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The Cardinals are stacked with pitching prospects

How does the Cardinals’ pitching prospect depth stack up against the rest of the league?

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Prospects are important during the season, because that’s the currency you have to use to acquire upgrades mid-season. There’s no free agent market and thus little chance to just throw money at part of the roster that needs upgrading. No one likes the idea of trading from the future, but prospects break hearts, and it helps in the present, when the team is more sure of their chances at a deep playoff run. To that end, I’ve wrote about two potential deals, one on what it would take to land Jose Qunitana, and another for the equally good Yu Darvish.

While the Cardinals have been perennial buyers for over a half decade, they haven’t made big blockbuster trades with big name prospects (outside of the Colby Rasmus trade, who wasn’t really a prospect at that point but was kind of a similar deal), or one in which they part with several decent prospects. One or the other would be required to acquire ace rental Darvish, both would be required for Quintana, who is controlled for pennies of his worth through 2020.

The main way the Cardinals reap the rewards of prospects is by holding onto them and watching them turn into MLB caliber players. It’s allowed them to at times pass on resigning veterans. Both Lance Lynn and Seung Hwan Oh are free agents at the end of the year, and talk is heating up on what the Cardinals should do about it.

In Lynn’s case, I’ve before voiced the opinion that the team should let him walk at the end of the year, barring an unlikely team-friendly deal. The reasoning relied on the idea that the Cardinals’ strength seems to be a wealth and depth of pitching prospects coming up to the high minors.

Today, we’re going to use my aggregated Top MLB prospects list and the associated Surplus Values I calculated for each prospect tp see if the numbers bare that opinion out. To start with, here’s a chart from the previous post, showing the prospect value for each team, based on my estimated values applied to six public prospect lists:

The Braves, Yankees, White Sox, and Brewers make a very strong top four systems. Then it’s twelve teams bundled together, including the Cardinals, and it starts dropping off pretty hard after that. The near $200M valuation given to the Cardinals’ top prospects is 33% better than average.

What I wanted to do today though, was find just the value of top pitching prospects on this list. Of the 218 players mentioned in one of my six source lists, 99 were pitchers (it was 219 players, but VEB commenter Vances Law pointed that I counted Jeimer Candelario of the Cubs twice, due to different spellings across different lists. If anyone else notices any double-counted prospects, please let me know).

Those 99 pitchers combine to be worth $1.66B in surplus value, or an average of $55.3M per team, or $16.8M per top pitching prospect. Here’s how it breaks down by team:

The White Sox top the list, thanks to the acquisitions of Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning in the Chris Sale and Adam Eaton deals. They were no slackers before on the pitching front though, with Carson Fulmer, Alec Hansen, and Zack Burdi. The Braves have the best overall system, but slip to second in terms of just pitchers.

In third is the Cardinals, though you can discount their value by about $15M or so, as most of the lists came out before news of Alex Reyes’ torn UCL. Still, it’s impressive to see who they keep company with in these rankings. The team on the selling side of the two biggest deals at the last deadline, the team on the selling side of the two biggest deals of the winter, three teams in the middle of a rebuild, one that just came out of a rebuild, and another whose revenue is so low that they have to sell pieces every year just to stay competitive long-term. That’s the Rays, who are probably the only other team respected as much as the Cards at consistently developing pitching.

Most of those reading this have probably encountered the acronym TINSTAAPP, or There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. It combines the observed volatility of prospects with the observed volatility of pitchers. It’s hyperbole, but it speaks to the fact that these are not assets to rely and plan on. However, there is strength in numbers. Here’s a breakdown of the number of pitching prospects who appeared on one of my six source lists by team:

The Braves and White Sox top the list again, but they switched spots. The Braves have invested in depth, whereas the White Sox do it by having two of the top five pitching prospects, and three of the top twelve. Then come the Padres, and the Cardinals in fourth, again the best placed team without an obvious reason for why they would be so rich in pitching prospects. Let’s look at the Cardinals’ pitching prospects that made my aggregate list.

