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The 2016 St. Louis Cardinals Top 10 Prospects

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And for those wondering what CALs are, here’s an article on the Comparison And Likeness program I designed.

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1. Alex Reyes, RHP                                                             
Born: 08/29/94 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Shelby Miller, Luis Severino,

Chance Adams, Lucas Giolito, Ben Hornbeck

Height: 6-3 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 20 R 3.0 0 0 0.00 2.31 9.00 0.00 33.3% 0.0% 0.00 100.0%
2015 20 A+ 63.7 2 5 2.26 1.75 13.57 4.38 36.6% 11.8% 0.00 75.9%
2015 20 AA 34.7 3 2 3.12 2.32 13.50 4.67 36.4% 12.6% 0.26 67.4%

Background: Just how good was Reyes last season? Well, he became the third hurler under the age of 21 to lead the entire minor leagues in strikeout percentage since 2006 (minimum 100 innings). The previous two times: Matt Moore (2009) and Tyler Glasnow (2013). The great differentiator between the trio of flame-throwers: Moore and Glasnow accomplished the feat in Low Class A whereas Reyes, the hard-throwing right-hander did so splitting his time between the Florida State and Texas Leagues. Signed out of the Dominican Republic after leaving the States to live with family, Reyes continued his assault on minor league bats last season; in 22 combined starts (101.1 innings of work), the 6-foot-3, 185-pound hurler fanned a mind-boggling 151 while walking 49. For his career, he’s averaged nearly 12 punch outs and 4.6 walks per nine innings.

Projection: In last year’s book I wrote:

“The control/command still has quite a ways to go, but anytime a teenager fans nearly 30% of the batters he faced in full season ball is definitely noteworthy. The fact that his strikeout percentage ranks third in all of Low Class A is just an added bonus. Reyes is still a minimum of three years from making his big league debut, but there’s mid- to front-of-the-rotation potential here.”

His dominant showing in 2015 leaves little doubt that there are all kinds of ace potential brewing in his thunderbolt-slinging right arm. The control didn’t take a step forward, but it’s also important to remember that’s he’s facing more and more disciplined hitters at an accelerated pace. Meaning: it’s not a concern yet.

Simply put, Reyes is just another high ceiling caliber arm in what’s seemingly become an endless march up to the big league rotation, ultimately following in the footsteps of Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Trevor Rosenthal (he should be in the rotation), etc… True, legitimate #1 starting material – but the control/command needs to take that next step forward.

One final note: Reyes is a candidate for a late-season call up and/or could potentially be placed on the Earl Weaver break-em-in-easy pitching plan (i.e. having him develop in the big leagues as a reliever than transition him into a starting role in 2017).

Ceiling: 4.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2016

 

2. Jack Flaherty, RHP                                                      
Born: 10/15/95 Age: 20 Bats: R Top CALs: Francis Martes, German Marquez,

Chris Tillman, Kodi Medeiros, Jake Thompson

Height: 6-4 Weight: 205 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 18 R 22.7 1 1 1.59 2.54 11.12 1.59 29.8% 4.3% 0.40 67.8%
2015 19 A 95.0 9 3 2.84 2.83 9.19 2.94 23.7% 7.6% 0.19 72.3%

Background: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane; And I howled at my ma in the driving rain; But it’s all right now, in fact it’s a gas! But it’s all right. I’m jumping jack flash; It’s a gas, gas, gas.” – Jumping Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones. Let’s be honest, I kind of shoehorned that reference in, but anytime you can quote the Stones you just go with it. Jumpin’ Jack Flaherty’s dominant debut momentum from 2014 spilled over into the Midwest League last season. In 19 starts with Peoria (95 innings), Flaherty posted another strong strikeout-to-walk ratio, 97-to-31, while finishing with the lowest FIP among all Midwest League hurlers with at least 90+ innings.

Projection: Flaherty’s used to walking in some pretty impressive footsteps as he’s followed Lucas Giolito and Max Fried as another first round pick hailing from Harvard-Westlake HS. And CAL seems to be a huge fan, linking him to a quintet of very promising arms: Francis Martes, German Marquez, Chris Tillman, Kodi Medeiros, and Jake Thompson.

Here’s what I wrote about Flaherty in last year’s book:

“Another one of the polished pitchers that the club tends to collect. Flaherty overpowered the Gulf Coast during his 22.2-inning stint last season and should follow in the footsteps of both Alex Reyes and Rob Kaminsky and head to Peoria as a 19-year-old.”

