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Viva El Birdos 2017 Cardinals Top Prospects: #11 Paul DeJong

Former Illinois State star is working to make himself versatile.

St Louis Cardinals Photo Day Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE

#11: Paul DeJong, 3B/SS

6’1”, 195 lbs; R/R; 2 August 1995

Relevant Stats: .200 ISO, 123 wRC+ (Double A)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Paul DeJong, drafted out of Illinois State in 2015, was one of the real pleasant surprises of that draft class for me. I knew who he was ahead of time, having looked at him as a catcher when he was a junior in 2014, but had kind of lost track of him somewhere along the way. When the Cardinals selected him, I took a look at the numbers, checked in on what positions he was playing, and thought he was very interesting. His pro debut made me even more interested, as he showed off above-average raw power and an intelligent, patient approach at the plate I couldn’t help but love.

After April of this year, I was wondering if I hadn’t made a huge mistake getting so excited about what was clearly a strikeout machine, at least at the Double A level. The Cardinals challenged DeJong with an aggressive assignment to Springfield to begin his first full pro season, and early on it looked as if they may have pushed him faster than he was ready to go.

There’s a silver lining to every cloud, though, and there’s some good news in this story: DeJong, after a brutal start to the season that saw him striking out over 30% of the time, improved. By the end of the year, he had pulled his batting average up to .260. and lowered his strikeout rate to just over 26%. Still higher than you want to see from a top prospect in Double A, of course, but for a college senior draftee making his Double A debut less than a year after being drafted, it’s not the worst thing in the world. And there was still that power.

DeJong clearly had a tough time adjusting to the higher level pitching he faced in Springfield, as his walk rate dropped to just 7.2%, but that was also better at the end of the season than at the beginning. He went to the Arizona Fall League and, just to prove it’s not all sunshine and lollipops, put up a miserable 50 wRC+ in prospect finishing school. Ergo, he’s probably not quite finished just yet.

There’s one other really interesting thing about Paul DeJong at this point: after playing a fairly solid third base in both his debut and first full seasons, the Cardinals made the decision this autumn to move him over to shortstop. I honestly don’t know quite what to make of the move; at the time of his being drafted, I know I commented on his positional versatility from college and posited the Cards might be looking for their own Ben Zobrist-y sort of super utility guy. But a move to shortstop feels like a very strange decision. I’m not sure I buy it; taking a college catcher and turning him into an average third baseman, then continuing the vector on to shortstop, seems too unusual a trajectory to me. If pressed, I would still expect the move is to try and build versatility for DeJong as he pushes toward the big leagues. But, if there’s any real chance at all he could play even a passable, slightly below-average shortstop every day, then he immediately becomes a very different kind of prospect....

Player Comp: I’m hoping for DeJong to improve his plate approach back toward something more like what we saw from him in his pro debut, but the flexibility, right/right profile, and plus power map fairly well onto the Cards’ current super utility guy, Jedd Gyorko.