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The 2019 Viva El Birdos Top Prospect List: #30-25

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The first installment of the annual big list sees a plethora of left-handed pitching popping up.

San Francisco Giants v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

“Hallelujah” is not a Christmas song, god damn it! Stop this madness, people. It’s not okay. At all.

Prospects. You want ‘em, I’ve got ‘em. Or at least info about those what the Cardinals got. Let’s rock?

30. Steven Gingery, LHP

6’1”, 210 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Left

DOB: 23 September 1997

Acquired: 2018 Amateur Draft, 4th Round

No Statistics

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Steven Gingery was well on his way to being a mid- to late-first round pick coming into the spring of 2018, as he was a polished lefty with great results at a major college program, almost always a formula that will get a player drafted fairly early on. Much like Marco Gonzales, a similar lefty whom the Cardinals plucked from Gonzaga early in the 2014 draft, Gingery was seen as potentially one of the fastest-moving draftees of the class, and a good bet for some contending team to add to its pipeline of pitching for a relatively quick turnaround.

That all changed when Gingery’s elbow went kaboom in preseason play this year, and he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after. Despite the health concern and the sudden down time built in to his schedule, the Cards popped him in the fourth round and actually paid him a little over slot to keep him from heading back to Texas Tech for his senior season. He should be back on the mound around midseason 2019, if all goes as planned.

Healthy, Gingery is remarkably similar to Gonzales as I mentioned, featuring probably the best changeup in the 2018 draft class. It fades, it sinks, it flutters; in short, the pitch is outstanding. He sells it extremely well with virtually identical armspeed to his fastball, as well. The pitch at its best might rate as high as a 70, and absolutely no worse than a 60.

The rest of the repertoire is fairly ordinary, as Gingery works around 89-91 with his fastball (nice sink on the pitch, though), and adds in an average curveball as a third pitch. To my eye, he could use something else, perhaps a cutter, to work better away from left-handed hitters, as his curve doesn’t have great shape. I don’t see all that high a ceiling for Gingery, barring a velocity uptick following surgery or him adding something to his arsenal, but the changeup alone should get him to the back of a big league rotation. Health is obviously a question, despite Tommy John seeming nearly routine these days, and if I’m being honest I probably would have preferred a different drafting strategy where he was taken. Then again, the Cards got probably a top 50 overall talent 75 spots later than that by taking a chance on his rehab and comeback, and if things go well that risk could probably pay off pretty well down the road a ways.

If he’s good, it will look like: Pick a changeup-heavy lefty you like. Marco Gonzales? Okay. Jason Vargas? Sure. Mark Buehrle? Um, okay. Maybe getting a bit carried away there, but I like your optimism.

via Baseball America:

29. Jacob Schlesener, LHP

6’3”, 175 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 8 October 1996

Acquired: 2015 Amateur Draft, 12th Round

Level(s) in 2018: State College (Short-season+)

Relevant Stats: 52.1 IP, 4.47 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 29.4% K, 11.9% BB, 64.2% GB

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Over ten years ago now, before I ever started writing for this website, I was a commenter here and over at the old Future Redbirds site, as well as a fairly avid prospect follower even then. It was after the 2006 season that I developed my first really well-informed prospect crush, and the subject of said crush was a slightly chunky lefty from Mexico by the name of Jaime Garcia.

At the time, it was much harder to find minor league statistics than it is now; we mostly relied on the old First Inning site, which sadly no longer exists. You didn’t have strikeout rates in percentages nearly so much back then; it was usually K/9, and batted-ball data was even harder to come up with for the minors. However, I was able to glean just enough info from half a dozen sources at the time to determine that the kid the Cards had pitching in Quad Cities did two things extremely well: he struck *!&$%ers out, and he rolled up huge groundball totals. (Even Fangraphs nowadays doesn’t have groundball rates prior to 2008, so it was a lot of guesswork and inferred reasoning.) Lots of strikeouts and lots of grounders equals very few balls leaving the infield, which just happens to be my favourite thing a pitcher can have going for him.

