The minor leagues start tomorrow at all levels. In anticipation of this, Sky has helpfully written a preview of both the Palm Beach squad (now in Low A, formerly in High A) and Peoria squad (now in High A, formerly in Low A). By the time you read this, the Springfield squad may well be covered on the home page. So look out for that. In the meantime, the grand tradition of following the minor leagues via a few specific, interesting players will continue for me.
I assume I’m not alone. Not every minor leaguer is worth following. Some minor leaguers I track whenever I can, which can get as obsessive as daily at times. (Depending on how busy my life is going of course). Some minor leaguers I like to visit every month. And some minor leaguers I look at because I just take a cursory glance at the end of the year at what they’re doing. So what minor leaguers should we pay attention to?
Potential 2021 MLB Players
These are the players who might make an appearance in the majors this year, and their progress or lack of progress will directly impact whether or not that happens.
Angel Rondon, RHP (Assigned to: AAA)
In 2019, at the age of 21, Angel Rondon made 8 starts in High A and 20 starts in AA. He pitched well enough at both levels to warrant a 2020 start at AAA. And... I’m not entirely sure the Cardinals buy into him. Rondon had better stats than Johan Oviedo did in AA. Oviedo was chosen over Rondon for last year’s MLB team. A decision that seems to make sense with Oviedo’s 2021 start, but still: from a purely statistically point of view, Rondon shouldn’t feel like an afterthought here. So Rondon will have to prove himself in AAA. Which is why he’s a name to pay attention to. Because at some point, you can’t ignore the stats. And if he falls flat on his face, we’ll know why he was passed over.
(I’m going to ignore Oviedo for this post simply because, for the time being, we’ll get updates on him by watching him in the majors)
Bernando Flores Jr., LHP (Assigned to: AAA)
The Cardinals claimed Flores Jr. off waivers from the Chicago White Sox last month, because well he’s kind of interesting. In AA in 2019, he pitched very well. He had a 2.93 xFIP thanks to a low BB rate (4.7%), a high GB% rate (53.3%), and a respectable K rate (21.5%). His FIP was higher (3.77) due to a high HR/FB%, but I mean this seems like a guy who do something in the majors. And he did this as a starter. And he’s left-handed. He pitched two innings in the majors, struck out two, walked none, had a 50 GB%, and... allowed two runs. It’s of course only two innings but a 1.19 FIP and 1.19 xFIP. This guy might be something!
Matthew Liberatore, LHP; Zack Thompson, LHP (Assigned to: AAA)
Both of these assignments are kind of fascinating. Thompson has not actually started any games at the professional level. Well sorry he started two games in rookie league ball where he threw one inning in each start. He threw 13.1 IP at Palm Beach as a reliever. That’s the extent of his professional experience. His first real start as a professional will be in AAA. That’s... aggressive! I know last year counts for something, but it would not surprise me if he’s underwhelming as he adjusts to the competition. But if he’s great immediately, he’s in the MLB later this year.
Liberatore is fascinating too. He last pitched in A ball. And was... not dominant? I mean he was good. But not “he would be in AAA if there was no minor league season” good. If you know what I mean. Like a normal development - a good development - would be starting last year in High A, finishing in AA. And then starting this year in AA. I think. And he’s just blowing all the way to AAA. Could be great, could also, as I said above, be underwhelming just from the pure leap in competition in actual game experience. Should be fun to follow!
Lane Thomas, OF (Assigned to: AAA)
Okay, so some of us may have written him off and that’s fair, but like what if he absolutely crushed AAA? There’s a world where he re-enters himself into the discussion and that is a world where he performs at AAA. He doesn’t turn 26 until August, so this is still his age 25 season, which means you still can’t really write him off. On the other hand, if he has a 90 or so wRC+ in AAA, well yeah the Cards can let him go and have some other team try.
