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2018 Viva El Birdos Top Prospect List, Part Five: The Final Tally

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Summing up what we have seen, and what we will see in the future.

St Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

So that’s it. All the lists are out, all the prospects have been written up and covered as fully as they’re going to get covered. There’s no more to say, really, about anyone. (Author reserves the right to decide he needs to highlight further players in the system without notice and probably within the next few weeks.)

There is, however, a little bit still to say about the system itself, where it is, and what it means for the future. I really am going to try to be somewhat brief this morning, so let’s jump right in to the final thoughts on this 2018 crop of prospects.

My List

Okay, first off, for reference, here is the list of prospects, 30 in total, ranked from first to last.

  1. Alex Reyes, RHP
  2. Jack Flaherty, RHP
  3. Carson Kelly, C
  4. Tyler O’Neill, OF
  5. Randy Arozarena, OF
  6. Andrew Knizner, C
  7. Harrison Bader, OF
  8. Dakota Hudson, RHP
  9. Ryan Helsley, RHP
  10. Jordan Hicks, RHP
  11. Adolis Garcia, OF
  12. Max Schrock, 2B
  13. Delvin Perez, SS
  14. Dylan Carlson, OF/1B
  15. Yairo Munoz, SS/INF
  16. Austin Gomber, LHP
  17. Oscar Mercado, OF
  18. Alvaro Seijas, RHP
  19. Scott Hurst, OF
  20. Jonatan Machado, OF
  21. Evan Mendoza, 3B
  22. Junior Fernandez, RHP
  23. Edmundo Sosa, SS
  24. Tommy Edman, SS/2B
  25. Jake Woodford, RHP
  26. Donivan Williams, 3B
  27. Chase Pinder, OF
  28. Johan Oviedo, RHP
  29. Brady Whalen, 3B
  30. Jacob Patterson, LHP

Okay, so there we go. I wrote up ten more players in the ‘just-missed’ section, but we’ll just stick with these players who actually got rounded up and listified.

That breaks down to:

  • Nine right-handed pitchers,
  • Two left-handed pitchers,
  • Two catchers,
  • Nine outfielders,
  • Three corner infielders, and
  • Five middle infielders.

I’m counting Dylan Carlson as an outfielder for now, rather than a corner infielder, even though I personally prefer him at first base due to outstanding footwork. For now, though, the organisation seems set on him roaming the outfield, so I’m counting him there.

As you can see form the counts, the organisation is still loaded with right-handed pitching, and even more loaded with outfield prospects, considering there are only 4-5 outfield spots on a baseball team, compared to 12-13 pitcher slots. For some reason, the Cardinals still have a hell of a time finding and developing left-handed pitching talent, it seems. They’ve sent away Rob Kaminsky and Marco Gonzales over the past couple years, but between Kaminsky’s arm breaking down and Gonzales just not really developing, it isn’t as if they’re going to regret the southpaws they’ve moved, I don’t think.

Now, there are a few lefty pitchers in the system I like at the moment, but don’t yet rise into the level of these sorts of lists, and I’ll try to highlight some more of those names down the road at some point. (He said, already resolving to break his resolution from the beginning of the column he hasn’t even finished yet.) They also included Daniel Castano in the Marcell Ozuna trade, who probably fit into the just-missed section but actually ended up a note in the first part of the list itself. Names like Andrew Summerville, Brett Seeburger, Ian Oxnevad from the just-missed list, Ian McKinney, a few others. In general, though, the Redbirds just don’t seem to either prioritise left-handed pitchers, or they just struggle to find and develop them.

Five of thirty players coming from the middle infield ranks is encouraging, even if two of the five came over in a trade just earlier this offseason. The fact the Cardinals are always thin on middle infield talent probably shouldn’t be surprising; it’s one of the direct results of always picking lower in the draft, rather than nabbing any of those premium picks. Premium positions usually go early; when you’re generally not picking until 20+, you miss out on a lot of the Trea Turners and Francisco Lindors and Addison Russells. The fact the Cards may have found a solid long-term option at shortstop in Paul DeJong is close to a miracle of scouting; I liked the bat, and thought he could move around the infield, perhaps, but never would have expected him to look anywhere close to average at short.

In many ways, the Cardinals’ farm system mirrors the major league team. I think we’re all pretty exhausted the last year or so talking endlessly about how deep the Redbirds are in average or slightly above average players, but how they lack impact, star-level talent. Well, the good news about the farm system is that it is unbelievably deep, probably the deepest system I think I’ve ever seen (not just Cardinal farm systems, either), and there is solid, quality talent from the top of the list to basically the bottom. The bad news? Just like the major league team, there aren’t really any slam dunk impact bats. The upside of the system is largely on the pitching side, and as we’ve seen, pitching is risky in a lot of ways.