Jacob Schlesener gets lots of groundballs, and Jacob Schlesener strikes lots of, um, gentlemen out.

Schlesener doesn’t have overwhelming velocity, working mostly in the low 90s, but he has great downward action and armside run to the pitch. Hitters just don’t square up anything he throws, because basically nothing he throws is straight. The real gem of his arsenal, though, is a hammer curveball that he can just overwhelm hitters with on his best days. There’s a changeup, as well, and it’s got good movement, but it needs work. Better armspeed and deception, not to mention better command of the pitch, could help him take the next step.

In other words, Jacob Schlesener is one of my very favourite prospects in the whole Cardinal system, and a guy I think could end up pitching toward the front of a major league rotation someday, based on the profile of outstanding movement, contact management, and one true swing and miss pitch in his curveball.

So why is he 29th on this list instead of, like, fifth? Because as talented as Jacob Schlesener is, he also kind of can’t throw strikes half the time. That whole thing of not throwing anything straight? Well, that’s kind of a problem when the movement on the pitch carries it right out of the zone. He actually did make some real progress this year, bringing his walk rate down under 12%, which might not sound great, but consider that in his disastrous 2016 campaign Schlesener walked over 31% of the batters he faced. See? You don’t feel nearly so bad about that 12% number now, do you?

It’s been fairly slow going for Schlesener in terms of development so far, but the progress he made in 2018 has him on track to make his full-season debut next year. If he can continue to hone his craft and improve his control, he could very well be in the top ten or even higher on this list next year. He could also go backward and walk the world. Let’s hope it’s more the former.

If he’s good, it will look like: Garcia and Dallas Keuchel both feel like reasonable comps for the type of pitcher Schlesener could be, and he might even have better raw stuff than either, although the pure crazy movement of Jaime at his best is awfully hard to match. The combination of grounders and strikeouts could make Schlesener really special, is what I’m saying.

via WJHL:

28. Jonatan Machado, OF

5’9”, 155 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 21 January 1999

Acquired: UDFA, 2016

Level(s) in 2018: Peoria (Low A), Johnson City (Short-season), State College (Short-season+)

Relevant Stats: 98 wRC+ (JC), -56 wRC+ (SC), 20 wRC+ (Peo)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

The 2017 season was a very good one for Jonatan Machado, as the Cards’ highest-priced acquisition in the 2016 international free agent market made his stateside debut with the club’s Gulf Coast League affiliate and showed off the combination of speed and natural contact ability that got the Cardinals so interested in him in the first place. He swiped eight of ten bases, hit .323, and posted a strikeout rate below 10%. All the good qualities, including plus-plus range in center field, were on display.

That’s why 2018 was such a huge disappointment. Rather than continue up the ladder looking like the dynamic slash-and-run hitter he had been, the 2018 version of Machado struggled, often to a shocking degree, to make much contact against higher-level pitching. And if contact was tough to come by, impact was almost completely lacking.

The good version of Machado looks something like the good version of Dee Gordon, for now, as a high-contact slap hitter who relies heavily on his legs to supplement his offensive game. This season, though, Machado was out of his depth, overpowered by better pitching and popping the ball up far too often. Dialing in his offensive approach is going to take time, if it ever happens, it would seem.

The good news is that Machado still has 65 grade speed, capable of making an impact on the bases and covering huge chunks of territory in the outfield. His arm isn’t the strongest, but it works just fine for center field. For the moment, we’re left to dream on the single-digit strikeout guy he seemed capable of being coming out of Cuba, rather than the middling-contact, woefully underpowered fifth outfield type just trying to survive he appeared to be this past season. Much like Delvin Perez, who fell off the top 30 entirely this year, Machado desperately needs to put on weight and strength; Machado at 175 would look far more promising than he does at 155.

