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System Sundays: The Cards’ Emerging Star Crop

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The Redbirds have a very interesting group of very, very young prospects beginning to coalesce in the low minors.

It has, in many ways, been a banner year for the Cardinals’ minor league system. There have been a couple of notably frustrating occurrences, such as a down season for new acquisition Max Schrock, the deteriorating stuff of Junior Fernandez, and of course the vicious wolf attack which claimed the arm of Alex Reyes. The continued breakdown of Reyes, in particular, feels like a brutal piece of bad luck and even with the turnaround at the big league level casts a certain pall over the near-term future of the club.

However, while there have been some disappointments — and some outright failures — within the system, it has also been a year that has seen the emergence of something we haven’t seen in quite a while here in Cardinal country. Namely, the Redbirds suddenly have a crop of young positional talent that isn’t just good, or exciting, or intriguing. They have a group just beginning to percolate up the ranks that could be as good as any in the game. In fact, it’s the kind of concentrated group of position talent we haven’t seen in the Cards’ system since...well, I’m not sure I can remember ever seeing a group like this in the St. Louis system. Pitching talent, sure. Pitchers we’ve seen, in bunches and of high caliber. But hitting talent? I can’t think of any time the Cardinals have had multiple high-ceiling position prospects in the system concentrated like this.

Now, there’s a caveat to this very optimistic view of the system I’m putting forth here: these players are, for the most part, a very long way off still. Nonetheless, there are names in the low minors right now that are popping up again and again in daily farm reports, who are becoming topics of discussion amongst the prospect geek fraternity of the site, at least occasionally. And so, in the interest of informing those of you who may not follow the system on the micro level, in terms of the day to day numbers and successes and failures, let’s take a look at this far-off (but visible), emerging group of not just prospects, but prospects of a sort we very rarely see a lot of within the Cardinal system.

We’ll start at Palm Beach.

High A Palm Beach — League Average Age 22.5

Dylan Carlson, OF

Current Age: 19 y, ~10 mos

387 PA, 112 wRC+, 12.4% BB, 17.6% K, .134 ISO

ETA: September 2019

Really, the power is the only thing currently lacking from Carlson’s profile, and part of that has to be chalked up to playing in the hitters’ nightmare that is Roger Dean Stadium in the summer. At nearly three years younger than the league average age, though, what Carlson is doing this season absolutely should not be downplayed or missed.

Elehuris Montero, 3B

Current Age: 20 y, 2 days

156 wRC+ in 423 Low A plate appearances; 181 wRC+ (.472 BABIP), in 49 High A PAs

ETA: 2020

Possibly the story of the season for the Cardinals in the low full-season leagues, at least up until the point Nolan Gorman was pushed all the way to Peoria, Montero has always had tons of raw hitting ability, but is now putting that ability on display at a level where the results really start to carry some weight. His walk rate in Low A improved markedly after the early portion of the season, when he was overly aggressive most of the time, but the plate discipline is still a bit of a question. Still, there’s no question at all about his bat to ball skills and plus raw power.

Oh, and also, he was just named the Midwest League MVP. So, you know. There’s that.

Low A Peoria — League Average Age 21.2

Nolan Gorman, 3B

Current age: 18 y, 3 mos

181 wRC+ in 166 PA at Johnson City, 102 wRC+ in 43 PA at Peoria

ETA: Late 2020/2021

Gorman, the high school power prodigy who inexplicably fell to the Cardinals at nineteen in this year’s draft, laid waste to the Appalachian league straight off, to the point the organisation decided to challenge him with a promotion all the way to full-season ball. The results, so far, have been about what you would probably expect; lots of strikeouts, as Gorman tries to adjust to pitchers far more advanced than any he’s ever seen before, throwing breaking balls for strikes, but just enough power and loud contact to keep his head above water. It’s going to be really interesting to see how well the kid can tread water against competition three or more years older on average, but even if the results look ugly the mere fact he was pushed this far this fast says a lot about how the organisation views him.