That’s not to say the Cardinals don’t have potential impact offensive players; they do. Tyler O’Neill has tantalising power, and an evolving skillset that could pay off in a big way. Randy Arozarena has legitimate five-tool ability, I believe, and Adolis Garcia isn’t far behind. Dylan Carlson could, I think, have a huge breakout in 2018, and we’ll be looking at him near the top of this list come next offseason. He has star-level offensive upside, so long as he can refine his right-handed swing and approach.

But even invoking those names I believe could be difference makers, it’s impossible to deny it’s not a group with a no-doubt star in it. O’Neill needs to maintain the gains he made late this past year in terms of plate discipline, or else probably have the same issue with his value being sabotaged we see with Randal Grichuk. Arozarena is exciting, but the power hasn’t shown up consistently yet. Actually, really nothing has shown up consistently yet for Arozarena; he showed flashes of various plus tools in 2017, but not all at the same time. He missed a lot of time leaving Cuba, and has a very short track record here. He’s still a risk. Garcia could end up an all-around solid player whose skills add up to a plus, or he could end up an all-around okay player who lacks a carrying tool to make him anything more than an extra outfielder. Carlson is incredibly young and held his own at a level far beyond his years this season, but he was also just average. It’s banking a lot on age relative to level projecting him to be a star.

As for the infielders, Perez has all the athletic ability in the world, but hasn’t gained an ounce of weight since being drafted and just doesn’t look strong. Schrock has outstanding contact ability and a great approach at the plate, but what if he doesn’t develop any more pop in the bat? You basically have Aaron Miles. Yairo Munoz has tremendous natural hitting ability, but the approach needs a whole lot of work. Edman and Sosa are both probably destined for no more than bench roles. The third basemen are a little more exciting, but all still have question marks. Mendoza lacks power, Donivan Williams is tooled up but extremely raw, and Brady Whalen can’t seem to hit from one side of the plate and isn’t a lock to stay mobile enough for third.

Interestingly, of the position players, the group with the greatest upside is probably the catchers, just because catchers as a rule are so hard to find, and both Carson Kelly and Andrew Knizner have at least one plus tool. For Kelly it’s the glove, along with a solid, contact-based offensive game; for Knizner, it’s an easy, natural feel for hitting to go along with a glove that has improved by leaps and bounds in a short period of time.

The Cardinals have one of the strongest systems in the game, largely by dint of simply having more good prospects than nearly any other organisation. But they don’t have a Kris Bryant. They don’t have a Gleyber Torres. They don’t have a Ronald Acuna.

Unfortunately, that cause also wasn’t helped by missing out on three early draft picks in 2017, nor the club’s failure to reel in Luis Robert. Those draft picks still would have started at 19, pretty much right where the club picks in ‘down’ seasons, but that’s still three bites at very good apples the Redbirds just didn’t have this year. The already-fantastic depth could have been even more impressive. And if they had been able to either convince Robert to come or just willing to bid more, they probably would have had a different top positional prospect. Or maybe second-best; Carson Kelly is so close to ready, and polished at the toughest position to fill; he might have retained even with Robert in the fold.

Still, I have to admit that despite several players taking major steps forward, and the system itself looking incredibly robust, 2017 was a somewhat frustrating year to cover the farm. It felt like a break in momentum, just as the system was beginning to crest.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

Two of my minor-loving colleagues (oh, wow; minor-loving is not at all the way to put that, is it?), here at VEB Industries, Josey Curtis and ebo, have each contributed lists as well, and I am thrilled to be able to present them here alongside my own. I know Josey is planning on writing a piece about her list in the next day or two; ebo is certainly more than capable of speaking for himself as well. I wanted to include their lists here in this post along with mine, though, to give some differing perspective on where various observers might see certain players ranked. Ms. Curtis went 20 players deep, and confessed to me via email she simply doesn’t feel there’s enough difference beyond that to really rank any more in order (which I can 100% sympathise with), while ebo ended up with 26 names, because he wanted 25 and just couldn’t make up his mind between the last two players (which I can also sympathise with; it’s how I ended up with 27 players a couple years ago, rather than nice, round number I had wanted).

Josey’s List

1. Alex Reyes

2. Harrison Bader

3. Jack Flaherty

4. Carson Kelly

5. Austin Gomber

6. Tyler O’Neill

7. Dakota Hudson

8. Junior Fernandez

9. Jordan Hicks

10. Ryan Helsley

11. Jake Woodford

12. Delvin Perez

13. Randy Arozarena

14. Edmundo Sosa

15. Oscar Mercado

16. Tommy Edman

17. Dylan Carlson

18. Ian McKinney

19. Max Schrock

20. Yairo Munoz

Spoiler alert: there was no dissension whatsoever from anyone as to the top spot, again showing just how special the upside of Alex Reyes is believed to be. Josey is higher on Austin Gomber than I am, and still sees upside in Jake Woodford that I’m beginning to doubt. Harrison Bader is perhaps the most interesting difference between our two lists; I worry he lacks any tool good enough to carry him beyond fourth outfield duty, while Josey apparently like the upside more than I. I’m very interested to read her perspective on him. Actually, I shouldn’t limit that statement to Bader; I’m interested to read what she has to say about anyone and everyone on her list.

