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The Peoria Chiefs just became must watch TV

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Supercharging the Low-A youth movement

enjoyillinois.com

I can’t let this news be drowned out by a maddening 10-6 Mother’s Day loss. May 13 was a momentous day for all of Cardinals prospectdom. You see, the system is rich with potent hitting talent unlike any time in recent memory. It’s very young hitting talent with short track records and therefore quite risky, but the high risk, high reward crop brewing in the low minors has the potential to become a formidable position player core. Youth also means lack of exposure, unfortunately, which limits the amount of looks a prospect geek such as myself can get on a player. Waiting is hard, and there just aren’t enough backfield videos, box scores or reports out there to kill the time. You’re left to dream on tools, with just a dash of performance.

No need to wait any longer. In a series of roster moves on Sunday, the club assigned teenage rookie-ball darlings Malcom Nunez and Jhon Torres to the Low-A Peoria Chiefs roster. In corresponding moves, outfielder Lars Nootbaar was promoted to the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals and infielder Edwin Figuera was sent to extended spring training. The promotion of Nootbaar is interesting and probably deserved. He’s been putting the ball in the air more in an effort to unlock his raw power, leading to game power numbers in line with his physical stature to go along with his impeccable plate discipline. The Florida State League is notorious for suppressing offense, however, making the decision to expose a bat-first prospect in the midst of an apparent swing/approach change to Palm Beach curious to say the least.

Nunez and Torres will join a Peoria offense that has been driven by another pair of precocious teens. The obvious name, of course, is Nolan Gorman. The 2018 first rounder has thrived in his return to the Midwest League, pounding eight home runs in 31 games for the Chiefs. Oh, and he only just turned nineteen on May 10. The other, less heralded teen is Ivan Herrera. Herrera is a sweet swinging, offensive minded catcher who torched the GCL last year while playing most of the season at 17 years old. The Cardinals pushed him aggressively to start the year, skipping extended spring in favor of a full-season gig. It was a surprising, but perhaps prescient, move. Out of all Midwest League players with at least 80 PA’s, Gorman and Herrera rank 10th and 13th, respectively, in wRC+. Sans Blue Jays youngster Jordan Groshans, only older players are outpacing the duo.

Gorman/Herrera 2019

Player Age G PA AVG OBP SLUG BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
Player Age G PA AVG OBP SLUG BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
Nolan Gorman 19 31 131 0.263 0.351 0.553 0.099 0.282 0.314 0.289 156
Ivan Herrera 18 20 82 0.273 0.402 0.455 0.146 0.268 0.357 0.182 153

More firepower is on the way, in the form of Nunez and Torres. Here’s the skinny.

Malcom Nunez - 3B

Nunez, a Cuban native, exploded into relevancy after inking a $300,000 deal with the Cardinals in 2018. It was a surprising signing, given that Nunez was a known offensive force on international youth circuits and the club was limited in its international free agent spending, but a revolving door of agents and signability concerns combined to conspire in the Cardinals favor. Nunez went straight to the Dominican Summer League, where he was clearly a men amongst boys en route to a triple crown.

Malcom Nunez 2018

G PA AVG OBP SLUG BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
G PA AVG OBP SLUG BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
44 199 0.415 0.497 0.774 13.1% 14.6% 0.437 0.360 238

Those video games numbers are backed up with some serious offensive tools. Not only does he receive excellent marks for his bat speed and raw power potential, but he has a mature approach at the plate and an instinctual feel for the barrel. His relative physical maturity (he’s already a thick 5’11, 205lbs after all) explains part of his dominance in rookie ball, but the consensus in prospect circles is that the bat is for real. Defensively, the future is much more murky. He’s already a below average runner, and while he does have a plus arm and average hands, his most likely home is first base. Here’s a glimpse, via Baseball America:

Jhon Torres - OF

The other newest Chief is no slouch either. Torres originally signed with the Cleveland Indians, finalizing a cheap $150,000 deal in 2016. He spent time in the DSL and AZL for the tribe before being dealt along with Conner Capel for Oscar Mercado in 2018. Upon joining the GCL Cardinals squad, Torres caught fire and flexed serious offensive potential.

Jhon Torres 2018

Team G PA AVG OBP SLUG BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
Team G PA AVG OBP SLUG BB% K% BABIP ISO wRC+
Indians AZL 27 111 0.273 0.363 0.424 9.9% 21.6% 0.324 0.152 122
Cardinals GCL 17 75 0.397 0.457 0.683 10.7% 17.3% 0.457 0.286 225
TOTAL 44 186 0.321 0.409 0.525 10.2% 19.9% 0.376 0.204 163

Small sample size to be sure, but Torres was clearly an athletically superior player outmatching his competition. There’s above average raw power in the tank already, but his projectable 6’4 frame screams at least plus, possible 65 grade raw power down the line. He’s athletic and fluid in the box, utilizing an exaggerated leg kick and quick hands to do damage from the right side. I’m of the same opinion as A.E. Schafer, thinking that the leg kick needs to be refined in favor of better balance throughout his swing, but the fact that he’s been able to post manageable strikeout rates with so many moving pieces bodes well for his hit tool down the line. He’s a potential middle of the order bat, albeit not of Nunez’s caliber, but a middle of the order threat all the same. He makes up ground on Nunez on the other side of the ball, however, showcasing a double-plus cannon that will play nicely in right field. And now a video I’ve watched far, far too many times, via Fangraphs:

Will all of the young hitters collecting in Peoria pan out? The short answer is no, there’s too-much age and level related risk to argue otherwise at this point. Still, there’s a good chance at least one of the lottery tickets hits, and I’ll take the quartet of Gorman/Nunez/Torres/Herrera over any other in the low minors.