Welcome to the first installment of this year’s Cardinal Minor League Report. We now have minor league baseball back for the first time since early September of 2019. There are prospects in the system that I’m sure many are excited to follow, and we haven’t had anything like continued minor league coverage on this site for some time. In a way, understanding more about the minor league players, will also help my transactional work in the sense that I might better understand why certain moves are made. So I’ve decided to get a MILB.TV subscription and I’ll be bringing you an article on the minor leagues on Monday afternoons. I’ve chosen Monday because every Cardinal full-season minor league club will play a six-game series from Tuesday through Sunday and will have Monday off. Featuring the article on Monday will allow me to analyze every club one series at a time and preview the next one. Now I’ll give you a brief introduction of what to expect and what not to expect, so we’re all in good shape. There are several potential limitations of this coverage that are important for you to understand at the outset so you’re not disappointed.
First, I am not trying to be someone I’m not. I’m not a scout. Although I’ve watched baseball very closely for a long time, I’m unlikely to be able to tell you why a pitcher can’t get his fastball over. I think there are many people out there who are thought to be scouts or to be engaging in scouting when they’re not. I don’t believe you can truly scout a player unless you’re watching him in person because the television productions don’t allow the vantage points you want to see for a particular player. The data and video that’s publicly available isn’t sufficient to really scout a player The television productions are supposed to be more professional this year with the MLB takeover of the minor leagues, but some camera operators struggle to follow the ball for whatever reason. The last thing is that while minor league data like exit velocity exists, it’s not publicly available. The announcers sometimes will tell you how fast a pitch was thrown, but there’s nothing visible to let you know pitch velocity. Gameday doesn’t tell you how fast the pitch was thrown or what type of pitch it was. Many times we’ve seen that the data betrays our eyes, and all I can offer is my best assessment.
*Tommy Parsons made the opening day start for Memphis and started off like a house of fire, striking out four batters in the first two innings, and seven batters through four. But in that fourth, he faced the order for a second time and got crushed, with most pitches either right down the heart of the plate or non-competitive. Parsons features a fastball, slider, curve and change. The curve can come in two varieties, with one a much slower eephus type curve. On opening night, his change flashed above average at times, but mostly either hung right down the middle or sailed high and to his arm side. Because Parsons pitched in the bullpen when Oviedo started on Sunday, I’m fairly certain that Parsons wasn’t the initial option to make the opening day start. When he came in to pitch in relief of Oviedo on Sunday, he walked 5 batters in 4 innings pitched.
*Miles Mikolas made a rehab start for the Redbirds and it took him 58 pitches to get 7 outs. When he walked the final hitter he faced, his four-seamer was at 88 mph, which is about 6 mph slower than the average fastball velocity he featured in 2019. Mikolas allowed a homer on a sinker to the first batter he faced, and got hit hard at times, but flashed all of his pitches and threw strikes before he tired. Not ready yet, but he showed decent command of his pitches.
Vidal Bruján just led off the game with a home run off Miles Mikolas & we're already having fun. pic.twitter.com/DwzXME0PW3— Durham Bulls (@DurhamBulls) May 5, 2021
*Matthew Liberatore: Liberatore’s start was frustrating to watch because of the production of the broadcast. I understand minor league clubs rely heavily on local promotions to create a bond with the community, but in this particular case it was maddening. During the 3rd inning, they did a segment with a woman that runs a local establishment to talk about beer-drinking goats. Which is fine. But for some reason, the people running the production decided, at that moment, to orient the camera to make it less likely that you could see Liberatore’s pitches. Sometimes the camera went straight up to either the pitcher’s or batter’s face so that you couldn’t see the pitch. At other times they used a camera like you were watching from the upper deck, but behind home plate. At least once, they missed a pitch completely because they cut to the announcer talking with the establishment owner and didn’t cut back to the action in time. I couldn’t identify what the pitch was that a Durham player crushed over the left field fence half-way up the hill for a 2-run homer, other than that it was up-and-in.