Cardinals top pitching prospects.txt

rank Prospect Value MiLB FG 100 BA 100 BP 101 361 MLB
rank Prospect Value MiLB FG 100 BA 100 BP 101 361 MLB
16 Alex Reyes $55.7 Grade B+ 65 4 1 2 12
67 Luke Weaver $22.0 Grade B+ x 50 x 81 65
115 Sandy Alcantara $15.3 Grade B/B- 55 x 40 x x
143 Jack Flaherty $12.3 Grade B x x x x x
144 Dakota Hudson $12.3 Grade B x x x x x

Alex Reyes tops the list even after adjusting his value downward. Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty could be options in the rotation as soon as a year from now. Alcantara has top of the rotation upside but is still a bit raw. Flaherty is sure to see a jump in his value in the mid-season rankings, he so far has a sub-2.00 FIP in just under 40 innings at Double-A. Dakota Hudson is also pitching well at Double-A, and could be an option at some point next year as well if things progress.

The depth doesn’t stop there for the Cardinals. While they weren’t quite good enough to be named on one of the top lists, Austin Gomber, John Gant, Junior Fernandez, Connor Jones, and Jake Woodford all received B- grades from John Sickel of, an implied value of $6.5M each. Other teams surely have other B- players that weren’t named on one of these lists, but it’s doubtful many could match the Cardinals. All of these pitchers, and the five featured in the aggregate list, are in High-A or a higher league. That doesn’t include Zac Gallen, who graded a “C+/B-”, but is destroying High-A right now to the tune of 45 strikeouts and six walks in 35 innings.

What we’ve found today, is quantified evidence that supports the idea that the Cardinals are in a better position than almost any team to let a starting pitcher walk. They hold the the third highest value in top pitching prospects in the league, and if anything that under-rates the depth of the system, as they have eleven total pitchers who have at least some shot at being MLB-worthy starters in the next couple of years. Those that don’t quite make the cut for a spot in the rotation could become cheap and effective bullpen arms.

So it seems like the Cardinals should pass on Lynn, and perhaps any other big name pitcher in the off-season. If anything, the Cardinals could pursue a pitcher on a short term deal, making a buy-low move on someone perhaps recovering from injuries, like the Cubs did with Brett Anderson last off-season. That would keep everyone one spot further back on the depth chart, and give these prospects a few more months for someone to prove they’re MLB-worthy.

Of course, some may still want the team to spend money, because hey, we want our team to be good, and we all know they’re not exactly hurting for profits. I want them to spend too, but this gives the team an opportunity to concentrate on spending money on position players, because they might need to down the road.

Let’s look at the same thing, but for position player prospects. Position players totaled nearly $3B in Surplus Value, or nearly $100M per team. There were 119 postion players that cracked my aggregate list, so $25M per position player prospect. Here’s the breakdown per team:

Wow. The Yankees and the Braves tower over everyone else in position player prospect value. The Cubs placed below average in terms of pitching, but their system is still well-stocked in terms of position players. More importantly, the Cardinals rank below average, with just $80M in value, 20% less than average.

To add to this, the Cardinals top position player prospect is blocked at the major league level by the face of the franchise who is under control through 2019. The second best is still several years away from making an MLB impact. Here’s the Cardinals position players broke down:

Cardinals top position player prospects.txt

rank Prospect Pos. Value MiLB FG 100 BA 100 BP 101 361 MLB
rank Prospect Pos. Value MiLB FG 100 BA 100 BP 101 361 MLB
63 Carson Kelly C $23.1 Grade B/B+ 50 65 81 x 36
66 Delvin Perez SS $22.8 Grade B 55 86 79 59 87
121 Harrison Bader OF $14.4 Grade B x x x x x
124 Magneuris Sierra OF $14.4 Grade B x x x x x
209 Paul DeJong 3B-SS $6.5 Grade B- x x x x x

This isn’t the worst group of prospects, but it does look a little underwhelming. It certainly is the type of thing that makes you really hope the Cardinals sign Luis Robert, who would take the top spot after signing. In general, it means the Cardinals should be looking for impact position players outside the organization, because they may not have one in the system.

Maybe the Cardinals package up some pitching prospects and trade for a big position player upgrade. That could put the Cardinals right back into market for a starting pitcher. Other than that though, the strategy is clear. While prospects will break your heart, and pitching prospects doubly so, minor league arms are the strength of the Cardinals’ system. It’s hard to want to give a big contract to Lance Lynn or any other pitcher when the resources are much more likely to be needed on the position player side.