Test officially passed – with flying colors. Flaherty was simply too good, too polished for the Low Class A competition. He’s likely going to pass the next test, High Class A, with a relative amount of ease as well and could potentially spend a decent amount of the 2016 season in Class AA. Not quite on the same level as Reyes, Flaherty’s a nice ##2/3-type arm.

Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

3. Luke Weaver, RHP                                                       
Born: 08/21/93 Age: 22 Bats: R Top CALs: Scott Diamond, Ivan Pneyro,

Jeff Marquez, Johnny Cueto, Francellis Montas

Height: 6-2 Weight: 170 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 20 R 6.0 0 0 0.00 1.01 13.50 0.00 40.9% 0.0% 0.00 100.0%
2014 20 A+ 3.3 0 1 21.60 9.09 8.10 10.80 12.5% 16.7% 2.70 51.5%
2015 21 A+ 105.3 8 5 1.62 2.28 7.52 1.62 20.7% 4.5% 0.17 72.7%

Background: One of my favorite collegiate arms in the 2014 draft class. Weaver, no relation to either Jeff or Jerad, tumbled to the latter part of the first round following a noticeable downturn in production during his junior campaign at Florida State; his strikeout rate declined from 10.89 K/9 to a career worst 7.19 K/9. But the Cardinals, recognizing value better than any other team in the draft, stopped the rail-thin right-hander’s slide and the rest – as they say – is history. Despite throwing just nine innings in his debut, Weaver found himself back in High Class A for the entire 2015 season. He would make 19 starts, throw 105.1 innings, fan 88, walk 19, and post a 2.28 FIP – one of the best marks among all MiLB hurlers with at least 90+ innings.

Projection: Just another fantastic draft selection, something that’s merely commonplace for one of the best run organizations in baseball. Here’s what I wrote about the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder former Seminole prior to the draft two years ago:

“Production-wise, Weaver falls into the same category as LSU right-hander Aaron Nola – extreme control pitchers that have historically exhibited some pretty strong strikeout numbers. The difference being, of course, Nola’s maintained status quo whereas Weaver’s taken a dramatic step backward, which adds some obvious risk associated with his draft selection.

Another mid-rotation-type arm poised to move quickly through the minor leagues. His K-rate probably won’t be as high as Nola’s in the professional ranks, but it should settle in around 7.0 K/9.

Plus, considering his slight build – he weighs only 170 pounds – there could be some room for velocity growth [if] he can add the right kind of weight.”

I was spot on with the punch out rate, at least for now, as he averaged a smidgeon over 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season. His groundball rates aren’t as high as you would like, so his barely-there 0.17 HR-rate last season will likely climb up above the 0.60 HR/9 next year. I originally postulated that he’d ultimately become a #3 caliber arm, which still seams about right.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

4. Marco Gonzales, LHP                                                
Born: 02/16/92 Age: 24 Bats: L Top CALs: Trevor Bell, Josh Lindblom,

Pedro Hernandez, Jake Odorizzi, Brett Oberholtzer

Height: 6-1 Weight: 195 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 21 R 6.7 0 0 5.40 1.81 13.50 4.05 31.3% 9.4% 0.00 54.6%
2013 21 A+ 16.7 0 0 1.62 3.36 7.02 2.70 21.3% 8.2% 0.54 88.2%
2014 22 A+ 37.7 2 2 1.43 2.67 7.65 1.91 21.3% 5.3% 0.24 83.7%
2014 22 AA 38.7 3 2 2.33 2.19 10.71 2.33 28.8% 6.3% 0.47 72.1%
2014 22 AAA 45.7 4 1 3.35 4.77 7.69 1.77 20.7% 4.8% 1.38 81.9%
2015 23 A+ 4.7 0 0 0.00 1.45 7.71 0.00 20.0% 0.0% 0.00 60.0%
2015 23 AA 6.7 0 0 0.00 1.95 8.10 0.00 22.2% 0.0% 0.00 100.0%
2015 23 AAA 69.3 1 5 5.45 5.08 6.62 3.12 16.4% 7.7% 1.30 71.6%

Background: The 19th overall pick out of Gonzaga University three years ago, Gonzales yo-yoed his way through practically every stop of the baseball chain. In between dealing with arm/shoulder issues last season, the 6-foot-1 southpaw began the year with six mostly disappointing starts in the PCL, hit the DL for nearly two months, got a pair of tune up games in both the Florida State and Texas League, made another seven starts – with mediocre results – with Springfield, got bumped for a quick one game jaunt with St. Louis, and finally back down to Springfield for one hideous appearance. Overall, Gonzales finished the minor league season with 80.2 innings, 61 punch outs, 24 walks, and an unsightly 4.69 ERA – a rather stark contrast to his wildly successful sophomore campaign two years ago (122.0, 117 K, 27 BB, and a 2.43 between High Class A, Class AA, and the PCL).

