Over at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen recently completed his analysis of the Cardinals top prospects. He has full write-ups on the Cardinals top-24 prospects with smaller paragraphs on another 20 players in the Cardinals system. The entire piece is well worth your time.
I had a phone conversation yesterday with Eric and he answered a handful of questions on the Cardinals’ system, expectations for this season, and Cuban free agent Luis Robert. If you have more questions for Eric, he has weekly chats at FanGraphs, and he is on twitter @longenhagen.
VEB: Eliezer Alvarez’s stat line was fantastic last season. Will his hit tool be enough to keep moving him up the ladder?
EL: I bounced back and forth between putting a future 6 and 7 [out of 8] on the bat during the process. Not everyone thinks the game power at maturity will be ideal at second base--especially if moving forward the power spike across baseball and what we’ve seen on the middle infield is a permanent thing--but of all the bat-first hit before power second baseman that I’ve covered over the series, and there are a lot of them, this is a guy who has a pretty solid mix and one of the better hit tools. Scout who talk about comfort being an important aspect of hitting are all in on this guy because he is very casual and smooth and comfortable and natural. They believe he’s going to go all the way up.
VEB: The Cardinals probably agree as they protected Alvarez over Allen Cordoba. Do you think the Cardinals will get him back?
EL: I think it’s probably easier for the Padres to hide Cordoba than some of the other guys they took. Cordoba projects to third base for most of the guys i’ve spoken to and they like the bat. The questions is: Can the padres reasonably find a way to keep him on the big league roster and get him enough at bats so they don’t completely hamstring his development? His meal ticket to a consistent big league career will be the bat. It is telling that the padres were able to accomplish it with multiple Rule 5 picks last year. They seem pretty committed to it, but i wouldn’t call Cordoba the most likely to stick with [Miguel] Diaz, then Cordoba, then [Luis] Torrens.
VEB: What are reasonable expectations for Alex Reyes this season?
EL: Upward of 22 starts with a 3-something ERA and peripherals close to what he put up last year. The stuff is there. The breaking ball was a little less consistent last year than it had been the year before. I know there has been some addition and subtraction with the slider/cutter that he throws. It was in the upper 80s when i saw him in the fall league and when he started working with it late last year it was more 81-85 than 87-89 so I think there is some tinkering going on.
If the dust hasn’t settled there by the time Spring Training is over we might see that carry into the season. We might see some of the secondaries be a little inconsistent. Eventually he’ll be fine, but his results this year might be affected by what is going on with that specifically and getting more innings under his belt. He had 110 innings last year so maybe 140 this year probably caps how much value you can squeeze out this year, but start to start he will be a three-four type starter as soon as he steps on the mound.
VEB: Do you think Luke Weaver’s cutter will work well enough as a third pitch to keep him as a starter?
EL: I do, and I think more than just the cutter itself being good his command of it will allow him to keep starting.
VEB: In addition to Reyes and Weaver, you have three other pitchers in the Cardinals top-10 a little further away from the majors. How aggressive would you be this season with Sandy Alcantara, Jack Flaherty, and Dakota Hudson?
EL: Flaherty is most ready to pitch at the upper levels. It is a combination of baseline stuff and advanced pitchablility so he’s the guy most ready to move up. Alcantara might get there close to when Flaherty does, but he’s a guy who gets caddied to a rotation spot via the bullpen like Carlos Martinez was. There’s still more polish to be had there.
Hudson, you’d probably be more conservative with because of his injury history. Part of the reason he fell, I’m convinced, is because of injuries. His delivery is rough and he missed an entire season in college. You are a little more apt to put the brakes on. From a stuff and pitching ability standpoint, he could probably pitch in High-A right now. As far as workload goes, you’d probably be more conservative.
VEB: Looking outside the top-10 for prospects who could make a big jump this season, Junior Fernandez, Jordan Hicks, and Randy Arozarena seem like the biggest talents, is that fair? Anyone I’m missing?
EL: I think those are certainly guys who have some electricity about their skill-sets. Fernandez is probably ultimately a reliever and even me putting 45 future value on him is pretty aggressive because that is probably a win and a half reliever and there are just two-dozen of those at any given time. I did speak to someone who thinks he starts, but he is ultimately probably a reliever and the role will hinder his value.
Hicks--of the three you mentioned--you will see his performance really tick it up. If you see his numbers last year they aren’t particularly impressive, but it is good stuff. I think he is a more viable starting pitching prospect than fernandez. He’s just further away. Arozarena is ultimately a utility guy. Of those three, Hicks is a guy that i think has the highest ceiling from a value standpoint.
For Marco Gonzales, it is interesting to see where he’s at in the spring because he used to be very good.
Of the guys in the july 2 class, the big 6’6” Cuban, Johan Oviedo, there are mixed opinions on him depending on what workouts scouts saw him in. He was either touching 97-98 with curveball feel or a physically sloppy and unprojectable 92-94. He is old for the class as we aren’t talking about a 16 or 17 year old. The reports are pretty explosive and he was left off the main list because of how far he is from the big leagues.
VEB: Cardinals don’t pick until the third round and once the current signing period closes, can’t sign any international amateurs for more than $300,000, is Luis Robert worth a significant investment?
EL: Yes, I saw him with the Cuban national team on the Can-Am tour last summer and he is a guy when I do the overall top-100 list who is going to be on there. I have heard rumors about him trying to leave the island multiple times over the last few years. As he has been unable to do so, reports of his physicality sort of waned as the body has gotten a bit bigger. What was once a guy who was a viable defensive center fielder who might hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases is more of left field/first base-type of guy but the bat is still very intriguing.
I think he is one of the better prospects in baseball in general but just because this is the last opportunity anyone will have to throw money at Latin America, I expect the bidding to be pretty ridiculous. There is nothing else right now. Cuba is basically dry. Robert is sort of it. There’s plus bat speed and pull power and he is athletic for his side and for no other reason that there is nothing else to spend money on, I think this guy will really get paid.
VEB: Should the Cardinals be in on him?
EL: I think any team that is pot-committed to the 2016-2017 July 2 class should make a run at Luis Robert. We’ve seen this a lot with Cuban players who are declared free agents at odd times in the international cycle. It is one of the reasons the Dodgers started throwing $1 million to $2 million at non-prospects late in the previous singing period. It’s just money and not something these teams ultimately care about. It is more lottery tickets. If one of them pans out, great. If not, it is just some billionaires money.
I expect Cincinnati, San Diego, St. Louis, Atlanta--anybody over the bonus pool allotment in this signing period--to at least take a run at him as best they can. They aren’t going to have the opportunity to do this anymore. They are already incurring the penalty, they have nothing else to lose other than money, and it isn’t easy to find middle of the order prospects.