The St. Louis Cardinals minor league season officially ended on Sunday with the Memphis Redbirds losing 8-2 and finishing the season with a 71-78 record. In terms of wins and losses, though, the Redbirds were the worst team in the system, or, at least among the full season affiliates. It was a successful year all around so I want to hit the highlights for each team, including overall record and players who had big seasons.
As I go down through the system, there will be plenty of players who deserve to be recognized but as I don’t want to spend the rest of my life writing this article, I’ll have to gloss over some players who deserve to have more written about them. Keep that in mind as you move through this piece.
The minor league season officially ending for the Cardinals is the first symbol that baseball season in coming to a close but it also means we have full season data for every minor leauger. With that said, keep reading for a review of each team’s season and some players that stood out to me.
Triple-A Memphis Redbirds (71-78, missed playoffs)
As you would expect from a team that finished with a losing record, the Redbirds missed the playoffs. That doesn’t mean there weren’t performances to take note of, though.
Ivan Herrera is the hitter that I really want to highlight here. As a side note, Luken Baker had a better season with Memphis but I’m glossing over him because he hasn’t done as much with his major league time and he doesn’t have as much of a future with the Cardinals as Herrera.
And I hope that Herrera has a future with the Cardinals. Andrew Knizner has been performed admirably this season but the Cardinals should not choose him over Herrera as the backup catcher.
If you pull up Herrera’s numbers on Fangraphs, he’ll stand out immediately but I want to look deeper than that. For starters, I can evaluate catcher defense with the eye test and tell you that Herrera is better than he was last year, but my eye test is a lot more unreliable that John Mozeliak’s words. And Mozeliak raved about Herrera, and specifically his defensive improvement, at Blogger Day this year. So rest assured, Herrrera has made progress in that regard.
But he’s made progress with the bat too. Herrera’s Triple-A wRC+ rose from 111 last year to 147 this year and that was accompanied by a nearly 80 point increase in isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average). Statistically, he was a standout, and perhaps the standout, especially when considering the position that he plays.
But let’s dig deeper than wRC+ and ISO.
Ivan Herrera AAA Metrics vs. MLB Average
|Player||Avg EV (mph)||95% EV (mph)||Max EV (mph)||Sweet Spot%||Chase%||IZ Contact%||Whiff%|
|Player||Avg EV (mph)||95% EV (mph)||Max EV (mph)||Sweet Spot%||Chase%||IZ Contact%||Whiff%|
If we take Ivan Herrera’s Triple-A metrics and compare them to the MLB Average (which isn’t a clean comparison), he’s above average in everything - power, contact, and discipline. I don’t have Herrera’s Triple-A metrics last year, but it’s safe to assume that they aren’t as good as this year’s metrics.
Herrera made a ton of improvement and you may not realize that since he hasn’t spent much time in the majors this year. I’m really excited to see him in the majors next year (where he will have to be since he has no more option years after this season) and I hope the Cardinals give him the chance to back up Willson Contreras next year.
Double-A Springfield Cardinals (72-66, lost in the first round of the playoffs)
The Springfield Cardinals turned a strong second half into a second half division title and a playoff appearance before losing 14-1 in the third game of a best-of-3 first round series.
It was a disappointing end to a fun season in which the Cardinals had probably the most exciting minor league team in the system for the second half of the year. The team consisted of Tink Hence, Tekoah Roby, Victor Scott, Thomas Saggese, Mike Antico, Chandler Redmond, and Pedro Pages, to name a few.
And Thomas Saggese is the player I want to focus on. Tekoah Roby is worth a mention here since he struck out over 43% of the hitters he faced in his 4 starts with Springfield but since he threw only 12 innings, I’m moving my attention to another player who came over at the trade deadline.
Thomas Saggese put up a crazy 168 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances with the Springfield Cardinals, and that’s after he accumulated a 132 wRC+ with the Frisco Roughriders (the Rangers Double-A affiliate) prior to the trade.
