he’s good, it will look like: Physically there’s no resemblance whatsoever, but the offensive profile for Whalen, at least so far, reminds me a lot of Carlos Santana, the recently-signed new Phillies first baseman. If Whalen can carry that kind of profile up the ladder while staying at third base, he’s going to be a hell of a prospect. The left-handed struggles and the positional question not being 100% settled just yet are the big concerns here, though. Still, if asked to wager, I think Brady Whalen is a good bet to jump up these rankings this time next year.

#28: Johan Oviedo, RHP

6’6”, 210 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 2 March 1998; Signed Cuba 2016

Level(s) in 2017: Johnson City (SS), State College (SS+)

Notable Numbers: 24.8% K, 10.4% K-BB (JC), 18.8% K, 10.1% K-BB (SC)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

One of the Cards’ more interesting investments in the 2016 international signing period, Oviedo came out of Cuba with a mid-90s fastball that topped out at 98 and a hammer curveball that he commanded surprisingly well for an eighteen year old.

The bad news first: Oviedo, in his first full season of pro ball, didn’t show the same kind of dynamic stuff he did last year. The velocity was mostly in the same range early on in the season as it had been, but dropped as the year went on, finishing up more like 90-91 at the end of the campaign. The curveball didn’t have quite the same bite, either, as Oviedo looked in general like a pitcher who simply wasn’t throwing with the same kind of arm speed he had in the past. Why that would be I don’t know; injury cannot be entirely ruled out, but perhaps it was simply fatigue setting in. If that’s the case, it’s still concerning, as Oviedo only threw about 75 innings total this year.

The good news is this: Oviedo is still a physically huge, athletically gifted pitcher who showed premium velocity at times this year, and did manage to improve his control and command substantially as the season went on. The curveball was smaller and tighter, but he threw it for strikes, which was a plus. I saw a little of Oviedo at State College, and he seemed to be working down more often, with good movement, so I wonder if perhaps there was a change in fastball usage. What he threw in the New York-Penn League looked more like a two-seamer to me, whereas I had been led to believe he was strictly a blazing fast four-seam guy when he was signed. He’s big enough to get that coveted downhill plane on the pitch regardless. He throws a changeup that still needs a whole lot of work, and what looked like a little cutter that actually got some swings and misses from righties at times.

We’ll have to wait and see what the velocity looks like for Oviedo in 2018; if it creeps back up into the mid 90s, he’ll quickly regain a whole lot of that lost lustre from this season. If not, he’s still got a heavy fastball that would seem to be suited for getting grounders and a good curve. His stock could quickly go either way, though, depending upon how he looks early next season.

If he’s good, it will look like: This is a tough one for me, because Oviedo looked like two very different pitchers depending upon when you saw him. The good version, for me, looks something like early-career John Lackey, with that high-octane fastball and big overhand curve working in tandem from a big, physical pitcher. Oviedo has a long way to go to get anywhere near that, though, and it all begins with seeing how he holds up to a full season workload in 2018.

#27: Chase Pinder, OF

6’1”, 190 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 16 March 1996; Drafted Rd. 7 2017

Level(s) in 2017: Johnson City (SS)

Notable Numbers: .320/.442/.438, 14.8% BB, 18.7% K, .398 BABIP

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Chase Pinder, selected out of Clemson in this most recent draft, represents an interesting insight into what the Cardinals seem to be favouring right now. The Randy Flores scouting department has shown a bias toward players with excellent plate discipline numbers, strong contact skills, and overall athletic profiles that don’t necessarily include huge power projection. Now, some of that, of course, is simply looking for good players, hence the contact and plate discipline parts, but there have been numerous selections used on hitters of modest stature, whose best tool is either contact or speed. Guys like Tommy Edman and Scott Hurst, both of whom are still to come on this list. Kramer Robertson, who showed up in the honourable mentions section. It’s not such a strong trend we should change our perception of the type of team the Cardinals are trying to build or anything like that, but it’s worth noting that the Cards seem to be taking more chances on smaller athletes if they fit a given set of profiles.

Such is Pinder, who boasts easy plus speed that translates into above-average range in center field and very good command of the strike zone that translated into a near-1:1 strikeout to walk ratio in Johnson City. That wasn’t a new development for Pinder, either; he walked nearly as often as he struck out at Clemson as well. He knows his strengths and weaknesses, and will take what a pitcher gives him.

