Well that was unfortunate. The Cardinals are in the midst of a stretch of bad teams, but I do not think the Braves are one of them and that showed. I know yesterday was frustrating, in the sense that the offense only showed up for one of the games and I can’t really point to Drew Smyly as being good as the reason they were shut down, but well it happens. And frankly, the Cardinals have a -32 run differential on the season, so they may be due for some close losses/huge blowout wins if they’re really a .500 or better team. Given runs scored and runs allowed, the Cardinals have an expected 32-40 W-L record so far. So, be better team.
With such a frustrating MLB result, all eyes turn towards the minors. And the minors are giving us what the majors are not. If you look at the top 10 prospects according to Fangraphs - and apologies, I know it’s not the favorite prospect source around here, it’s just super convenient - only Zach Thompson has been a disappointment. And to be fair to him, I know people were big on the ATS duplicating AAA competition, but the dude had never started a professional game until he started in AAA, which I still find kind of absurd. And to fair, I found Matthew Liberatore’s placement in AAA just as absurd and that has gone way better, if not necessarily someone who is on the verge of being promoted like some thought the two might be by July.
If you expand it to the top 20 prospects, you can throw #13 Ian Bedell, who immediately needed Tommy John surgery. And there’s a couple MLB guys who’ve disappointed in the back half of the top 20 as well, such as Junior Fernandez, Kodi Whitley, and Justin Williams. Johan Oviedo could qualify, but he’s still a guy who should be in AAA who has improved upon his debut season, even if just marginally, so I don’t think he counts at all. But I want to focus on a few players, players who stick out to me recently for whatever reason.
Lars Nootbar, OF
I thought about making him the entire post, but ultimately I do have thoughts on other players and I’d be stretching the word count because it’s not like I have 1,000 words to say on him. Nootbar might just be the breakout player of the system with his 2021 start, hitting for a 173 wRC+ in 21 games and 87 PAs. You’ve surely seen clips of him demolishing baseballs, because they’ve been posted in the comments of this very website (and a post or two as well)
I don’t want to throw cold water on Nootbar, but it’s what I’m going to do. And hell, maybe you don’t consider this throwing cold water on him. But here’s the secret I noticed about Nootbar: He’s Justin Williams 2.0 with better contact skills. Depending on your opinion of Williams, that is either a scathing critique or extremely promising! Because Justin Williams with better contact skills might very well be a good player.
Here’s why I bring this up: we may have too high expectations of his power in the big leagues. In AAA, he has a 47.5 GB% (and in positive news I guess, it was 52% when I first noticed this and was going to write about him) and a ridiculous 45.5 HR/FB%. He advanced so fast in his second professional season that his previous HR/FB% are useless, but even still: the ceiling on this guy is probably 20%, and even that feels optimistic to this writer. He had a 51.4 GB% in AA, a 54.5 GB% in High A, a 43.5% in Low A, and 47.7% in short season A ball. The dude hits the ball on the ground like Eric Hosmer. He also has a 17.2 K%.
I kind of get why he’s not up, despite the eye-popping numbers is what I’m saying. He also has a .389 BABIP, though I’m not as worried about that as the other two numbers, not because I think he’ll post anything near that, but because he’d still have insane numbers with a .315 BABIP. The K/BB numbers alone should make Nootbar an interesting prospect, though again: maybe more than 87 PAs is needed here to see what he is.
So Delvin Perez has found power. He came into spring training more muscular, which he had struggled mightily to do in his previous - checks again - jesus FIVE seasons? He’s been around a long time. In his last 8 games, he has literally equaled his home run total fro, previous five seasons + 26 games this year. That’s right. Perez has three homers in his last eight games. He also has two doubles. (I thought he had a triple, but looks like he got credit for a double) Just about as close to overnight as you can get, his ISO ballooned from .070 to .117.
Should we buy into him yet? Well, having power in Springfield is, shall we say, not tremendously difficult. Anybody remember Daniel Descalso ISO’ing .208 back in the day? It has forever made me distrust stats at Springfield. He also has a too high 27.5 K% without a corresponding walk rate that makes that more manageable with a 7.4 BB%. But power has always been his biggest weakness, and it’d be huge if he could manage a little pop for his MLB future.
