On Monday, I decided to take a look and see how the 2019 Cardinals draft class looked. If you missed it and don’t feel like reading the whole thing, the thesis is that the class is in the hands of three starting pitching prospects - Zack Thompson, Andre Pallante, and Connor Thomas - and between the three of them, we should get at least one average MLB starting pitcher. There are some interesting catchers from that draft as well, but the success will depend on those three.
I glanced over the 2020 class as well, which I didn’t do a deeper dive on specifically because there were only five rounds and because three of them are already well-known to Cardinals fans at this point. One thing I did not mention though was that because of there being only five rounds, a couple players were signed as undrafted free agents who may be interesting in their own right. Before I get to the meat of the article, let’s look at those two players.
Matt Koperniak - OF, 23-years-old
Stats (Low A): 226 PAs, .320/.442/.470, 13.3 BB%, 14.2 K%, .149 ISO, 154 wRC+
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Trinity College, a private liberal arts college located in Hartford Connecticut, he would not appear to be someone who would pop up on this list. Trinity College is Division III baseball. He’s obviously an older prospect. And yet, he’s done nothing but rake. He got promoted to High A for four games - went 6-18 with two walks and three HBPs and three doubles - and then got promoted again to AA, where he currently is. In two games so far, he’s gone 4-8 with a double.
John Beller - LHP, 22-years-old
Stats (Low A): 50.2 IP, 27.2 K%, 10.9 BB%, 44.9 GB%, 4.62 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 3.83 xFIP
Beller is not quite as an out of nowhere semi-prospect, because he went to USC and if there’s a clearer example of a guy who would have been drafted in Rounds 6-10, I haven’t found him. At least I’m guessing. Those rounds seem designed for pitchers like Beller. Anyway, nothing too crazy - really good K rate - but a very solid debut season that is worth monitoring.
So we’ll probably end up seeing more undrafted guys make the majors than normal in a few years - maybe not the Cards, but I doubt these are the only guys with a chance at the majors. Anyway, I wasn’t originally going to do the 2018 draftees, but I figured - there may well be as many players still in the system as the 2019 draft. A lot of guys who don’t last get immediately released, but someone who can play well enough to avoid that fate may last a few years. Or in theory. We shall see.
Nolan Gorman (1st round, #19) - 2B/3B, 21-years-old
Stats (AA): 195 PAs, .288/.354/.508, 9.2 BB%, 26.7 K%, .220 ISO, 129 wRC+
AAA: 151 PAs, .246/.291/.408, 5.3 BB%, 20.5 K%, .162 ISO, 84 wRC+
Nothing to be worried about with his AAA numbers. He did get off to a really slow start. It does mean that when he doesn’t start the year on the Cardinals roster next year, it will not be roster manipulation. Not every top prospect who doesn’t start the year in the majors is. Even if he has a fantastic spring training. Gorman is still working out the kinks of AAA at a very young age, and learning a new position at the same time. He’ll be ready at some point next year, and he’ll probably initially struggle then too. That’s just the way it goes.
Griffin Roberts (Comp Bal. A, #43) - RHP, 25-years-old
Stats (AA): 1.1 IP, 15.4 K%, 46.2 BB%, 33.3 GB%, 40.50 ERA, 28.25 FIP, 21.21 xFIP
Here is Roberts’ season. He started the season on the IL, and was activated soon after on May 11th. He lasted 0.1 innings in that start, allowing 4 earned runs with a home run allowed, two walks and a strikeout being his only out recorded. Four days later, he lasted an inning, walking four and hitting two batters with two wild pitches and somehow just two earned runs. He went on the IL five days later and hasn’t pitched since. This pick did not work out, I think it’s safe to say.
Luken Baker (2nd Round, #75) - 1B, 24-years-old
Stats (AA): 331 PAs, .241/.320/.533, 10.3 BB%, 26.9 K%, .292 ISO, 121 wRC+
It’s a weird thing to say about a 121 wRC+ with 23 HRs, but I’ve kind of lost hope in him being anything more than a guy off the bench who can pop a homer. Which is fine, as far as it goes. When they’re cheap, those guys are nice to have. His contact issues make me think he’d be a homer heavy 105 wRC+ guy in the majors if things break right. Which would be fine at literally any position other than the one he plays (or DH).
Mateo Gil (3rd Round, #95) - 2B/3B, 20-years-old
Stats (Low A): 297 PAs, .244/.287/.378, 5.1 BB%, 24.6 K%, .135 ISO, 72 wRC+
Does anybody else not remember trading so many players to the Rockies? In any case, Gil’s stock sure has fallen. Not only did he do that at Low A, the Rockies seem to have moved him off SS. He has played zero innings at short. He’s still young, but I’m not seeing how he’s a prospect at this point.
Steven Gingery (4th Round, #123) - LHP, 23-years-old
Well that’s a new one. Could never stay healthy. The Cardinals drafted him injured, he threw 0.2 IP, and then never pitched again.
