The draft is now well and truly in the rearview mirror, about a month and a half ago, and while that’s certainly not a long period of time, it is long enough that a decent number of players selected this year have started putting up stat lines to which we can overreact. Of course, all the small sample caveats absolutely apply, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look and rub our chins thoughtfully while softly hmm-ing to ourselves, now does it?
Anyhow, we’ll just start at the top and go through the top ten today. I’ll circle back and grab some other later-round performances of note next time a Sunday rolls around, which, who knows when that might be.
Zack Thompson, LHP — GCL/Palm Beach (High A)
4.0 IP, 9.00 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 23.8% K%, 4.8% BB%, .462 BABIP (Palm Beach)
Thompson began his minor league career with two very effective (FIP of -0.50), innings pitching in the Cards’ complex league, then was bumped all the way up to High A ball, which is extremely aggressive for a player just getting his feet wet.
So far the returns have been good even in the Florida State League, where he has made four single-inning appearances and looked basically like what he was expected to be. The batted-ball luck has been rough so far (which is at least somewhat indicative of a pitcher shaking off the rust still and making mistakes over the plate more than is maybe ideal), but the strikeouts and walks have been solid. Six innings is obviously not nearly enough of a sample to really have strong feelings about, but Thompson will be one of the players most worth watching the rest of the season to see how he adjusts to such an aggressive placement.
Trejyn Fletcher, OF — GCL/Johnson City (Short-Season -)
42 PA, 9.5% BB%, 40.5% K%, 151 wRC+ (GCL), 27 PA, 11.1% BB%, 51.9% K%, 87 wRC+ (Johnson City)
Trejyn Fletcher’s performance so far in pro ball has been...very notable. He hit the ground running in the GCL, slashing and slugging his way to a well-above average batting line, then was pushed up to the Appalachian League, where he has found the going much tougher.
The first thing we have to note is, of course, the strikeout rate. Fletcher is striking out at a ghastly pace so far in pro ball, and that was true even when he was knocking the crap out of the ball in the complex league. The second thing to note is he has run BABIPs over .440 at both stops, and while we do see some elevated BABIPs in the low minors and big numbers often indicate a lot of luck, in Fletcher’s case those high figures agree with what I’ve been hearing, as well: this guy just hits the ball incredibly hard. (When he hits it, is the unfortunate second part of that sentiment.) As of right now, he’s hitting the ball extremely hard but often in suboptimal ways, but that’s obviously part of having an eighteen year old kid who was really supposed to be a 2020 draftee taking on recent college draft picks and second- or third-year pros in the Appy League.
It will be important to hopefully see Fletcher improve his contact rate as he goes the rest of the season. If that K rate number begins to head lower, it will be easy to be very optimistic about the Emperor’s future. If not, well, it may be an offseason of substantial hand-wringing.
Tony Locey, RHP — GCL/Peoria (Low A)
6.0 IP, 13 K, 50% K%, 26.9% BB%, 2.61 FIP (Peoria)
Another fairly aggressive promotion, thought not quite as aggressive as Zack Thompson going all the way to the FSL right off the bat, Locey threw a couple innings on the backfields and then headed up to the Midwest League, where he has basically not allowed any contact at all. At. All.
So far, Locey has faced 26 batters as a Peoria Chief. He has allowed zero home runs, and two hits. Two hits! He has struck out exactly half of those 26 hitters. Those are the good numbers. Here’s the bad one: seven walks.
Basically, if Locey doesn’t walk you, you’ve got no shot as a Midwest League batter. He’s striking out half the batters he sees, but walking over a quarter as well. He’s been about as two-true-outcomes-ish a pitcher as one could imagine. It’s also useful to note he will not turn 21 for about another week, so he was one of the younger college juniors taken in the draft this year. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s worth noting all the same. Obviously the walks are not great, but the sheer amount of swing and miss Locey is bringing to the mound so far in pro ball is extremely exciting.
Andre Pallante, RHP — State College (Short-Season +)
5 G, 15.1 IP, 2.35 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 24.6% K%, 8.2% BB%
Pallante has been solid so far for State College. Honestly, that’s about all I have to say. His rate stats look pretty good, he’s been a touch homer-prone (who isn’t these days, though?), and overall he’s been just fine. He’s made three starts and two relief appearances so far, which probably means nothing. Pallante is even younger than Locey, it should be noted. He won’t turn 21 until the middle of September.
