With the conclusion of Winter Meeting and the cooling of the Hot Stove around New Years, the only thing we're given to sustain our baseball appetites throughout the winter are tiny, irregular morsels of prospect coverage. Now, Spring Training is here and with it comes the winding down of prospect season. Individual reports and lists are being compiled into organization reports and said organization reports are finally being compiled into farm system rankings. This week, MLBPipeline.com has released it's 2017 Top 30 prospects for each team. The Cardinals list features all the familiar names but omits some guys on the back end who could end up headlining the list in coming years. Here's a sampling of the players who have a case for the Top 30 and be there as soon as next year.
John Kilichowski - LHP
Drafted in the 11th Round out of Vanderbilt in 2016, Kilichowski was considered a tough sign. The conventional wisdom was that returning to school for 2017 would significantly increase his draft stock. The Cardinals bucked conventional wisdom and inked Kilichowski to an above slot deal of $200,000.
Kilichowski profiles as a strike throwing lefty with a potential workhorse frame. His arsenal is deep, featuring a low 90's fastball (90-92 avg, 94 peak) to go along with a curveball, a slider and a change up. The best of the off-speed offerings so far is his change up, which features good sinking action and arm speed. The slider and the curveball are a bit behind, sometimes running together in a slurvy manner, but project to be distinct, average offerings eventually. His delivery is easy and clean, coming from a 3/4 arm slot that doesn't cause any injury risk concerns. On top of the physical traits, Kilichowski also has a plus makeup. This dude is smart - and I mean SMART - and it comes across in his composure and cerebral approach to pitching. Combine the well-crafted arsenal, command, makeup, and fact that he throws from the left side, and you're looking at a low-risk/moderate upside pitching prospect. Best case scenario, the command grades out at plus and he sticks in the #4 spot of a rotation for years. Worst case (aside from busting), he is a 5/6th starter making the Memphis shuttle trip more than a few times.
Walker Robbins - 1B/LF
Seeing Walker Robbins miss the list entirely came as a surprise given that he was featured at the back end of the mid-season list after being drafted in the 5th Round of this year's draft. The omission is probably due to guys like Johan Oviedo making the jump into the Top 30 and depth pieces like John Gant/Chris Ellis coming over in the Jaime Garcia deal. Still, Robbins was one of the more intriguing picks to me this year and I hoped he would make the list.
What intrigues me about Robbins is that he doesn't fit the mold of position players drafted by the Cardinals in recent years. Like outfielder/first baseman Dylan Carlson, Walker Robbins is a bat-first high school hitter who's offensive production alone will have to carry him to the majors. That is to say, there is a lot of upside in this guy's bat.
At nineteen years old, Robbins stands an imposing 6'3", 210lbs but still has room to grow in his frame. The frame hints towards future plus raw power, but he currently is a more gap-oriented line drive hitter. He barrels the ball well with a swing that features excellent balance to go along with good strength and bat speed. The questions here are what his plate discipline numbers will look like as he progresses, how much raw power he learns to tap into and (as with all high-school power bats) how much contact he makes against pro pitching. I'm bullish on the contact skills and future power projection, probably even willing to slap a FV of 55 on the hit tool and 60 on the power. Defensively he probably ends up at first base, where he moves well enough to be an average if not above average defender.
BONUS SLEEPER: Brady Whalen - SS/3B/2B
Admittedly, I agree with the choice to exclude Brady Whalen from the Top 30. He's all projection at this point, and he didn't exactly light the world on fire in his short pro-debut. Whalen is, however, one of the prospects I'm most curious to see in 2017.
When Whalen was selected in the 12th Round after the Kilichowski pick, it seemed like the Cardinals would only be able to ink one of the two. Fortunately for the depth of the system, the front office was able to hammer out deals with both players. The quick profile of Whalen is this: he's a toolsy, switch-hitting prep shortstop from Washington with an extremely projectable frame. The key word in all this is projection, as Whalen could end up going in a lot of directions. Long term, he's unlikely to stick at shortstop. His glove is steady and the arm is average and accurate, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't simply outgrow the position. From there, his athleticism would lend itself to 2B, 3B, or RF/LF. Best case scenario, I see him as a third basemen with a plus glove and an average arm.
Offensively, Whalen gives you a lot to dream on. Both the lefty and righty swings are very well developed for a player his age, and the bat speed grades out at well above average. Factor in the plus physical projection, and it's easy to see Whalen possessing 60-grade power in a few years. The wildcard here is that since he was considered a tough sign, there isn't much video or reading material on him out there. But man, we could all be talking about Brady Whalen a few years down the road.