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The 2020 Viva El Birdos Top Prospects List: The Just-Missed List, Pt. 1

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The top prospects list is back again, beginning with those who landed on the outside, looking in.

Memphis Cityscapes And City Views Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sick. Like, really sick. I usually get sick once a year, suffer for a few days, hole up in bed and tell my friends and loved ones to just stay away from me, and then I get over it. My entire post-Thanksgiving weekend has essentially been spent in that holed-up state, and I’m still sick enough my leg muscles and back feel like someone beat me with a mop handle, and I’m honestly thinking an extra day off from work sounds really nice. I won’t take it, of course, but it sure does sound good.

Anyhow, enough of my carping. Here we are again, prospect list time. Cue Andy Williams belting out “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. Does Andy Williams still have a theatre in Branson? He was one of the first big star names I can remember relocating to the Vegas of the Ozarks (a name that evokes more darkness than any other phrase in human history, methinks), on a more or less permanent basis back when I was a kid. You had things like the Baldknobbers, the country bumpkin minstrel show, but Andy Williams was a pretty big deal, or at least I seem to remember him being one in the 80s. Hmm. Looking at the Branson tourism website, it looks like a whole lot of nostalgia-based acts and a general aesthetic that screams contemporary christian rock. Okay, closing that.

So prospect list time. From now through the end of the year — New Year’s Eve falls on a Wednesday this year, and that will be the day I shoot for as the final installment of this list (minus potential supplemental material, which I almost always come up with as time goes on) — I will be periodically posting editions of the list, counting down the top 30+ prospects in the Cardinals’ system. I’m going to do five players per post this year instead of ten and just do more posts, because the big ten-player jobs can get fairly unwieldy. I think I may have done it this way last year, but I won’t swear to it, and nothing from the past can ever be looked up on the internet, sadly, so I’m going to assume I instituted this seemingly good idea in 2018.

What we have here today, though, is the first edition of players who did not make it into the top 30, but should still be highlighted in my ever so humble opinion. Note that these are not specifically prospects 31 through 35, nor will the second edition of the just-missed list be 31-35 or 36-40; rather, these are simply guys who did not get ranked but who I want to talk about.

Let’s rock?!

Patrick Romeri, OF

6’3”, 195 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 29 June 2001

Level(s) in 2019: GCL Cardinals (Rookie)

Relevant Stats: 162 PA, .246/.346/.464, 129 wRC+, 11.7% BB, 28.4% K

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I want Patrick Romeri to be ranked in the top 30. I really do. I think he is a serious physical talent who could jump up into the discussion of breakout prospects as soon as 2020. However, the fact is he is only eighteen years old (won’t turn nineteen until next June), and has not played above the Gulf Coast League level yet. As much as I love the athletic tools, it’s hard for me to rank a guy in the complex leagues, even one who hit very well there, above other players whose potential I might think less of, but who are far, far closer to attaining that potential.

When the Cardinals made Romeri their selection in the twelfth round of this past year’s draft — and he was only the second high schooler taken, which certainly tickled my antennae a bit — I really didn’t know much of anything about him. I had seen the name once or twice on follow lists, but that was about it. I didn’t scout him, hadn’t really seen him. It didn’t take long, however, to start getting excited about what he brings to the table.

What Romeri brings to said table is good physical size — 6’3” and 195, with a frame that will probably handle 210-215 at full maturity — and an intriguing blend of tools that could make him an impact outfielder down the road. He has plus raw power, which showed up in games more than I expected in his pro debut, and as of right now his is very much a power over hit offensive profile, as evinced by his 28% strikeout rate. Those strikeouts actually come with a surprisingly mature approach at the plate, however, and his elevated K rate was at least partially a function of deep counts, rather than a problematic swing and miss issue. He’s a 55 runner, has a plus throwing arm (up to 91 mph off the mound as a high schooler), and just generally shows an ability to do a little bit of everything on the baseball field.