Connor Thomas, LHP — State College/Peoria
15.2 IP, 1.73 FIP, 23.5% K-BB% (SC), 5.0 IP, 1.80 ERA/4.64 FIP, 21.1% K-BB% (Peo)
It’s not particularly surprising Connor Thomas was able to dominate short-season ball, considering how polished he is, even by major-college conference standards. The good news is he has mostly looked like the same pitcher since moving up to Peoria, striking out over a quarter of the hitters he’s faced while walking barely over 5%. We’ve seen this type of pitcher do extremely well in the low minors before, though; think of Mike O’Reilly just a couple years ago. Polished control artists can beat up on low-level competition pretty regularly. The question for Thomas will be what happens when he reaches, say, Double A.
Pedro Pages, C, State College
79 PA, 15.2% BB%, 19.0% K%, .281/.392/.406, 139 wRC+
Pedro Pages has been very good so far. His approach will probably never lead to much power, but he’s very disciplined and has good bat control. He’s not a dissimilar player to Jeremy Martinez, the bat-control monster catcher the Cards drafted a few years ago out of USC. Pages will have to hit for more power than Martinez has in pro ball if he wants to move up as a real prospect, but his discipline certainly gives him a leg up.
Jack Ralston, RHP, State College
6 G, 11.0 IP, 1.25 FIP, 37.8% K%, 2.7% BB%
Jack Ralston is too good for short-season ball. A 14:1 strikeout to walk ratio would seem to indicate that loud and clear. So far he’s been used exclusively as a reliever, which is mildly interesting, but could also be a reflection of a guy who pitched quite a lot this spring at UCLA being managed by his organisation. I’m hoping long term he gets at least a chance to start. Right now, though, he probably needs a bump to Peoria, to see how Midwest League hitters fare against his changeup.
Logan Gragg, RHP, State College/Peoria
8 G, 11.0 IP, 31.9% K%, 6.4% BB%, 2.79 FIP (SC)
Another very promising performance. Gragg has thrown only three innings (one game), for Peoria, so those numbers don’t mean basically anything. (He was good in that one game, though, for what it’s worth.) He’s pitching so far in roughly the same role he filled in college, and hasn’t really missed a beat.
Todd Lott, OF, Johnson City
108 PA, .316/.361/.469, 125 wRC+, 6.5% BB%, 16.7% K%
Lott was more raw as a hitter than one might expect coming out of college, and a Johnson City assignment reflects the organisation was a little more measured in their opinion of his readiness for a challenge. So far, Lott has done well for himself in the Appy League, making lots of contact and making a good impression with his legs. He’s three for three on stole base attempts, and his defense has gotten very good reviews from what I’ve heard. The downside is a very aggressive approach at the plate and only one home run in over 100 plate appearances. There’s a lot to like about Lott’s athletic ability, but he has plenty of developing still to do.
Jake Sommers, RHP, Johnson City
5 G, 3 GS, 16.2 IP, 3.24 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 26% K%, 5.2% BB%
Now this is a really interesting development. Not really the performance; Sommers has been solid at Johnson City, which isn’t really that notable considering he was a college senior and thus older than much of his competition in the Appalachian League. What’s notable is that three games started number. Sommers was a closer in college at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, not making a single start his senior season and really only ever being used as a starter for part of his junior year. Beyond that, he was always a reliever. The fact the Cardinals are using him so far in this swingman role could end up being nothing, of course; either they’re just trying to get him innings or they have a need on the JC roster or it’s part of an overall organisational plan. However, there’s also always the chance that the org sees something in this guy that makes them think he could maybe end up in a rotation or a John Gant-esque multi-purpose role down the line somewhere. I think this will be an intriguing mini-story to follow the rest of the way this season.
Overall, this group has gotten off to about as good a start to their respective careers as one could possibly hope. The Cards mostly targeted college performers in this year’s draft, and so far those performers have gone out and performed. This is not the sort of crop of players that could end up as a franchise-defining group, but they could absolutely end up a huge part of creating a solid platform on which the franchise can build a championship-level club. There are only a couple players in this draft with star potential, but this group of arms could produce multiple useful pieces to slot in around other future stars. It’s a group I like more the longer I’ve lived with it, and it doesn’t hurt that feeling at all that so many of these guys have looked so good out of the gate in professional ball.