All Saggese does is hit, and though he struggled in 13 games with the Memphis Redbirds, it’s way too early to be worried about that. To make things even better, Saggese has a utility profile, which gives him an even better chance at breaking into the big leagues since he can play anywhere in the infield.
In my mind, Roby is the best player the Cardinals acquired at the deadline but I’ll argue that Saggese is right behind him.
High-A Peoria Chiefs (69-63, lost in the first round of the playoffs)
The Peoria Chiefs also made the playoffs after finishing the year at 69-63 but they too felt the sting of a first round elimination after losing 2 of 3 games to the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
The Chiefs had a really fun roster in the first half of the season especially before much of that roster graduated to the Springfield Cardinals. The second half roster wasn’t as talented in terms of prospect pedigree but was still a good group of players and a fun team to watch.
The player I’m going to highlight this time is a pitcher - Ian Bedell - who finally broke out after years of injury issues. He finished the season with a 2.44 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 3.72 xFIP after throwing just 8.1 innings since being drafted in 2020.
What impressed me the most, besides the fact that he threw 96 innings this year after brely pitching in competitive games the last few years, was his ability to miss bats. Bedell finished the year with a solid 27.2% strikeout rate after striking out 25 batters in his first 12.2 innings. He obviously didn’t continue that strikeout rate but he missed a lot of bats throughout the year and had a really strong season that put him back on the prospect radar.
His strikeout abilities didn’t come with particularly poor control either as he walked 8.7% of the hitters he faced. That’s not a particularly low rate but nor is it a particularly high one. Bedell has already turned 24 years old and is rule 5 elgible in the winter but I’m willing to overlook those considerations because of his lack of mound time.
Double-A and Triple-A tend to test a pitcher’s stuff more than the A-ball levels so next year will be a real test for Bedell. I’m excited to see how he handles it.
Single-A Palm Beach Cardinals (64-63, lost in the first round of the playoffs)
The Palm Beach Cardinals also made the playoffs after a strong first half effort meant that they won the first half division crown and booked their playoff spot. They too were unable to advance in the postseason but they were one of three Cardinals affiliates to make the playoffs, marking a pretty successful year for the system from that perspective.
The player I want to highlight here is Max Rajcic. I’m kind of cheating since Rajcic was only in Palm Beach for half the year but since he threw more innings with Palm Beach (62 with Palm Beach, 61.1 with Peoria), I’m still considering him an option here.
Rajcic didn’t pitch at all last year after being drafted in the 6th round so not only did he make his professional debut this year, but he also rose in a lot of prospect rankings.
You can see his first year stats below:
What struck me most about Rajcic was his combination of swing-and-miss and control. Rajcic was a control and pitchability prospect coming out of UCLA but then he fanned 28.6% of the batters he faced in Single-A. That dipped to 21.9% in High-A but his overall results stayed strong.
The Cardinals do a great job of finding talent in the middle rounds and Rajcic is certainly another interesting player who has come from these rounds. From a pitch level perspective, Rajcic has an interesting four-seamer with a solid 17 inches of induced vertical break, a heavy downer curveball, and a changeup that missed a lot of bats in limited usage. He also throws a sinker and a slider to round out his 5 pitch mix and he gets good spin on all of his pitches.
It may not be an elite bat missing arsenal, but it is a pretty good one that he control well. That gives Rajcic a good amount of promise and I’m exited to see him tested at the higher levels.
Before I move to rookie ball, I want to briefly mention another player. Zach Levenson clubbed 6 home runs in just 139 plate appearances after getting drafted in the 5th round and he paired that with a healthy 23.0% strikeout rate. Swing-and-miss was his main concern coming out of college, so that’s a good sign.
I can’t move on without mentioning William Sullivan either. The 13th round pick finished with a 128 wRC+ and is no stranger to absolutely obliterating the baseball. He regularly hit balls in the upper 100s with Palm Beach and I saw him as high as 112.7 mph, though he very easily could have hit a ball harder than that which escaped my attention.
