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Trade Deadline brings new prospects to St. Louis

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Diving into Justin Williams, Genesis Cabrera and Connor Capel.

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

No time for chit-chat, we have prospects to dig into.

Justin Williams, OF

Baseball Census

The key piece coming to St. Louis for Tommy Pham is Justin Williams. He feels like the original super athlete, before Jo Adell and Kyler Murray stole the show in recent drafts. Williams doesn’t run like Adell or Murray. He holds viewers’ awe in the form of his projectable power. What reports are most critical of is the lack of connect between this raw power and in-game production. His swing is very level, leaving a lot to be desired given his 215-pound frame and ability to consistently make contact.

I’m most encouraged by the improvements Williams made between 2016 and 2017 when he repeated Double-A. His average kicked up 50 points, walks inflated to 9 percent from a measly 3 percent and his improved discipline allowed his strikeouts to come down just under 3 percent. He smacked 14 home runs during 2017 in Double-A, but that quick emergence of pop has taken a step back this season in Triple-A.

Williams’ swing is very level. He drives the ball well, doesn’t seem to have a pull-happy tendency and hasn’t had issues with left-handed pitching either of the last two seasons. All of this bodes very well for the potential of an elevated role at higher levels, even if we’re still squinting for power.

Compact is an apt word to describe his swing. A very small leg kick and quick hands pre-pitch gives him average to plus bat bat speed, once again a nod to the potential for his power. I’m fond of Williams’ barrel control and sub-20-percent strikeout rate despite extra life in his hands as he loads. (Watch for two slight pulses as he pulls his hands back in either swing above.) I would like to think the Cardinals player development looked at Williams and saw an adjustable, polished project. Already at Triple-A, his results against advanced pitching are respectable. If there is any inclination he’ll be able to adjust his plane to tap into more power, even if his strikeouts crest to 23-24 percent, he’s worth an investment.

If Williams never fully pans out, reports are optimistic he can play consistently at the major league level, if not everyday. He’s not a top-100 prospect, but his underlying skills suggest he could bloom at he reaches his mid 20s.

Genesis Cabrera, LHP

Baseball Census

Cabrera has been a starting pitcher for all of his career in the Rays organization. The safe bet, however, is to consider him a reliever due to his size and fleeting command. That said, it’s not hard to see a starting pitcher given the progression of his slider. Fangraphs considered Cabrera’s changeup his most projectable offering back in 2017, but that narrative has changed as many like his slider as much if not more. This could be one of the main reasons for his jump in strikeouts as well as the slightly diminished control.

Mechanically, reports are critical, but hold an understanding that he’s young and powerful for 6-foot-1 his frame. The repeatability of his mechanics is a consistent knock, with aggression on his finish and follow through in-game that leads to some release point alteration. A low arm slot like this should help create natural fastball movement, and his arm speed leaves some salivating for changeup development as he ages.

I wonder what the fix is for a slightly undersized arm with this electricity to tone it down and reign in his command. If consequences come with the fix, does that leave us with less velocity? A step back on his stuff? It seems like a rocky road to go down for player development, but one worth the investment given Cabrera’s natural ability.

If you believe in three pitches, you see a starting pitcher long term. Otherwise, you expect his command to evolve with his fastball and slider, producing a viable relief option. I don’t think Cabrera is starter or a high-leverage reliever, which makes me more inclined to ride him as long as possible as a starter. In the worst case scenario, there is still value in a middle relief role. At only 22 years old, a lot of room remains for me to be wrong with this assessment.

Conner Capel

Nathan Graham

Capel improved his discipline after being promoted to High-A, but his production fell back to pedestrian levels. Like Williams, he still possesses untapped, plus raw power that hasn’t had a chance to show up outside of the Midwest League.

His speed grades out above average, but like won’t translate into stolen bases (currently 15/25 on the bases at High-A) or allow him to stick as a traditional centerfielder. His plus arm suggests right field is probably the final destination. With Harrison Bader’s ability to play centerfield, this likely won’t be too much of a concern long term.

Capel’s swing is very compact, with even less movement than Williams’ swing above. His lower half is less engaged even with an active back leg, and you’ll notice his upright start as he flies forward towards the ball. I’m impressed with the projection on Capel’s power given the lack of moving parts. A lot of swings with minimal movement suggest a more bat-to-ball approach and plus hit tool rather than 25-home-run power.

While Williams holds some characteristics that I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Cardinals player development alter moving forward, Capel’s swing might be slightly more difficult to change. This freezes me in suggesting how they would tinker with him to un-tap his power. Maybe they can spread his legs out a little bit and incorporate more of a stride, but the effects might be counterproductive than the profile they envision long term.

Capel’s struggles against higher level left-handed pitching are also concerning, but again, we’re talking about a 21-year-old outfielder with less than 400 at-bats in High-A. I expect Oscar Mercado and Capel to be similar players production-wise in the long run, with Capel’s power perhaps more enticing than Mercado’s hit tool.

In these two outfielders, the Cardinals have targeted compact swings with above average raw power that hasn’t shown up in games. It’s not a bad recipe to produce some value at the major league level.

Williams remains the piece to determine whether this trade deadline prospect package is remembered fondly in the minds of fans.