Nick Dunn (5th Round, #153) - 2B, 24-years-old
Stats (AA): 257 PAs, .260/.319/.351, 8.2 BB%, 14.4 K%, .091 ISO, 82 wRC+
Having a .089 ISO at Palm Beach is unfortunate, but there’s some hope for you. Having a .091 ISO at Springfield means you have less than zero power. If he had even a little power, he’d be someone to watch.
Edgar Gonzalez (6th Round, #183) - RHP, 24-years-old
Stats (AA): 1 IP, 0 BB%, 33.3 K%, 50 GB%, 0.00 ERA, 1.50 FIP, 1.50 xFIP
Wow look at those numbers! Gonzalez appears to have gotten injured immediately and is on the 60 day. No wonder the Cards kept signing pitchers for the minors.
Brendan Donovan (7th round, #213) - 1B/2B/3B/LF/SS, 24-years-old
Stats (A+): 109 PAs, .295/.385/.421, 9.2 BB%, 13.8 K%, .126 ISO, 127 wRC+
AA: 184 PAs, .325/.424/.461, 12 BB%, 17.9 K%, .136 ISO, 143 wRC+
Donovan began the year at Peoria (A+) as the starting 2B. He didn’t play much anywhere else. He forced a promotion and apparently didn’t have a position at AA, because he’s played 16 games at 3B, 6 games at 1B, 14 games in LF, 4 games at short, and 4 games at 2B. Back in 2019, when I first noticed his stats, at his age, and that he was at a different position than the position where he was drafted (3B), I instantly got a Matt Carpenter vibe. And this year... has done nothing to remove that vibe at all. Only strengthen it.
Lars Nootbar (8th round, #243) - OF, 23-years-old
Stats (AAA): 136 PAs, .308/.404/.496, 12.5 BB%, 18.4 K%, .188 ISO, 139 wRC+
MLB: 34 PAs, .172/.265/.241, 11.8 BB%, 11.8 K%, .069 ISO, 45 wRC+
Hey, our first graduated member of the 2018 draft class! It is somewhat shocking how little minor league data Nootbar has actually. After 223 unimpressive plate appearances in State College, he has no more than 155 PAs at any level. There is little doubt Nootbar has a good plate approach and a good eye. What is in doubt is his power, of which he had essentially none at either High A or AA and it does not give me a ton of confidence that even with a 27.8 HR/FB% in AAA, his ISO was just .188. But like he’s barely played at any level, so who even knows!
Matt Duce (9th Round, #273) - C, 25-years-old
Duce was not a victim of the pandemic. He was drafted at 22 and was pretty terrible at State College in 2018. He repeated at State College in 2019, and had a 149 wRC+ but the damage was done at the point. He was released in January of 2020.
Kevin Woodall (10th Round, #303) - 1B/OF, 25-years-old
Woodall seems to have been undone by injuries, or at least one untimely injury. Upon being drafted, he was sent to Johnson City, where he had a 149 wRC+ on the strength of 9 homers in 30 games. He was less successful at State College to finish 2018, with a 68 wRC+. He hit a homer in his first game at State College in 2019, and then missed the rest of the year to an injury. He was released among the big mess of minor leaguers in May of last year.
Chris Holba (11th Round, #333) - RHP, 24-years-old
I don’t know the story on Holba, but he hasn’t pitched an inning since 2018. He is not released. He was put on the IL at the beginning of the 2019 minor league season, and he was assigned to the Florida Complex League Cardinals and subsequently put on the injured list at the beginning of the season too. I am surprised he’s still in the Cardinals organization frankly.
Francisco Justo (12th Round, #363) - RHP, 22-years-old
Stats (Low A): 26 IP, 17.4 K%, 18.2 BB%, 20.3 GB%, 4.85 ERA, 6.28 FIP, 7.50 xFIP
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, even given how young he is, that he was released a couple weeks ago. Those are some truly dreadful stats. More walks than strikeouts and a groundball for every fifth ball hit in play.
Colin Schmid (13th Round, #393) - LHP, 23-years-old
Stats (CPX): 12.2 IP, 23.1 K%, 1.9 BB%, 36.7 GB%, 1.42 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 4.01 xFIP
Not really sure what the story is here. Maybe he’s recovering from an injury? But Schmid was okay at Low A as a starter back in 2019 and now he’s in the complex league? I’m confused.
Brandon Riley (14th Round, #423) - OF, 24-years-old
He didn’t actually get released until the pandemic was in full swing, but he had an 86 wRC+ in Low A as a 22-year-old, so it was only a matter of time.
Michael Brettell (15th Round, #453) - RHP, 24-years-old
Stats (AA): 41.1 IP, 22.2 K%, 7.4 BB%, 44.1 GB%, 6.53 ERA, 5.99 FIP, 4.55 xFIP
Brettell has been hit hard by the homer bug. A fourth of the flyballs he allows go over the wall. 25 HR/FB%. His K/BB numbers are actually very strong, but that and the .339 BABIP against have conspired against him. Whether that’s luck or not is more difficult to say when it comes to the minors.
