Come and very nearly gone is another offseason, with the hot stove turning into the tepid stove and the market being slow to develop for a second consecutive year. The tradeoff for the slowdown this time of year is the release of prospect lists across all the major national outlets. It’s second Christmas for us prospect geeks, a time to pick apart and debate the mainstream views of the games top young talents. Yesterday, Baseball America released its Top 100 Prospects for 2019. The Cardinals scored five players this year, a mix of old familiar faces as well as some much welcomed new blood.
#19 - Alex Reyes - SP
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. It really is a testament to Reyes’s premier talent that major outlets still have him ranked atop the Cards system in spite of two consecutive injury-stunted seasons. One doesn’t have to look far to see why - his pure stuff and ultimate ceiling rival that of any pitcher in baseball. We’ve all been teased by his arsenal: upper 90’s heater that bumps triple digits, plus to plus-plus waterfall curve, with two more potential 55-grade offerings in his slider and changeup. A bonafide ace-level talent.
Then you get to the questions marks. Oh, the question marks. Injury history? Check. Wobbly command? Yup. Workload concerns? You betcha. The reality is that he’s been mostly shelved the last two seasons, and he’s never pushed 120 innings as a pro. Hopefully the lat issue is a one off deal, but the injury is such a rarity that the best approach is just to wait-and-see. His high-octane arsenal looked to be back in full force following Tommy John, which gives hope for a return to form following the lat rehab. Anyones guess is as good as mine as to what his workload and role will be in 2019, but the frontline starter potential is still there.
#36 - Tyler O’Neill - OF
This one was a bit of a surprise, but not at all because of talent level. Most team-specific and league-wide lists to this point have omitted O’Neill because of service time, seeing as he’s accrued 130 major league AB’s thus far. Baseball America sees those 130 AB’s as acceptable, but 131 as a step too far. Lucky for us, we get an updated scouting opinion of O’Neill relative to his peers.
The 2019 ranking places O’Neill near Alex Verdugo of the Dodgers and Taylor Trammell of the Reds, for the sake of context. A big reason for his rankings jump this year had to do with the speed and defense he flashed in the major leagues, grading out by both the metrics and the eye test as better than most previously believed. His sprint speed this year was clocked at 29.5 ft/s, good for 20th in all of baseball and better than fellow young outfielders Lewis Brinson and Victor Robles. His glove looked above-average in right to the eye, and the numbers came out positive in an admittedly small sample size.
Adjusting up his previously underrated speed and defense raises the floor for O’Neill, making his overall value less dependent on his contact ability. This, combined with his otherworldly raw power, means that even just incremental improvements in his contact rate will pay large dividends in aggregate. The big question going forward is playing time. O’Neill looks to be the odd man out initially, with Fowler slated to get a bounce back opportunity and Martinez penciled in for some corner innings. All O’Neill needs is an opportunity.
#74 - Dakota Hudson - RHP
After a stint out of the big league bullpen, Hudson slots in at #74 right around pitching prospects Brady Singer and Bryse Wilson. Like Reyes and O’Neill before him, Hudson has the type of carrying tools to carve out a pro role. Also like Reyes and O’Neill, he has a few question marks surrounding his ultimate ceiling.
The positive side of the ledger starts with his power sinker, a true bowling ball that bumps as high as 98. He pairs the offering with a high 80’s slider/cutter that big leaguers also found incredibly hard to square up. At times it can show as two distinct offerings, a shorter low-90’s cutter with excellent bite and a mid-80’s slider with downward action. The pure one-two punch hasn’t materialized in many strikeouts thus far, but he's a weak-contact machine.
On the negative side, Hudson’s ceiling is dependent on his command and the viability of his other secondary offerings. I’ve never been a huge fan of Hudson’s delivery, finding his long arm swing and stiff front side to be the main causes of his command coming and going. To fill out his arsenal, Hudson has thrown both a curveball and a changeup in the past. The curveball is a little flip over job, looping in for stolen strikes at best. The changeup is, well, bad. I’d have him scrap both, and start toying with his slider in hopes of unlocking a softer, sweeping option much like what Patrick Corbin did this year. To me, that’s the best version of Hudson in the rotation: a power sinker paired with a single breaking ball that he manipulates across varying speeds and breaks. His floor is at least that of a good sinker-slider bullpen arm.
#75 - Nolan Gorman - 3B
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: Gorman might just end up being the steal of the draft. Springtime problems with prep breaking stuff slightly dimmed scouts view of the longtime showcase performer, making him available to the Cardinals at #18 overall. No prep bat with Gorman’s power and contact potential should last until #18.
The lefty slugger hit the ground running in pro ball, toasting the Appy League before being pushed all the way the Midwest League in his draft year. Gorman acquitted himself well as a teen playing in Peoria, keeping his line at nearly league average against guys many years his elder. The pitchers there exploited his contact woes, but he still ate for enough power to be effective. This is a middle of the order power bat in the making.
Defensively, Gorman has solid hands and enough arm to handle the hot corner. His actions on the dirt are similarly solid, but the worry has always been that his frame will thicken enough to force a move to first base. I never bought that argument, personally, and preliminary reports out of early Florida workouts speak positively of his defensive improvements.
#81 - Elehuris Montero - 3B
Montero is the biggest surprise of the quintet. The youngster broke out in Peoria, ranking near the top of the league in wRC+ before earning a promotion to Palm Beach. The Florida State League predictably sapped his power, but his contact ability held up and his approach only regressed slightly against the stronger competition. There’s potential to hit for both average and power here.
Dogged by the same defensive limitations as Gorman, Montero seems the likelier of the two to fill out significantly and move to first base. His arm is huge and fit for third, but his actions lag behind Gorman and should only hinder his range more as he thickens. That should also come along with a bump in his power output, however, making his bat a true fit at 1B. I would like to see him pushed aggressively to Springfield, where his power will play better than in the FSL.
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