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Top 25 Future Redbirds for 2015: Power, Potential, Risk

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The Cardinals don't have any start talents among the current position player crop in the minors. Most of the players have flaws that either limit their upside or are high upside players that haven't begun to climb the development curve.

Mason Katz
Mason Katz
milb.com

Before we get into the players in today's post, a few housekeeping items:

In the vein of expanding Future Redbird coverage in 2015:

  1. F-R is looking for anyone who has interest in writing the Daily Farm Reports during the 2015 season. I'm envisioning some changes to how this will be accomplished this season and am also looking for the assistance of a web developer who is familiar with writing web-scraping scripts to help with yanking box scores automatically rather than randomly.  If you're interested in either of these, please email me at the address in my SBNation profile with the words "DFR Writer" or "Web Development" in the subject line.
  2. F-R is also looking for anyone that lives in the vicinity of any of the farm teams (Jupiter, Palm Beach, Johnson City State College, Peoria, Springfield, or Memphis) and would be interested in doing game watches, developing scouting reports, or shooting pictures/videos on Cardinal prospects.  If interested, email me at the the address in my SB Nation profile with "Farm Scouting" in the subject line.
If you have other ideas for contributions to Future Redbirds feel free to email me with "Contribution Idea" in the subject line.

Thanks!

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This post is a bit late this morning due to the fact that I wanted to wait until Keith Law's Top 100 list went up over at ESPN. You'll need to be an Insider to get access, but there were four Cardinals prospects on the list:
  • Stephen Piscotty (#62)
  • Marco Gonzales (#64)
  • Alex Reyes (#77)
  • Rob Kaminsky (#87)
We'll get into more of a discussion about the players themselves as the F-R Top 25 trickles out over the next month, but color me a just a bit surprised at how low Alex Reyes is ranked here.  I thought for certain that his considerable upside would vault him into the top 50, especially given the improved command that he demonstrated toward the end of last year.

The other interesting thing to me is that Law seems to really like Rob Kaminsky by his player description, but has him ranked behind former Cardinal farmhand Tyrell Jenkins (#82) who went to Atlanta in the Jason Heyward trade.  I would not have put Jenkins in front of Kaminsky on the F-R list this year so I thought that was questionable, given that Kaminsky is 3+ years younger and has already pitched 100 innings a full season league, something Jenkins has never done.

Go check out Law's list and keep your eye out over at Minor League Ball for John Sickel's list, which should be out in the next week as well.

Now, on to the position players who just missed the F-R Top 25:

Vaughn Bryan, 21, LF/CF/RF

Acquired: 2013 Draft, Round 35 (1055th Overall), Broward College (Sophomore)

2014: Peoria (A)

Totals: 350 PA, .262/.326/.382, .120 ISO, .319 wOBA, 20.7% K, 7.7% BB

After being pegged at #10 on Cardinals Top 10 prospect list at Baseball Prospectus a year ago, Bryan received quite a bit of attention given that:

  • Both Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong were also on that list.
  • The Cardinals have had a crazy/insane track record with late round draft picks in the Mozeliak era.
  • Jason Parks fell in love with his plus-plus running ability and compact, powerful looking swing.
Another Charlie Gonzalez project, Bryan could already be considered a win for the organization given where he was taken in the draft: Above average hitter, baserunner, and defender in a full season league that was very pitching heavy in 2014.  That said, Bryan's power didn't emerge the way that Parks' likely anticipated it would last season and his ISO is held up considerably by his nine triples in just 350 PA's.  Given his running ability, this might not be an outlier, but the fact that he managed just one home run on the season would seem to diminish the power expectations considerably.

Still, he's a switch hitter than can play all the outfield positions, has plus speed and a line drive swing, and was adept at taking a lot of good at bats when I saw him play last season. Without more power or a higher contact rate, his ceiling is probably in Jarrod Dyson territory: A valuable 4th outfielder that just can't produce enough on offense to play everyday. Here's a Dyson-esque web gem from last season:


2014 2015 Outlook:

Likely starting the year in Palm Beach, which won't help his power production any, with a shot at AA if he produces well.  If I'm being honest, I hope he gets his feet wet in AA this season at some point as we'll have a much better idea of his potential when he sees more polished pitching and defenses.

Xavier Scruggs, 27, 1B

Acquired: 2008 Draft, 19th Round (#575 Overall), UNLV (Senior)

2014: Memphis (AAA), Cardinals (MLB)

Totals: 538 PA, .286/.370/.494, .208 ISO, .375 wOBA, 21.2% K, 9.9% BB

There was some discussion of Scruggs in the Tuesday F-R post comments, mainly a question of why everyone was sleeping on him. The simple answer to that one is that the front office is sleeping on him as well, given that they went out and signed Mark Reynolds for $2M to fill the exact role that Xavier Scruggs would likely have filled on the 2015 roster: Playing 1B against left handed pitching.



