Welcome back for our third leg of the three-part deep dive into the Cardinals’ minor league system. Today, we offer to you the front-third of our Top 30 Prospects in the organization. These are the marquee names. Yesterday we gave you prospects 20-11. On Wednesday we provided prospects 30-21 for you.
Well, here we are at the end. There are only two new names among the top 10 but there has been plenty of shuffling. Alex Reyes and his recovery from Tommy John surgery presented a unique challenge when re-ranking the prospects. However, and maybe this is a bad sign, no one in the organization has outperformed what we know Reyes can do, so atop the list he stays.
These player write-ups will probably be the shortest of the three groups because you already know what the deal is with a lot of these players. So I’m going to try and keep it short and sweet.
It’s day three of this three-part journey. You’re hungry, you’re in dirty clothes, you desperately need a shower, but what you really want is:
The St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospects: Prospects 10-1
10. LHP Austin Gomber: Age 23 – 4th Round, 2014
2017 Stats, Springfield: 15 Appearances, 15 Starts, 3-6, 75 IP, 73 H, 34 ER, 11 HR Allowed, 33 BB, 73 K, 4.03 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, .254 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 6th, Down 4 Spots
Gomber is better than his stats show, but that’s on Gomber. He started the season with a 0.2 inning start in which he surrendered 5 ER and that has really helped to bog down his season stats. If you remove that start from his line he has a 3.60 ERA, 72 strikeouts in 75 innings, a 41 % groundball rate, a BA against of .243, and 32 walks, and that is more representative of the pitcher that Gomber is.
Austin missed a few starts in the middle part of his first half due to a groin injury. He struggled mightily over his first two starts as he shook off the rust. But since then, over his last four starts, Gomber is back to the dominating force that we’ve seen at every level he’s pitched in. Over those four starts he’s held hitters to an average against of .202, 6 walks, 6 ER, with a 1.91 ERA, and 29 strikeouts in 28.1 innings.
The only thing that has me concerned about Gomber are the HR allowed. Eleven is a hefty total. Way to hefty. Even more alarming, he’s allowed 5 HR over the dominating stretch of his last four starts. To me, that means that he’s been lucky that most of those HR’s have been solo-jobs. If not, I’d probably be pushing the panic button a little bit.
I love Gomber’s motion and I’ve often compared him Alex Wood. He’s worked to smooth some of it’s jerkiness out, but not so much that it ruins the deception that’s built into it. That’s the most important thing to me, because if his herky-jerky goes away then I believe that will hurt his effectiveness as it would take away some of the deception from his repertoire.
9. RHP Dakota Hudson: Age 22 – 1st Round, 2016
2017 Stats, Springfield: 15 Appearances, 15 starts, 7-3, 96 IP, 98 H, 28 ER, 5 HR Allowed, 28 BB, 69 K, 2.63 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .266 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 12th, Up 3 Spots
Hudson entered the Cardinals while many scouting sources called him the most advanced college arm in the 2016 draft. Well, he certainly hasn’t disappointed in that regard. He’s just doing it differently than I thought he would.
Hudson has the best slider in the system. Hell, it might be one of the best in the minors right now. It’s 3-parts slider, 1 part cutter, with just a hint of cayenne pepper and it should be the ship that hitter’s tears take to the after life. But, instead, it hasn’t been the strike out pitch that it should be. As a matter of fact, Hudson hasn’t struck out nearly the hitters that I thought he would have by now. And that’s for good, nay, great reason.
Hudson’s approach against hitters has changed. He’s developing instead of pitching. He’s taken to refining the command and control of his pitches while learning to throw all of his pitches at any point during any count and, at the same time, pitching to contact. His ground ball rate is an very good 58%. This is the same as learning to hit left handed when you are full blooded right hander just to be able to do it. In the process, it makes your strengths even stronger.
My guess is that Hudson is short for Springfield and he’ll be in Memphis by the end of the season. It is there in 2018 that I expect him to start finding his way on to top 100 lists as he combines his new “pitch to contact” approach with his old “good luck, I own your soul” approach. He hasn’t quite done it yet and he’s been able to last at least 6 innings in 12 of his 15 starts, all of which were quality starts. Ten of those quality starts have come in a row and are still counting.
He’s becoming a complete pitcher and we should all take notice.