The downside is a lack of physicality from Pinder, who is not big (that 6’1” and 190 might be accurate, but he looks smaller), and doesn’t really have the functional strength to drive the ball effectively. That’s especially concerning for the effect it could have on his plate discipline; we’ve seen players with outstanding approaches sabotaged by a lack of power in the past. If pitchers are not at all afraid to challenge a hitter, no amount of patience is going to bring the walks back. Well, unless you’re Greg Garcia, I suppose, but he is most definitely the exception rather than the rule. Pinder’s speed has never really gotten him much value in terms of baserunning, which serves as another limiting factor on his ceiling.

Pinder should be able to stay in center field, which raises his floor considerably, and if he can continue to control the zone as he heads up the ladder there’s a chance he could end up a starting-quality outfielder. More likely, though, he’s a better fit as a fourth outfielder, capable of playing all the positions a la Shane Robinson. And actually....

If he’s good, it will look like: Shane Robinson isn’t a bad example of the type of career a guy like Pinder could pretty easily have, handling a tough defensive position and getting on base just enough to be a useful player for a while. A Chase Pinder who traded in some contact ability for more power might look more like the Anaheim (read: really good), version of Peter Bourjos. Maybe the live ball helps bring Pinder’s numbers up and he becomes a better player than the typical guy of his type, but it’s a narrow margin for players like this to really make it as more than bench players. If you’re Kevin Pillar great in the field you can make it, but short of that it’s a tough road.

via 2080 Baseball:

#26: Donivan Williams, 3B/2B/OF

6’0”, 190 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 25 July 1999; Drafted Rd 14 2017

Level(s) in 2017: GCL Cardinals

Notable Numbers: 115 PA, 9.6% BB, 21.7% K, .204/.296/.286

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I was a big fan of Donivan Williams even before the draft this year, having pegged him as something like a fifth- to seventh-round talent. When he fell all the way to the fourteenth, and the Cardinals actually managed to find enough room in the signing budget to bring him in to the organisation, I was very impressed.

Williams is, for right now, very much a lump of athletic clay. He was both a shortstop and third baseman in high school, and has the kind of throwing arm that should make him an easy choice for the left side of the infield (I’d put a 65-70 on it). Once he got into pro ball, though, it looks like the organisation moved him around a little bit, infield and outfield. That’s not really all that unusual for a player in the complex leagues; the Gulf Coast League is all about getting players time on the field, getting them at-bats, and just teaching them how to establish a routine as they ease into professional baseball. Personally, I would hate to see Williams moved to the outfield permanently, as I think he has the tools to stay in the dirt, but we’ll see what the future brings.

Besides that spectacular throwing arm, Williams stands out for his plus bat speed, generated by a wiry, deceptively strong frame that nonetheless needs plenty of time to develop. He’s an above-average runner, as well.

Overall, Williams has excellent physical tools; what shape those tools eventually take is really still up in the air a bit at this point. He’s a long ways off, but he showed some very good instincts at the plate this season (despite slumping late in the summer, which happens to a lot of high school kids as they grind through their first pro season), and could end up with 55s or better in four, maybe even five, tools. As late as the middle of August he was running a 12% walk rate and 18% strikeout rate, but the last couple weeks of the year seemed to really hit the wall. He’s cut from the same cloth physically as Bryce Denton, the Tennessee high-schooler the Cards drafted in 2015 and moved from third to the outfield this past season. Williams probably has a similarly long path ahead of him if he’s going to make it, but he’s a gut feel guy for me.

If he’s good, it will look like: I hate to try and put a comp on Williams right now, simply because we don’t even exactly know what position he’s going to settle into. Perhaps that versatility, as well as a very high baseball IQ, actually offers us a good comp for the future. Williams isn’t as big physically as Ben Zobrist, but he has a similar wide base of tools and skills.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

#25: Jake Woodford, RHP

6’4”, 210 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 28 October 1996; Drafted Supp. Round 1 2015

Level(s) in 2017: Palm Beach (High A)

Notable Numbers: 23 G, 119 IP, 14% K, 7.6% BB, 45.2% GB, 4.08 FIP

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Coming out of Plant High School in Florida, Woodford was one of the best second-tier starting pitchers in the 2015 draft. He wasn’t quite on the Carson Fulmer/Kolby Allard/Dillon Tate tier of pitchers, but he was very much in that second group of guys. At the time, he had a great sinking fastball that would touch 95, a solid slider, and some feel for a changeup. In other words, a high school repertoire, but a really good one.

