2017 was a great year for the Cardinals minor league affiliates. The top six affiliates went a combined 384-312, 62 games over .500. There were a ton of great season by a ton of different players, and what we are going to do here is name one player at each position, along with an honorable mention, that had the best season of any player at that position in the organization during the 2017 season.
But before we get into the “who” of this list, I want to layout what went into my decision making process. First, I went back and forth on this, but I’ve decided that this list will be free of any Cardinals rookie eligible prospect that is already on the 40 man roster and has played with the Cardinals during the season. This eliminates Luke Voit, Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Carson Kelly, Ryan Sherriff, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Josh Lucas, and Magneuris Sierra from the list. I do want to make it clear that, with the exception of Magneuris Sierra (and maybe Carson Kelly) and having to pick between Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver for RHP of the year, everyone of the names that I just listed would have been on the list.
I’m just the type to want to talk more about the players that you don’t get to see or hear about as compared to the players that you have the chance to see everyday.
To be eligible for a position, a player had to have played the majority of his starts at that position.
The 2017 St. Louis Cardinals End of Season All-Star Team
Catcher – Andrew Knizner, Peoria & Springfield – Age 22: 2017 Stats: 361 AB, 109 H, 170 TB, 23 Doubles, 1 Triple, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 23 BB, 49 SO, 1 SB, 2 CS, 302/349/471/820
What an amazing season for the 2016 draft pick. He was great to start the season at Peoria but dealt with an illness that really brought his season stats down at the A-level. Once he regained his strength he went back to raking and he received a promotion over Palm Beach, to Springfield. While at Springfield, he slashed 324/371/462 with 4 HR and 13 doubles in 182 AB. In roughly the same amount of AB’s he was better at Double-A than he was at Single-A. That’s a pretty great sign.
Knizner’s approach at the plate is so refined that it’s easy to overlook the work that he does behind the plate. This is only the 3rd season in his life that he’s caught and he continues to show signs of getting better. He possesses an exceptional arm that helped him throw out 23 of 51 potential base stealkers and 13 of 26 at the Double-A level. He’s still a little raw behind the plate and he is a little upright in his receiving, but all of the skills are there for him to develop into an intriguing catcher in the future.
He’ll participate in the Arizona Fall League and I am very excited to see what kind of a fall he has.
Honorable Mention: Brian O’Keefe, Peoria, Palm Beach, & Springfield
First Base – Stefan Trosclair, Peoria – Age 23: 2017 Stats: 404 AB, 110 H, 185 TB, 18 Doubles, 6 Triples, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 56 BB, 111 SO, 14 SB, 4 CS, 272/374/458/832
On the surface these numbers might not seem that spectacular exactly, especially for a player in his age 23 season at the lowest level of full season baseball. However, like with most full season stat lines, there is more to the story than that.
Trosclair, who looks more like a dentist than a baseball player in my opinion, is a generally patient hitter with a patient approach and that hurt him early on in the season. At one point he went 43 straight games between hitting his 3rd and 4th HR on the season. His 4th HR came on June 24th and that’s when he really seemed to take off. From that point until the end of the season he slashed 276/393/547/940 with 8 Doubles, 4 Triples, and 12 HR in 192 AB. Trosclair also performed very well for Peoria in their short playoff series.
Trosclair also plays a little 2B and that should give you some type of indication about the type of athlete he is. Because of his size, 6’2 200+ lbs, he is most certainly better suited to stick at 1st. Trosclair should start 2018 as a member of the Springfield Cardinals, as his advanced age and skill set should vault him over Palm Beach.
Honorable Mention: John Nogowski, Springfield
Second Base – Darren Seferina, Palm Beach & Springfield – Age 23: 2017 Stats: 443 AB, 121 H, 181 TB, 17 Doubles, 10 Triples, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 54 BB, 103 SO, 19 SB, 7 CS, 278/357/409/765
Seferina is one of those guys that you just don’t know enough about, but you really should know a lot about.
First, he could very well be the fastest player in the organization, even faster than Magneuris Sierra. It’s practical speed, too. He still has a lot to learn, much like Sierra, in the art of stealing bases and getting jumps on pitchers, but he’ll be impossible to stop on the base paths if he ever refines that trade.
Second, he is what we all hoped and thought that Eli Alvarez would be. As a matter of fact, entering the 2016 the smart money would have been on Seferina having the breakout season that Alvarez ended up having. Instead, Seferina dealt with some injuries and struggles at the Palm Beach level, so back to Palm Beach he went to start 2017 with Alvarez jumping over him to Springfield.
Third, Seferina was always a better fielder than Alvarez. As a matter of fact, he just might be one of the best defenders at his position in the Cardinals organization. He has great lateral movement along with above average footwork at 2nd. Seferina can also play 3B, and while he is way better suited for 2nd, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen out of him at 3rd.