8. SS/IF Paul DeJong: Age 23 – 4th Round, 2015
2017 Stats, Memphis & St. Louis: 81 Games, 293 AB, 84 H, 14 Doubles, 0 Triples, 19 HR, 60 RBI, 14 BB, 83 SO, 0 SB, 2 CS, 283/321/533/854 . 155 Total Bases
Preseason Ranking: 16th, Up 8 Spots
Every write up, every article, every post, every….. every time that I’ve ever bring up DeJong I say the same thing:
“DeJong is always going to strike out and he is never going to walk. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
I’ve also constantly compared DeJong at the plate to Randal Grichuk, but with a better swing.
Well, Cardinals’ fans. How correct am I?!
Now that the gloating is out of the way, I’ll let Zach tell you why I’m right:
Entering tonight, Paul DeJong had a 37.4% chase rate and 69.7% contact rate. He's almost literally Randal Grichuk in that regard
— Zach Gifford (@zjgifford) July 6, 2017
Thanks Zach. We miss you.
DeJong is good. He’s really good. He’s been robbed of needed development time because of how good he’s been. But this is still a work in progress. He made it to the majors less than two years after being drafted. I can’t stress enough how incredible that is. And, yes, we’ve seen some flaws. His defense is very average. He’s very mechanical at shortstop. Not bad, it’s just that you can tell he’s going through the steps of the position in his head, like a dance, when the ball is hit or thrown to him.
That being said, I love the progress that DeJong has made as a short stop. He’s levels better at this point than I thought he’d be. He has a real chance to stick there. I believe that the best thing for him and the organization is for Aledmys Diaz to go back to being Aledmys circa 2016 so that DeJong can go back to Memphis and hone his craft.
But I have to tell you, I love the potential and excitement that Paully brings to the shortstop position and the future of the Cardinals. Sure, he’s probably best suited for 3B, but I’m all on board for seeing how far he can ride this ride. His progress in a short period of time warrants him that much.
7. OF Magneuris Sierra: Age 21 – International Free Agent, 2012
2017 Stats, Palm Beach, Springfield, & St. Louis: 67 Games, 271 AB, 82 H, 16 Doubles, 6 Triples, 1 HR, 31 RBI, 15 BB, 50 SO, 13 SB, 10 CS, 303/341/417/758. 113 Total Bases
Preseason Ranking: 10th, Up 3 Spots
This isn’t going to go over well, but I’m bored with Sierra.
HA! I’m kidding. It’s physically impossible to get bored with this kid. Have you seen the energy he brings?! He’s a damn spark plug. He makes you and your wife/husband feel and look ten years younger. Have you seen the way he plays defense?! It’s like Willie McGee is running around in that body. Have you seen the way he goes 1st to 3rd on a ball hit to the OF?! It’s like Usain Bolt is running around…. oh, forget it.
Sierra has elite speed and he has the potential to be an elite defensive center field. There aren’t as many prospects in the minors that possess a singular elite talent, more-less two elite skills as you might think. His bat is developing as well. He’s become an extra base machine atop the Springfield lineup. More of that please.
But it’s what he doesn’t do that keeps him from being a top 5 prospect. Sierra doesn’t hit for much authority and his power at this point is virtually nonexistent. He isn’t a patient hitter and he doesn’t get on base enough or work counts deep enough to hit at the top of the order, which is what he needs to be able to do in order to make a real impact in baseball.
What helps to keep him flirting with the Top 5 is that he is still so young and he has shown the smallest samples of being able to overcome his deficiencies. I do think that Sierra can be a force at the top of the order, but he needs to refine so much for that to happen. He has time to do it.
All that he has to do is get more patient while adding more power while learning to steal bases.
6. OF Harrison Bader: Age 23 – 3rd Round, 2015
2017 Stats, Memphis: 82 Games, 304 AB, 92 H, 17 Doubles, 1 Triple, 17 HR, 43 RBI, 18 BB, 79 SO, 4 SB, 6 CS, 303/358/533/890. 158 Total Bases
Preseason Ranking: 7th, Up 1 Spot
If Magneuris Sierra had the bat that Bader had he’d be a top 5 prospect in baseball. If Bader had the defensive capabilities of Sierra he’d be a top 5 prospect in baseball. But what Bader has done at a higher level is way more impressive than what Sierra has done, even when you take age and experience into account.
My main concerns with Bader was that I saw him as player who wasn’t good enough defensively to play center and didn’t have enough pop to play left. So, of course Bader worked his tail off to get way better, I mean WAY better, in center field while boosting his slugging stats.