Since that time, things haven’t really gone all that well for Woodford, if we’re being honest. He’s taken the ball every time the call has come, which is certainly encouraging, but the stuff has backed up a bit. His sinker is still easily his best pitch, sitting around 92-93, but the rest of his pitches just haven’t developed to my eye. He’s added a little cutter that looks okay, but the slider isn’t as sharp as it was, and the changeup is still just sort of there. It’s not terrible; he sells the change with pretty good arm speed. It doesn’t have a ton of movement, though, and actually seems to sink less than his sinker. Or, at the very least, he’s more prone to missing location up with the pitch.

There’s still some pretty good materials for Woodford to work with as he tries to hone his arsenal. The sinker gives him one true plus pitch, which is more than a lot of pitchers ever manage. But the fact so much of the rest of his repertoire has sort of stalled out can’t be ignored. I like him better than Connor Jones, who actually has the better sinker but is even more of a one-pitch pitcher, I believe, and think Woodford should be kept in a starting rotation as long as possible.

If he’s good, it will look like: Doug Fister and Derek Lowe are always my mental comps for a tall, willowy sinker artist, and I think I might have thrown Fister on Woodford last year. At his best, though, Fister had not only an excellent moving two-seam fastball, but one of the stronger curves in the game as well. Woodford, with his lesser range of speeds and greater reliance on the sinker, fits the Lowe model of pitcher better. I worry about these sorts of low-strikeout contact pitchers who live at the bottom of the zone these days, given how much less safe pitches at the knees seem to be in the current environment.

#24: Tommy Edman, SS/2B

5’10”, 180 lbs; Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

DOB: 9 May 1995; Drafted Rd 6 2016

Level(s) in 2017: Peoria (Low A), Palm Beach (High A), Springfield (AA)

Notable Numbers: 118 wRC+ (A), 106 wRC+ (A+), 80 wRC+ (AA)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Tommy Edman burst out of the gate in his pro career like a house on fire, putting up a 151 wRC+ and 15.5% to 9.1% walk to strikeout ratio last year at State College. The plate discipline was the thing that stood out most about Edman; hitters who walk over 50% more than they strike out, at any level, are exceedingly rare. He swiped 19 bases in 22 attempts, as well, adding some baserunning value to his profile. The power was modest, but there was plenty of reason to be optimistic about the new kid from Stanford.

With all that in mind, expectations for Edman were probably a little too high, as even with a strong start to the season in Peoria (where it’s always tough to be a hitter in April), the fact he wasn’t laying waste to the league was seen as somewhat of a disappointment. Even so, the walks and strikeouts were almost even, he showed a little bit of pop with a .155 ISO, and he stole 8/10 bases, all while playing primarily shortstop. He was bumped up to High A, saw his strikeout rate unexpectedly (and almost certainly temporarily), spike to 22%, and was then promoted again to Double A Springfield after just 82 trips to the plate in Palm Beach. He was okay in Springfield, but looked a little out of his depth. Edman was actually promoted a third time to Memphis for the playoffs, but to my eye should probably return to Double A to begin 2018.

The good with Edman is still very good contact skills, a sound approach at the plate, plus speed that actually works very well on the bases, and what looks like a decent glove even at shortstop. The bad is a lack of size, lack of strength, and a frame that doesn’t seem to lend him a great amount of projection going forward. He’s cut from the same cloth as a lot of other Cardinal utility infielders over the years, including the current model in Greg Garcia. A little less patience, a little more speed, but very much in the same genre.

The fact Edman appears able to handle shortstop defensively is a huge boon to his future prospects, and should make him at the very least a good fit for that utility infield role. It’s a pretty limited ceiling, I think, but teams need players like this, and growing them from within is always preferable to having to look outside the organisation.

If he’s good, it will look like: A switch-hitting utility infielder with good contact ability, who lacks size and strength, and once Steven Segal’d his way out of a hostage crisis? Why, that’s Aaron Miles, of course! Okay, so Edman has not, so far as I know, ever taken out a group of international terrorists with his bare hands, but he has better raw tools than Miles, so there’s a chance he could be a better version of that sort of player. A little more patience, better speed, and more ability to handle short are all on Edman’s side, but the speed is really the only spot where he has a big advantage.

Oh, also: he looks eerily like Matt Bowman. So, if they’re on the team at the same time, get ready for some wacky hijinks, probably.

via Alec Dopp:

#23: Edmundo Sosa, SS

5’11”, 170 lbs: Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 6 March 1996; Signed 2013 (Panama)

Level(s) in 2017: Palm Beach (High A), rehab in rookie ball

Notable Numbers: 211 PA, .285/.329/.347, 98 wRC+

So, what’s so great about this guy?

The biggest thing Edmundo Sosa has going for him for sure at this point is the fact he is the best defensive shortstop in the system. Or, at least, the best defensive shortstop who isn’t so bad offensively as to not really qualify as a prospect. Delvin Perez has the superior defensive tools, but Sosa more that holds his own in terms of physical abilities, and has become a very polished, smooth defender at the position as well.

