Today, I’ll talk about two positions - four technically - that are essentially polar opposites. At 1B, you have Paul Goldschmidt, who is the endgame. He’s what you hope prospects will be. But he’s already on the declining phase of his career and he’s probably not going to return to what he was. In the OF, with the exception of Dexter Fowler, you have young players, who probably will be better than they ever were, which isn’t difficult to do when you don’t have much to beat.
And because of that, the organizational depth of each varies in importance. Goldschmidt, for the foreseeable future, renders a farm system meaningless. Nobody in the farm will threaten Goldschmidt’s position at starting 1B for at least three years and probably all five. The OF situation on the other hand is the entire reason for farm systems existing. Two of the top ten prospects in the Cards system are going to play meaningful innings and Tyler O’Neill is essentially still a prospect as well. So keep that in mind when I go over the depth of each position.
Just because you have an established, locked-in starter with a long-term, expensive contract does not necessarily mean you can ignore the farm system below that player at that player’s position. But... you pretty much can when it comes to first base. There’s a two-fold problem: a 1B can’t move anywhere further down the defensive spectrum and just about everyone can play 1B in a pinch. So obviously, the farm system is there for injuries, but if Goldschmidt gets injured, Matt Carpenter plays 1B. Or Brad Miller.
There’s also Rangel Ravelo, who at least as of now is set to make the team. He’s out of options and to me at least, there’s little reason to think he’s any good, so while I’m not discounting that he could make the team, I would be surprised if he both made the team and lasted the entire 2020 season with the team. He’ll obviously play more OF if he does make the team than 1B though.
A more interesting guy (with a better projection!) is John Nogowski, who I also doubt is very good, but has the interesting quirk of walking more than he strikes out, which he’s now done two years in a row. He’s not being considered because he’s 27, but so is Ravelo so who knows. AAA is full of old for their level guys. Part-time catcher Chris Chinea had a 113 wRC+ in AA in his second stop and will be 26 in May. Yariel Gonzalez sucked at Palm Beach, got promoted to Springfield anyway and unexpectedly crushed, but he too will turn 26 on June 1st.
At Springfield, the Cardinals have what may very well their only true 1B prospect in Luken Baker. Baker is soon to be 23, coming off a solid campaign at Palm Beach. He to date has not shown anything resembling the power required to be an MLB 1B, but both Peoria and Palm Beach are tough on hitters and he’s listed at 6’4, 265 pounds, so you have to think the power is coming. Each level must have a theme, because Zach Kirtley has shown even less power than Baker and doesn’t have the benefit of being 6’4, 265 pounds. He’s also already played a half season at Springfield and didn’t see a huge power boost. I’ll get to Juan Yepez in the OF section, because... if they carry all three of these guys, he’s probably playing the OF (or 3B?)
At Palm Beach will be the 12th rounder of the 2016 MLB Draft, Brady Whalen. Drafted out of high school, he has risen slowly through the system. He has consistently posted above average numbers, but just barely. He could really help himself out with a breakout 2020, because that means he’d end the year at Springfield and he’d probably have to be protected from the Rule 5. That’s a longshot right now though.
The upper minors depth is not a wholly unfamiliar aspect, so I won’t spend much time on it. I’m operating under the assumption that Lane Thomas makes the team, that Justin Williams and Austin Dean will not, which means they’ll start at Memphis. I too expect Dylan Carlson to start in AAA.
In Springfield (probably), there’s a couple former prospects in Connor Capel and Scott Hurst. Capel lost his shine with an absolutely terrible season in AA last year. I imagine he’ll repeat. Hurst split time between Palm Beach and Springfield and wasn’t good at either stop. Capel has a shot to regain his prospect status: he’s only 23 and in AA. Hurst has a bigger hurdle, what with turning 24 in March and his last good season was an injury-shortened season in A ball.
Yepez, the return for Matt Adams back in 2017, had a really good 2019. See in 2018, Juan Yepez had about the best 25 games you can have at Peoria, so the Cardinals promoted him to Palm Beach, and he fell flat on his face. I’m talking hit like Pete Kozma bad. So to begin 2019, he was not assigned to a full season team. Not until June 3 was he sent to Peoria. He lasted a month. So they sent him Palm Beach. He lasted 29 games. All the while he played nearly equally at 1B, 3B, LF, and RF. This man rose from the dead last year guys.
