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The 2019 Viva El Birdos Top Prospect List: #24-19

The second installment of our annual prospect list, heading into the teens.

Apologies for the lack of photo; the image browser appears to be acting up at the moment. I’ll check later to see if I can correct it. — A.

24. Giovanny Gallegos, RHP

6’2”, 210 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 14 August 1991

Acquired: Trade from Yankees, signed as international free agent 2011

Level(s) in 2018: St. Louis/New York (MLB), Triple A

Relevant Stats: 1.71 FIP (Scranton), 2.37 FIP (Memphis), 26.7% K (MLB)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

There’s honestly not a ton to say about Giovanny Gallegos, because he is more or less a finished product. And when there’s not a whole lot of mystery left to a player, the scouting report doesn’t have to be nearly as detailed.

Gallegos was signed as an international free agent out of Mexico all the way back in 2011, and began his professional pitching career stateside in 2012. It took him awhile to get going; he’s always had excellent control, easily filling up the zone and never posting much of a walk rate, but he didn’t show a whole lot of bat-missing ability early on. That began to seriously change in 2015, and he then exploded to 40%+ strikeout rates in 2016 and ‘17, looking like a potential future David Robertson clone for the Yankees. Even so, opportunities to break in to the loaded New York bullpen were not immediately available, and so Gallegos just hung out in the upper levels of the system longer than one would typically expect. He was acquired by the Cardinals in the July trade which sent Luke Voit to the Bronx for his star turn.

The profile for Gallegos is relief only; he works with two pitches, both very good, and only occasionally ever tries to break out a changeup. His fastball sits in the 93-95 range, firm but a little straight, and he mostly puts it where he wants. His out pitch, and the offering that makes him so deadly, is a sharp downer curveball that he can throw in or out of the zone and rolls up the swings and misses in huge quantities. He’s flexible enough with the breaker to turn it almost into a slider at times, as well, throwing it harder and with a bit more tilt. On his best days, Gallegos might be worth a 65, possibly even a 70 on the breaking ball, and it gives him strikeout punch the likes of which very few pitchers can boast.

Gallegos will be in spring training, competing for a bullpen spot, and he should be able to handle one of the later innings for the Cardinals as soon as this year. He’s got future closer/bullpen ace ability, if he can avoid the home run issues which cropped up in his limited opportunities with the Yankees.

If he’s good, it will look like: I’ll stick with my David Robertson comparison from earlier; similar good but not elite fastball velocity, similarly unhittable breaking balls.

23. Jake Woodford, RHP

6’4”, 210 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 28 October 1996

Acquired: 2015 Amateur Draft, Comp. Round A

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

Relevant Stats: 5.75 FIP (Spr), 4.81 FIP (Mem), 0.79 ERA, 10:2 K:BB (Playoffs)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I will cop to having never really been the biggest fan of Jake Woodford. He had a very strong pedigree as a prep pitcher at Plant High School in Tampa, one of the real baseball hotbeds in the nation, and the Cards made him a high draft pick back in 2015, their one and only draft led by Chris Correa.

At the time of the draft, Woodford worked with a heavy sinker that topped out at 95 mph, and complemented it with a sharp slider that was nearly a cutter and a solid changeup that had a bit of splitter action to it. It was a very well-developed repertoire for a high school pitcher, and while I didn’t think he had quite the ceiling I would have maybe liked at that draft spot, he seemed like a solid bet to turn into the kind of mid-rotation starting arm the Cardinals produce so many of.

Unfortunately for Woodford, that hasn’t really happened, mostly because his stuff has only trended downward since being drafted. His sinker declined, keeping most of its movement but losing velocity into the 90-92 range, the slider got bigger, softer, and more hittable, and his changeup just didn’t really develop any to help him out. What had looked like a number three starter profile in 2015 looked like a fringey swingman type by 2017.

And then came 2018, and Woodford had himself a really odd season.

He began the season in Double A, his first shot at the great dividing line of minor league baseball, and struggled. Badly. An ERA over 5.00, an FIP closer to 6.00, not enough strikeouts, home runs flying left and right. It looked like pretty much every other overmatched pitching prospect hitting their respective ceilings and bouncing off of them. If I was skeptical of Woodford before, I was close to convinced he was finished about midseason.

