It’s been a great week at VEB to be a fan of prospects. Within the last week, Gabe has put out prospect updates for hitters and pitchers, I have highlighted some under-the-radar hitters, and BigJawnMize posted his first of four draft previews.
Now I’m going to cover some of my favorite under-the-radar pitching prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals system. None of these guys will be found on any national top prospect lists, but all of them are worth paying attention to.
If you haven’t yet read my piece on under-the-radar hitters, you can find that here.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to a reliever who has flown through the system.
Triple-A Memphis Redbirds — RHP Ryan Loutos (23 years old)
Memphis Season Stats - 2 G, 3.1 IP, 2.70 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 5.60 xFIP, 11.1 K%, 11.1 BB%
Springfield Season Stats - 15 G, 22.1 IP, 1.61 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 3.92 xFIP, 28.6 K%, 11.0 BB%
Peoria Season Stats - 9 G, 14.1 IP, 3.14 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 3.84 xFIP, 30.9 K%, 5.5 BB%
Ryan Loutos has an awesome story and he’s been so good this year that you may have already heard of him even if you don’t keep up with prospects.
He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2021 and went undrafted. After signing with the Cardinals, he tallied a 5.56 ERA and 2.57 FIP and 4.03 xFIP in 22 2⁄3 innings in Palm Beach. That’s not particularly impressive and it made it hard to see this year coming..
Working exclusively out of the bullpen, Loutos started 2022 in High-A and was recently promoted to Triple-A. He’s on the brink of the majors in his first full professional season after going undrafted in a 20-Round draft. That’s incredible!
He’s a large presence on the mound, standing at 6’5” and 215 pounds and he started in college. That doesn’t appear to be in the plans as a professional, though. You would think that gives him the ability to make multi-inning stints, but he’s averaging less than two innings per outing.
It seems the Cards want him pitching in shorter stints where he can pitch all out and rack up the Ks. That may change now that he’s one step below the big leagues, since Oli Marmol has shown a tendency to let his relievers pitch multiple innings.
He’s a high strikeout arm with a big fastball who has flown through the system and now needs some time to settle into Triple-A. Get to know him now because you may see him running in from the ‘pen in St. Louis next year.
Double-A Springfield Cardinals — LHP John Beller (23 years old)
Springfield Season Stats - 2 G, 2.2 IP, 10.13 ERA, 6.75 FIP, 2.53 xFIP, 36.4 K%, 0.0 BB%
Peoria Season Stats - 13 G, 26.2 IP, 3.04 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, 33.3 K%, 11.1 BB%
John Beller profiles similarly to Loutos, except for the fact that he’s left-handed, as both players are high strikeout relievers who went undrafted and have seen a ton of success since joining the Cardinals.
One difference between the two is that Beller actually began his professional career as a starting pitcher. His nearly 12% walk rate was a bit high and he ended up finishing 2021 with a 4.59 ERA and a 4.09 FIP. That’s not catastrophic, but it’s certainly not impressive in a league (and a team) that skews pretty heavily toward pitching because of ballpark and environmental factors.
Again like Loutos, his first impression with the Cardinals was not particularly strong.
He moved up a level this year and didn’t earn a rotation job with the Peoria Chiefs (who had a stacked rotation to begin the year, but more on that with the next pitcher). He was wildly effective in the bullpen, though, as his control issues were less of a problem and his strikeout numbers increased. He struck out a third of the batters he faced en route to a promotion after just 13 games.
Another good sign is that his walk rate has decreased this season from 11.9% with Palm Beach to 11.1% with Peoria. Now, that’s not a huge leap, but he’s also thrown significantly fewer wild pitches, with 10 in Single-A and just one in High-A.
There is another difference between Beller and Loutos. Loutos pitched at a D3 school, but Beller pitched for USC. The 2020 draft (Beller’s draft) was only 5 rounds instead of 20 and I would guess that he would have been drafted had the event been 20 rounds.
Still, he’s another high strikeout undrafted arm who could offer something in the St. Louis bullpen as early as next year. Props to the scouting staff for finding both him and Loutos while dealing with all the complications that came with COVID, and props to the player development staff for helping these guys grow into promising arms with a real shot at the big leagues.
Before I move on, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best thing about Beller - the Spin Rate Stache.
Hide your moms. Hide your wives.— Peoria Chiefs (@peoriachiefs) May 1, 2022
John “the Spinrate Stache” Beller has taken over the mound. pic.twitter.com/k5b4JB4Rpm
Yes, John Beller has an awesome mustache. And he calls it the spin rate stache. You may wonder why it’s called that, so let’s go to Beller and his teammates for an explanation.
Here’s Masyn Winn’s explanation.
And out of the mouth (or fingers) of the man himself, here’s Beller’s explanation.
