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The 2019 Viva El Birdos Top Prospect List #12-7

Heading into the homestretch, our prospect list moves to the top ten.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

12. Ramon Urias, 2B/INF

5’10”, 150 lbs (see note); Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 3 June 1994

Acquired: Free Agent 2018; IFA Texas Rangers 2011

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

Relevant Stats: 194 PA, .333/.406/.589, 170wRC (Spr), 149 PA, .261/.291/.430, 84 wRC+ (Mem)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Okay, first thing: about that listed weight. Urias is bigger than 150 pounds now, but that’s still the officially listed number, and I have no better figure to plug in than that. He was 5’10” and 150 back when he was playing in the Texas Rangers’ system initially, and there’s never been any properly updated height and weight data. I’ll say he’s closer to a solid 170-175 now, but I’m basically just eyeballing him.

Urias, who is in fact the older brother of the PadresLuis Urias, a top ~25 prospect in all of baseball currently, was originally signed out of Mexico by the Texas Rangers back in 2010. He spent a couple seasons in the Texas system, then was lent out to Diablos Rojos in the Mexican League and was eventually just...outrighted to them? I’ll be honest; Mexican League dealings are more than a little foggy, and MLB has at least temporarily banned clubs from signing Mexican League players due to concerns about questionable business practices. (And let’s face it; if MLB clubs feel like your business practices are problematic, you’re doing some serious shit.)

Anyhow, it’s really not that important exactly how Urias got to the Cardinals; the fact is he is now a St. Louis Cardinals property, and I will assess him as such. And in assessing him as such, I believe he might be the biggest sleeper prospect in the entire system right now.

You’ll probably notice, if you’re the sort of person who reads other prospect coverage or lists, that I have Urias ranked much more aggressively than pretty much anywhere else; that’s because I believe in the bat, and specifically the power in that bat, more than I think most other outlets at this point. Urias combines outstanding bat to ball skills with a knack for making hard, elevated contact, and in fewer than 350 minor league plate appearances at two levels this season he put 13 balls over the wall. It’s worth acknowledging he played in hitter-friendly environments much of the time, but even with that caveat I have no trouble buying 15+ homer power annually from Urias.

Defensively, Urias looks good at second base to me, and reasonable at both short and third. He’s got enough arm to play on the left side of the infield, but seems just a little stretched trying to play shortstop. I could see him grading out as a 55 glove at the keystone, though, and when you combine that with the potential in his bat I think the industry has not yet caught up with his upside. The Cards have gotten him time at all the infield positions, pointing toward potential utility duty in the future, but I think he’s a starting second baseman on a contending team when it’s all said and done. Maybe better than that.

Admittedly, Urias struggled when he began the season in Memphis, and actually got three shots at the Triple A level, never really establishing himself as belonging there in any of the three stints. That’s a concern for a player who will turn 25 this coming June. However, Urias should get another shot at the Pacific Coast League to open 2019, and if he can carry his Double A performance forward to Triple A (minus the .361 BABIP at Springfield), he could force his way to the majors sooner than later.

If he’s good, it will look like: The perfect world version of Urias probably looks something like early-career Miguel Tejada, another middle infielder of modest stature with surprising pop in his bat coming from extraordinary wrists and hands. Of course, Tejada later got mid-2000s jacked, but minus the artificial inflation Urias has that kind of game.

via minorleaguebaseball:

11. Andy Young, 2B

6’0”, 195 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 10 May 1994

Acquired: Amateur Draft 2016, Round 37(!)

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

Relevant Stats: 137 wRC+ (PB), 160 wRC+ (Spr), .340 BABIP (Spr)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

As I stated way back at the beginning of these posts, I’m not going to focus heavily on Andy Young, given he has now been dealt away as part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade, but I did want to keep him on the list for context as to where I think he belongs.