Because of the roster churn at the big league level, though, Woodford was actually bumped up to Triple A, and while he still wasn’t good there — 4.50 ERA, 4.81 FIP in 64 innings total — he began to rebuild his arsenal with Dernier Orozco, the pitching coach at Memphis. I assume the change was precipitated by the fact he just wasn’t good doing what he was doing, but it’s still worth giving credit to any player capable of recognising changes need to be made, rather than stubbornly trying to simply BE BETTER, with no real idea of how to do so.

First, Woodford started moving away from his sinker, throwing more and more four-seam fastballs, something he rarely did in the past. He also went to a curveball as his breaking pitch of choice, scrapping the short slider he’d always thrown almost entirely. The results gradually came, and Woodford’s turn in the Triple A playoffs this season was a sight to behold. The overall result was that he remade himself almost into a power pitcher, working high fastball/overhand curve rather than sinker/slider, and his stuff overall seemed stronger, sharper, just better. His velocity with the fastball was up into the mid-90s, and the curve got more swings and misses in two months than I think his slider did since draft day.

Honestly, at this point I have no real idea what to do with Woodford in these rankings. I’ve got him here because I like what I saw late in the season and in the postseason, a lot, but also because I’m not 100% convinced it’s real just yet. If he’s the sinker guy from Double A, he’s not on this list at all for me. If he really is the pitcher he appeared to be for Memphis in the postseason, he should be ten spots higher than this. I suppose the best I can say for now is that the jury is still out on who or what exactly Jake Woodford is now, and we’re just going to have to wait until 2019 for clarity. I’m more excited about him now than I probably ever have been before, but when a pitcher makes such radical changes to his approach it’s very hard to scout or rank him during the changeover.

If he’s good, it will look like: I have no idea at the moment, really. I wish I had a better answer here, but I’m just not comfortable trying to make a hard declaration on Woodford right now given how much he’s changed since even the middle of the 2018 season.

22. Joerlin De Los Santos, OF

5’11”, 175 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 16 September, 2000

Acquired: International free agent, 2017

Level(s) in 2018: Dominican Summer League

Relevant Stats: 282 PA, .359/.459/.500, 174 wRC+, 14.5% BB, 12.8% K

So, what’s so great about this guy?

For the first time that I can honestly recall since I started doing these lists quite a few years back now, I had to really struggle with deciding where to put a couple prospects for the Cardinals who have not yet even played a game in the United States. I’m a believer, usually, that proximity has to play a big part in a given ranking, yet these players are about as unproximal as one can possibly get. Ultimately, I decided to go aggressive on both, and rank them as I think their talent should dictate, rather than trying to figure in a penalty for not even having made their way stateside yet.

De Los Santos is the first of the two players I had to argue with myself over, and this is about as aggressively as I can justify ranking a player who only turned eighteen after the season and hasn’t yet played a game outside the Dominican Republic. The talent, however, is so great that a part of me wanted to push him even higher.

Let’s start with the bad: De Los Santos was signed initially as a shortstop, but has already been moved to the outfield. That’s disappointing, and honestly more than a little puzzling to me. I don’t think I would personally be willing to give up on an infielder at such a young age; there’s so much time to work with them on positioning and footwork and the like that eighteen is just much too young to give up on that potential. However, that’s really the only negative in De Los Santos’s profile, and the fact he’s a plus-plus runner with such precocious offensive talent perhaps indicates the outfield move was as much about freeing him up to move quickly based on natural ability as it was a belief he’d never make it as an infielder.

So here’s the good: 65-70 grade speed. An unusually mature plate approach leading to more walks than strikeouts (against admittedly uneven competition, but still). Plus raw power, and an overall level of explosive athleticism that is pretty hard to match in the rest of the Cards’ system. He’s built like a smaller Mike Trout, including a slightly comically thick neck. This is a supremely gifted baseball player, who only needs time to try and extract every last drop of his talent and distill it into something special.

The only negative in De Los Santos’s profile, other than the premature position change, is the fact he’s so far away. So far away, in fact, that we haven’t really even seen warts pop up yet. He doesn’t get to all of his power in games yet, being more of a batting practice slugger while hitting line drives without much loft in games, but that’s truly picking nits in a player this young. Patience is what we will need in watching De Los Santos, simply because of his youth. I expect he’ll come to the states next year, and I’d love to see him challenged with an assignment to Johnson City. For now, though, we just have to wait.

If he’s good, it will look like: Honestly, it’s tough to really say what De Los Santos will look like, simply because he’s so far away. He has all the physical tools and talent of Tommy Pham, and I could see him ultimately as that kind of player. It’s also possible he gets bigger and slows down more, perhaps bulking his way into a Yoenis Cespedes sort of body and game.