Projection: Last year was more or less a lost season for Gonzales as injuries – and a subsequent DL vacation – sapped his effectiveness. A silver lining of sorts, though: his average fastball velocity during his MLB debut in 2014 was 89.5 mph; his average heater in his lone start with St. Louis in early September was 89.4 mph.

Even when he’s healthy Gonzales will never be mistaken for a dominant frontend starter, but there’s some significant MLB value to be extracted from his left arm – as long as it doesn’t spontaneously combust. He shows above-average control/command with an average-ish ability to miss the barrel of the bat.

Here’s what I wrote prior to the draft:

“More finesse than anything else, Gonzales grades outs as a mid- to late-first rounder. His work with Team USA [in 2012] adds to his impressive resume (29 Ks in 22 IP). One red flag, however, is the amount of extra-base hits he’s surrendered through his106 innings: 17 doubles and a pair of triples. He’s a good #4-type guy.”

Again, assuming the arm doesn’t fall off, he still remains a safe bet to reach that potential.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: Debuted in 2014

 

5. Edmundo Sosa, SS                                                      
Born: 03/06/96 Age: 20 Bats: R Top CALs: Marco Hernandez, Jorge Polanco,

Pablo Reyes, Alec Henson, Marcos Almonte

Height: 5-11 Weight: 170 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 17 R 198 8 3 3 0.314 0.396 0.450 0.136 11.1% 7.6% 150
2014 18 R 233 8 5 1 0.275 0.341 0.377 0.101 7.7% 12.4% 109
2015 19 R 223 8 4 7 0.300 0.369 0.485 0.185 7.2% 17.0% 137

Background: Originally signed out of Panama for a pretty hefty sum, $425,000, the equivalent of third or fourth round money, Sosa had a strong showing in the Dominical Summer League during his pro debut, slugging .314/.396/.450 with 14 extra-base hits in 47 games. The organization promoted him stateside the following year, 2014, and the 5-foot-11, 170-pound shortstop adapted well; he batted .275/.341/.377 with another 14 extra-base knocks in 52 games. St. Louis strayed a bit from their typical push-em-up, push-em-through development plan with promising young players as they promoted Sosa from the Gulf Coast to the Appalachian League last season. And once again, he continued to hit: .300/.369/.485 with 19 hits going for extra-bases, including a career best seven homeruns.

Projection: Sosa failed to crack my Top 20 list for the organization last season, but he earned a honorable mention of sorts by being listed in the Bird Doggin’ It section. I wrote, “Small teenaged shortstop held his own in the Gulf Coast League [prior to] earning a three-game stint [with] State College. Decent tools sans power.” Well, the power took a pretty important developmental step forward last season as he set a career best with a .185 Isolated Power. He’s not overly quick, more sneaky than anything. Decent eye at the plate, strong contact skills, and a potentially above-average hit tool. If he wasn’t ready for full season ball last year, he is now.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018

 

6. Magneuris Sierra, CF                                                
Born: 04/07/96 Age: 20 Bats: L Top CALs: Elvis Escobar, Jhohan Acevedo,

Cesar Puello, Mitch Dening, Harold Ramirez

Height: 5-11 Weight: 160 Throws: L
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 17 R 252 6 3 1 0.269 0.361 0.340 0.071 11.5% 13.1% 115
2014 18 R 223 12 3 2 0.386 0.434 0.505 0.119 7.2% 13.5% 170
2015 19 R 239 8 0 3 0.315 0.371 0.394 0.079 7.9% 17.6% 117
2015 19 A 190 1 3 1 0.191 0.219 0.247 0.056 3.7% 27.4% 33

Background: After slapping around the Gulf Coast League in epic fashion two years ago (.386/.434/.505), the Midwest League pitchers decided to hit back in 2015 – in a huge way. St. Louis aggressively – and rightly so – pushed the Dominican-born center fielder into full season ball, but after 51 putrid games (.191/.219/.247) the club decided to put Sierra’s triple-slash line out of its misery and push him back down to the Appalachian League. His numbers saw a noticeable uptick (no surprise) as he slugged .315/.371/.394 with eight doubles, three homeruns, and 15 stolen bases in 239 trips to the plate. For his young career, Sierra is hitting a solid .392/.352/.727. If you subtract his terrible showing with Peoria, his career line jumps to a far, far more impressive .349/.402/.447.