Lars Nootbar, OF (Assigned to: AAA)
Nootbar is the type of player where I desperately wished we had a 2020 minor league season. Because we very well could be talking about when, not if he was promoted at the MLB level. He started 2019 at A ball and finished in AA. He had an above 100 wRC+ at every level he was at. He could have hit his way into AAA last year and even so well that we’re talking about promoting him like he’s Dylan Carlson before 2020, just without the top prospect stuff. There’s a reason he’s in Memphis with a grand total of 110 PAs at AA and that’s because the Cards believe in him. He could pass Lane Thomas as the next man up pretty easily.
Cards Top Prospects
Nolan Gorman, 3B (Assigned to: AA)
The crazy thing about Nolan Gorman’s placement is, he could have been placed there to begin 2020. I don’t think he would have, although Cardinals have promoted players to leave Palm Beach sooner than normal before. But he had a 117 wRC+ at Palm Beach. He had a horrific K/BB ratio though and that might be what to look at when he’s at Springfield. He’s been crazy young for his league for a while, and he’s still just 21 (in about three weeks) so he’ll still be that, but like Dylan Carlson before him, maybe he really breaks out at Springfield.
And yes I don’t think Gorman has any shot of making the MLB roster this year. I already mentioned Carlson before, but he’s a perfect comparison. Carlson started 2019 at AA, wRC+ed 142, and didn’t get promoted to Memphis until the last month. Gorman in the MLB in 2021 is a pipe dream. He’d have to wRC+ like 200 to get in the majors this year.
Ivan Herrera, C (Assigned to: AA)
I wonder if him having to be added to 40 man is a factor in their decision. He’s played just 18 games at High A. He’s only 21. His first minor league option is being burned this season. Gorman is not on the 40 man so for now, there’s no rush to promote him to the big leagues. Herrera, on the other hand, now has a timeline. He has a date he needs to be MLB ready by. He plays well enough to be in Memphis, get some MLB time next year, and then the year after there’s still another option, but hopefully he’s ready.
Jordan Walker, 3B; Masyn Winn (Assigned to: Low A)
Walker and Winn can be a stand-in for literally everybody on the A ball roster who hasn’t really played professional ball yet. Unlike the guys who actually went to the ATS and that sort of functioned as a minor league season, the guys going to A ball are pretty much jumping straight into the fire. Masyn Winn, Edwin Nunez, Levi Prater -these guys didn’t really play rookie ball. In Walker’s case, he literally didn’t. So it’ll be interesting how these guys respond to jumping straight to full season ball.
Jhon Torres, OF (Assigned to: A+)
I’m not sure how much to read into assignments, but for some reason, I can’t help reading an aggressive promotion as a belief in the player and hesitancy as non-belief. Torres is... a super aggressive promotion. In 2019, in rookie ball, he had a 122 wRC+ for Cleveland and then a 149 wRC+ after the trade for St. Louis. He was promoted to Peoria, where he fell flat on his face in 21 games, for a 36 wRC+. He struck out in 38.7% of the time. And instead of sending him there, he’s at High A. Does it have anything to do with avoiding Palm Beach offense? Maybe. But still a guy to look at.
Luken Baker, 1B (Assigned to: AA)
If the Cards were more in need of a 1B, he might be in Memphis. He had a respectable 115 wRC+ at Palm Beach, playing the whole year there. He would have played all of last year at Springfield. And he’d probably play this year at Memphis had he done remotely well. But instead he has to be at Springfield. He’ll be 24, so I expect him to crush Springfield.
Yeah, there’s enough interesting catchers, even outside of Herrera, that it’s worth its own section.
Aaron Antonini, C (Assigned to: AAA)
The weirdness of catcher results in things like this. Antonini was at Johnson City last year! He had 18 walks to 8 strikeouts and homered 5 times in 25 games. He had a .288 ISO. He was so obviously better than his competition. But AAA? Does this mean he’s a pure depth piece we should ignore? Probably. Like this is the kind of move you pull on a non-prospect, because who cares. But he’s still only 22.
Pedro Pages, C (Assigned to: A+)
Okay, so if Antonini was promoted to High A, that would make sense to me. Pages dominated State College like Antonini did to rookie ball. He had a 149 wRC+ with a 13.1 BB%. He would have been in Low A last year, and would be on target for High A this year. He played so well it makes sense to assume he could be in High A this year.