21. Justin Williams, OF

6’2”, 215 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Right

DOB: 20 August 1995

Acquired: Trade from Tampa Bay July 2018; Drafted 2013, 2nd Round

Level(s) in 2018: Tampa Bay (MLB), Triple A (Tampa and Memphis)

Relevant Stats: 95 wRC+ (Rays AAA), 70 wRC+ (Mem), .240 BABIP (Mem), 52.2% GB (TB), 43.4% GB (Mem)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Justin Williams came over to the Cardinals as part of the Tommy Pham deal, along with Roel Ramirez, a relief-only prospect of middling ceiling, and Genesis Cabrera, still to come in this series. Williams is the most major league ready player of the group, having collected one MLB at-bat already with the Rays — forever taking him out of the Moonlight Graham club, sadly — and should be available as this coming season to contribute in some role in the outfield. The Cardinals are Williams’s third organisation already, as he was initially drafted out of high school by the Diamondbacks as an infielder.

Saying that Williams is nearly MLB-ready is actually kind of an interesting way of looking at his profile, since he has, in fact, advanced to the Triple A level and appears capable of helping an MLB team in one way or another relatively soon. However, he’s also very raw for a player of his age, with the kind of plate approach one would expect from a much less experienced hitter, and a swing that seems geared to do exactly the wrong thing considering Williams’s physical abilities.

On the plus side, Williams has big time raw power, capable of hitting moon shots in batting practice that elicit oohs and ahhs from observers. On the downside, in games he hits the ball on the ground far, far too often to take advantage of that plus power, limiting his offensive ceiling in a major way. He’s also far too aggressive as a hitter, walking less than seven percent of the time at both Triple A stops this season after seeming to make strides in that arena during the 2017 campaign.

Beyond the bat, Williams is a quality defender in a corner outfield spot, though he really doesn’t have the range or speed to play center field. His straight line speed is average or maybe even a touch above, but he lacks quickness and burst. He has a solid-average throwing arm that should fit fine in right field down the line.

The fact Williams hits from the left side gives him a leg up in the Cardinal organisation, which is currently overwhelmingly right-handed, and his power potential offers up a tantalising glimpse of what he could conceivably be. As things stand now, though, he looks more like a fourth outfielder who will tease with his tools rather than a regular at the big league level.

If he’s good, it will look like: Williams’s overall game reminds me very much of Marcell Ozuna, both for good and ill. To get to that level, though, Williams will need to get his approach back closer to where he was in 2017, when he posted walk and strikeout rates of 9.0% and 16.9%, respectively, rather than pushing a 4:1 K:BB ratio as he did for much of 2018.

via minorleaguebaseball:

20. Conner Capel, OF

6’1”, 185 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 19 May 1997

Acquired: Trade from Cleveland, July 2018; Drafted 2016, Round 5

Level(s) in 2018: High A (CLE/STL)

Relevant Statistics: 383 PA, 113 wRC+, 12.8% BB (CLE), 126 PA, 82 wRC+ (STL)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Conner Capel was the bigger name of the two players acquired in July from the Indians in exchange for Triple A outfielder Oscar Mercado. However, he is also, in my opinion, the lesser of the two players, which is why we will not see Jhon Torres’s name pop up here still for quite a while.

With that being said, Capel is still a very talented ballplayer, and is not in any way a poor get in exchange for Mercado, who simply didn’t fit well in the organisation’s timeline as far as outfielders go. Capel just happens to be one of those players who gets where he’s going by doing a little bit of everything fairly well, rather than boasting any one dominant tool, which always makes a player a little less immediately appealing. The fact he also struggled, badly, after coming over to the Cardinals (in a small sample, to be fair), made him look worse than he really is, as well.

What’s interesting about Capel is he’s one of those players who has shown plus tools pretty much across the board at one time or another, just not all together. He hit for power in 2017, clubbing 22 homers, but then fell to just seven dingers in 2018. On the other hand, he put up elite contact numbers in rookie ball, and then got his strikeout rate down below 20% again in High A in the Cleveland system this year, but whiffed 22% of the time in 2017 when he was hitting for all that power. He walked nearly 13% of the time this year in the Indians’ system. He’s shown plus speed and plus defense, capable of playing an average or slightly better center field. He has a very strong throwing arm. If you took the aggregate of all Capel’s best days, you’d have a player with nothing but 55s and 60s on his scouting card. Again, though, the problem is you never really see all of that come together at the same time, particularly in terms of his offensive game.