Other than switch-hitting, Romeri’s package of tools isn’t really all that different from a draft-age Dylan Carlson. How his strikeout rate tracks as he moves up the ladder will be something to watch, definitely, but the potential is there for Romeri to end up a corner outfielder with a well-rounded game where he does everything pretty well, and really has no weaknesses. He’s too far away at this point for me to rank him, particularly when the tools are 50s and 55s, rather than someone like Trejyn Fletcher, who is just as far away and was also just drafted this year, but whose own tools grade out up to 60+ in terms of future potential.

Austin Warner, LHP

5’11”, 185 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 27th June 1994

Level(s) in 2019: Springfield (AA), Memphis (AAA)

Relevant Stats: 82.1 IP, 3.83 ERA/3.95 FIP, 17.9% K-BB% (Spr); 60 IP, 5.70 ERA/6.86 FIP, 8.9% K-BB% (Mem)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

If you like soft-tossing lefties, Austin Warner is probably your number one option in the system right now. Crafty certainly applies; so does competitive. He doesn’t have big stuff, but Warner is quite capable of attacking hitters in multiple ways, very smart ways, in order to keep them off balance and get them out.

The problem, sadly, is that lack of big stuff, and where that sets the ceiling for a pitcher like Warner. There are still pitchers who get it done in the big leagues today without elite velocity, but the margins for error seem thinner than ever, particularly considering what the lively ball has meant for pitchers. Look at what happened to Warner when he ascended to the Pacific Coast League, where they used the big league ball this season. His ERA exploded, going up by almost two runs, and his FIP actually rose by almost three. Warner is not a groundball-heavy pitcher, rather doing his business by creating a blend of weak contact. The trouble is that the quality of hitter at the top levels of the game, and the liveliness of the ball, makes weak contact a much riskier game than it used to be.

Warner’s repertoire consists of a fastball that ranges from about 88-91 mph, a big curveball that has good size but occasionally gets a little loopy, and a nice little changeup he can fade away from right-handed hitters. None of the pitches are outstanding, but they play well together, and Warner is smart about how he mixes them. To my eye, though, he needs to add something, probably a cutter, to work the third base side of the plate more effectively. He doesn’t work inside to righties enough, and I think that’s a big part of where his struggles in Triple A came from. A cutter he could bust in on right-handed hitters’ hands would help, I think.

Warner has already overcome some very long odds to get as far as he has; he was undrafted out of college and played for the River City Rascals for a year before being signed by the Cardinals. With that background, you never want to count a guy out. I’m not sure Warner’s stuff is good enough to survive in a live ball big league world. Then again, if he could add just another little something, some additional wrinkle to his repertoire, I think it would help him quite a bit.

Patrick Dayton, LHP

6’0”, 170 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 20th July 1995

Level(s) in 2019: Palm Beach (High A), Springfield (AA, only one appearance)

Relevant Stats: 42 G, 59.1 IP, 3.64 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 17.1% K-BB, 54.6% GB

So, what’s so great about this guy?

In 2018, pitching at Low A Peoria, Patrick Dayton struck out a videogame-like 34.5% of the hitters he faced. He moved up to High A Palm Beach this past season, and things did not go as much in his favour. His strikeout rate dropped significantly, falling from that mid-30% number down to 23.8%. That’s still not bad, exactly, but it was somewhat disappointing to see him missing so many fewer bats.

On the other hand, Dayton still posted a solid ratio between walks and strikeouts, rolled up big time ground ball totals, and just generally avoided situation where hitters could do much damage to him. He works from a low arm slot, flipping a variety of angles on his breaking ball, and can be murder on lefties. The new relief roles going into place in 2020 present an interesting challenge for guys of this ilk, even though Dayton has not been used as a lefty specialist in his career so far. The low arm slot lefty with the great breaking ball has, traditionally, fit into that LOOGY role, which no longer exists. Dayton has mostly succeeded against right-handed batters in the minors, but there is definitely some concern his arm slot and approach will make him more vulnerable to opposite-handed hitters than is ideal. With the new rules limiting how much you can shield a pitcher from undesirable matchups, it’s an open question if certain types of pitchers will be pushed to the margins.