Edgardo Rodriguez, C (Assigned to: Low A)
He’s the unknown part of the Randy Arozarena trade. He’s interesting just for that. He only played in 10 games in rookie ball back in 2019 for the Rays franchise, and batted .400 in those games. So you never know. It’s a good sign he’s in Low A.
Old Prospect Pitchers
Garrett Williams, LHP (Assigned to: AAA)
Last seen in AA in 2019 as a 24-year-old, Williams had a 55.7 GB% and 3.99 FIP. He fits in the Dakota Hudson mold in lots of groundballs, lots of walks, not quite enough strikeouts. A 22.2 K% is actually fine, which is what he did in AA, but you can’t expect that to remain his strikeout rate in the MLB. Anyway, interesting AAA Rule 5 guy they grabbed from the Angels.
Tommy Parsons, RHP (Assigned to: AAA)
Notable for his ascension in 2019 - he started in Low A and ended up starting a game in Memphis - and for his refusal to walk anybody. He walked two batters in his 5 inning start at Memphis and that was double his walk rate at every other level he’s pitched to give you an idea. He also pitched well in spring training.
Griffin Roberts, RHP (Assigned to: AA)
The Cardinals believed in him enough to skip him to High A in 2019 and he... collapsed. The Cardinals are continuing to promote him in the hopes that he figures it out at some point. So worth tracking to see if he does.
Johan Quezada, RHP (Assigned to: AAA)
He is 6’9 and on the 40 man roster and besides a 3 inning stint in the majors last year, pitched in High A last. He was another high groundball, high walk rate guy - seems to be the Cards targets of late for fringier pitchers. Cards traded for him in February so they see something in him.
Juan Yepez, 1B/3B/OF (Assignment: AA)
He’s fun only because the road to see if the Cards get anything from the Matt Adams trade FOUR years ago continues. Yepez is still only 23 and had a 147 wRC+ at Low A and a 136 wRC+ at High A back in 2019. He had an 85 wRC+ at Springfield, which is where he’ll play this season.
Delvin Perez, SS (Assignment: AA)
The 2016 1st round draft pick from 2016 is still around and is only 22. And now has muscle. Last seen in Low A back in 2019 where he had no power and a 95 wRC+. Cards have pushed him all the way to AA. Is he now a prospect again? It’s cool to find out.
Nick Plummer, OF (Assignment: AA)
Okay your definition of fun may vary with this one, but this is another 1st round pick from a long time ago, this one in 2015. He’s still around and he’s still just 24. He has an immaculate eye, but can’t make contact. He also hasn’t shown power. But Springfield has helped before. Will we get value out of two previously thought to be missed picks? Let’s find out!
Terry Fuller, OF (Assignment: Low A)
The exciting 15th round pick of 2017 (!) is still around! And only in Low A. And is still just 22. Jeez, these high school players can sure stay in the system forever. Anyway, tantalizing power that... probably won’t be realized at Palm Beach, but nonetheless I’ll be rooting for him.
Alec Burleson, OF OF (Assignment: High A)
The 2nd round, and 70th overall pick of 2020 has not compiled a professional at-bat yet, but the Cardinals believe he’s advanced enough to make his debut at High A. A good sign that he’ll rise through the system quickly.
Ian Bedell, RHP (Assignment: High A)
Everything I just said about Burleson, applies to Bedell. And as an added bonus for some of you, definitely for me, he was drafted from Mizzou, my alma mater.
And there you have it. I covered more names than I planned to, but I just kept seeing names I’m interested to. The price of a missed minor league season perhaps. There’s a theme here. Low A is interesting because of the lack of professional game experience for just about everyone, the interesting names from High A have tended to skip there way there, and AA is interesting for being the home of the lost souls of yesteryear hoping to rediscover the joys of being a prospect. AAA is of course interesting for who could make the majors. But it’s great to have the minors back!