Projection: There’s a lot to like about the package: the hit tool has a chance to be the best in the system; the power could jump up into 15-HR territory as his lean 160-pound frame fills out, and he’s quick enough to swipe 30+ bags in a season. I originally pegged Sierra as a potential fourth outfielder in last year’s book, but I’d bump that up to a better-than-average regular – though there’s some risk given his youth and failure in Class A.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018

 

7. Nick Plummer, CF                                                      
Born: 07/31/96 Age: 19 Bats: L Top CALs: Lane Thomas, Michael Crouse,

Trenton Kemp, Sauris Mejia, Btrett Phillips

Height: 5-10 Weight: 200 Throws: L
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2015 18 R 228 8 5 1 0.228 0.379 0.344 0.117 17.1% 24.6% 127

Background: The club’s first pick last June, 23rd overall, Plummer hails from the same alma mater as big league infielder D.J. LeMahieu (Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield, MI). The toolsy center fielder got off to a rocky start in the Gulf Coast League, but managed to pick it up down the stretch as he batted .299/.411/.455 with three doubles, three triples, and one homerun in his final 21 games.

Projection: Per the usual, there’s not a whole helluva lot to go off of here. As typically of a lot of high round prepsters, Plummer walked at an enormous clip, 17.1%, and he also fanned a whole lot too (24.6%). And despite the overall poor triple-slash line, he’s probably shown the organization enough to start the year in Low Class A.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

8. Junior Fernandez, RHP                                             
Born: 03/02/97 Age: 19 Bats: R Top CALs: Fernando Romero, Jacob Partridge,

Brad Hand, Jose Perdomo, Angel Reyes

Height: 6-1 Weight: 180 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 17 R 28.0 0 5 5.79 4.72 4.18 3.86 10.5% 9.7% 0.32 47.1%
2015 18 R 51.0 3 2 3.88 2.21 10.24 2.65 26.5% 6.9% 0.00 63.5%
2015 18 A+ 6.7 0 0 1.35 2.57 6.75 2.70 17.9% 7.1% 0.00 80.0%

Background: File this one under names to remember. Fernandez, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound right-hander, signed out of the Dominican Republic for a cool $400,000 in early July a couple years back. And his initial return on investment two years ago left a lot to be desired: the then-17-year-old hurled 28.0 innings in the Dominican Summer League, punching out 13 and walking 12. But his development took a gigantic leap forward in 2015. The organization promoted Fernandez stateside, pushing him into the Gulf Coast, and in 13 games he averaged an impressive 10.2 K/9 and just 2.6 BB/9. The best part: St. Louis had Fernandez bypass the Appalachian, New York-Penn, and Midwest Leagues and sent him directly to Palm Beach for two games to close out a wildly successful year.

Projection: Look, Fernandez is 85.2 innings into his pro career, so a lot of things could spiral off into different directions. But the Cards’ front office clearly sees something special in the teenaged right-hander, evidenced by having him spend his last two games in the Florida State League. He’s a big time power arm with the uncanny ability to hit the zone on a regular basis. Here’s one of the bolder predictions I will make in this year’s book: Junior Fernandez, a soon-to-be 19-year-old right-hander with 85.2 professional innings under his belt, is the best pitching prospect you’ve never heard of. Yet.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

9. Andrew Morales, RHP                                             
Born: 01/16/93 Age: 23 Bats: R Top CALs: Tyler Robertson, Donovan Hand,

Eddie Mckiernan, Nick Additon, Gary Galvez

Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 21 R 5.0 0 1 3.60 5.51 10.80 5.40 28.6% 14.3% 1.80 55.6%
2014 21 A+ 7.3 1 0 1.23 2.16 7.36 0.00 24.0% 0.0% 0.00 66.7%
2015 22 AA 129.7 5 8 5.00 4.85 5.90 3.19 14.4% 7.8% 1.18 70.7%

Background: In all honesty, Morales was probably – with an almost 100% certainty – my favorite collegiate prospect in the 2014 draft. Just a quick backstory: Morales, 6-foot- nothing, 190-pound-nothing right-hander out of Los Angeles, bypassed the typical four-year school route and headed to tiny Rio Hondo Community College for two years before transferring to – and later dominating for – UC Irvine. He spent two years at the Big West school where he went 21 and 2 with a composite 1.68 ERA in 231 innings. St. Louis grabbed the overlooked right-hander in the second round, had him toss five innings in the Gulf Coast and another 7.1 in the Florida State League during his debut. Then they pushed him directly into the Texas League last season where his overall numbers – 129.2 innings, 5.9 K/9 and 3.19 BB/9 – look far less impressive, until you factor in the his lack of pro experience.