Liberatore prioritized his fastball, slider and changeup over the curveball that we know and love, at least as best that I could see. He struck out Wander Franco, the consensus best prospect in baseball with a buried slider low-and-in. At times he hung the slider high, and at times it flashed at least average. It’s clear that he’s trying to improve it. Although his change didn’t stand out, he maintained fastball command, didn’t walk anyone and was able to throw 80 pitches and 6 innings. It has to be considered a success for a first AAA start.
Here are some highlights:
Here to bless your timelines with some Matthew Liberatore highlights— Memphis Redbirds (@memphisredbirds) May 7, 2021
Six innings and five K’s in his AAA debut! pic.twitter.com/AGQJCZEd35
*Angel Rondon got crushed. A lot of fastballs right down the middle without movement, and lots of hard contact. He allowed three home runs in excess of 420 feet. The Redbirds were already down 4-0 before he could go through the order a second time.
*It took Zack Thompson 88 pitches to get 11 outs. He looked great in the first inning when he struck out the side. He showed he can bury his slider low-and-in to right-handers and flashed a gorgeous curveball as good or better than we’ve seen from Liberatore. Thompson’s fastball command dissipated after about 50 pitches. He talked manager Ben Johnson into leaving him in to face the top of the order for the 3rd time in the top of the 4th, served up a batting practice fastball on a 3-2 count and got crushed for a 2-run homer. He doesn’t have the velocity to work up in the zone with his heater, as the following clips show.
*The Redbirds had Johan Oviedo make the start on Sunday, May 9th on 3 days of rest instead of starting Parsons again, and there was a rain delay of over an hour to boot. He hit the first batter, then got crushed for a 2-run homer later in the inning. Other than being a pitch up in the zone, I can’t tell you what it was, because the camera operator started off with an angle to the side right up in Oviedo’s face.
In the last inning Oviedo pitched, he gave up a walk, a sharp groundball off of his shoulder and a 2-run double. He was pulled after 49 pitches and 5 earned runs allowed.
ODDS AND ENDS
Four positions on the diamond are clear for the club—Scott Hurst at CF, Max Moroff at 3B, Jose Rondon at SS and Kramer Robertson in CF. Lars Nootbaar has also played all the games in RF since Lane Thomas was recalled to the majors. Dennis Ortega has split time with Tyler Heineman at catcher, and Matt Szczur and Conner Capel have shared the LF duties. Evan Mendoza has been cast as the first baseman even though he has never shown the power associated with the position. Austin Dean has only played 2 games as the DH. Alex FaGalde has control problems, and Connor Jones has decent pitches but has alternated between spotty control and being hit hard. Junior Fernandez has a devastating changeup that is a true strikeout pitch and flashed 98 mph on the gun, but his change only works right when he has fastball command and gets ahead in the count, which he hasn’t always been able to do. There hasn’t been a lot of offense from the Redbirds, and the club needed a Matt Szczur walkoff single in the 10th inning on Sunday to avoid getting swept in the 6-game series against Durham. Max Moroff has been their best offensive player. Jose Rondon has 3 homers, but has also struck out 9 times to only 1 walk in 27 trips to the plate. Robertson has shown good hands and range at second base, and I’d be comfortable with him in a major league infield from a defensive standpoint.
*I was wrong in my preview about C Julio Rodriguez. I was right that he had a wrist injury, but wrong in that he would not be ready for opening day. He was listed as on the injured list when the minor league spring training roster was released on April 11th, but he was indeed ready for opening day.
*RHP Griffin Roberts was placed on the 7-day IL on May 5th, so we didn’t see him in the Springfield rotation during the first series. I don’t know how serious his injury or how long he will be out of action. RHP Edgar Gonzalez was also placed on the 7-day IL on May 7th.
*It’s been a mixed bag for Nolan Gorman. He’s already struck out 10 times in only 25 trips to the plate, and his timing has been off a lot. There was also a play where he just ran into home plate when a clear slide was in order. He has been facing better breaking pitches and changeups than he has in the past. He does have 6 walks, an opposite field homer, and some good defensive plays at 3rd base. He has not played 2nd base yet. Here are some highlights:
So about this new 3rd baseman... pic.twitter.com/RFCby1NFga— Springfield Cardinals (@Sgf_Cardinals) May 5, 2021
Nolan Gorman first Double-A home run alert! pic.twitter.com/aGrbI2LzoX— Springfield Cardinals (@Sgf_Cardinals) May 9, 2021
*Delvin Perez has been wildly swinging at just about everything, pulling his head and almost falling over chasing pitches out of the strike zone. He’s got 8 strikeouts and no walks in 21 trips to the plate, but has been able to BABIP some singles.