If he’s good, it will look like: If Machado can improve his plate approach and not have the bat knocked out of his hands, his contact ability, speed, and defense could make him a big leaguer in the Ender Inciarte mold. From where we are right now, though, that looks like a long shot.

27. Max Schrock, 2B

5’8”, 180 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Right

DOB: 12 October 1994

Acquired: Trade via Oakland Athletics; drafted Rd. 13 2015 (WAS)

Level(s) in 2018: Memphis (Triple A)

Relevant Stats: 457 PA, .249/.296/.331, 63 wRC+, .260 BABIP, 5.3% BB, 7.9% K

So, what’s so great about this guy?

From the moment he was drafted by the Washington Nationals back in 2015, Max Schrock has done nothing but hit. Every park, every level, across two organisations, Schrock has hit, and hit, and hit.

Until, that is, this season. In 2018, Max Schrock did not, in fact, hit.

Now, that is not to say that Schrock’s game looked totally different in 2018. He still made tons of contact, with the second-lowest strikeout rate of his career. The fact he struggled so badly with such a low whiff rate is very instructive, though, in what can go wrong with a hitter whose game is based entirely on contact.

The real issue with Schrock in 2018 was that he simply didn’t do much with the contact he made. His batting average on balls in play was .260, over 80 points lower than what he posted in 2017 at Double A Midland. His isolated slugging was also the lowest of his career at any stop of over 25 plate appearances at just .082. In other words, Schrock was still hitting everything, but wasn’t accomplishing anything in doing so.

I watched quite a lot of that performance, too, and cannot say I feel like Schrock was just getting robbed all year. There is undoubtedly some bad luck built in to that very low BABIP, but more than anything Schrock simply didn’t make great contact. And perhaps the most glaring thing to me was the lack of damage on balls in the air. Schrock seems, to my eye. to have the same problem Kolten Wong does: both chase pitches up far too much. I can’t say how many times last season I saw Schrock swing at a chest-high fastball and hit a weak pop fly somewhere. He’s never going to be a huge walk rate guy, but a successful Max Schrock really needs to be walking closer to eight percent of the time than five, because that would say to me he’s swinging at far fewer of those pitches he absolutely can hit, but absolutely should not.

Defensively, I was actually pretty impressed with Schrock in Memphis. He’s got plus range and good hands, really only lacking much of a throwing arm, but that rarely came into play. I would put a 55 on his glove, I think, and a 55 on his speed. In other words, I still feel like all of the ingredients are there for Schrock to be an impact big leaguer at second base, but he’s going to need to learn from a very difficult 2018 and bring some more selectivity into his approach in order to succeed, I think.

If he’s good, it will look like: I think back to fairly recent Cardinal history, and Placido Polanco immediately jumps to mind as a near-perfect comp for what the really good version of Max Schrock looks like, albeit from the other batter’s box. Of course, Polanco was also a stealth monster defender, which Schrock has not yet proven to be — though I do believe there’s a chance.

via minorleaguebaseball:

Yes, it’s a highlight, but even so, that’s a pitch you don’t want to see a hitter swinging at most of the time.

26. Tommy Edman, INF

5’10”, 180 lbs; Bats/Throws: Switch/Right

DOB: 9 May 1995

Acquired: 2016 Amateur Draft, 6th Round

2018 Level(s): Springfield (Double A), Memphis (Triple A)

Relevant Stats: 108 wRC+ (Spr), 108 wRC (Mem), .299/.350/.403 in 498 PA (Spr)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

It’s interesting having Tommy Edman and Max Schrock back to back here on this list, because physically, they seem so very alike, and their offensive profiles run in similar tracks. In other ways, though, they are very different players.

Edman is never going to be a big power guy, and that’s probably the biggest knock against him. There is a limit on the ceiling of a player who is only ever going to run a HR/FB% in the 5-6% range, and that’s what we’re talking about with Edman. At some point, if you simply cannot put the ball over the wall more than a handful of times in a season, you hit a wall in terms of value.

