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System Sundays: Three Up, Three Down 11th August 2019

All the best, and worst, of recent minor league performances.

MLB: MAR 06 Spring Training - Cardinals at Yankees Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Three Up

Randy Arozarena, OF

At this point, it’s completely impossible to ignore what Randy Arozarena is doing at Triple A, and it’s becoming frustrating to see him doing it while waiting for a 40 man roster spot to open up, even as Adolis Garcia and Drew Robinson both take up slots that could seemingly be put to better use.

Last night, Arozarena went 3-for-5 with a home run and a walk (no strikeouts), in a 12-3 Memphis drubbing of Fresno, raising his Triple A OPS to 1.016. He’s hit seven home runs in 227 plate appearances, which isn’t anything special necessarily, but his all-around game, resulting in a 150 wRC+ and plus defense in the outfield, is exactly the sort of promise we saw in his first looks stateside back in 2017. The difference now is he’s finally starting to put all the parts together at the same time, rather than showing off one or two skills and struggling in other departments.

Admittedly, the biggest part of Arozarena’s success this season is in the batted-ball department, as he is running a fairly ludicrous .432 batting average on balls in play. However, the thing is, I’ve watched quite a few of the games he’s played in Triple A this year, and while that number is completely unsustainable, he also isn’t getting lucky. It’s just that for about two months running now he has barreled up everything he’s looked at, hitting frozen ropes all over the field. He’s been like a minor league Mookie Betts all summer, basically, and really should make his big league debut sometime soon.

Michael Baird, RHP

One of the more unheralded prospects in the system, Baird has nonetheless put together a somewhat amazing season, and probably should have been featured in these pages before now. Better late than never, though, right?

Baird is older than many other prospects at his level, having just turned 24, due to him staying at SIU for all four years rather than being drafted as a junior. He’s originally from Colorado, not exactly the easiest place for a baseball player to get noticed, and it’s taken him a little more runway to get going. However, since beginning his pro career he’s basically seen nothing but success, and the only real question for me at this point is how his stuff will hold up as he hits the top levels of the minors. His ability to pitch and his understanding of the game are absolutely top notch; it’s just the repertoire you have to wonder about.

After being drafted last year in the 23rd round, Baird was assigned to State College, a fairly aggressive placement, and excelled immediately. He threw just shy of 45 innings and pitched to a 1.61 ERA, with a robust 23.8% K-BB%, driven by a solid strikeout rate and a gorgeous 3.1% walk rate. Somewhat surprisingly, he returned to State College to begin the season this year, but pretty quickly proved too good for the level, striking out a third of the batters he faced in just a handful of innings. He was promoted to Peoria, more of the same. Lots of strikeouts (28%), few walks (6%), and a 1.54 ERA. He threw less than a dozen innings for the Chiefs, and the organisation decided he was too good for that level, too. On to Palm Beach, and what do you know? Baird has dominated the Florida State League, as well, to the tune of a 31% strikeout rate and 3.6% walk rate, not to mention just eight hits in 14.2 innings pitched.

The really good outcome version of Baird is probably something like Joe Musgrove, who the Cardinals just faced last night. Multiple average pitches combined with outstanding strike-throwing ability, all adding up to a guy you would love to have holding down the middle of your rotation. The problem is that a guy with a couple 50s on his card and great command can be successful, but a guy with 40s and 45s with great command usually gets blown up around Double A. That’s the next jump for Baird, and it will be by far the most interesting test of his short career.

Ramon Urias, INF

It’s been a somewhat strange season for Ramon Urias, who came into 2019 with a lot of momentum after destroying Texas League pitching last year, then mostly keeping his head above water after a promotion to Triple A.

On the positive side, Urias is running by far the highest walk rate of his career this year, at 13.6% for the season, and hasn’t struck out at an alarming rate by any means. (17.1% for the year.) On the other hand, at the beginning of the season Urias was simply not making any kind of impact on the ball whatsoever, despite playing at Triple A with the livelier ball. His BABIP was low, his ISO was below .100, and he just looked like a popup and groundout machine.

Since coming back from the disabled list in early July, however, Urias has been an absolute beast. Same high walk rate (13.8%), with a little higher strikeout rate (20.7%), but a .227 ISO and .406 BABIP attest to the quality of contact he’s making. Oh, and five homers in just 116 trips to the plate. Tommy Edman has apparently established himself as a major leaguer of one sort or another at this point, but Urias has put himself firmly back on the map as far as future utility or second base work goes. Edman and Edmundo Sosa are both probably safer bets to stick around the majors for awhile, but Urias is the guy of that group with the real upside, I believe.