Projection: I remain quite smitten with Morales as a pitching prospect. There aren’t too many hurlers that could essentially make a successful leap from the amateur level straight into Class AA, the level that typically pushes the prospect pendulum one way or the other. And despite some rather lackluster overall numbers with Springfield, Morales certainly had his moments.

  • His production in April, July, and September: 65 innings, 3.05 ERA, 46 K, and 17 BB
  • His production in May, June, and August: 64.2 innings, 6.96 ERA, 39 K, and 29 BB

Here’s what I wrote before the 2014 draft:

“I hate – HATE – throwing around terms like “winner” or “grinder” or “dirt bag”. But if they fit any amateur player in the country it is Morales.

The strikeout rate is going to hover around 7.5- to 8.0 K/9 in the big leagues; the control is [an] above-average skill, and he’s done a solid job keeping the ball in the ballpark. Morales is the type of guy that flies under the radar and then everyone steps back to ask, ‘Where’d this guy come from?’” Mid rotation arm.

He’s going to lose a lot of leverage in signing a deal because he’s a senior, so a team could force him into taking a below slot deal – in order to save money for other picks – in exchange for a high selection.

Love the potential, though.”

Ditto. I think he’s a #4-type arm. Very, very underrated. Watch for a big bounce-back season now that he has his professional feet under him. Final thought: the homerun rate should regress to about 0.80 HR/9; his groundball rate, while not above-average, was still a touch over 40%.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2016

 

10. Sam Tuivailala, RHP                                               
Born: 10/19/92 Age: 23 Bats: R Top CALs: Casey Mulligan, Bruce Rondon,

Carlos Rodon, Shawn Armstrong, Blake Snell

Height: 6-3 Weight: 195 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 20 A 35.3 0 3 5.35 2.55 12.74 5.09 31.5% 12.6% 0.00 60.0%
2014 21 A+ 37.7 0 1 3.58 1.93 15.29 4.30 39.5% 11.1% 0.24 69.3%
2014 21 AA 21.0 2 1 2.57 1.69 12.86 3.86 34.1% 10.2% 0.00 71.4%
2014 21 AAA 1.3 0 0 0.00 1.45 20.25 0.00 50.0% 0.0% 0.00 100.0%
2015 22 AAA 45.0 3 1 1.60 4.20 8.60 5.20 22.9% 13.8% 0.40 88.6%

Background: Owner of quite possibly one of the most fun last names to say aloud, Tuivailala – or pronounced too-ee-vai-lull-lah, according to Baseball Reference – spent the majority of 2015 yo-yoing between Memphis and St Louis as he made 43 appearances in the PCL and another 14 at the big league level. Looking specifically at the minor league level, Tuivailala, the name sort of just rolls off the tongue, continued to battle control issues as he failed to average a whiff per inning for the first time in his professional career. In fact, he averaged more than 14 K/9 during the previous three seasons, but only fanned 8.6 K/9 last year. His work with the big league club, though, is more indicative of his actual talent level: he posted a 20-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14.2 innings.

Projection: Tuivailala first cracked the organization’s Top 10 prospects during my mid-season update in 2014, writing at that time: “A converted third baseman, [he] has fanned 67 of the total 168 batters he’s faced. A late-inning, high impact reliever waiting to happen. And soon.”

Well, Tuivailala is likely as ready as he’s ever going to be. Armed with an upper 90s heater, the 6-foot-3 right-hander will never be mistaken for Greg Maddux on the hill, but his ability to rack up tons of strikeouts should help nullify some below-average control. And just for fun: his 30.8% punch out rate nearly missed the top 30 among all big leaguer arms with at least 10 innings pitched last year. Not sure he ever ascends to elite relief status, but he’s got more than a puncher’s chance.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: Debuted in 2014

 

 

 

 

Note: All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com.



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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