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Future Redbirds Top 25 Prospects for 2015: The Sleepers

For those interested on hearing my awful radio voice, I was on Baseball Essential's Farming the Futures podcast last night talking Cardinals minor league prospects, parsing the differences between Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales, and discussing Alex Reyes' velocity boost. Give it a listen. on your way home from work this evening.

Blake Drake
Blake Drake
College Baseball Daily

One good thing about having a deep farm system is that there are a number of C rated players who have one above average tool or skill but for which everything else is fringy at best. The Cardinals have done pretty well with players of this ilk over the last decade or so, with a few of them becoming solid big league contributors without so much as appearing among the top 20 players in the farm system until they reach the higher levels, and sometimes not even then. Jason Motte was one of those guys, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness are both really good examples, and Matt Carpenter probably the best example of all.

There's also the players that seem like an afterthought until they hit .380 for a 50 game stretch and all of the sudden get a much longer look from the scouting community: Think Oscar Taveras or Magneuris Sierra.

Here's a list of players who fit the singular elite skill mold, or just haven't gotten enough reps for anyone to have much of an opinion on them but certainly have some promise for jumping to B prospects with some slight improvement.

The Latin American Arms Race

It feels like most clubs have a bunch of Dominican and Venezuelan arms roving around their low minors, but the Cardinals have a few that really might have some promise:

Junior Fernandez: 18 year old Dominican who just got stateside in the fall of '14. Saw his velocity jump from low-90's into the mid-90's after fall instructionals and looks to have a good feel for his changeup (tell me if you've heard this story before, Luke Weaver). Breaking ball isn't even fringe at this point, but he's also just 18 and probably hasn't had a lot of instruction.

  • Elite Tool: Fastball, could be a 60 grade pitch already.
  • Developmental Keys: Needs to develop consistency with mechanics and work up a breaking ball -- might be better off with a slider, although the Cardinals aren't too keen on that pitch as an organization.
Juan Perez: Will be in his third rookie ball season this year, turns 20 in June. Fastball has a chance to be plus, everything else is holding him back at this point, but there's still some time.
  • Elite Tool: Fastball: 93-94 with life, command is an issue, but gets a fair amount of swings and misses.
  • Developmental Keys: Shows average breaking stuff and an average changeup at times -- but can't consistently make pitches with any of the secondary offerings or throw them for strikes. Probably should focus on being fastball dominant and pick one good secondary pitch to work off of the fastball as he looks like a bullpen guy to me.
Jorge Rodriguez: Turned 21 in March and is headed back for a third stint in the GCL. Likely a bullpen candidate in the long run but flashes a good breaking ball at times so there's a chance that he could develop into a back end starter as well.
  • Elite Tool: Fastball sits in the 94-95 range and can touch 97.
  • Developmental Keys: Whether he can figure out how to throw the breaking ball with any consistency as an average-plus pitch will determine his fate. Can be dominant when everything is working -- but that doesn't happen nearly often enough.

The Late Round Bonus Baby

Bryan Dobzanski: Aaron Schafer (The Red Baron) made mention of Dobzanski on the minor league roundtable podcast and he's a player that I've had on the sleeper list since seeing his $700,000 signing bonus last fall. As in, you don't throw $700k at a guy that doesn't have some serious potential.

Big dude (6'4", 220) who was a three sport athlete in high school, including an elite wrestler (two time state champ), which is an interesting trait for a pitcher due to the coordination and strength in the core and lower body required to have that kind of success on the mat. Throws a hard, heavy sinker that can get touch 95 and reminds me a lot of Joe Kelly in terms of stuff and his mechanics remind me a lot of Kelly's too:

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Uses the same spike curve grip that Rob Kaminsky uses -- he learned it from a teammate of Kaminsky's -- but doesn't have the advanced feel for the pitch that his fellow New Jersey native does. There's a lot to like here, but given the lack of experience on the mound in high school Dobzanski isn't going to be someone the moves quickly through the system.

Speed Kills:

C.J. McElroy: Elite speed, above average defense in CF, and halfway decent approach. Continues to tinker with being a switch hitter when he should probably just give it up and bat right handed as he has a nearly identical career line against right handed pitchers from either side of the plate -- a .580ish OPS that is the biggest reason why he doesn't move faster through the system. He's also not a great basestealer for a guy with his speed -- caught 18 times in 59 attempts last year and doesn't have a good feel for getting jumps.  Superior athlete though, so how you feel about him depends on whether you think that basestealing is something that can be taught or whether it's an innate gift that only a few are truly blessed with.

Blake Drake: 18th round selection out of Concordia (NAIA) in 2015 and hit .280/.363/.419 with Johnson City's playoff qualifying squad a year ago. Doesn't have McElroy's speed, but has a better baseball IQ from the little I've seen thus far -- gets good jumps in the outfield and is an above average baserunner.  He can also lose one once and a while, something that McElroy hasn't done in his entire minor league career.  Currently struggling with some bad BABIP luck with Peoria, but he had a couple of loud outs and a hard hit double down the left field line during my scouting trip to Cedar Rapids a couple of weeks back. Definitely a guy to keep an eye on this season -- the struggle will be getting playing time with Magneuris Sierra implanted in CF for the Chiefs.