Palm Beach Cardinals
Florida State League
Three Year Park Factor: 96 (Pitcher Friendly)
This was certainly one of the weaker clubs in the Cardinal farm system in 2014. Despite the excellent record, it's hard to find too many players from this FSL club that have any sort of major league potential and most of the club was at least league average age or older, which explains their success to a certain extent. There are few real gems here, with Cory Jones going down to a UCL tear early in the year, and most of the higher upside players getting promoted to Springfield at some point last season. I've included a few of them here, if only because they spend the majority of the season in Palm Beach.
Player of the Year:
Charlie Tilson, OF, 21
A former top 100 draft selection who's battled injuries for most of his early career, Tilson's development was set back considerably. He amassed just 60 PA's in his first two big league seasons after being drafted out of high school, and really didn't hit his stride until 2013 when he hit .302/.348/.387 with Peoria.
This season was essentially a mirror image of 2013 for Tilson; similar batting line, a bit better slugging (and finally topping a .100 ISO), thanks to a slight increase in home run power, but a strikeout rate increase and a lowered walk rate are red flags for a guy who struggled mightily in a late season call up to Springfield.
The pros? He's fast, a legit above average defender in center field, makes good contact and projects an above average (but not elite) hit tool, and you can't knock the bat out of his hands anymore at the plate (at least, not at the lower minors level).
The cons? The speed really doesn't translate onto the bases (27 steals in 43 attempts in 237 games), his walk rate leaves a lot to be desired for a potential top of the order hitter, and he strikes out a ton for a guy with a career 0.092 ISO.
His developmental progress after a lost 2012 season has been fairly impressive, but I feel like his speed really makes up for a lot of flaws in A ball that it won't in AA or AAA. The tools are there, but 2015 is a real make or break season for Tilson if he's going to continue his career in the Cardinal organization.
Players of Note:
Mason Katz, 1B/2B, 23
Power, power, power. That's Katz's game, and his stint with Palm Beach went a long way towards keeping him in the good graces of the F-R staff, who were more than a little bit concerned about his lackluster consistency with regards to good contact earlier in the season at Peoria, despite the 14 homers he hit in just 287 PA. The power profile from a middle infielder is top notch but it's hard to tell whether he can stay at the position or whether his long-ish swing is going to be susceptible to good arm side velocity that he probably saw more of in the Midwest League this season than he did with Palm Beach. Jury is still out, but the power tool is legit, and if he can stay in the middle infield he'll remain an outside bet to make some MLB noise in the next couple of seasons at least.
Nick Petree, RHP, 23
The Maddux of Missouri State, Petree continues to do what he does best: Not hurt himself. He walked just 33 in 130 innings and gave up just 7 dingers -- the only way you beat this guy is by delivering death by a thousand cuts. Petree doesn't blow you away, he makes you uncomfortable in the box, and mentally it feels like he's so far ahead of you that even a poker face and sunglasses won't keep him from having you figured out. The stuff isn't great, but his command of it is impeccable, and he induces enough weak contact that you'd swear he was throwing harder than the 88 mph on the radar gun suggests.
He's not though, and that's what is likely to limit his potential as a starting pitching prospect at some point. I was chatting with Joe Schwarz tonight for a bit and during that conversation I compared Petree to Bob Tewksbury, the unremarkable starter from early nineties Cardinal teams that never walked anybody, never allowed any homers, relied on his defense, and left you wondering how he was able to get away with it.
Petree pitches much the same way Tewk did and you can't help but compare them, but the game has changed over the last 20+ years and I'm not sure that a guy like Tewk would be able to get out of the minors in the current environment.
Perhaps Nick Petree can prove me wrong.
Dixon Llorens, RHP, 21
Pretty much the exact opposite of Petree, Llorens walked more hitters than Petree in about 35% of the innings (34 BB in 48 IP) but while he might walk the bases loaded on occasion, he can also strike out the next three hitters to get out of the jam -- evidenced by his 39% strikeout rate on the year.
Llorens is absolute death to right handed hitters, allowing just a .135 batting average against over his career and sporting a sterling 1.69 FIP against the 325 batters he's faced. He's susceptible to lefties though, as his mid 3/4 delivery might suggest, and his ability to get them out will be important as he moves forward in his career. While a LOOGY like Randy Choate can make it in the big leagues it's much harder for a ROOGY to do the same, mostly due to the fact that nearly all clubs keep a left handed hitter on their bench to pinch hit late in games.
I like Llorens a lot, mostly due to his unorthodox delivery, and I hope that he can harness his control enough to be a bullpen asset for the Cardinals. Given all the bullpen talent the Cardinals currently possess though, he's not likely to get a shot unless he can tame the walks and figure out lefties. He's not shown the ability to do either up to this point.