Three Down

Johan Oviedo, RHP

I don’t want to come off as overly negative on Johan Oviedo, because on the whole he’s had a very solid, productive season, and will certainly rank better on the various prospect lists (including yours truly’s), this offseason than he did last year. He’s struck out almost a quarter of Double A hitters he’s faced and is still just 21. So overall, really good year.

However, I think it’s also a fact that, having watched Oviedo a fair amount in Double A this season, he seems to be wearing down. The stuff looks less crisp of late, he’s fighting to put hitters away, and his walk rate is still a problem. He did throw a spectacular game against Corpus Christi a couple weeks ago, but got shelled his last time out and in general has just looked flatter since around the beginning of July than he did early on. It’s not that I’m worried about Oviedo’s overall stuff or development, but I do worry a little about his ability to hold up over a whole season. We’ve seen his stuff tick down late in the year every season he’s been in the Cards’ system, and it looks to me like he’s fighting some of that same fatigue this year again. Maybe not, and it’s just some slightly out of whack mechanics or the stress of seeing the same teams over and over again in the claustrophobic Texas League, but it’s something I’m a little concerned about going forward with Oviedo.

I’m hoping to see him rebound and finish strong; the last month of the season for Oviedo could be the difference between ranking, say, in the top ten in the system and tumbling to the 15-20 range.

Adolis Garcia, OF

I already tipped my hand a bit above in complaining about Randy Arozarena not having a 40 man roster slot available, but Adolis Garcia is having one of the strangest, and really one of the least encouraging, seasons imaginable.

Here’s the thing about Garcia: it’s kind of hard to imagine him doing the things he’s good at any better than he has this season. He’s taking advantage of his plus raw power by hitting the ball in the air an absurd 52.6% of the time. He’s converting those fly balls into home runs at a very good 16.6% clip. He’s hit 25 dingers in just over 450 plate appearances this season, and added a dozen stolen bases as well. In terms of physical tools, Adolis Garcia is a prototype for how one would build a perennial 20/20 outfielder — and a center fielder at that.

The problem is that despite doing the things he does well as well as you can imagine, Garcia is still a well-below average hitter, posting an 80 wRC+ in Triple A this year. How is that possible? He’s running a 9:1 strikeout to walk ratio, which would make him a dominant closer, but makes him kind of a terrible hitter. His on-base percentage is just .294. His ISO is in close to .250, but his slugging percentage is still below .500. It’s like if Javy Baez were secretly a bad baseball player. Or if Randal Grichuk had even less command of the strike zone. Garcia is such an extreme player that it’s hard to find any comps for him, honestly. And overall, despite those incredible physical gifts, he’s just not very good. It’s tempting to want to keep him around as a fourth outfielder candidate, given his ability to play good defense in all three spots and lightning-bolt power potential, but the whole is so much less than the sum of the parts here that I just don’t think you can afford to keep using a roster spot on him in the hopes he puts things together at the age of 26.

Jacob Schlesener, LHP

Schlesener is one of my favourite pitchers in the Cardinals’ system, so it hurts me to write this. I even went out on a limb ranking him in the top 30 last offseason, banking on his spectacular strikeout-and-ground-ball abilities and gradually improving walk rate to translate into a breakout this season.

Instead, Schlesener opened the year at Peoria, his first shot at full-season ball, and he tanked. Hard. Like a 33% walk rate in 16.2 innings hard. Demoted back once again to short-season ball, Schlesener has been...fine. The walks are still too high — 13.8% BB% in State College — and he seems to struggle badly pitching out of the stretch, but the good stuff is still there as well. His strikeout rate for the Spikes is almost 30%, his ground ball rate is almost 60%. Jacob Schlesener is exceedingly good at not allowing balls to leave the infield, is the point. Problem is, hitters don’t have to do anything if you’re just going to put them on first base if they stand there long enough.

Schlesener is working long relief outings now as much as he’s starting, and still the walks keep piling up. Two walks in two innings. Three walks in three. Three walks in 3.1. He did throw two clean innings last night against Batavia, striking out four hitters in two innings while allowing neither a hit nor a walk (though even here he hit a batter...), so maybe he should be in the three up category, seeing as how one good outing in a row is about as long a streak as we’ve seen from him. The problem is that Schlesener is now almost 23 years old, is Rule V eligible this offseason (though I can’t imagine a club taking a chance on him, unless it’s in the minor league phase), and is basically the same pitcher he’s been since about 2017. His xFIP for the Spikes is 3.76, so it’s clear he’s doing some things well enough to form a foundation on which a very good pitcher could be built, but there’s just so much going against Schlesener at this point that I have serious doubts he’s ever really going to break through his control issues and become the guy his talent suggests he could be.