Now, he does have something else going for him which is far less of a sure thing, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Let’s talk about the negatives for a moment.

Sosa has never again shown the sort of pop he displayed in 2015 at Johnson City. That summer he showed real bat speed, enough lift to smack seven homers in just 200 at-bats, and a smart, disciplined approach at the plate that led him to walk over 7% of the time despite not being a very feared hitter. The offensive arrow was very much pointing up on Sosa at that moment.

Since then, though, the patience has gone the wrong way, the contact rate has gotten slightly worse, and the power has largely evaporated. Shortstops who can pick it at the position don’t need to clear a very high offensive bar, but there have been times when I’ve questioned whether Sosa would be able to clear even a low bar. He did put up a 98 wRC+ this season in Palm Beach before going down with a hamate bone injury, but that was aided by a .344 BABIP that I don’t believe he has the quality of contact to support. That hamate injury is a further problem, considering how we’ve seen players in the past struggle to hit for any kind of power following wrist injuries.

However, let me get to the thing that I said Sosa has going for him, albeit in a much less certain fashion than his defense, which is certifiably solid and a big part of his value. In the Arizona Fall League, which Sosa played in primarily as a way to try and make up for lost time this season, he showed off a completely remade swing, which I don’t recall at all from even earlier in the 2017 season. I didn’t get to see him play a ton this year, admittedly, but I don’t believe he made the swing changes until later on.

I had planned on writing up the changes to Sosa’s swing a few weeks ago; community member Bclemens6 was nice enough to put up a post containing a couple GIFs from the fall league which I was going to use as a way to put down my own thoughts on Sosa’s attempt at remaking his offense. Unfortunately, work intruded that particular day, and I never did get back around to writing about Sosa.

Sosa appears to have basically gone for the Josh Donaldson/Jose Bautista leg kick-uppercut combo of swing remakes, as he now incorporates a pronounced leg lift into his trigger mechanism. Put simply, Edmundo Sosa now has a much, much more interesting swing. The bat speed is suddenly better. His weight transfer is more powerful. His swing path is no longer chopping down into the ball. I wish he would load his hands a little more down and back, rather than starting them up, but that’s something that can be worked on.

At this point, I really have no idea what to make of Edmundo Sosa. He’s a very competent defender at shortstop, of that I have no doubt. But I want to wait and see if this offensive change is transformative, or simply cosmetic. If he does, in fact, change his offensive outlook significantly, then that completely alters what kind of player he is.

Which is making it very difficult right now to try and place him into a prospect list.

via Baseball Census:

#22: Junior Fernandez, RHP

6’1”, 180 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 2 March 1997; Signed 2014 (Dominican Republic)

Level(s) in 2017: Palm Beach (High A)

Notable Numbers: 90.1 IP, 3.69 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 15.1% K, 10% BB

So, what’s so great about this guy?

A year ago at this time, Junior Fernandez and Sandy Alcantara were in very similar positions within the Cardinal system. Both had tremendous raw stuff, both had struggled to harness said stuff, and both were seen as big upside plays for a system sorely lacking in high-ceiling talent. Alcantara was a year older than Fernandez, and pitching roughly half a level ahead of the younger man. Which pitcher one preferred was a matter of taste priorities. I preferred Fernandez by a hair, as I liked his delivery better, and believed Fernandez’s changeup was the best offspeed pitch either one could boast. Given relatively similar velocity, that one plus-plus offspeed pitch was largely a deciding factor for me.

Well, we know what happened with Alcantara. He moved up to Double A Springfield, pitched fairly well, not dominating but showing steady improvement, and was tapped to skip over Memphis entirely for a spot in the major league bullpen. He struck out a ton of hitters in the big leagues, and walked a ton of hitters in the big leagues. Even with shaky control, though, the steps forward Alcantara had taken over the course of the season were easy to see in St. Louis. His command of both his offspeed pitches was surprisingly good, and while the fastball still mostly went wherever it wanted, the movement and velocity was drool-inducing.

And then we have Fernandez.

Junior Fernandez...did not have a good season in 2017. He had finished the 2016 season in Palm Beach at just 19 years old, and returned there to begin the year. From the beginning, his stuff never really looked as dynamic as it had the previous season. He was solid early on, but even then was struggling to miss bats. As the season wore on, his velocity became less predictable, and he ultimately ended the season on the DL with a sore arm. (Biceps is what I’ve heard.) All in all, a campaign Fernandez would just as soon forget, I would imagine.