I was about ready to list Baker as a disappointment until I saw his stats had crept above average recently. I was really expecting him to obliterate AA pitching, and had been dismayed by his slow start. Through June 11th, he had an 84 wRC+ with a .304 BABIP. He struck out 28.2% of the time, and had just a .153 ISO. This is all not a major leaguer territory for a first baseman.
Since June 12th - yes an arbitrary endpoint deal with it - he has a 199 wRC+. He has a .538 ISO with four homers and three doubles - was something in the water for these Springfield players because please keep giving it to them. He now has a 106 wRC+ with a .289 BABIP. You’d like more walks and less strikeouts, but he seems to have adjusted to the league to maybe do just that.
I don’t need to write anything about Jordan Walker, because he gets all the attention, but this potential two-way player may be hitting his way out of being a two-way player. Since June 8th, he has a .392/.431/.667 line, good for a 183 wRC+. It has catapulted his season line all the way to a 116 wRC+. There’s very little not to like here, whatever your preferred flavor of prospect. You like plate discipline? A 13.5 BB% to just a 21.1 K%. You like speed? 12 stolen bases to two caught stealing. You like power? Well, this isn’t really there, but he does have a .275 ISO since June 8th, so you never know. You like defense? I can only guess that he’s good at defense, but he plays shortstop so he’s at least not bad there we can safely say. Great, fun prospect in Low A, along with Walker.
Jhon Torres/Malcolm Nunez
I’m gonna give some love to some players who won’t typically make standout lists such as this, but whose feats so far are still impressive. Neither player is filling up the stat sheet but putting up solid lines. And I note this because both players were last seen playing rather badly in Low A back in 2019. The Cardinals somewhat aggressively skipped them to High A, and the change from Palm Beach to Peoria certainly didn’t hurt - and they’ve delivered on that confidence.
Torres has a 100 wRC+ - with a .358 BABIP, but he had a 36 wRC+ in Low A with a .282 BABIP in 75 bad PAs in 2019. So putting up an average line, while cutting the K rate from 38.7% to 21.9% shows he at least belongs in High A, even if, like I said, he might not really be doing that well. Nunez comes with less caveats but also a higher standard for his offense given their defensive situations. Nunez has a 119 wRC+ with a .348 BABIP and while his K rate is very similar, the big difference is power. Last year, he had a .014 ISO in 77 PAs. This year, it’s up to .150. Like I said, nothing crazy, but important developmental steps nonetheless.
I haven’t neglected pitchers because there’s nothing to talk about, it just feels like everyone knows about the AAA pitchers so why repeat points. Pallante is more in the Nunez/Torres vein than the Masyn Winn vein, but to skip so many levels, even with a missing year where they did something, and perform like you belong is huge. And actually, I’m underselling Pallante’s year a bit. In every start this year, he’s allowed two runs or less. Now, some of those starts were 3 or 4 innings, so that is quite misleading. But he has a 2.23 ERA at Springfield.
What do the advanced stats say? Not quite as crazy about him. He has a solid, unremarkable 21.1 K%, though he’s had moments were he’s went strikeout crazy. His 11.1 BB% is a bit too high. He does get a grondball 61.3% of the time, which is a bit insane. A 3.45 FIP and 4.17 xFIP are still pretty good in Springfield, so again: underselling him a bit. And he’s just 22.
I noted before the year that it was odd he jumped from rookie ball in 2019 to AAA this year, and he is 0-9 with a BB in AAA. He’s also got a 188 wRC+ in AA in 62 PAs. I... have no idea what to make of this guy, if he’s an actual prospect or what. The Cardinals sending him so hilariously far above what I would think reasonable makes me think organizational depth, but a catcher capable of a 188 wRC+ in AA in 62 PAs is something to pay attention. Only 62 PAs, but a .298 ISO and 17.7 BB%. Just goofy stats in AA. If someone has the story on this guy, I’m all ears.
And there you have it. Some exciting guys, some hot starts, some ambitious levels being skipped being rewarded, most news coming out of the farm is good news.