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System Sundays: Five Hot Starts to the Season

There are players playing well in the minor leagues. These are some of them.

St Louis Cardinals Photo Day Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

You know how it’s super early in the season? And you know how we keep saying, both to ourselves and each other, “It’s really early, and all these numbers are close to meaningless, and we need to remember to not take them too seriously,” and then nodding to ourselves in a satisfied way, confident we aren’t the type of rubes who get sold a bill of goods on a player just having a hot streak to start a season? Of course you do.

Well, you know where it’s even earlier? And the samples even smaller, potentially even more perilous to our perspective? The minors, that’s where. The minor league season hasn’t even been going on as long as the major league campaign, and there’s always the fact any given player is just at the wrong level, and we don’t know it yet. So really, it’s completely irresponsible to try and draw any conclusions about minor league players based on what they do in the first couple weeks of the season. Only a crazy person would do that.

So here’s five minor leaguers off to really great starts. And yes, you should take these numbers very seriously.

1.) Max Schrock, 2B — For a period of roughly 24 hours, it looked as if Schrock was going to struggle to maintain his even ratio of strikeouts and walks. Friday night, Schrockenstein (hmm, need to workshop that one a little more), struck out once in five trips to the plate, which translates to an almost unfathomable (for him), 20% K rate, and suddenly the planets were out of alignment. Thankfully, he managed to draw a walk in last night’s game, going 1-3 with a walk and a stolen base, thus renewing the balance in the universe. For the season, in 42 plate appearances, Schrock has exactly two walks and strikeouts apiece. That’s a 4.8% clip, which isn’t great for a walk rate, but ungodly good when it comes to striking out.

Schrock’s overall line currently sits at .359/.405/.462, with one double and one home run scattered amongst his fourteen hits. The BABIP is high, at .364, but not so far out of the park as to be obviously comedic. Maintaining a high batting average isn’t as hard as it might seem when you’re running a sub-5% strikeout rate. One other interesting number of note is that Schrock has stolen four bases on the season, without being caught yet.

When Schrock to the Heart and You’re to Blame (okay, no, too long), first came into the minors in the Washington system, he actually ran quite a bit, swiping 22 bases between two stops in 2016. Once he was dealt to Oakland, though, he essentially stopped running almost entirely, owing to the A’s extremely cautious organisational philosophy on baserunning. In 490 plate appearances worth of playing time last year, Schock stole exactly four bases. He was thrown out twice, giving him a mediocre 67% success rate. This season, playing in a Cardinal system that seems to be encouraging aggression on the basepaths more than in recent years, he’s already matched that total. I mention this because a Max Schrock who can steal 20+ bases could be an even more valuable weapon.

2.) The Whole Memphis Outfield — Okay, so this is absolutely cheating, yes. But I went back and forth, over and over, trying to decide which player to highlight. And, ultimately, it seemed really unfair to pick just one, when the Memphis outfield entire has been just incredible so far.

Randy Arozarena is currently slashing .367/.459/.500, good for a 170 wRC+, with a walk rate near 15%. He started the season on a little cold snap, striking out seven times in his first four games, but since has righted the ship and hit like crazy. He’s also six for six in stolen base attempts, in just eight games. Adolis Garcia has been on a mission since the year began, hitting .375/.429/.656. (176 wRC+) He’s got four doubles, one home run, and a triple already, filling up the stat line quite nicely. The strikeouts are a little high at a shade over 25%, but he’s done so much damage on contact it’s hard to complain overmuch.

Tyler O’Neill actually has the highest wRC+ of any Memphis outfielder, at 189, but the fact he’s drawn only a single walk so far this season is a bit concerning. Still, he’s collected seven extra-base hits already in 41 trips to the plate, which qualifies as an impressive start. Oscar Merdaco, probably the most overlooked of the Memphis quartet, has also had the only somewhat slow start, posting a 90 wRC+ over his first eight games. Still, he’s stolen four of five bases and made several highlight reel catches in center field, so it hasn’t been anywhere near all bad just yet.

Seriously. The Cardinals are going to have to trade somebody from this group this year when a need comes up, right? Right?

3.) Preston Guilmet, RHP — So the Cardinals signed a pitcher out of Japan this offseason, a former big league prospect who hit a rough patch and ended up heading to the NPB to try and get his career back on course while making better money than he was going to stateside. And so far, he’s been pretty great. What? Miles who? Oh, that’s right. I forgot about him.

No, I’m talking about Preston Guilment, the funky-armed righthander currently closing games for Memphis, and trying his damnedest to get his name into the mix for a 40 man roster spot this season. Guilmet has thrown 6.2 innings, walked just one hitter (5% BB rate), and is running a 45% strikeout rate. He’s looked really good doing so, too; his splitter has been absolutely untouchable, and the curveball has impressive depth as well.

4.) Dylan Carlson, OF — Okay, okay, enough about Memphis players, at least for now. The Cards made an interesting decision with Dylan Carlson this season, choosing to return him to Peoria to open the year, the same level at which he spent all of 2017. Now, that’s not exactly slowing down his progress all that much; he’s still just nineteen, and still extremely young for full-season ball. I was really curious to see how the organisation would handle him, though, and I remain intrigued as to whether they’ll move him up to the hitting nightmare of Roger Dean and the Florida State League this year, or actually try to slingshot him past straight to Double A, even at nineteen.

So far, so good, though, in Carlson’s return trip to the Midwest League, as he is currently laying waste to the competition to the tune of a .333/.517/.619 line, which translates to a 212 wRC+. In other words, Dylan Carlson is the Jose Martinez of the MWL. His strikeout rate in 2017 was 25.7%; this season it’s 10.6%. The walk rate in 2017: 11.5%. Walk rate in 2018: 27.6%. No, he’s not going to maintain those kinds of numbers all year, but even in a small sample Carlson looks like he’s going to be the system’s biggest riser this year.

5.) Ronnie Williams, RHP — Ronnie Williams is pitching at Palm Beach this year. He’s made three appearances, thrown eight innings. Struck out nine, walked one. Whatever, Ronnie. No one cares. Why are you even still here? He hasn’t allowed a run. I mean, that’s nice, whatever. It’s cool he hasn’t allowed a — no, no, Ronnie. I can’t do this again. Just three hits. In eight innings. Ronnie, I can’t. I mean, I put you tenth — tenth! — on a prospect list, and then you went out and self-destructed the way you did last year. I just can’t do it again, Ronnie. He’s still somehow just 22, which isn’t young for a prospect in the FSL, but it’s not old for the league, either. The stuff looks to have returned this year to where it was before last season. Nine strikeouts, one walk. No. I said no. I won’t do this again.

Finally, an honourable mention for Daniel Poncedeleon striking out twelve Iowa Cubs yesterday in just five innings. It’s obviously been a hell of a story just seeing Poncedeleon get back to baseball; that performance last night was an exclamation point on the whole thing. Not sure I see a great route for him to find a starting job with the Cardinals, but I think he could be a really good reliever in the very near future, if they end up with a need and a roster spot for him.