Mustache adds ~300 RPM’s to all pitches. It’s just science. https://t.co/LzU5cpzEeH— John Beller (@johnbeller6) April 22, 2022
Not only is he better at pitching than you, but he’s also much cooler than you. Get ready for him to be a fan favorite when he reaches St. Louis.
High-A Peoria Chiefs — RHP Wilfredo Pereira (23 years old)
Peoria Season Stats - 16 G, 7 GS, 58.2 IP, 3.84 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.91 xFIP, 27.7 K%, 6.8 BB%
Honestly, I’m in love with this pitching staff, so it was really hard for me to choose just one player. I’ve been following the Peoria Chiefs closely this season for two reasons.
One, because of the staff, since it once included both Michael McGreevy and Gordon Graceffo, but is also littered with interesting arms. And two, because they play in the Midwest League and I have been to about half of the stadiums in the Midwest league in the last year. Perks of living in Ohio and going to school in Michigan.
I chose Pereira for reasons I’ll get into in a moment, but I really thought about choosing Nathanael Heredia or Gianluca Dalatri. Both are high strikeout bullpen arms, with Dalatri having a particularly good season, but I’ve already covered that archetype with my first two choices. So, instead, I chose a starter that many people may not know.
Austin Love, Dionys Rodriguez, Logan Gragg, Zane Mills, McGreevy, and Graceffo all have more starts than Pereira this year. In fact, they are the reason he was kept in the bullpen to begin the season. I wasn’t a fan of this decision considering he was one of the only reliable starters the Cardinals had in the system last year.
It seems that the Cards value the other arms more, though, which isn’t too surprising. You all know about McGreevy and Graceffo, but Love was the team’s 3rd Round pick in 2021 and Mills was the 4th Round selection that same year. That apparently gave them precedence. Dionys Rodriguez broke out in Single-A in 2021 and Gragg has shown some promise so both of them were put ahead of Pereira too.
I understand the Cardinals showing precedence to their more highly touted arms, but Pereira is showing that he deserves more respect. Both this year and last year, Pereira has split time between the bullpen and the rotation, but the rotation is where he belongs.
I mean, the stats are pretty clear.
It’s weird to see Pereira have less success in the bullpen since it’s usually the other way around, but it’s encouraging to see him pitch well in the rotation. He may be surrounded by more highly touted arms, but he gets strikeouts, has solid control, and pitches well as a starter.
Honestly, it feels like Pereira should have started the year in Double-A since he had a 3.33 ERA in almost 100 innings at the level last year. He should be promoted to Springfield soon, and when that happens, there should be a spot for him in an underwhelming Springfield rotation.
Single-A Palm Beach Cardinals — RHP Alex Cornwell (23 years old)
Palm Beach Season Stats - 17 G, 4 GS, 44.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 3.16 xFIP, 29.3 K%, 8.5 BB%
This was another tough choice because I wanted to write about two Palm Beach starters. I chose Cornwell but he barely edged out fellow 2021 draft pick, Trent Baker, who has made 14 starts for Palm Beach. Baker was the 9th round pick who has a 2.96 ERA, 3.08 FIP and 3.54 xFIP. Those are impressive numbers, but it’s actually Cornwell, the 14th Round pick from 2021 who has surprised me the most.
Cornwell has a unique backstory. He was a pretty highly touted prospect coming out of high school, not enough to be drafted early, but enough to be chosen in the 37th round (back when the draft was 40 rounds). He then missed all of his first two collegiate seasons with an injury. Then 2020 happened and he only made 4 starts before COVID cancelled everything. So, the once highly touted high school arm had made just 4 starts heading into his 4th year of college. That’s not exactly the way he probably envisioned his college career going.
To make matters worse, when he was finally able to pitch in a full season, he finished with a whopping 5.35 ERA in 15 starts.
The Cardinals were clearly betting on the arm talent and the pedigree that he showed as a high schooler. And that bet looks like it might really be paying off.
Cornwell began the year in the bullpen, which isn’t super surprising considering that he was only a 14th round pick and didn’t throw a ton of innings in college. He’s really come on strong recently, though.
To be honest, I was put onto Cornwell after he joined Palm Beach’s rotation. I didn’t take a lot of notice of him early in the season, but after yielding just 3 earned runs in his last 29 innings pitched, i’ll certainly be paying more attention to him.
Cornwell recently moved into the rotation. He made one start early in the year, but he wasn’t truly a starter as he only tossed 2 1⁄3 innings. He moved into the rotation full time at the ned of July and hit the ground running, with a strong 1-run, 5-inning start. It was his last two outings that really stood out. In one, he threw 7 innings and surrendered just one unearned run. In his final start, he allowed just one run in eight innings of work.
In those 20 innings, he gave up just two earned runs and fanned 25. Like Wilfredo Pereira, he is looking much better in the rotation than he is in the bullpen.
Cornwell numbers are already strong, but it’s really just two outings that are preventing his numbers from being pristine. In those two outings, he combined for nine earned runs and collected only 2 outs. If you take out those performances, his ERA would be 2.06 and his FIP would be much better as well.
I know you can’t just remove performances, but Cornwell has been good much more often than he’s been bad. He was once a promising arm and he could be considered one again if these performances continue.
FCL Cardinals — RHP Jose Davila (19 years old)
FCL Season Stats - 4 G, 3 GS, 14.1 IP, 3.14 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, 30.4 K%, 7.1 BB%
I’ll admit that this is where it gets more difficult to choose standouts because the players are young an inexperienced and still so far away from the majors. Also, it’s still really early in the FCL and DSL seasons. Still, I like what Jose Davila has done this year.
It’s only four games, but those are great numbers for a 19-year-old. He’s actually two years younger than the average FCL pitcher and he’s already showing good control and swing-and-miss stuff.
He is repeated the FCL level this year after compiling a 3.77 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 45 1⁄3 innings as an 18-year-old in 2021. He had a walk rate of 12.2% that season and a strikeout rate of 25.0%. Both those numbers have moved in the right direction, albeit, in a small sample.
One of the reasons that Davila stood out to me is that the Cardinals seem to like him. Davila signed a 2020 contract in July of 2019 for $475,000. The fact that COVID cancelled the 2020 season wasn’t ideal for Davila because it meant that he had to wait almost two full years after signing his contract to make his professional debut.
As you can imagine, it’s hard to place a 16-year-old who hadn’t played in two years. The Cardinals must have liked him a lot, though, because they decided to be aggressive and let him open the year in Single-A, which means that he skipped the DSL and the FCL levels.
That didn’t exactly go swimmingly for Davila as he gave up 10 earned runs on 12 hits and 10 walks in 8 1⁄3 innings and was then demoted to the Complex League.
The fact that things didn’t go well for him doesn’t really matter that much. What does matter is that the Cardinals viewed him highly enough to push him aggressively.
He’s still young, he’s pitching well this year, he looks to be highly regarded by the organization, and his signing bonus was large for an organization that likes to spread out it’s money on the international market instead of giving out seven figure bonuses.
I’ll be watching Davila the rest of the season because I think he could earn his way back to Single-A by the end of the year or by the start of next season. At that point he would be a 19 or 20 year old playing full season ball. That would be advanced for his age and a great sign of his promise as a pitcher.
DSL Cardinals — RHP Leonel Sequera (16 years old)
DSL Season Stats - 5 G, 5 GS, 19.1 IP, 3.72 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 3.70 xFIP, 25.6 K%, 7.0 BB%
The reason I’m impressed by Sequera is a combination of production and age. He having a solid season so far and he’s only 16 years old, which makes him 2.6 years younger than the average DSL pitcher.
In the DSL it’s not uncommon to see 18 or 19 year olds leading their teams in production. At such a young age, having an extra year or two of professional experience can make a huge difference.
Sequera doesn’t seem to get the memo. Not only is he pitching well, he’s doing it out of the rotation, which is extra impressive for a 16-year-old. Sure, he’s averaging just under 4 innings per start, but DSL starters generally don’t pitch deep into games. That’s not really a concern.
Really, it’s just impressive that he’s holding down such a large role with so much success at such a young age.
It’s really hard to predict which DSL players will catch on and which ones won’t since they’re so young and a good amount of them won’t even make it out of rookie ball. but, I would be willing to bet that Sequera will make it out of rookie ball and continue to pitch well.
He’s someone I’m going to watch closely the rest of this season. I don’t think he makes the jump to the Complex League next season considering his age, but if he keeps pitching well, he may move on in his age 18 season.
Another impressive detail about Sequera is his control. May DSL pitchers rack up walks, HBPs, and wild pitches, but Sequera hasn’t been like that. He’s walking fewer than 3 batters per nine innings and has just one HBP and wild pitch each.
That, combined with his overall production, makes me think that he’s more advanced than his age and his level would suggest.
All of the players on this list are among my favorite prospects in the system. They’re not getting the attention that they deserve because there are other higher profile arms in the system, but they are sneaky bets to debut with the Cardinals at some point.
That’s tough to predict, especially for lower level players, but each of these arms should be on your radar. I’ll be closely following how they finish the season.
I hope you guys enjoyed this pair of articles and learned about a few more prospects to keep an eye on, and I hope all you prospect enthusiasts enjoyed this week at VEB. There’s a lot of great prospect information to read, if you haven’t done it already.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your Sunday! I’ll turn my focus back to the major league club on Tuesday.