Ebo’s List

  1. Alex Reyes
  2. Jack Flaherty
  3. Carson Kelly
  4. Tyler O’Neil
  5. Randy Arozarena
  6. Harrison Bader
  7. Andrey Knizner
  8. Ryan Helsley
  9. Jose Adolis Garcia
  10. Dakota Hudson
  11. Jordan Hicks
  12. Max Schrock
  13. Yairo Munoz
  14. Delvin Perez
  15. Oscar Mercado
  16. Jonatan Machado
  17. Dylan Carlson
  18. Scotty Hurst
  19. Tommy Edman
  20. Austin Gomber
  21. Jake Woodford
  22. Evan Mendoza
  23. Edmundo Sosa
  24. Junior Fernandez
  25. Alvaro Seijas
  26. Johan Oviedo

Here we see that ebo is actually a little closer to me in his view of the system; Gomber remains an interesting piece to rank, with me being in the middle of my colleagues’ views on him. I would hazard a guess, just based on the way each of them differed from me, that Josey values performance above all else, while ebo tends to chase upside in his assessments. Again, though, I don’t want to speak for either of them, so I’ll leave to each to say whatever they wish about their rankings.

A big thank you to both Josey and ebo for putting these together; I especially appreciate them doing so at a time of year I know is extremely busy for a lot of people. (Speaking of, I have to do this big list project sometime other than over the holidays next year. This was brutal.) They provide top-notch coverage all year ‘round, and I’m really glad I was able to include their perspectives alongside mine here.

Closing Thoughts

This...is a good system. A very good system, in fact. Is it a great system, though? That’s tougher for me to say. The Cardinals are a clear step below the truly elite systems in the game, the White Sox and Braves; both of those clubs have put all their resources into acquiring future high-end talent, and it’s hard to compete with that kind of investment. The Braves have the top prospect in all baseball in Ronald Acuna, while the White Sox have a handful of what could be impact bats at the top of their system. The Cardinals have as much depth as either of those two, I think, even after making the Ozuna trade, but they just don’t have that kind of upside at the top, particularly when it comes to bats.

Part of that, it must be said, is philosophical. The Cardinals have continued to prioritise pitching development, even as many of the other clubs in the game have focused on positional talent. Now, it does seem as if the Redbirds have maybe shifted their gaze a little over the course of the past couple drafts, but for now it remains an organisation dedicated to the notion that young, talented pitching is the currency of the game, and developing your own arms from within will ultimately overcome any other obstacles in the way.

I think the Cardinals are solidly in that second tier of farm systems right now. Oakland has a very good system. San Diego has stockpiled a ton of young international talent, right up until the point A.J. Preller gets his club in trouble again. The Dodgers still have an excellent system, probably with more upside at the top than the Cards, but it’s close. Buehler and Reyes are roughly a wash, maybe with a slight edge to Reyes, but I don’t think the Redbirds have a position prospect as promising as Alex Verdugo, or at least not one who looks like as safe a bet. The Brewers have a wash of talent coming in the next couple years, but I actually think their system is similar to the Cards’, in that while I see a ton of very good prospects, I think they’re a little short on the high-upside guys at the top as well. Tampa Bay has a very impressive collection of players matriculating toward the big leagues, and the Rays should be ready for another window of contention in, say, 2020. Maybe 2019 if they make a couple moves to reset and accelerate that window coming up. Colorado has a sneaky good system. The Yankees have moved a lot of talent, but still have a couple of pieces I absolutely adore.

Somewhere in there is the Cardinals. Somewhere in the 5-10 range, I would say. Had they been able to add a couple of good pieces this year in the early rounds of the draft and/or sign Luis Robert, I think they would be top 5. Taking off the first couple rounds of the draft hurts, though. So they’re a little lower than that.

The future, it must be said, is bright. The wave of pitching this organisation has built is beginning to crest, and they have some very exciting pieces to slot in behind Carlos Martinez in the next couple years. Still, the problem of finding core pieces looms over the organisation. The major league outfield has an expiration date on it, the infield is getting a little old, and the potential replacements don’t look like the sort of foundation you would really want to build on.

How the Cardinals utilise this war chest they’ve constructed in the coming years, and how much they are able to add to it in the near future, will go a long way toward determining what sort of upside this team will have for the next decade. The Cardinals are seemingly at a crossroads right now, trying to determine just what the next championship-level core of their franchise is going to look like, and they could really use a couple of players from among this group to step forward.

I hope you all enjoyed the prospect lists this year. There will still be plenty of coverage to come, and I believe we’ll split up the scouting reports and run them one at a time again this year the way we have in the past, just in case ten at a time and 6500+ words was overwhelming to try and digest.