*Juan Yepez has hit the ball hard, and has been hit twice and walked twice to just one strikeout. He has been splitting time at 1B and DH with Luken Baker, who has 10 strikeouts in 20 plate appearances to just 1 walk.
JUAN YEPEZ. THE LEAD. pic.twitter.com/QzDw0rASm7— Springfield Cardinals (@Sgf_Cardinals) May 7, 2021
*Ivan Herrera has 9 strikeouts in 25 trips to the plate, but did grab his first homer of the year.
*Domingo Robles and Connor Thomas both had nice starts. Edgardo Escobar, Dalton Roach, and Andre Pallante, and Jake Walsh flashed strikeout stuff. Alvaro Seijas walked 5 in just 2.2 IP in his start. Kyle Leahy has some nice movement on his pitches, but had command issues with 2 walks and a hit batter against no strikeouts and a homer.
*RHP Logan Gragg opened the season on the 7-day IL.
*To look at the box score from Ian Bedell’s start on opening day, you might think there was something wrong. He did get hit hard in the first inning, giving up two doubles and a triple back-to-back on pitches right in the heart of the zone. The reason he was taken out so fast after getting only two outs was that he was already at 39 pitches, and the team was just cautious with him. In his start, he did at least flash a nice curve, but fastball command is something to watch. He ended up pitching 2 innings in relief in another game later in the series. LHP Jacob Schlesener has walked 9 out of the 19 batters he faced over 2.2 innings. This issue with control is what got him demoted from Peoria to State College in 2019. Evan Sisk and Fabian Blanco impressed with strikeout stuff in relief.
*New draftee OF Alec Burleson hit two homers and made a diving catch in the outfield in the first series. He also leads the club in walks with 5.
*Palm Beach games are not available on MILB.TV, and the only games that are even broadcasted on radio are home games, so aside from scouting the box scores and relaying tweets and information from the organization, I’m not going to be able to offer much for this club.
*Luis Rodriguez was added as a 3rd catcher to the Palm Beach roster in advance of the game on opening day, and the club opened with a 28-man roster. Luis is the second catcher whose surname is Rodriguez that started out on this club’s opening day roster (Edgardo is the other), and the third in the Cardinal minor league chain (Julio of Springfield is the third). Luis, now 21 years old, signed in July of 2017 as a 17-year old international free agent for future service out of Venezuela, and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Dominican Summer League (DSL) Blue squad. This is an aggressive assignment, considering this his offensive numbers his first season were abysmal, but he improved in his second year. The club must like his defense, because they’ve bypassed extended spring training and having him play stateside for the first time in full-season ball. He had almost as many games at first base as he did at catcher in 2019.
*On May 6th, two additional pitchers were assigned to the Palm Beach roster to make it a full 30 players. Yordy Richards and Angel Cuenca, both righthanded pitchers, last pitched in the Dominican Summer League.
*On May 9th, C Edgardo Rodriguez was sent to extended spring training, and the club promoted C Roblin Heredia. At 18 years of age, he’s the youngest player at any of the Cards’ minor league affiliates other than Palm Beach pitcher Yordy Richard, who is one month younger. I wonder if they’re just going to use the Complex League roster to shuttle people back and forth to Palm Beach to get some work in in the full-season league.
*If you’re wondering what the status of Masyn Winn is as a 2-way player, he hasn’t pitched yet, has started at short for 5 of the club’s 6 games, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to pitch any time soon.
Shortstop for at least the time being. https://t.co/a7tSwfQavE— Palm Beach Cardinals (@GoPBCardinals) May 5, 2021
*The pitchers the club has hyped so far are Edwin Nunez and Inohan Paniagua.
*Jordan Walker hit an up-and-in breaking ball for a homer on the first professional pitch he saw and has 6 walks to 4 strikeouts in 20 trips to the plate so far.