Young is a power-hitting second base prospect, lacking the range or arm to play across the diamond, but who has the defensive chops to stay up the middle all the same. He hits the ball in the air a lot, has an aggressive approach at the plate, and really took off in 2018 by cutting his strikeout rate from around 22% to the 17% neighbourhood. I don’t think he’s any better than an average defender at second, but a power bat like his at that position can make even average defense look damned good. It’s possible Young may actually be the player who really determines how much the Goldschmidt package stings down the road; if he hits his ceiling, the Cards might very well have traded away a solid-average regular for one season of an admittedly awesome first baseman. Then again, if you’ll notice, Ramon Urias and Andy Young are right next to each other on this list, and Urias is, somewhat amazingly, a month younger than Young, so perhaps the Cards have a similarly exciting second base bat still in the system even after cashing in one chip.

If he’s good, it will look like: I’ll go with Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins as a good comp for Young’s ceiling. Similar average to a bit below glove but seriously exciting power upside at a position where power is always at a premium.

10. Genesis Cabrera, LHP

6’1”, 170 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 10 October 1996

Acquired: Trade from Tampa July 2018; International FA 2014 (Rays)

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

Relevant Stats: 4.00 FIP (Dunedin), 4.91 FIP (Spr), 42.9% K (Mem)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Genesis Cabrera is probably the player who will determine how we feel about the Tommy Pham deal long term. Now, I freely acknowledge there is a certain segment of the fanbase who will never feel anything but blind rage about the Tommy Pham deal, so for them it’s probably more a matter of degrees of anger, rather than a spectrum of outcomes that includes much positive. However, if there is one player in the package the Cards received back from Tampa who could swing the pendulum of opinion toward something like equanimity, Cabrera is the guy with that level of talent.

Stuff-wise, Cabrera is up there with the most talented lefty arms in the whole of the minor leagues. He works at 93-95 with his fastball, and it’s tough to catch up to at the top of the zone. Down, it’s a little more hittable, and tends to come in flat. Up, though, Cabrera is capable of getting empty swings just with the fastball. He complements his heater with a very good slider or cutter that he’ll throw as hard as 90 mph, , but is better in the 86-88 range. The pitch has excellent cut, and hitters struggle mightily to do anything useful with it, but it does lack ideal depth. A little more tilt and we would be talking Francisco Liriano territory, but as it is the pitch occupies that in-between slider/cutter space.

Cabrera’s third pitch is his changeup, and while it still needs work he did make big strides with it in 2018. Coming into the season, it looked like the bullpen was the most likely long-term outcome for the young lefty, but he worked on his offspeed pitch and improved it to the point he now has three viable pitches. The change is probably more of a 40-45 right now, still needing some refinement, but it’s usable. Cabrera also throws a curveball, but it’s barely a part of his repertoire. Maybe down the road he works on it and makes it into something, but for now I’m comfortable putting him down for three pitches.

As I said, the changeup development is encouraging, and very well could keep Cabrera on a starter’s track long term. However, he worked in relief late in the season with Memphis, has thrown from the ‘pen in winter ball, and it’s tough not to like what he brings in short bursts. I’m hoping he’s not pushed to the big leagues in the way Jordan Hicks was (though I agree with keeping Hicks in the ‘pen, as I think his arm simply wouldn’t hold up to a starting workload), and is instead encouraged to keep refining his arsenal as a starter. Still, it’s worth noting that the fastball that will touch 97 or even 98 at times as a starter basically sits 97+ when he works out of the ‘pen, simply cutting loose upper-90s heat that hitters can’t touch.

If he’s good, it will look like: The fastball/cutter/changeup combo Cabrera employs as a starter has a David Price-ish feel to it, though he obviously isn’t nearly so refined as the former Cy Young winner. Still, that’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about. As a reliever, it’s easy to see Felipe Vazquez in the upper-90s fastball and razor-sharp cutter.

via minorleaguebaseball:

9. Griffin Roberts, RHP

6’3”, 205 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 13 June 1996

Acquired: Amateur Draft 2018; Comp Balance A Round

Level(s) in 2018: Gulf Coast League, Palm Beach (High A)

Relevant Stats: 29.8% K (GCL), 66.7% K (PB) — okay, so it was only one inning.

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I went back and forth on my rankings here of Genesis Cabrera versus Griffin Roberts, and it honestly could have gone either way in terms of the order they were ranked in. If Roberts’ 50 game suspension for marijuana had come out before I made the list, I might have dropped him a bit, but this reflects how I feel about the players, without the extra complicating factor of Roberts now missing a chunk of the 2019 season for the same dumb reason Alex Reyes was popped a few years ago.