Fourth, Seferina slash lines at Palm Beach and Springfield were as close to identical as I’ve ever seen and right in line with his career slash line, if you remove his weird 2016, and that indicates staying power.
There’s a lot to like about Seferina. I imagine that he’ll start 2018 in Memphis and, if everything rolls-right, could be making a subtle major league impact by the end of 2018
Honorable Mention: Andy Young, Peoria, Palm Beach, & Springfield
Short Stop – Tommy Edman, Peoria, Palm Beach, & Springfield – Age 22: 2017 Stats: 444 AB, 116 H, 169 TB, 22 Doubles, 8 Triples, 5 HR, 55 RBI, 38 BB, 71 SO, 13 SB, 5 CS, 261/322/381/702
Edman is yet another 2016 draftee to rocket up the organization in 2017. Edman’s season should not be reduced to his stat line either, but, instead, to the story of his year.
Edman started the season in Peoria and he produced exactly how you’d expect a Stanford product to produce at the A-level: really well. He slashed 284/347/439/786 in 155 AB. He earned himself a promotion to Palm Beach in 38 games and that’s where he should have stayed. However, an injury to Edmundo Sosa and a lack of better options forced Edman to Springfield where his bat wasn’t nearly ready. He obviously struggled because of it, slashing 247/298/347/645 over 219 AB.
If the circumstance would have been different and Edman would have stayed on the proper course for his bat’s development, we’d be talking about an entirely different stat line. An entirely different outlook. That’s why the story is more important than the stat line for Edman.
There are two huge, additional positives that need to mentioned. First, Edman is a short stop. Not a 2B playing SS. Or a 3B, or C, or I-Don’t-Know-What-The-Hell playing SS. Edman can really dig it over there. He has a strong arm and good range and I believe that both will play at the major league level if given the opportunity. He’s an Alex Mejia level fielder. Second, there were times during his stint at Springfield that he was really hitting the ball well. He’d struggle to make the adjustment after pitchers would adjust to him, but he’d do it eventually. Now, it’s just about adjusting quicker.
I’ll be interested to see where Edman starts 2018. If it were me, I’d put him right back at Springfield, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Cardinals pushed this intelligent young man to Memphis
Honorable Mention: Imeldo Diaz, Johnson City & State College (Yes, I know I’m blowing off Kramer Robertson)
Third Base – Patrick Wisdom, Memphis – Age 26: 2017 Stats: 456 AB, 111 H, 231 TB, 25 Doubles, 1 Triple, 31 HR, 89 RBI, 38 BB, 149 SO, 2 SB, 2 CS, 243/310/507/817
By now, everyone is pretty familiar with Patrick Wisdom. As a matter of fact, never, since I started following the minors, has a sub .250/.320 hitter been desired by fans of the major league club as much as Wisdom has been desired by Cardinals fans. Also, never has a player who makes such little contact deserved a major league promotion in my time following the minors like Wisdom has.
It’s very simple with Wisdom in that his development is complete. Unless things get super-weird from here, he will never be anything more than what we’ve seen out of him in 2017. He’s a power-hitting, defensive minded 3B(that can also play 1B pretty well). He’s a perfect bench bat for a major league club, and it’s fair to wonder if he was the better fit for the role that Luke Voit has played with this Cardinals club. Voit still needed/needs time to develop, and the certainly isn’t happening with him sitting on the major league bench.
There’s a very good chance that the Cardinals will lose Wisdom in the off season if he isn’t added to the 40 man roster. That’d be a shame, in my opinion, especially since he never got a look at the major league level.
Honorable Mention: Evan Mendoza, State College & Peoria (Save this name to your memory bank)
Right Field – Jose Adolis Garcia, Springfield & Memphis – Age 24: 2017 Stats: 445 AB, 129 H, 212 TB, 34 Doubles, 2 Triples, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 33 BB, 108 SO, 15 SB, 9 CS, 290/340/476/817
When the Cardinals signed the 24 year old Cuban in February there were plenty of questions about the type of player that JAG was. He was a former MVP of the Cuban league, but he was as bad as a player could possibly be in the Japanese MINOR LEAGUES. He signed for a bonus of $2.5 million, and that was a reasonable price for a lottery ticket of JAG’s caliber.
It’s been a great season for Garcia, but if we are being honest with ourselves it’s exactly the type of season that a player of his skill set, age, and seasoning should have had in the minor leagues. What encourages me the most is that he was just as good in Memphis as he was in Springfield and he ended up being an offensive catalyst, along with Patrick Wisdom and Tyler O’Neill, for the PCL Championship-winning Memphis Redbirds during their playoff run.