Another quick and unlikely ascent was from Lars Nootbar, the 8th round pick from 2018. He pretty well sucked in State College last year after being drafted, but the Cards sent him to Peoria anyway. Scouting! And it paid off. He had a 128 wRC+, so they promoted him quickly to Palm Beach and they promoted him to Springfield at the first sign of life he showed (104 wRC+). Here’s another good story: Justin Toerner, who was drafted in the 28th round. That’s pretty late. He began the season at Palm Beach, and lasted 54 games, and he was promoted because of a 142 wRC+. He had a 103 wRC+ at Springfield to end the year.
21-year-old Leandro Cedeno needed two years in the DSL and then only played in 9 games in the GCL once he made it stateside. But in 2018, he hit for a 160 wRC+ at Johnson City, so the Cards skipped him to Peoria. He managed an above line, but with a 25% K rate and 4% BB rate, so that’s going to need to improve. Wadye Infante had a disappointing season. Despite a 35% K rate at State College and a below average line, he spent most of the year in Peoria. The K rate improved to 28%, just about nothing else in his batting did though and he ended with a 69 wRC+.
Kevin Woodall, a soon-to-be 24-year-old, hit for a 149 wRC+ at Johnson City in 2018, and struggled in 18 games at State College. He repeated State College in 2019, hit a homer in his first game and then... hurt for the rest of the year. 21-year-old Jonatan Machado is still trying to get over the A ball hurdle. He crushed State College, but only managed an 85 wRC+ at Peoria. 15th round 2019 pick David Vinsky hit for a 117 wRC+ at State College with only a 17 K% (but also a .089 ISO).
Jhon Torres, who turns 20 in March, started last season at Peoria, but wasn’t ready (36 wRC+), so they sent him to Johnson City, where he annihilated the competition (149 wRC+). He may start 2020 in Peoria again. Terry Fuller, the much talked about 15th rounder in 2017 (here at least), struggled to start his career, but he may have earned a promotion to Peoria with a 109 wRC+ at State College with only a .310 BABIP.
In rookie ball, the Cardinals have Trejyn Fletcher, a 2nd rounder drafted out of little scouted Maine. His 2019 was... very odd, but he was only 18. He spent 9 games in the GCL, and struck out 17 times. He also hit 2 HRs and 3 2Bs and basically got a hit every time he made contact, which is why he had a 149 wRC+. He got sent to Johnson City, where striking out 44.4% of the time was less successful, even though he still had a .400+ BABIP. I’m guessing he stays at Johnson City and I hope he cuts waaaaay down on his Ks.
Then there’s 26th prospect in the system according to Fangraphs, who is a 19-year-old out of the DSL. They had Adanson Cruz 30th in 2018, so I’ll give credit there since he hit for a better line last year. Joerlin de los Santos shows maybe why you shouldn’t put DSL guys in your top prospect list however, as his 174 wRC+ in 2018 turned into a 38 wRC+ in the GCL. Not a single extra base hit. Lastly, Patrick Romeri was a 12th rounder out of high school who had a pretty strong debut in the GCL, with a 129 wRC+. Too many strikeouts but a good walk rate and a .217 ISO, which seems really high for someone has young as he is.
(Also worth mentioning is former 1st round pick Nick Plummer, who struck out 33.4% of the time at Palm Beach for an 88 wRC+. He’s still somehow just 23.)
And there you have it. I combined first base and outfield for expediency reasons, but it also works since that’s where players typically move if they can do it. If an outfielder is maybe not the best outfielder, they move him to 1B. If you’re trying to get a 1B more playing time, you move him to the OF. We’ve seen MLB examples of this, so of course it happens much more commonly in the minors.
It’s worth reiterating how strong the system is in the OF, which is of course why the Cardinals didn’t decide to replace Marcell Ozuna (and also traded both Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena). And we all know about the AAA guys ready to have a chance to contribute to the MLB, but there’s also a fair amount of AA guys who will be threatening their spots too in Nootbar, Toerner, and Yepez. So we’ll get to see a lot of the farm in 2020 and 2021. The Cardinals seem to have a solid track record with developing average-ish players, so it should be fun.