Now, here’s the thing: just because MLB’s marijuana policy is stupid, doesn’t mean it isn’t a negative that Roberts tested positive not just once, but twice after being drafted. It is a negative. Whether the rule and the policy are good or not, the fact is the rule is the rule, and if you want to make it to the major leagues you’re probably going to have to make some sacrifices along the way. A kid who weighs getting high versus advancing his career and decides to go ahead and put on Black Sunday even though it’s Tuesday is not showing the level of discipline and decision-making you would want to believe your top 50 draft pick would have. That being said, all Roberts has to do is come back firing BBs in 2019, push his way onto the 40 man roster, and it won’t matter how much weed he wants to smoke in his off hours. So yes, it’s a negative, but also a short-term one if Roberts is as good as I believe he is, somewhat paradoxically.

Anyhow, enough about that. The non-suspended version of Griffin Roberts has one of the best breaking balls you’ll see anywhere, and a fastball that tends to be underrated precisely because the breaker sucks up so much of the attention. He works from 92-94 with his heater, and the pitch features tremendous running action to the arm side. Even with what is essentially just average velocity these days, Roberts is capable of sawing off same-handed hitters with pretty much anyone, just due to the level of movement he gets from a low-3/4 arm slot.

The main event, though, so to speak, is Roberts’s breaking ball, which really falls into the ‘power slurve’ category, rather than being a proper slider or curveball. Basically, you can call it whatever you want, but you’re not hitting it, so it doesn’t really matter. The one-two punch of Roberts being able to go fastball-slider could make him an impact reliever in the very near future, but for now the plan is to develop him as a starter, which I sincerely hope remains the plan longer term. He moved from closing his first two seasons at Wake Forest into the rotation his junior spring, and made huge strides in developing and polishing his repertoire. He has a changeup with plus upside, featuring crazy drop and fade to the third base side, but he still tends to telegraph it far too often. That will improve with time and innings, which, again, I really hope he gets. The delivery is a little risky, as Roberts lifts with his elbow at the back of the delivery, and his arm tends to get late because of it. I don’t know how correctable that is, but maybe a change is possible. If not, it’s not the end of the world, but I do see some injury risk in his mechanics.

For now, Roberts will begin the season in extended spring training, where he will throw on a fixed schedule and work with minor league coaches, basically losing no real development time. Hopefully he can bear down, work on improving all aspects of his arsenal, and hit the ground running when he’s eligible to return. Long term I hope he gets every chance to stay in a starting role, but I will admit there’s part of me that would like to see he and Alex Reyes both end up in the ‘pen so that some enterprising marketing intern can have them play the Method Man and Redman roles from How High in some promo for ticket packages or bobbleheads or jersey giveaways or something.

If he’s good, it will look like: Solid velocity, great movement, low arm slot, ungodly breaking ball. Aaron Nola. That one was easy.

via ACC Digital Network:

8. Jhon Torres, OF

6’4”, 200 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 29 March 2000

Acquired: Trade from Cleveland July 2018, IFA 2017 (Indians)

Level(s) in 2018: Arizona League (Rookie), Gulf Coast League

Relevant Stats: 75 PA, .397/.493/.683, 225 wRC+, 10.7% BB, 17.3% K (GCL)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Torres was the less-heralded player acquired in the trade deadline deal which sent Oscar Mercado to the Cleveland Indians, but I believe over the long haul he will prove to be a far more impactful piece than Conner Capel. In fact, Jhon Torres is the kind of player around whom you can build a team, or potentially could be. He’s not yet nineteen years old, so caution and patience will obviously be required, but Torres is a star on the horizon all the same.

Now, to be fair, Torres’s numbers in the Indians’ system had been good, but nothing like the ridiculous performance he put together upon being acquired by the Cardinals, so we’re definitely dealing with a bit of a hot streak in addition to a tooled-up physical beast beating up on competition that was his clear inferior. Still, the plate discipline is remarkably advanced for a player so young, which is perhaps the most exciting thing about Torres all told.

