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The 2020 VEB Top Prospects List: #25-21

Lists are fun.


You know, I’ve noticed a funny thing recently. Namely, there seems to be a fairly large contingent of Cardinal fans on Cardinal Twitter who are really upset over the club trading Adolis Garcia to the Rangers for cash considerations. I’ve seen takes like, “Can’t believe the Cards just gave this guy away,” and, “Dude hit 30 bombs in Memphis and the Cards can’t find a use for him? Idiotic,” and, “What a waste of an asset,” and of course the classic, “I don’t know who Cash Considerations is, but I sure hope he’s the answer in right field.”

This seems odd to me. Or, perhaps I should say, it doesn’t seem odd to me, exactly, but it does feel very misguided, and really points to just how strangely embittered much of the Cards’ fanbase has become over the past handful of years. These are people getting upset over the blatant, horrible mismanagement of resources, and the thing they’re gathering the torches and pitchforks over is the ‘loss’ of a 26 year old outfielder who was a below-average hitter at the Triple A level in 2019. I know the home runs and stolen bases and all make him seem exciting, but Garcia was also caught stealing ten times in 24 attempts, making him a negative value proposition when it comes to swiping bags, and despite the power (32 dingers!), his wRC+ in Memphis was just 89.

As intriguing as the physical tools are, Garcia’s plate discipline is so nightmarishly bad — 30%+ strikeout rate, 4.2% walk rate in 2019 — that it just erases any value he might be adding with the power and the speed and the defense. If you want a guy who plays an exciting center field and just can’t hit, well, the Cardinals already have that guy. His name is Harrison Bader, and he’s a certifiable freak defensively, rather than a guy with tools who one might hope is enough of a plus with the glove to make him useful.

I get a certain amount of frustration with the Cardinals’ approach to team building; I’m at least occasionally hard on the team for not making bigger, more aggressive moves in pursuit of title-contending teams, rather than consistent contenders, but being upset that a 26 year old below-average hitter in Triple A was dealt for cash is really missing the forest for the trees. Yes, there are problems I have with the way the 2020 Cardinals appear to be shaping up, and most of those have to do with players still on the roster who really have no business taking up spots for a team with designs on winning a division and hopefully more. But bitching about Adolis Garcia is just looking for reasons for discontent, looking for any excuse, no matter how flimsy, to loudly declaim how stupid the front office is.

Anyway, here are prospects, five of them, as we move toward the top 20.

#25: Edmundo Sosa, SS

5’11”, 170 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 6th March 1996

Level(s) in 2019: Memphis (AAA), St. Louis

Relevant Stats: 496 PA, .291/.335/.466, 91 wRC+, 3.4% BB (Mem)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Edmundo Sosa has, it seems, been on these lists for as long as I can remember. In fact, he’s probably been on the prospect list here at VEB for as long as I’ve been the one doing them, or close to it anyway. Once upon a time, Sosa showed intriguing power for a middle infielder, particularly one with such a solid glove; his 2015 turn at Johnson City remains one of the all-time statements of intent from such a young prospect. He was just nineteen years old that summer, and posted a 137 wRC+ against mostly recent college graduates and other early-20s players.

Sadly, in the years since, Sosa’s bat has stagnated, despite him making at least two significant swing changes I’ve been witness to, and at this point he’s basically become a fixture of the lower reaches of the list solely because he can play shortstop, and at a pretty high level. He’s not much of a hitter; I would expect him to post an 80-85 wRC+ kind of number in the majors given regular playing time. He is, however, a solid-average shortstop, probably a +5 or so DRS kind of guy, and that has real value. Jose Iglesias has basically been this kind of player for years now, and he keeps getting jobs.

If the Cardinals needed a shortstop for an extended period in 2020, Sosa could handle it. He might not be first in line, but then again, he might be. It’s tough to say, really. He’s an extremely impatient hitter, and even after adding a big leg kick has no more than 45 grade power. He plays the toughest non-catcher position on the field, though, and plays it at a high enough level that he could probably be a 1.5-2.0 win player over a full season, were some team to employ him in a full-time capacity, I believe.

If he’s good, it will look like: I mentioned Jose Iglesias before, and I’ll stick with that as a comp. Sosa might not be quite that good defensively, but he’s at least in that neighbourhood.

#24: Jack Ralston, RHP

6’6”, 230 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 13th August 1997

Level(s) in 2019: State College (Short Season Advanced)

Relevant Stats: 25.1 IP, 1.07 ERA, 2.18 FIP, 27.1% K, 7.3% BB

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Ranking the various pitchers drafted by the Cardinals in the top ten rounds of this year’s draft proved to be an interesting exercise for me. With the exception of Zack Thompson, who is pretty clearly a different sort of prospect, guys like Tony Locey, Andre Pallante, Connor Thomas, Ralston, and even Logan Gragg were tough for me to sort through. In the end, Thomas barely missed the list, Gragg was a little further off, and Pallante probably ended up a little too low. Where I finally came down on the group was to have them all from about 25 through 37 or 38, with Jack Ralston ultimately edging out the others to claim the highest spot of any 2019 drafted pitcher on this list. (Again, non-Thompson division.)

