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System Sundays: Season in Review One: Complex Leagues

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The first in a series of season wrap posts for the minor leagues, focusing on the lowest levels of the Cardinal system.

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Hey there. Damn, you lookin’ good this morning.

You know, I really don’t know why I feel this compulsive need to lead off all my writings with a hello, as if we’re actually talking or running into each other in the supermarket or something, rather than just jumping into the subject. I mean, it makes no sense not to just start the column with, “We begin our season roundup of the Cardinals’ minor league system today at the very lowest levels....”, blah blah blah, melancholy anecdote, roughly double the number of adverbs a normal, functionally literate person typically uses, call it a day.

But no, I nearly always start with a greeting, like we haven’t seen each other in awhile, and then one day while reaching for one of those number tags at the deli counter, our hands touch, our eyes meet, and — wait, no, that’s a romcom. Baseball articles have a different feel. Or should, anyway. Not that I don’t like you, you understand. You’re just probably not my type. Then again, if you’re reading this, we probably have at least one thing in common, so maybe you are my type. So, yeah, I’m just going to go ahead and grab the pound of roast turkey I came here to get (notice how I very maturely did not make a joke about grabbing a weight of salami, but then skillfully alluded to said joke so that I still got it in), and you should call me sometime. I’m not saying anything has to happen. Just...you know. Call me.

Oh, minor league baseball. That’s right. Almost forgot.

So anyway, we’re going to start off a system-wide season review today at the lowest levels, then move up toward the top. The Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League will be the subjects of our focus this morning, and that leads me to a warning right off the bat: the records of these teams do not tell us basically anything at all. At the higher levels, you can get at least a semblance of some reflection of system quality by how the teams are performing. Double A team winning a Texas League championship? That generally means you have a fairly strong concentration of talent at Double A, and bodes well for the overall health of your system. Once we start getting down into the lower levels of the farm, though, individual stats are only loosely tethered to talent and future potential, while team records lose basically all significance.

With that caveat in place, let’s get started, shall we?

Dominican Summer League

Season Record(s):

DSL Cardinals Blue 51-21

DSL Cardinals Red 40-31

The Cardinals actually fielded two separate clubs in the DSL this year; all the better to help the organisation cultivate Cardinals crops of the future. Both teams were pretty well loaded with talent, too, particularly the blue version. The blue club won the South division of the six-division league, while the Red club finished second to the Rangers’ team in the San Pedro division.

Notable Names:

Red — Joerlin De Los Santos, OF; Luis Montano, OF; Francisco Hernandez, 3B; Ludwin Jimenez, RHP; Martin Cordova, RHP; Miguel Maiz, RHP; Sebastian Tabata, RHP

De Lost Santos is the real prize of the red group here, leading the way with an incredible level of athleticism and a remarkably mature plate approach for his age. Montano is an eighteen year old with a great swing from the left side of the plate who improved markedly from his first to second seasons. Ton of swing and miss in the profile, but he showed plenty of patience and power as well.

Of the pitchers, Jimenez and Miguel Maiz are both just seventeen and showed big-time strikeout punch this season, while Cordova, a Mexican signee, can pound the strike zone with solid-average stuff. Sebastian Tabata is sightly older at 20, but has great size at 6’5” and a live arm that produced an eye-popping 36 strikeouts in just 20 relief appearances (24.2 innings).

Blue — Julio Puello, RHP; Malcom Nunez, 3B; Adanson Cruz, OF; Jean Selmo, OF; Elvin de Jesus, 2B

While the Blue club, in general, actually had less intriguing players than the red squad, the players they had were much more in the potentially special category than the blues. Nunez is one of the two or three most exciting talents in the system, having just completed an absolute monster of a season with a .415/.497/.774 line. Julio Puello is one of my deep-system sleeper picks for the future, as a lanky 6’4” righty with a very good running fastball that beats up on righties. Cruz actually played for both the red and blue teams this year, and showed off some solid basestealing ability and a patient approach at the plate. Jean Selmo was actually taken in the minor league Rule V draft from Arizona this past offseason and showed off a great plate approach and plenty of gap power. Elvin de Jesus is a name I haven’t heard much about, but he’s seventeen and a skinny switch hitter who should stay up the middle from what I’m told, with a smart plate approach.

Gulf Coast League Cardinals

Season Record: 40-16, First place in East Division

No, the records don’t mean much of anything at this level, either, but even so 40-16 is a very eye-catching number. The GCL Cards this year were an absolute steamroller, loaded with talent, particularly on the pitching side. Lots of 2018 draftees, and the early returns on said draft class would appear to be very positive.

Notable Names: Mateo Gil, SS; Victor Garcia, OF; Carlos Soto, C; Terry Fuller, OF; Jhon Torres, OF; Connor Coward, RHP; Perry DellaValle, RHP; Francisco Justo, RHP

Of the positional talent on this club, Jhon Torres, acquired as part of the Oscar Mercado deal with Cleveland, stands out as a potential future star. He has tremendous natural hitting ability and high-level athleticism that makes him one of my personal favourite prospects in the system currently. Carlos Soto ended up dropping down to the GCL after playing well in the Appalachian League; I haven’t yet heard any definitive reason for the demotion, which seems strange. Terry Fuller only appeared in games briefly for the GCL Cards this season, but made his presence felt with a .942 OPS in just under 50 plate appearances.

Victor Garcia, one of the big prizes of the Cards’ 2017 international signing class, had a quietly successful stateside debut. He only turned 19 in late September, and held his own in his first season in the U.S. Mateo Gil, drafted as a high school shortstop in June, was just okay at the plate, with good patience but some contact issues, but I’ve heard very good reviews of his glove and attitude.

On the pitching side, the Cards had two tremendous debuts from draftees, albeit college players, in the persons of Connor Coward and Perry DellaValle. DellaValle in particular overwhelmed hitters in a very Jon Lieber-y sort of way, attacking inexperienced hitters mercilessly with a solid, if unspectacular, repertoire. Coward features a bowling ball fastball in the ~92 mph range and a very intriguing cutter; he sawed off hitters to the tune of a near-50% groundball rate in his pro debut.

The prize of the group, as far as stuff goes, may be Francisco Justo, who was a later-round draftee out of a Hudson Valley junior college this June. He’s got natural arm speed you can’t teach, allowing him to push up to 94-95 with his fastball, and shows some ability to spin a breaking ball. He’s got a ways to go, certainly, but it’s a very exciting arm added to a system that suddenly feels like it could use some more exciting arms.

As I said, it’s hard to glean much from the numbers of players at the lowest levels of the system, much less the overall records of the clubs for which they play. The level of competition and exact arrangement of talent can vary so widely from year to year that reading too much into the numbers of players this far away will only end up driving one crazy. However, looking over the collection of talent the Cards have at these low levels, I think there are several breakout candidates lurking. That group of Jhon Torres, Malcom Nunez, and Joerlin de Los Santos is one of the most exciting position player groups I think I’ve seen in the Cards’ system since I’ve been covering it. Justo and Puello are exactly the kinds of high-upside arms the Redbirds need going forward, and there are a couple of solid looking college performers who could end up performing their way to the big leagues, following what has become a very familiar pattern for Cardinal pitchers the past decade.