For a very long time Magneuris Sierra has had the best arm in the Cardinals system. I have to tell you, I think that JAG’s is a pinch better. He also possess above average speed and there isn’t a player in the Cardinals system that is a more prototypical/ideal fit in RF than Garcia. He gets a little choppy sometimes in the OF and he has a tendency to both over and under throw a cutoff man, and that can’t happen, but he doesn’t do it with enough regularity for it to be a big concern.
There’s no telling how the outfield situation in the Cardinals system is going to shake out this off season. I think we can all expect a moderate amount of turnover, at the very least. If JAG survives that turnover and is still in the organization at the start of the 2018 season, I’d be willing to bet that he’ll be added to the 40 man roster and making a major league impact by July of 2018.
Honorable Mention: Dylan Carlson, Peoria(There weren’t many good seasons out of players that spent the majority of their time in RF)
Center Field – Oscar Mercado, Springfield – Age 22: 2017 Stats: 477 AB, 137 H, 204 TB, 20 Doubles, 4 Triples, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 32 BB, 112 SO, 38 SB, 19 CS, 287/341/428/769
I have taken to calling Mercado ‘The Pheonix Prospect”, because never has a player done more for his burnt-to-the-ground stock than Mercado did during his tremendous 2017 season.
Mercado’s season can be separated into 2 parts. The first part was his fantastic first half that saw him hit 321/375/468/844 with 24 XBH and 27 SB in 299 AB before injuring his shoulder on June 29th. The 2nd part started on July 12th when Mercado came back from the injury only to slash 230/284/360/644 with 13 XBH and 11 SB in 178 AB.
What I’m trying to say is, I’m really hoping that there isn’t more to the shoulder injury than advertised. Mercado is headed to the Arizona Fall League, and I’m anxious to see how the rest he’s received since the end of the season helps him there.
This is the first season that Mercado has played the outfield, and he’s been damn good in center field. He still makes some of the mistakes that you’d expect a new CF to make (he can get weird with ground balls, oddly enough) but his range is solid and his arm is good enough to stick.
For a prospect with weird stock and high helium as Mercado, it’s difficult to gauge what the future will hold for him. The AFL with give a good indication, but his 2018 season at Memphis will be the true indicator of what his future looks like.
Honorable Mention: Chase Pinder, Johnson City
Left Field – Randy Arozarena, Palm Beach & Springfield – Age 22: 2017 Stats: 428 AB, 114 H, 187 TB, 32 Doubles, 4 Triples, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 40 BB, 87 SO, 18 SB, 7 CS, 266/346/437/783
Let this disclaimer read that Arozarena is my favorite hitting prospect in the Cardinals organization and with that favor comes obvious bias. Please keep that in mind as you continue to read this evaluation.
Arozarena would be a solid RF or CF with his arm, quickness, range and athleticism, but he’s playing LF and those skills make him as above average/plus as you can be without being a complete plus-player. He’s right there, though. Arozarena has speed, a quick and direct swing, and a solid batting eye. Like with many Cuban born players, Arozarena has been known to take a little-too-hefty of a swing at time and that costs him at the plate often. He needs to cut that down, stay poised and refined, and he’ll be even better than he’s already been.
And make no mistake, he’s been good.
Randy struggled at the start of the season and at the end of the season, but his middle was magical. Over 72 games and 263 AB between May 15th and August 6th over both levels he slashed 323/393/548/941 with 26 doubles, 3 triples, 9 HR, 46 SO, 23 BB, and, my favorite, 10 HBP.
Arozarena is yet another really intriguing outfield prospect in a crop of intriguing outfield prospects. I’m hoping that he’s around and dominating the PCL for Memphis by August 6th of 2018.
Honorable Mention: Tyler O’Neill, Memphis
Right Handed Starter – Ryan Helsley, Palm Beach, Springfield, & Memphis – Age 23: 2017 Stats: 23 Starts, 11-3, 132.1 IP, 104 H, 40 ER, 7 HR Allowed, 48 BB, 137 K, 2.72 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, .221 BA Against
Since @Cardinalsfarm founded this website at the start of the New Year I’ve been telling you to keep an eye on Helsley. I’ve been telling you that he is the most underrated pitching prospect in the system, if not all of baseball.
Well, he won’t be underrated entering 2018.
Helsley is not a flash in the pan. He entered the 2017 having only allowed 26 ER and 4 HR in 135.1 IP while striking out 144 and walking 38. All of those numbers equal above average rates. The concern with Helsley entering the season was that he was always playing at the league he was supposed to be at, age-wise. Dominance is dominance, but it’s less impressive when you aren’t doing it as a younger player at an advanced level.
Helsley started the year in Palm Beach, started six games for Springfield, and finished the season in Memphis, all levels that he is younger than on average and all that he did was strike out 137 in 132.1 IP while holding hitters to a BA Against of .215 and an ERA of 2.99. I think most people would pick Dakota Hudson as the RHP of the year as defined by the parameters of this exercise based on hype-alone, but Helsley walked fewer batters, struck out more batters, allowed fewer hits per 9 IP, and, in general, was just better than Hudson. And Hudson was damn good, too!