Here’s what I like about Ralston: he may not have the raw strikeout power of Locey or quite so varied a repertoire as Pallante, but he’s more well-rounded in certain ways than either. Where Pallante has lots of pitches but lacks one offering I see as a true out pitch, I think Ralston’s changeup has the potential to become a dominant weapon down the road. And whereas Locey can throw his fastball by just about anyone, he’s basically a one and a half pitch pitcher at this point, and has significant control issues to boot. Ralston, meanwhile, has three solid offerings and above-average control already.

Here’s what Ralston brings to the table: a solid-average fastball at 92-94 that features a tough plane for hitters due to his extremely high release point, a big overhand curve that should be at least average down the road and features good power and spin, if not pinpoint command (he could also benefit from backing off on how hard he throws it, in my opinion), and my personal favourite pitch in the arsenal, a killer changeup that will flash 60+ and has future potential as a putaway pitch to both lefties and righties. If things go well for Ralston, he could have a 50 fastball, 50 curve, and 60 or better changeup at maturity, with no platoon splits at all and plus command. If you can’t tell, I’m very much a fan of Ralston’s potential. I also advocate we christen his changeup death from above, because there just aren’t enough pitches with nicknames specific to the pitcher, I don’t think.

Really, my only concern is the delivery, not necessarily because I see any huge red flags for injury, but simply because his mechanic are...weird. You just don’t see major league pitchers with Ralston’s windmill, straight over the top arm action, and when it’s this hard to come up with a comp for something, there’s usually probably a reason for that. Ralston is actually somewhat of a late bloomer, as well, being a senior draftee out of UCLA who really wasn’t very good up until this spring, when he dominated the Pac-12. Ralston pitched in relief after being drafted, but I see no reason to believe he won’t be developed as a starter going forward.

If he’s good, it will look like: Let’s see, 6’6”, high release point, crazy changeup. If that sounds like a Michael Wacha starter kit, you’re getting pretty good at this player comp thing. The good news is that Ralston’s curve is probably better already than Wacha’s has ever been, though to be fair Ralston also doesn’t throw as hard as that early career version of Pac-Man that looked like a star in the making. Hopefully Ralston approaches that level in the future, and maybe manages to avoid the chronic injury issues which have taken such a toll on Michael Wacha over the years.

via Pac-12 Networks:

#23: Mateo Gil, SS

6’1”, 180 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 24th July 2000

Level(s) in 2019: Johnson City (Short Season), Palm Beach (High A, two games)

Relevant Stats: 225 PA, .270/.324/.431, 106 wRC+, 7 HR, 7.6% BB, 24.9% K

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Mateo Gil, son of former big leaguer Benji Gil (I am contractually obligated to mention that in any writeup), was a somewhat surprising third round pick by the Cardinals in 2018. I thought they could have gotten him later in the draft, but either they liked him that much or had good info that some other club might pop him before they got another shot. I hesitate to really say too much about when a team drafts a player, simply because they almost always have more information than anyone else about which organisations are sniffing around certain players. The good news is that in his first full professional season, Gil showed off some really intriguing tools, pointing to a higher potential ceiling than I probably gave him credit for.

We’ll start with the defense, which is actually where Gil is less exciting. He has the athleticism to play shortstop, even if he’s not exactly a burner in terms of foot speed, and his arm is probably his most notable asset. He’s still in the “tries to do too much,” phase of his development as a fielder, and tends to rush and make bad throws rather than recognising when no throw at all is better, but I’m not concerned about that. Learning when to back off is something that comes with maturity, and Gil only just turned nineteen at the end of July. He has plenty of time to develop that judgment.

It’s with the bat that Gil really showed off some exciting potential this year. He has serious swing and miss issues, which is concerning, but he also showed up with notably improved bat speed this year, which is intriguing. Seven homers in over 200 plate appearances isn’t exactly slugger territory, but I think it is important to point out that every professional baseball observer I contacted about Gil — and a couple of amateur ones, as well — made it a point to talk about how fast his bat was this year. The bat speed looked fine to me coming out of high school, but the few swings I saw him take in 2019 definitely appeared to show a guy whose wrists were developing some serious thunder. I wish I had seen more, but them’s the breaks when it comes to players in the low minors sometimes.

Of course, pure bat speed doesn’t always translate to production; Bryce Denton could swing the stick like nobody’s business, and he’s close to washing out of pro ball entirely at this point, sadly. A near-25% strikeout rate in the Appalachian League is definitely concerning, but the raw physical tools are notable enough to be excited about the upside with Gil. Down the road I think he ends up a multi-position player, rather than a shortstop exclusively, which seems to fit very well with modern baseball sensibilities.