The injury is certainly concerning, but even more worrisome is the continuing lack of swings and misses in Fernandez’s profile, which is difficult to square with a repertoire of the sort he possesses. At his best, he’ll work at 95-97 with his fastball and pair it with a changeup that will flash plus-plus potential at times, though he’s prone to mistakes over the middle of the plate with the change, rather than missing out of the zone. No pitcher with high-90s heat and a 65+ offspeed pitch should strike out as few hitters as Fernandez, but that’s where we are with him. The fastball has some armside run, but comes in on a fairly flat plane, and for whatever reason just seems easy to time up. The changeup has great deception and movement at its best, but Fernandez is more control than command at this point, and the changeup just isn’t always located where he wants it. He throws a slider as well, but it’s a definite third pitch, and not much more than a show offering as of yet.

It’s important to remember Fernandez won’t turn 21 until March, and could easily pitch all of 2018 at Double A. Even so, it’s hard to classify his ‘17 season as anything but a disappointment, and the combination of injury and limited repertoire could push him to relief work sooner than later. It would seem a shame to move a pitcher this young, with this intriguing a repertoire, to the bullpen already, but the simplified world of relieving could be just what the doctor ordered for Fernandez.

If he’s good, it will look like: The right-handed power changeup artist is a somewhat unusual demographic, but there are pitchers who fit the ball all the same. Given Fernandez’s 34 arm slot, upper-90s velocity, and the sheer filth of his change when it’s really working for him, a profile like that of Fernando Rodney doesn’t seem to be all that far-fetched if he were to move to relief. Regardless of his role, job one is to simply prove he’s healthy in 2018 and that his velocity is back up where it was previously, rather than down in the low-90s as it was around the time he was shut down with the arm injury.

#21: Evan Mendoza, 3B

6’2”, 200 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 28 June 1996; Drafted Rd 11 2017

Level(s) in 2017: State College (SS+), Peoria (Low A)

Notable Numbers: 182 PA, .370/.431/.549, 8.8% BB, 18.1% K, .449 BABIP

So, what’s so great about this guy?

One of the top performers in the system from the most recent 2017 draft class, Mendoza hit the ground running right off the bat, and never really looked back.

The Cards snagged Mendoza in the eleventh round this summer, long past when his talent probably would have dictated he go, and it’s honestly a little bit of a mystery why that would be to me. Most times, when you look at a player whose draft stock falls somewhat, there’s an easy answer. A bad draft year campaign, or the threat of not signing, or a nagging physical issue that seems to hang over the player’s head. In the case of Mendoza, though, I’d be lying if I told you I understood how and why he lasted until the eleventh for the Cardinals to pull. I don’t really get it. I’m glad he did, though.

Judging by Mendoza’s pro debut, one might think he’s best known for his offensive abilities, but it’s actually the opposite. He’s been well regarded as a defender at the hot corner throughout his college career, while the bat has been seen as being on the light side. It’s tough to square that perception with the way Mendoza hit in his first taste of pro ball, though.

Mendoza’s best tool offensively is an innate ability to make solid contact, a feel for the barrel of the bat that served him extraordinarily well after being drafted. He doesn’t have a ton of loft in his swing, but he’s capable of spraying line drives to all fields. He has average speed, maybe a touch better. The offensive profile isn’t that of unlimited ceiling, but there’s a touch of power, a good contact rate, and a solid understanding of the strike zone. He knows what pitchers are trying to do to get him out, and for the most part he has the tools to deal with it.

There’s no question regarding Mendoza’s glovework at third base; he has great feet, soft, reliable hands, and an arm strong enough to make any throw required from the position. He’s probably the most solid defender at third in the system right now, in fact. Donivan Williams has the louder defensive tools, but Mendoza is a far more polished glove at the hot corner.

The one real downside with Mendoza is pretty modest power, which does cut his ceiling down a bit. Even with a livelier ball in the big leagues, it’s hard to envision a season in which the former NC State standout ever hits more than 20 homers, and even that number doesn’t feel like the easiest of goals. Still, a 55 glove at third base with plus contact abilities, above-average bat control, good command of the strike zone, and even 45-grade power makes for an extremely attractive overall package.

If he’s good, it will look like: At the time of the draft, I comped Mendoza to someone like Martin Prado, and I see no real reason to go away from that now. He has the same kind of well-rounded, contact-based offensive game as Prado, and a similarly solid, if not spectacular, glove at third base.

One down, two more to go, folks. I’ll see you all back here again Sunday morning for numbers 20 through 11. Take care until then.