The main concern with Helsley will be his ability to go deep in games. I’ve been impressed with the progress that his curve, change, and cutter have made this season to go with his mid-90’s fastball that gets hotter as the game progresses. I’m all in on Helsley starting the season at Memphis and being at least a part of the Cardinals bullpen by the end of 2018.
Left Handed Starter – Austin Gomber, Springfield – Age 23: 2017 Stats: 26 Starts, 10-7, 143 IP, 116 H, 53 ER, 17 HR Allowed, 51 BB, 140 K, 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .219 BA Against
After a promising 2016, Gomber was poised to be the leader of what was going to be a dominant Springfield rotation that featured Sandy Alcantara, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Matt Pearce. For sure, I thought he’d be the rotation catalyst.
But Gomber’s first start of 2017 might have been he worst of his career. He failed to last an inning while allowing 4 ER and walking a batter. It was reported during the off season that the Cardinals had asked Gomber to make a few tweaks to his delivery(although those reports were never exactly made official, for the record) and I believe that played into his tough start to the season. His second start was a 4+ inning affair that saw him clean things up but still struggle with his command.
Gomber also missed a couple of starts at the beginning of June because of a hamstring issue. He struggled early and dealt with injury and he was still this good. That’s impressive. As a matter of fact, if you remove that first start from Gomber’s stat line then his ERA drops to 3.08 and his BA Against drops to .213.
Gomber finished the year with 8 straight dominant starts that yielded an ERA of 1.21, a BA Against of .146, 56 K’s in 52 IP, while throwing strikes 67% of the time and inducing ground balls at a 43% clip. That’s dominance personified. That’s a dominant end to a season. That’s deserving of a promotion.
Yet Gomber ended the season in Springfield while an entire rotation of Springfield and Palm Beach pitchers earned promotions around him. Even at the end of the season when Memphis could have used an extra arm for their playoff run, Gomber was instead shut down while both Zac Gallen and Ryan Helsley, two pitchers who started the season a rung lower than Gomber, received starts for Memphis.
Gomber might be the black sheep of the organization. Keep an eye on his name in trade talks this off season, which is a damn shame in my opinion.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Castano, State College
Right Handed Relief Pitcher – Mark Montgomery, Memphis – Age 27: 2017 Stats: 46 Appearances, 5-1, 66.2 IP, 46 H, 18 ER, 4 HR Allowed, 15 BB, 73 K, 2.43 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .193 BA Against
Relievers will get less time than everyone else because… relievers.
Montgomery is a former top prospect from the Yankees system that used to be able to dial it up to 100 as a young man but has since dealt with arm trouble and control issues which have helped to bring his velocity down to the low 90’s, although it can touch the mid 90’s at times. He throws a pretty dynamic slider/cutter hybrid and he did a lot to clean up his command during the 2017 season.
There were a lot of Cardinals fans that believed that Montgomery deserved a promotion to the majors this season, myself included. I’m surprised he never received the opportunity that he deserved. He filled a very important late inning role for a record setting Memphis Redbirds team while the Cardinals bullpen purged runs for the majority of their season.
My hope is that Montgomery is back in the Cardinals organization in 2018 with a chance to earn a spot in the Cardinals bullpen during spring training, but I can honestly say that I have no idea what the future holds for him.
Honorable Mention: Estarlin Arias, Peoria & Palm Beach
Left Handed Relief Pitcher – Jacob Evans, Palm Beach & Springfield – Age 23: 2017 Stats: 30 Appearances, 4-6, 41.2 IP, 31 H, 10 ER, 2 HR Allowed, 14 BB, 48 K, 2.16 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .205 BA Against
Folks, I’m a Jacob Evans homer. Or, as much of a homer for left-handed relief pitcher as you can be.
I say left-handed relief pitcher because, as of right now, there is no reason to believe that Evans is only a LOOGY. So far in his career he’s been equally as good against lefties as he has been against righties, especially out of the bullpen. In 2017 alone he held righties to a BA Against of .202 and lefties to a BA Against of .210 and both of the HR’s that he allowed on the season were against lefties even though he faced more right handers than left handers.
The former Oklahoma Sooner and 6th round pick could very well be a fast mover in the organization, and he has a very solid pitch arsenal that just might play at the major league level. As most of you know by now, I hardly ever bank on minor league relief pitchers because I believe that most of the better bullpen arms in the majors were starters in the minors. Evans checks that box, too, and I definitely think that he’s the bullpen lefty in the organization with the best chances of having a major league debut.
Honorable Mention: Ian McKinney, Palm Beach & Springfield
Thanks For Reading!