However, that lack of pop is basically the only bad thing to say about Edman, who has above-average contact ability (though not quite to the elite level of a Schrock, it must be said), plus speed, plus basestealing ability (he was 27 of 32 swiping bags in Springfield this year), tremendous defensive versatility, and just enough glove to handle shortstop in between starts by, say, Paul DeJong. It’s also a big plus for me to say that Tommy Edman, unlike a lot of players still trying to develop and move up the ladder, seems to have a very good idea of who he is as a player. I do think he’s a much better, more natural hitter from the right side of the plate; as a lefty he seems more defensive and succeeds more on approach than ability, I believe.

I expect to see Tommy Edman in the big leagues sooner than later. The fact he’s not yet on the Cards’ 40 man roster is a limiting factor, certainly, but I don’t think that will stop him altogether. I’d give 50/50 odds, I think, that by the end of 2018 he steals someone’s spot, be that swiping Yairo Munoz’s utility job, or moving past Edmundo Sosa on the shortstop depth chart, or even making Jedd Gyorko seem more expendable.

If he’s good, it will look like: I don’t know if I’ve used this comp for Edman before or not (I’ve used it for someone, but I don’t remember who), but I’m going to go to one of my favourite players as a kid and dig up Luis Alicea as a switch-hitting utility infielder who managed better offensive lines than I remember by making plus plate discipline a big part of his game.

via minorleaguebaseball:

25. Evan Kruczynski, LHP

6’5”, 235 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 31 March 1995

Acquired: 2017 Amateur Draft, 9th Round

Level(s) in 2018: Palm Beach (High A), Springfield (Double A)

Relevant Stats: 3.51 FIP (PB), 2.95 FIP (Spr), 16.4% K-BB% (PB), 15.6% K-BB% (Spr)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Every year when I do this list, there are a couple prospects that I plug into a spot, or settle on plugging into a spot, and end up with the nagging sensation I’m too low on them. Some years it’s only one guy, other years it’s multiple. The thing is, when I try to move those players up, I can always find a reason or reasons to argue for other players over them, and so generally keep them where they are, all the while feeling like I should really have them higher.

All of which is a long way of saying I feel like I’m low on Evan Kruczynski right now, and by this time next year it will look like I very much missed the boat. And yet, I can find plenty of reasons to prefer the players I would have to move down in order to bump him up. Making these lists is funny that way.

There’s nothing that really stands out about Kruczynski stuff-wise, but he features four pitches, all four of which could end up average, and he throws strikes. Yes, it’s a slightly boring profile, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good to have these guys around in the system. He works mostly 88-93 with his fastball, sitting right in the middle of that range most days, and the pitch plays up a bit because he gets great extension out front and also hides the ball a bit for extra deception. Kruczynski backs up the heater with a curveball, slider, and changeup, all of which work just fine, are better than fine in concert, and all of which he can throw for strikes. If pressed, I’d say the slider is probably his best offspeed pitch, but in reality they’re all so close that it’s not really that useful to worry too much about ranking them.

I expect Kruczynski to begin 2019 back in Double A, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if he’s up at Triple A and knocking on the door to the big leagues by July. I don’t see all that high a ceiling for him, but there’s a solid, reliable #4 starter just waiting to happen here, I think.

If he’s good, it will look like: Let’s see...lefty starter, multiple pitches, good command. Big dude. Kind of a kitchen sink type, though, who lacks a signature pitch. Maybe something like Jeff Francis, though with a little better velocity.

via FanGraphs:

I’m not sure how it happened that the bottom of this list is so heavily populated by left-handed pitchers, but there you go. All three of the pitchers featured here are likely starters, as well, while I didn’t even put a couple of the more promising relief arms like Patrick Dayton and Jacob Patterson, both of whom I am very high on personally. The fact there is only one more left-handed pitcher on this whole list, though, in Genesis Cabrera, who will not appear still for quite a while, is somewhat concerning.