I expect Dayton to return to Double A to open the 2020 season, and we’ll see how his ability to keep the ball on the ground and neutralise lefties will hold up against high level competition. At his best, Dayton would probably comp to someone like Zach Duke.

Delvin Perez, SS

6’3”, 175 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 24th November 1998

Level(s) in 2019: Peoria (Low A)

Relevant Stats: 506 PA, .269/.329/.325, 95 wRC+, 5.3% BB, 23.1% K

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Oh, Delvin Perez. Such a disappointing career so far for a player who had so much promise athletically when he was drafted. On the surface, a 95 wRC+ might look somewhat encouraging for a defensively-minded shortstop, but the fact is that Perez benefited heavily from an elevated BABIP this season (.359), and posted both the worst walk and strikeout rates of his career. Oh, and he still showed exactly zero power. In other words, Delvin Perez played every day in 2019, put up a line close to league average, and still threw up tons of red flags.

On the upside, Perez still has all those defensive tools that made him such an attractive player as an amateur, including a plus-plus throwing arm and superior range. He’s capable of making any play, and any throw, that the shortstop position can throw at a player. He’s also still a plus or better runner, and can create serious value on the bases. In many ways, Delvin Perez most resembles a player like Harrison Bader, where you’re hoping they can be just good enough as a hitter to stay in the lineup where all the other things they bring to the table can create good value.

The biggest for Perez, full stop, is the fact he simply hasn’t gotten any bigger or stronger since being drafted. He’s still painfully thin, and pitchers simply knock the bat out of his hands much of the time. The more time goes by, the more obvious it is why he was caught trying to add muscle via PEDs prior to the draft. It looks like on his own, he just can’t do it.

Bryan Dobzanski, RHP

6’4”, 220 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 31st August 1995

Level(s) in 2019: Palm Beach (High A), Springfield (Double A), Memphis (AAA, only three innings)

Relevant Stats: 16.4% K-BB (PB), 17.0% K-BB (Spr), 3.19 xFIP (PB), 3.61 xFIP (Spr), 59.1% GB (PB), 52.3% GB (Spr)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Once upon a time, Bryan Dobzanski was a two-sport high school star, whose wrestling career was arguable more impressive than his abilities on the diamond. The Cards drafted him late in 2014 draft and paid him a big bonus to turn pro in the hopes that his fast arm and natural sink would put him on something like a Justin Masterson career path. (That’s Masterson in Cleveland circa 2011ish, before his arm started to fall apart, obviously.)

Unfortunately, that never really happened, and Dobzanski showed an odd sort of hesitance to ever cut loose with his stuff as a starter. As a high schooler, he had gotten his fastball up to 94-95 at times, but as a minor league starter he just as often pitched in the upper 80s, with a seeming timidity borne of actually trying too hard to be a pitcher, and not just a thrower. He nibbled. He paced himself. He leaned on his secondary pitches, and allowed his fastball to languish in obscurity. At no point as a starter did Dobzanski ever seem to just let it fly and attack hitters with the same level of stuff and confidence he appeared to have as a part-time pitcher in high school.

He moved to the bullpen partway through the 2017 season, but it has really been just the last two years that he has been a reliever full time. And in those two seasons, he has looked like a completely different pitcher. Now his fastball runs up to 97 or even 98 mph, still with that bowling ball heaviness that makes him so hard to lift. What was once a pretty good curveball is now a hard slider, and it’s at least average and probably above most days. In his first four seasons as a pro, Dobzanski never struck out even 20% of the hitters he faced. In 2019 he struck out close to 30% at both High A and Double A.

To be sure, Dobzanski still has work to do. His command is shaky, and he still walks too many hitters. He struggled down the stretch, badly, though I honestly did not see him pitch enough to have a good feel for whether that was fatigue, better hitters making an adjustment, or just random rough patch of poor performance. He is eligible for the Rule V draft this year, and while he’s not a huge risk to be taken, I don’t think, it also wouldn’t shock me to see a bad team take a chance on him to see if they might be able to pull a late-inning reliever out of the ether simply because his development has been on the slow side.