Rookie Advanced State College — League Average Age 20.9

Brady Whalen, 3B/1B

Current Age: 20 y, 7 mos

131 wRC+ in 205 PA, 15.1% BB, 19.5% K, .183 ISO

ETA: 2021/2022

To be honest, Whalen doesn’t really have the same kind of cache or name value as some of the other guys here, but he’s one of my big sleeper picks in the system, and so he still makes it on my list. Obviously, the attraction is the remarkable plate approach, but the power and contact quality have steadily gotten better as the season has gone on. He’s not as young for the level as many of the other guys here are, but once you get into short-season ball that’s a little more hit-and-miss from year to year and team to team. Regardless, a 15% walk rate and .360+ OBP are both good numbers to focus on here, I think.

Gulf Coast League — League Average Age 19.4

Jhon Torres, OF

Current Age: 18 y, 5 mos

57 PA, 241 wRC+, 12.3% BB, 14% K, .298 ISO, .426/.526/.723

ETA: 2022

Torres was the lesser-known but, in my ever so humble opinion, much more exciting prospect acquired from Cleveland in the Oscar Mercado trade. Since coming to the Cardinals, he’s been purely unbelievable. He’s still roughly a year younger than the average competition in the GCL, and is lapping the field. I couldn’t be more excited about Torres if I tried, and the only question for me is just how high I feel comfortable rating a player still in a complex league on the offseason list.

Dominican Summer League (Average Age ~17-18)

Malcom Nunez, 3B/INF

Current age: 17 y, 5 mos

171 PA, 14.6% BB, 13.5% K, .417/.509/.755, 237 wRC+

ETA: 2022

Easily the most notable investment the Cards made on the international market this summer, Nunez comes by way of Cuba, and is likely only in the DSL to avoid having to go through visa protocol and pay U.S. taxes on his signing bonus this year. He’s clearly too good for the league, and it will be interesting to see how far the Cards bump him next season when he comes stateside. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him start the season at Peoria, although the fact both he and Gorman are primarily third basemen could keep them from playing at the same level immediately.

Joerlin De Los Santos, SS

Current age: 17 y, 11 mos

257 PA, 14.8% BB, 12.8% K, .373/.472/.514, 181 wRC+, 25/33 SB

ETA: 2022

De Los Santos has been coming up a lot in the comments lately, and it’s hard to deny how exciting a talent he appears to be. First off, even in a league like the DSL, where you really don’t know from year to year what kind of level of competition (specifically pitching), you’re dealing with, those plate discipline numbers jump off the page. (For both De Los Santos and Nunez, actually.) Second, he’s a long-term shortstop, and a truly explosive athlete. I’ve got one piece of public video for everyone to look at in a moment, but I also managed to find a first-hand account of him from a contact, and it seems he’s a legitimate 70 runner home to first, at least for now.

Ordinarily, if I said to you: Dominican shortstop, plus-plus runner, has the athleticism to stay up the middle long term, you would probably picture someone that looks like, say, Jose Iglesias, right? Wiry and long, just short of outright skinny, perhaps. Well, that’s not De Los Santos. He still has plenty of room to fill out, certainly, but he’s already built. A couple more years of pro-level workouts and diet and he’s going to look like Yoan Moncada, if anything. (Maybe not quite as tall, though Moncada’s listed 6’2” is...slightly exaggerated, I would say.)

De Los Santos and Nunez are both extremely far away, but they, along with Torres, Montero, and Nolan Gorman, have legit all-star upside if things come together. Obviously, we won’t be seeing any of these players all that soon, but it’s a group that will bear careful watching. It’s a group of the sort we just haven’t seen in this farm system since pretty much ever, I believe.

Okay, fuck this. I can’t get a video to embed, and I can’t get an image to load for the post. I’m not fighting this text editor any longer; this quick, breezy 1500 word piece has taken me over three hours to write. I’m done.