Built like a 3-4 linebacker, Torres is long and still lean, with room for another 30 pounds of good weight on his frame. He’s a 55 runner now, but may slow down as he fills out and end up with just average speed. Still, he has a huge throwing arm that should serve him well in right field.

At the plate, Torres brings plus raw power to the table, a mature, disciplined approach, and better plate coverage than you might expect from an eighteen year old slugger. His swing needs some work, as he currently hits with an exaggerated leg kick that actually causes him to sway and move his balance point all over the place. Getting him to stay closer to his center line and just pick the leg straight up and put it back down could improve him even more as a hitter, I believe.

Torres is one of a young group of positional prospect the Cardinals are beginning to cultivate at the lower levels of the system that could very well form a championship nucleus in a few years’ time. Dylan Carlson and Elehuris Montero are probably the most advanced players in that group. Torres, Malcom Nunez, and Joerlin De Los Santos all have the potential to be part of it as well. Nolan Gorman, still to come on our list, has the name recognition and the draft pedigree, and may have the highest upside of the bunch. Torres is no slouch himself, though, looking like a potential five-tool monster at his peak, or maybe falling just short of that if he slows down in the coming years.

If he’s good, it will look like: The combination of plate discipline, power, and plus defense in right field suggest to me a perfect world outcome for Torres of something like Jose Bautista. What made Bautista so remarkable was his ability to maintain an above-average contact rate while hitting for all the power he obviously did. Whether Torres can keep his strikeout rate down as he moves up the ladder will be a huge determining factor in how his career develops.

via FanGraphs:

7. Ryan Helsley, RHP

6’1”, 195 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 18 July 1994

Acquired: Amateur Draft 2015, 5th Round

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

Relevant Stats: 4.50 FIP, 25.3% K (Spr), 3.18 FIP, 32.1% K (Mem)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

The 2018 season was a mixed bag for Ryan Helsley. On the positive side of the ledger, he pushed his way all the way up to Triple A Memphis, putting himself just a phone call away from the major leagues. (Well, a phone call and about a four and a half hour drive up I-55, but you know what I mean.) On the down side, his results continued to not match his stuff, a leit motif of sorts over the past two seasons, and he spent considerable time on the disabled list this year with a sore shoulder as well.

When healthy, there’s absolutely no question about the quality of Helsley’s pure stuff. He sits in the 94-97 range with his fastball, and has pushed triple digits in the past. The pitch is a bit straight, but also has that high-spin swing and miss thing going on up in the zone, so it’s not exactly a huge concern. He added a wicked little cutter in 2018 for the first time, leaning on it more heavily against right-handed hitters than lefties, but occasionally even breaking it out to try and get under a left-handed hitter’s hands as well. His curveball and changeup are both 55 grade pitches, with the changeup being even better some days, giving him four average or better pitches with which he can combat opposing hitters. Even as a short right-hander it’s impossible not to look at Helsley’s stuff and see a bulldog starting pitcher.

The problem, however, is that as good as Helsley’s stuff is, and as impressive as the arm talent may be, he has not gotten anywhere near the kinds of results one would expect from a pitcher with such dominating ability over the past two seasons. His real star turn results-wise came back in 2016, when he ran a strikeout to walk ratio of nearly six; since that time he has struggled to keep his walks under control and has suffered through intermittent bouts of homeritis. When a guy can break out high-90s heat and four legit big league level pitches, he shouldn’t get hit as hard as Helsley does.

He still has that splittery action on the changeup that generates tons of helpless swings, still throws gas at the top of the zone few hitters can really catch up to, and has two more weapons he can deploy in any given count with a fair degree of confidence. It’s a little tough to understand why exactly then Helsley has had such up and down results the past two seasons. The shoulder issue adds more concern to the ledger, as well. Still, for pure stuff, there’s really no pitcher other than Alex Reyes in the Cards’ system who can throw the variety of plus offerings Helsley can put on display on a given night.

If he’s good, it will look like: I’ve comp’d Helsley to Rich Harden in the past for the high octane fastball, knuckling sort of split-change offspeed pitch, and just general overwhelming stuff-ness. I’ll stick with that comp again this year; unfortunately, Helsley having shoulder issues only gives him more in common with Harden, rather than less.

the new cutter, via minorleaguebaseball: