Gabe is giving us all great updates on the St. Louis Cardinals hitting and pitching prospects this week, and that got me thinking about prospects too. I tend to follow the whole system pretty closely throughout the year and there are a lot of guys who have impressed me this season.
To makes things more digestible, I’m going to give you guys just one hitter at each level who I think is worth paying attention to. I’m not going to choose the top guys either. I want to give some love to the under-the-radar guys.
You won’t be reading about hitters in the top 30 prospect lists and you won’t be reading about guys who have already debuted. Rather I will highlight some names who have stuck out this year and are making their case to be considered among the most promising young hitters in the system.
I’ve seen some of you guys requesting minor league content and with the minor league season already more than halfway over, this gives you a chance to pay attention to some hitters in the second half of the season, outside of the big names.
I’ll be back on Sunday to give you one under-the-radar pitching prospect to know at each level of the system.
Triple-A Memphis Redbirds - OF Ben Deluzio
2022 Season Stats Memphis - 265 PAs, 123 wRC+, 10.2% BB-Rate, 20.4% K-Rate, .194 ISO
This is a tough choice because all of the top hitters in the Memphis lineup at the beginning of the year were highly touted and are also playing in St. Louis now. Most of the other hitters in the lineup are minor league free agents or guys who have been around for a while and never really established themselves as top prospects.
I thought about choosing Evan Mendoza here, since he’s improved his hitting and has always been an elite infielder, but Ben Deluzio has been even more impressive.
Deluzio joined the Cardinals via the minor league rule five draft this past offseason. Honestly, I wasn’t super high on the pick at the time (he was available in the minor league rule five draft for a reason after all), but I’ve really come around on him and I’m questioning why I didn’t like him in the first place.
Looking back at his minor league history with the Diamondbacks, he was a solid prospect who got screwed by COVID. He was a well above average hitter at every level until Double-A, when he posted a 99 wRC+ in his first go-around. He rebounded after repeating the level and then dominated Triple-A to close out the 2019 season.
It honestly feels like he was a sniff away from the majors in 2020. And then COVID hit and he didn’t play the whole year. I don’t know why he never got a chance in the majors that year, but the reality is that he didn’t and then he split time in Double-A and Triple-A in 2021 before exiting via free agency.
All he’s done with the Cardinals is bounce back to the tune of a 123 wRC+. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his season is his massive jump in power. In five previous minor league seasons, Antico hit 9 home runs. This year he’s hit 8. Oh, and he’s also stolen 21 bases in 22 attempts. Oh, and he’s walked above a 10% clip while striking out just over 20% of the time. That’s a heck of a blend of skills.
So, that makes him a centerfielder, with a lot of speed and base stealing acumen, sneaky pop, and solid on-base skills. That’s a valuable player. And the Cardinals got him as a minor league Rule Five pick!
Give me a guy with a .366 OBP and a ton of stolen bases atop my lineup any day. The downsides are that he’s 27 years old and he’s blocked by a lot of outfielders at the major league level (and probably by Alec Burleson). Still, his great season deserves recognition, so I wanted to write about him.
Double-A Springfield Cardinals - OF Mike Antico
2022 Stats Springfield - 13 PAs, 49 wRC+, 0.0% BB-Rate, 23.1% K-Rate, .154 ISO
2022 Stats Peoria - 321 PAs, 115 wRC+, 12.8% BB-Rate, 23.7% K-Rate, .150 ISO
Another level, another outfielder. Both DeLuzio and Antico are in tough situations since they are behind Bader, Carlson, O’Neill, Donovan, Yepez, and Burleson as outfield options, but I won’t let that stop me from highlighting the impressive duo.
Antico actually profiles quite similarly as DeLuzio. Both are centerfielders with a lot of speed, sneaky pop, and a strong walk rate.
He was taken by the Cards in the 8th round of the 2021 draft and made his professional debut as a 23 year, which certainly puts him a bit on the older side as a prospect.
He certainly hit the ground running, though, dominating Single-A after being drafted and then earning a promotion to Double-A in his first full season.
He’s been even better than DeLuzio in the stolen base department, and it’s not even close. The speedster has already stolen 40 bases in 43 attempts, which puts him on pace for over 70 by the end of the season. He also had a .359 OBP in Peoria. Do you see the similarities with DeLuzio?
He doesn’t have a ton of power, but he’s a prototypical leadoff hitter and a Cardinal Devil Magic candidate.
Maybe I cheated a little bit by including Antico for Double-A instead of High-A since he’s only played 4 games at the Double-A level, but since he’s been promoted (presumably, for the long haul), I counted him at his newest affiliate.
He’s honestly one of my favorite prospects because he’s basically a guaranteed stolen base if he gets on base, but he’s more than just speed. The Cards don’t have anyone else like that in the organization.
High-A Peoria Chiefs - 3B Osvaldo Tovalin
2022 Stats Peoria - 62 PAs, 100 wRC+, 4.9% BB-Rate, 19.4% K-Rate, .143 ISO
2022 Stats Palm Beach - 241 PAs, 135 wRC+, 7.1% BB-Rate, 15.8% K-Rate, .115 ISO
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I like Tovalin a lot. I’ve tweeted about him a few times, but I wanted to give him some recognition here.
Osvaldo Tovalin is a prospect that I really started paying attention to this spring. For those of you who don’t know, I also write for Brian Walton over at The Cardinal Nation and during Spring Training I wrote daily Minor League Spring Training recaps. In those reports, Osvaldo Tovalin’s name was one that I repeatedly mentioned.
After he stood out in Spring Training, I paid more attention to him. He wasn’t overly impressive in Single-A after getting drafted but as you can see above, he certainly rebounded this year.
Tovalin attended Azusa Pacific University, which is a Division 2 school with an enrollment of 10,000. I had never heard of it until the Cards drafted Tovalin, but he was a standout there, hitting 19 homers in 2019 and 15 homers in 2021.
I am not concerned that Tovalin’s power hasn’t really carried over into the professional ranks. Palm Beach (and the Florida State League in general) is a place that saps power because the team plays at the Major League Spring Training site. For a Single-A player, that’s called a massive pitcher’s park. On top of that, the wind often blows in at the ballpark, so it’s hard to hit a lot of home runs there.
If the power never emerges for Tovalin, then I won’t be as high on him.
Now, I’m not one to overly glorify batting average, but I do think it’s more important for lower level minor league players. Even in Single-A, pitchers can still struggle with walks so many players will see a bump in their walk rate, which boosts their OBP. With limited slugging as well, batting average is really a way to see how well a hitter has truly fared.
And Tovalin fared well, batting .313 and limiting his strikeouts. That’s a strong hitting ability to go with power that I’m expecting to see emerge later this season or next season. He’s only played 14 games with Peoria, so he still needs to adjust to the higher level.
Defensively, Tovalin is a corner guy, playing first, third, left, and right field. He’ll need to show more power if he wants to add value from those positions, but his strong bat-to-ball skills are impressive and power can oftentimes emerge later for prospects.
At 6’2”, 225 pounds, there’s plenty of power in his frame, so he just needs to translate that into his game.
Single-A Palm Beach Cardinals - Darlin Moquete
2022 Stats Palm Beach - 150 PAs, 105 wRC+, 9.3% BB-Rate, 21.3% K-Rate, .158 ISO
Moquete is another prospect who was really hurt by the lost COVID year. He spent 2 seasons in the Dominican Summer League and finished his last year there with a whopping 178 wRC+. He was ready to come stateside...but then COVID hit and he had to wait.
That meant that he was a year older when he reached rookie ball, and he compensated by moving quickly. His 125 wRC+ earned him a spot in Single-A this year.
The 22-year-old’s numbers aren’t overly impressive, but his power stands out on a team generally devoid of power. His 6 home runs ties him with the since-promoted Brady Whalen and he has solid walk and strikeout rates.
His batting average leaves a little to be desired but his .265 BABIP could stand to rise a little bit.
To be honest, Moquete is the player on this list that I’m least confident about, but early power and a track record of hitting at every level so far has made me watch him a little more closely this year. He needs to do better than hit .232, but his bat is intriguing and worth watching the rest of the season.
FCL Cardinals - Samil de la Rosa
2022 Stats FCL - 57 PAs, 156 wRC+, 8.8% BB-Rate, 19.3% K-Rate, .314 ISO
Samil de la Rosa is an 18-year-old prospect who has yet to make his full season debut, which is why he’s under the radar right now. That could change real quick, though, considering how he’s feasted on lower level pitching.
In his first professional season (2021) he crushed DSL pitching to the tune of a 134 wRC+. while OBPing almost .400. DSL hitters can sometimes benefit from a lot of walks and HBPs since DSL pitchers still need to harness their control, but that wasn’t the whole story with him.
Samil de la Rosa batted .288 and slugged .424, so it wasn’t all walks. He’s done even better this year, batting .294, slugging .608, and crushing 4 home runs. The power is particularly impressive since de la Rosa is listed at 5’8” and 175 pounds and is still a young prospect.
He’s exclusively played second and third base in his professional career. If he keeps this up, he’ll make his full season debut at age 19 and I’m excited to see how he handles it. He’s done nothing but hit early in his career and I’m surprised that someone so small of stature has so much power. We’ll see if it stays but he’s absolutely someone worth following the rest of this season.
DSL Cardinals - Maycol Justo
2022 Stats DSL - 70 PAs, 155 wRC+, 7.1% BB-Rate, 31.4% K-Rate, .297 ISO
So, it’s really hard to pick out real talent among the DSL ranks since there’s a huge skill difference between a 16 or 17 year old and a 19 year old. So, I’ll just say upfront that as a 19 year old, he’s 1.2 years older than the average DSL competition, which makes a huge difference at the DSL level.
That does make his 31.4% strikeout rate a little extra concerning, but I am willing to consider that a small sample size problem because Justo had a 12.8% strikeout rate in just under 200 trips to the plate in 2021 at the DSL level.
On the bright side, he has improved in every other regard. A .297 ISO is particularly impressive in the DSL. He’s hit three home runs, three triples, and four doubles in 15 games. As a 5’10”, 141 pound shortstop that’s particularly encouraging.
As Justo has seen an uptick in power, his walks and strikeouts have both gone in the wrong direction. That may be something that corrects as the season continues, but either way I’m expecting to see Justo come stateside next year. That’s the next step to finding out if his production is for real.
What’s interesting to me is that Justo actually played well as an 18-year-old in the DSL, but yet, he was asked to repeat the level this season. He had a 139 wRC+ last year with almost as many walks as strikeouts while batting .331. It honestly felt like he’d done everything he needed to in order to come stateside.
I guess that wasn’t the case, but that hasn’t stopped him from raking in his repeat year. I expect to see him in the FCL next year and he’ll only want to spend one season there to make up for the fact that he repeated the lowest level.
I think that each player on this list has a strong chance at reaching the majors. Some may become consistent contributors, though, to be honest, it’s tough to see DeLuzio or Antico carving out a role in St. Louis.
It’s tougher to predict if lower level players will reach the majors, but each of the players I highlighted are certainly worthy of being on your radar. They have all had great seasons and I’m excited to see how they end the year.
If you want more scouting insight on these guys (since I’m certainly not a scouting expert) go see Kyle Reis’ work on them. His work is top notch.
It’s fun to watch the top prospects dominate, but it’s worth paying attention to some of the under the radar guys too. I hope you guys enjoyed this piece and are ready to learn about some pitchers on Sunday.