Evan Sisk (16th Round, #483) - LHP, 24-years-old
Stats (A+): 12.2 IP, 29 K%, 12.9 BB%, 61.3 GB%, 2.84 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.88 xFIP
AA: 24.1 IP, 24.6 K%, 14.8 BB%, 41.3 GB%, 3.33 ERA, 5.06 FIP, 5.33 xFIP
I’ll be honest. I don’t get the fuss about losing this guy. Granted, I think it’s a minority but people were mad the Cards were losing a “legitimate” relief prospect and I’m just not seeing it. He was an older guy pitching well in High A, and then he didn’t pitch that well in AA. He’s pitched awful for the Twins AA squad, walking six, hitting one, and striking out just 2 in 4.1 IP. I’m just seeing a guy who clearly doesn’t have the control to be a major leaguer personally.
Kyle Leahy (17th Round, #513) - RHP, 24-years-old
Stats (AA): 60 IP, 16.7 K%, 11.7 BB%, 43 GB%, 8.85 ERA, 6.77 FIP, 5.45 xFIP
Leahy was a reasonably promising arm back in 2019, who pitched very well in Low A, not so well in six starts in High A, and he pitched three strong innings at AA. Things have gone poorly this year. He was quite bad in the rotation (11.08 ERA), moved to the bullpen and wasn’t really any better.
Cole Aker (18th Round, #543) - RHP, 24-years-old
Stats (A+): 28.1 IP, 15.6 K%, 19 BB%, 20.2 GB%, 7.62 ERA, 7.70 FIP, 8.68 xFIP
Aker is a guy whose momentum was completely stalled by the pandemic. In the Palm Beach bullpen back in 2019, Aker had a pretty strong 21 innings. There is no evidence he was capable of that if you look at his 2021 stats. Granted, he had a very wild Low A experience spent mostly in the rotation (46 BBs plus 6 HBPs in 46.2 IP). He got released.
Josh Shaw (19th Round, #573) - IF, 24-years-old
Fun fact: Josh Shaw Cardinals is not specific enough for google. The Arizona Cardinals once had a player named Josh Shaw for a single year - a year he spent injured and not playing. Anyway the St. Louis Cardinals Josh Shaw had a 72 wRC+ and got released at the end of 2019.
Parker Kelly (20th Round, #603) - RHP, 24-years-old
And we’ve reached the first player who seems to have definitively been affected by the pandemic blowing up his career (well Aker might count too, but at least got a chance in 2021). Kelly pitched 75 pretty solid innings in Low A as a 22-year-old in 2019. He would have played in 2020 for sure, but got released. Since I expect there will be many Parker Kellys, I’m only going to mention players still in the organization for Rounds 21-40 now.
Michael Baird (23rd Round, #633) - RHP, 25-years-old
Stats (CPX): 7 IP, 28.6 K%, 7.1 BB%, 52.9 GB%, 2.57 ERA, 4.92 FIP, 4.07 xFIP
AA: 10.1 IP, 32.6 K%, 9.3 BB%, 32 GB%, 3.48 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 3.65 xFIP
Okay I assumed anyone drafted after the 20th Round would either be out of baseball or still in the Cardinals organization so what I really meant to say was “anyone still playing baseball for an MLB organization.” Baird got released last year in May, and this year, he was signed by the Rockies in late April for pitching depth. He’s been good, but 25-year-old pitching well in the bullpen in AA is probably not hard to find.
Justin Toerner (28th Round, #843) - OF, 24-years-old
Stats (AA): 214 PAs, .227/.362/.347, 14.5 BB%, 26.2 K%, .119 ISO, 101 wRC+
AAA: 33 PAs, .250/.344/.464, 9.1 BB%, 27.3 K%, .214 ISO, 115 wRC+
Hell of a 28th Round pick. Still doesn’t really seem like a major leaguer to me, but he sure looked like he might be something for quite a while. And if you’re wondering, he had almost the exact same stats in AA in 2019 in 199 PAs.
Alerick Soularie (29th Round, #873) - OF, 21-years-old
In the 2020 draft, Soularie was drafted 59th overall. He is the Twins 20th best prospect according to Fangraphs. He’s only had 16 PAs in the complex league this year, but has a 237 wRC+.
Liam Sabino (35th Round, #1053) - 3B, 25-years-old
I’m not going to post his stats, because he’s played at three levels and gotten no more than 29 PAs in any of them. He was released by the Cardinals last year, and got into independent ball in the meantime. He played there this year, had a .705 OPS, and was signed by the Mariners in July. He made it to High A, but has just a 55 wRC+ in 17 PAs right now.
And there you have it. The Cardinals pitching depth problems sure do make sense when you look at this draft. Position player-wise this is a very strong draft, but they got nothing from the pitchers. And there’s no reason to think they will either. There’s not even a name here who will be in the bullpen! Combine that with the 2017 draft, which didn’t pick until the 3rd round, and no wonder there’s a pitching gap in the system. It’s closing now, but boy.
But on the positive side, wow did they hit the position players out of the park in this draft. Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbar, and we can even throw Justin Toerner in the very good picks department. Probably their best draft on the position player side since I’ve been following the draft (2011 or so). Let’s see if the results will support that opinion.