Now, Reynolds will likely see some time at 3B as well (which Scruggs can't do) but, realistically, those two are basically the same in terms of role, and the front office decided that Reynolds was a better bet.  For the money, they're probably right on that score given his 75/80 grade power and big league track record of using it.

Sadly, Scruggs did just about everything he needed to do in 2014 to assure himself a spot as a bench player for the Cardinals in 2015.  He cut his strikeout rate by nearly 6 points from his career 27.2% rate in the minors, he continue to walk, hit for power, crush left handed pitching, all while maintaining his above average walk rate. It seems that none of that really impressed John Mozeliak, and for good reason:

That's what 27 year old players in AAA are supposed to do.

Where's Bryan LaHair at present?  Better yet, where's Mark Hamilton, who was basically the left handed doppelganger for Xavier Scruggs with the Memphis squad in 2009 - 2011.  LaHair had some big league success before being found out, Hamilton really didn't. The transition to the big leagues is a tough one, even from AAA, and is probably as hard as it's ever been if you believe most scouts out there. The Cardinal front office is willing to bet $1.5M that Mark Reynolds outproduces Xavier Scruggs in 200-300 PA's.

Seems like a pretty good bet to me.

2014 2015 Outlook:

Terrifying left handed pitchers in the PCL for the second straight year or warming the St. Louis bench behind Matt Adams if Mark Reynolds makes the mistake of drinking Jobu's rum.  There's a good chance that Reynolds doesn't stay on the 40 man roster past spring training, but I think the lack of any developing 1B talent at Springfield or Palm Beach likely makes him a good hold for the time being.

Mason Katz, 24, 2B

Acquired: 2013 Draft, 4th round (#125 Overall), LSU (Senior)

2014: Peoria (A), Palm Beach (A+)

Totals: 470 PA, 237/.321/.436, .199 ISO, .364 wOBA (2nd half at Palm Beach), 21.1% K, 9.6% BB.

Where will Mason Katz land defensively?  A big chunk of his prospect status hinges on his ability to play a non-bat first position full time, and the Cardinals certainly moved him around a lot last year (between 1B, 2B, and DH) and did so again in fall instructionals (more on that in a bit).  Having utility is a good thing, but just about every infielder has the utility to play 1B (Enter > DanDescalsoWithaPud.gif) so getting a lot of games there doesn't make much sense if you don't have the bat to play there full time.  Katz might actually have one, but it would be on the lower end of the spectrum for that position and he would be a far more valuable player in the middle of the diamond if he can hack it.

Scouting is mixed on his defense, but the general consensus is that it would be an uphill climb to league average at the keystone. Range is limited, arm isn't great (which means he's not a candidate to move to third base), but, like Jhonny Peralta, he does make just about every play he gets to.  Still, it's hard to rank him very high because his defense and lack of a specific position causes so many questions about his potential impact as player.

Adding those questions is this:


So now you can add catcher to the list of Mason Katz utility positions, much like the Cardinals did last year with Carson Kelly. As Katz mentions in the interview, he did play catcher in high school and was recruited to LSU as a catcher so he has more experience with the position that Kelly did prior to making his shift at the end of 2013. I'm not sure how his throwing arm will play behind the plate as it's been mostly a 45/55 in the middle infield, but he's got good quick feet and he can do this:



As a second baseman or catcher, Katz's bat plays up considerably.  Good pull side power, as the .199 ISO indicates, and the ability to drive the ball and create lift. 60 grade power is hard to find at second base, and Katz has it.  He struggles a bit with good arm side velocity which will be something to watch as he graduates to the Texas League, where he will see a lot more of it. A very polished hitter who can work deep into the count and make better contact than you would expect from a slugger, Katz also has good pitch recognition and the ability to hit mistake breaking balls with authority.

So why did Katz miss the top 25?  The big reasons are that he'll be in his age 24 season and will just be getting to AA in 2015 and the questions about his position are enough to knock a lot of the prospect shine off of anyone, even a .200 ISO bat that can potentially play behind the plate or at the keystone.  As Katz says above, though, if he continues to hit well, someone will find a spot for him somewhere.

2014 2015 Outlook:

If Katz is moving behind the plate full time, he might stay at Palm Beach to learn the position or they might just have him learn on the job in Springfield given that his bat looks ready to play there and Carson Kelly might benefit from a bump up to A+. I would be more in favor of the latter, as I think the Cardinals need to see how Katz can adjust to better pitching at the plate as a guide on whether this positional move might make sense long term