Before I begin this article, it needs to be said that Rangel Ravelo likely will not be on the team next season. However, there can be a case made for him to remain on the roster, and I will do that today.
The 27-year-old seems similar to Patrick Wisdom as both players spent at least three straight seasons in AAA before brief 30 game cameos with the Cardinals. Wisdom got traded for Drew Robinson following his first taste of big league action, and Ravelo will likely follow a similar route in leaving the team. Nonetheless, I will make the case that Ravelo could fill a Jose Martinez-like role as the team’s primary pinch hitter.
There are some intriguing trends in Ravelo’s stats that can be seen in his AAA numbers and small sample of MLB numbers. In his last four seasons, which Ravelo spent most or all of his time in AAA, the first baseman never recorded a strikeout percentage above 16.2 percent. This ability to make contact is an important attribute for a pinch hitter, especially in run-scoring situations. He has also posted a healthy walk rate between 8.2 and 10.5 percent in each of these four years. This demonstrates a relatively discerning eye at the plate as he is able to lay off pitches that are not great to hit, while finding ways to reach base through his strong contact abilities and walk rate. His OBP between .383 and .392 is enticing, especially if he needs to play a role in starting or continuing rallies.
One of the knocks on him is that he should have more power, especially because he is a 6’1’, 225-pound first baseman. Ravelo has never finished a season with more than the 14 home runs he crushed this year. This is an aspect of his game that he needs to unlock more. Ravelo does have power — it just rarely translates into home runs. Ravelo had an average exit velocity of 93.8 mph in the majors in 2019. While this is a small sample size (43 at-bats), he also hit a 487 foot home run this season. His issue is not a lack of power, but rather an inability to consistently tap into that power. The former sixth-round pick needs to hit the ball in the air more often in order to start collecting more extra-base hits. He has posted a groundball rate between 41.8 and 48.2 percent in each of the last four seasons while never hitting flyballs at a rate better than 36.1 percent. This trend continued after his promotion to St. Louis. In the brief length of time that he was on the roster, Ravelo’s groundball percentage was an even 50 percent.
For a player who has made such consistent contact in the minor leagues, the hypothetical development of over-the-fence power for Ravelo could lead to a future role as a high-leverage pinch hitter. Mike Shildt showed a willingness to trust the rookie this season in important pinch-hitting situations, but he would likely need to replace Jose Martinez on the roster. The presence of both of these players would seem to be redundant. However, Ravelo has shown more positional flexibility than Martinez and much more athleticism. He has shown an ability to play the corner outfield, as well as first base and some third base in a pinch. Martinez has not shown this ability. When Martinez plays, it is simply to get his bat in the lineup. Martinez is also coming off a down year at the plate. He posted a 101 wRC+, which is not bad, but he also struck out 22 percent of the time and finished with just a .141 ISO. This is certainly not a bad year at the plate, but it is not good enough for a player who simply offers no defensive value whatsoever. He will also be 32 next season and would be a much better fit on an American League roster.
Ravelo offers more youth, athleticism and defensive flexibility which could give him an outside shot at making the roster. If he can adjust his swing and put the ball in the air more, he would likely see an uptick in power. This would be valuable when combined with his strong contact abilities and high walk rate. If the Cardinals decide to tweak their roster this offseason, Ravelo could find a place. However, it is more likely that he gets DFA’d this offseason so the team has more flexibility with said roster spot, especially given how many seemingly MLB-ready players are in Memphis.
If Ravelo sticks around, he could fill an important role on next year’s team and give Mike Shildt another offensive and defensive option off the bench. Either way, after performing well in each of the last three seasons while primarily playing in Memphis, the Cardinals need to make a decision on his future. Ravelo has nothing left to prove in Memphis, and there are other minor league options that could take his spot in AAA next season. It seems pointless to stash him there for another season when he will be 28 years old. The team needs to give him a legitimate chance to make the roster or move him to another team. Whatever happens, Ravelo could be a sneaky strong bench bat next season with a solid glove to hold his own in the field whenever he needs to start.