If he’s good it will look like: As a middle infielder with plus power potential but questionable plate discipline, there’s a little bit of both Paul DeJong and Javy Baez in Gil’s profile. He’s not quite as notably athletic as Baez, particularly in terms of foot speed, but I actually don’t think it’s a bad comp. If Gil succeeds, I feel like it will be in a similar all over the field fashion, overcoming his empty swings by doing damage when he connects and playing solid to plus defense at multiple positions.

#22: Ramon Urias, 2B

5’10”, 160 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 3rd June 1994

Level(s) in 2019: Palm Beach (High A), Springfield (AA), Memphis (AAA)

Relevant Stats: 375 PA, .263/.369/.424, 97 wRC+, 11.7% BB, 18.9% K (Mem)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Ramon Urias was another player I had a tough time ranking this year, partially because of his advanced age, but more so because of his schizophrenic season. He began the season ice cold with the bat but putting up a crazy walk rate, missed most of June due to injury, struggled at both rehab stops, then crushed the ball from the middle of July through the end of the season. It all added up to a Triple A batting line that was slightly below league average, due to the Pacific Coast League playing like the surface of the moon for hitters this year, with Urias posting surprisingly strong on-base numbers but also showing a disappointing lack of pop in his bat. He ended up tracking toward something like a 12-15 homer season, which isn’t bad for a player who plays up the middle of the infield, but considering the level of offense in the PCL it was not exceptional, and more than the home runs it was simply not a season of particularly strong quality of contact for Urias, especially early.

At his best, Urias plays an above-average second base, probably lacks the arm to play short or third, and shows a roughly average bat. The extreme plate discipline he showed this season was a new development, and an exciting one at that, but he also earned the weak BABIP which drug down his numbers in April and May. If he can be a league-average hitter, that gives him a leg up on other middle infielders, obviously, but time is not on Urias’s side at this point. Tommy Edman clearly moved into the Cardinals’ future plans in 2019, and when Kolten Wong vacates second base it would seem Edman is the readymade replacement, so long as he isn’t needed worse elsewhere. Urias, meanwhile, will play most of the 2020 season at 26 years old, and needs a door to open somewhere so that he might attempt to step through it.

If he’s good, it will look like: Urias is a tough player for me to comp, because I don’t know if this newfound plate discipline is real or not. Notably, he was less patient late in the season when he was hitting better, which could be correlation or causation, I really have no idea. Maybe something like Jurickson Profar, hopefully without the absurdly low BABIPs which have plagued him since returning from shoulder issues?

#21: Trejyn Fletcher, OF

6’2”, 200 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 30th April 2001

Level(s) in 2019: Gulf Coast League (Rookie), Johnson City (Short Season)

Relevant Stats: 149 wRC+ (GCL), 65 wRC+ (JC), 4 homers, 7 stolen bases in 175 PA

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Of all the players I will cover over the course of this list, there is almost certainly no player with a greater gap between what he is and what he could be than Trejyn Fletcher. His story is unusual; he transferred from a private school in New York back to his home in Maine, then reclassified as a senior to graduate in 2019, rather than waiting for the 2020 class. He was a multi-sport athlete, and is now probably the most athletic player overall in the Cardinals’ system. On the other hand, as of right now he’s barely a baseball player, and has so much work to do that one can only barely see the outline of what sort of player he will ultimately be, as opposed to the player the Cardinals are obviously hoping he might be. I was shocked the organisation both drafted Fletcher and then managed to sign him away from a Vanderbilt commitment, and now the onus is on the development staff to polish this uncut gem into a stone worthy of a championship setting.

The raw materials are certainly there. Fletcher is a 60+ runner, posting occasionally elite times in the 40. He has 60+ grade raw power, as well, and while the swing is, um, kind of ugly, he can also put on a show in batting practice. He’s thrown 93 off the mound, giving him a plus arm in the outfield. This is, physically, what a 30/30 center fielder looks like. Again, though, at this point he’s a phenomenal athlete, and barely a baseball player. He will likely need to remake his swing, which is no small thing to do in pro ball.

Fletcher gets this spot on the list because the ceiling is so incredibly high. But his floor is also one of the lowest in the system. He could be a star, or he could stall out in Peoria. The Cardinals’ player development staff has a well-earned reputation for being one of the best in the business. Fletcher represents the kind of raw material that could make for a legendary developmental story. Or maybe not.

If he’s good, it will look like: Again, Fletcher is so far from being any kind of finished product that putting a comp on him seems like a waste of time and effort. He has Andruw Jones-level physical tools, if that helps to put into context why the Cardinals would consider a player this raw worth a high draft pick and a substantial signing bonus.