To my eye, Capel is a bit too defensive of a hitter, and could do with some alterations to his stance in the box. He’s very bent over, and closes off his front side as well. The overall result is a hitter who almost appears to be hiding as he stands in the batter’s box, and seems a bit bound up and tight as he begins his swing. There’s a little Peter Bourjos in his swing, as well, with not enough hand load or leg drive to really create the kind of lift and power you’d really like to see from a player who has plenty of strength and athleticism.

If he’s good, it will look like: It’s a little hard for me to get a good grasp on Capel, being that I really only started paying attention to him after the Cards acquired him, beyond just a general sense of who he was within the Indians’ organisation. Having watched him a little, though, I could see a career path to something like Josh Reddick, where above-average tools across the board plus very strong defense in a corner outfield spot combine to make a very valuable player.

via 2080 Baseball:

19. Randy Arozarena, OF

5’11”, 170lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 18 February 1995

Acquired: International Free Agent, 2016

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

Relevant Stats: 211 wRC+, .286 ISO (Spr), 81 wRC+, .116 ISO (Mem) -confused shrugging emoji -

So, what’s so great about this guy?

This time last year I was making one of the most aggressive bets I’ve ever placed on a player, ranking Randy Arozarena in the top five of the Cardinals’ system.

Crap. I just realised these should be the 2019 Viva El Birdos top prospect lists, not the 2018 lists. Son of a bitch. Now I have to go back and change the others.

Anyway, let’s pretend that didn’t just happen, okay? So I ranked Randy Arozarena fifth overall in the Cards’ system last year, based on my belief that he was a true five-tool player, with every athletic gift you could really want from an outfielder, as well as a very smart approach at the plate that should help him excel in his chosen profession of hitting a baseball for a living.

Fast forward to now, and Randy Arozarena is officially trending toward ‘enigmatic’ at this point. In 2017, he beat up on Florida State League pitching, battering them from pillar to post with hard contact and lots of it, only to get promoted to Springfield around midseason and downshift to a much, much more patient, disciplined approach that covered for the fact his damage on contact was much less extant in the cozier ballparks of the Texas League.

In 2018, Arozarena did somewhat the same thing, absolutely crushing Double A pitching on his way to an absurd 211 wRC+, but made no loud contact whatsoever at the Triple A level, despite being a more selective, patient hitter there. I suppose this is an encouraging pattern, in that we should expect him to destroy PCL pitching in 2019 the way Tyler O’Neill did this past season, then come to the big leagues and slap his way to a 12% walk rate and a below-average batting line, but the continual push-pull of what kind of hitter Arozarena appears to be on any given day makes it very hard to figure out just how excited to be about him.

The definite positives are 60 grade speed, a big throwing arm, and what looks to me to be above-average defense in center field, though not of the sort that’s going to bump Harrison Bader to a corner anytime soon. Even when he’s not hitting, Arozarena has enough other tools and skills to remain a useful player.

The less definite positives are all of the offensive variety, where depending on what day you see Arozarena, you might believe him to be two completely different types of hitter. Strangely enough, you might even like him quite a lot regardless of which type you believe him to be, because he’ll show enough as both a grip and rip damage guy and a patient bat-control guy that one might believe him to be a future starter in the major leagues. It’s when one envisions Arozarena putting all those disparate elements together, though, that a truly exciting picture emerges. Given how up and down his 2018 was, though, it’s also easy at this point to see him topping out as a fourth outfielder, should consistency across the board continue to evade him.

I still like Arozarena, probably more than this top 20 but barely ranking reflects. But I can’t ignore the fact he has yet to really show all his abilities off at once, and at 24 years old in the upcoming season the clock is ticking for him to establish himself as a player the organisation needs to have in their future plans.

If he’s good, it will look like: This is a tough one, because depending on which version of Arozarena you see the comp could be totally different. I think I’m going to reach back into my childhood again for a favourite, similar to how I grabbed Luis Alicea for Tommy Edman, and drag out a Bernard Gilkey comp for Arozarena. Gilkey was an outstanding hitter by dint of an ability to make lots of contact, do an above-average but not elite amount of damage when said contact took place, and utilise his speed to help push his offensive game up an additional notch. He was also a fantastic defender in a corner outfield spot, thanks to playing his entire Cardinal career next to Ray Lankford, who wasn’t moving over for anybody in that era.

via minorleaguebaseball (both):