In fact, his maximum exit velocity trailed only 4 Cardinals minor leagues this year - Jordan Walker, Joshua Baez, Luken Baker, and Ivan Herrera. The dude can rake.
In college he hit a ball 118 mph, though that was with a metal bat so it should be taken with a grain of salt. He may only be a 1B/DH kind of prospect but he has legit power and I’m excited to see how that plays in the minor leagues.
FCL Cardinals (17-33, missed playoffs)
The FCL Cardinals had a rough season but, honestly, who cares? I really have a hard time concerning myself with wins and losses in rookie ball, especially. While the season may have been rough for the team, there were some individual standouts.
I’m going to move through them quickly because it’s tough to ascribe meaning to rookie ball stats but I do still want to mention a few players.
Leonel Sequera is a young pitcher that I have my eye on after putting up a 347 ERA and 3.10 FIP as a 16-year-old in the DSL last year and a 2.65 ERA and 2.36 FIP as a 17-year-old in rookie ball this year. His control stands out the most and while his strikeout rates aren’t exceptional, they aren’t terrible either.
Darlin Saladin (2.85 ERA, 47.1 IP) and Gerardo Salas (3.21 ERA, 47.2 IP) also had strong years with a lot of innings pitched while Ettore Giulianneli is worth a mention too. The Italian gave up a lot of runs (6.16 ERA) and a lot of walks (25.8 BB%) but he struck out 38.2% of the hitters he faced and that kind of a strikeout rate always makes me take notice.
On the hitting side, 4 players finished with more than 100 ABs - Jose Suarez, Yaisel Ramos, Anyelo Encarnacion, and Jonathan Mejia. The highest OPS of that group was .672, belong to Encarnacion, but playing time is an important consideration in rookie ball as teams doen’t generally give the most playing time to players that consider to be the better prospects, not necessarily the most prodcutve players.
In terms of production, Jose Cordoba put up a 145 wRC+ in 87 plate appearances and then held his own in a cup of coffee with Palm Beach (106 wRC+). He could be a lower level name to keep an eye on. Samil de la Rosa is another interesting name as he’s had nothing but success in the DSL and FCL in the past two seasons.
DSL Cardinals (17-36, missed playoffs)
It was a rough season for the DSL Cardinals, but, again, who really cares about wins and losses all the way down here, ya know?
Arfeni Batista, Bracewell Taveras (signed for $450,000 this year), and Yordalin Pena led the team in ABs with only Pena having success, leading all DSL Cardinals with a .751 OPS. Fernando Roquez led the team in wRC+ at 111 with an OBP heavy .234/.387/.363 slash line.
On the pitching side, Yadiel Batista was probably the most impressive arm after walking just 2 hitters in 38.2 innings pitched. He finished the year with a 3.96 ERA and 3.05 FIP but was also 19 years old, which is advanced for the league. That does matter a good deal in the lower levels of the minors especially.
Stiveen Rojas played the whole season at 16 years old and got 27 innings with a 22% strikeout rate and 2.67 ERA. His 5.05 FIP was worse but between the age, the playing time, and the numbers, he could be interesting.
Fianlly, Yordy Herrera posted a strikeout rate above 30% for the second DSL season in a row and finished with a 3.68 ERA and 4.42 FIP in 29.1 innings.
It’s pretty much impossible to predict how DSL players will turn out so I wanted to breifly mention a bunch of names that could be worth keeping an eye on.
It was a fun minor league season in the Cardinals system and I enjoyed watching more minor league baseball than ever this year. The system as a whole finished with a record of 310-339 but that improves to 276-270 when you only consider the full season affiliates.
I’ve listed some names that stood out to me but I would love to hear any other names that stood out to you so hit the comments and keep me honest.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Tuesday.