Dude is trolling me.
Bader’s arm isn’t the strongest, but he’s become an average major league-level center-fielder. He gets good reads on fly balls and has maxed out his physical skills to get that way. His home run total at this point in the season is about where I thought his season total would be, even in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League confines.
Harrison Bader is Skip Schumaker with a bat that’s good enough to stick in center. There isn’t a player in the minors that will out work him and I believe that this is the type of kid that will do whatever it takes to reach his dreams.
He’s practically tailor-made by Cardinals Nation. Harrison Bader is way better than I ever thought he could be.
5. SS Delvin Perez: Age 18 – 1st Round, 2016
2017 Stats, Johnson City: 11 Games, 37 AB, 6 H, 0 Doubles, 1 Triples, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 6 BB, 8 SO, 2 SB, 1 CS, 162/295/216/512. 8 Total Bases
Preseason Ranking: 4th, Down 1 Spot
It’s not that I’m down on Perez so much as it’s that I just want to take a breath in regards to him.
I also want to point out that in no way, shape, or form did his temper tantrum in his 4th game of the season have anything to do with my moving him down on the list. Sure, he was removed from a game because he threw his helmet after striking out swinging, but we are talking about an 18 year old kid full of passion. Sure, he definitely shouldn’t have done it, but he’s 18. When I think back on what I was doing at 29, never mind 18, I laugh at how insignificant of an issue this is. Now, if it keeps happening then it’s an issue. I’ll take the moments of passion over moments of complacence any day.
The potential to be a marquee short stop is still there and that’s what keeps him in the top 5. Make no mistake, Perez has the potential and is on the track to be the game changing short stop that we all think he can be. He’s already made multiple highlight reel plays at SS while hitting the ball pretty well. There’s a lot of speed to tap into, as well. If he can learn how to harness it then there might be some serious stolen base potential in there.
It’s just that he is still so young and so far away. There is still so much that can go wrong. Look at it this way: if Perez reaches 75% of his potential that would mean that he’s probably an average major league shortstop. Then remember that 56% first round picks are good enough to ever make a major league debut. All of that should illustrate just how difficult it is to project success
Yes, Perez could very well end up the best prospect in the organization and a top 25 prospect in all of baseball by the end of the season. it’s just that, right now, there are four guys closer to the Bigs with pretty high potential that are closer to reaching their dreams.
4. RHP Luke Weaver: Age 23 – 1st Round, 2014
2017 Stats, Memphis & St. Louis: 13 Appearances, 11 Starts, 7-1, 59 IP, 44 H, 12 ER, 3 HR Allowed, 14 BB, 62 K, 1.83 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .210 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 2nd, Down 2 Spots
Look, I know you hate Luke Weaver. I know that his 110 pound-or-so frame makes you worry. I know that he looked terrible last season when he pitched for the big club. I know his facial hair resembles something that a 65 year old Italian woman might grow and that makes your kids feel uneasy. All of that is warranted, but it shouldn’t take away from just how good of a pitcher Weaver is.
I know that many believe that Weaver is destined to pitch out of the pen. That might be true, but if that’s the case then you are talking about a pitcher with all of the necessary skills to pitch in high level situations. Believe it or not, that’s good enough to fit into any top 5 organizational prospect list. That type of prospect doesn’t grow on trees and is extremely difficult to find.
However, I do not think that’s the ceiling for Weaver. I view him as a middle to back of the rotation arm. I’ve watched too many of his minor league starts to think otherwise. It’s really simple with Weaver: His drop and drive throwing mechanic makes it virtually impossible to be effective high in the zone. he has to work low in the zone so that his fastball/change pairing can be maximized. He also needs to use his cutter in more and get better at working it in to left handed hitters.
I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen from Weaver in his small taste of the majors since being called up in 2017. We are starting to see him do all of the things that I mentioned above. Now it’s all about consistency and opportunity as this young man works to change your minds.
3. RHP Jack Flaherty(Pictured):Age 21 – 1st Round, 2014
2017 Stats, Memphis & Springfield: 16 Appearances, 16 Starts, 8-3, 94 IP, 75 H, 24 ER, 9 HR Allowed, 22 BB, 97 K, 2.30 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .216 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 8th, Up 5 Spots
The only thing that stops this potential top of the rotation talent from being the number two prospect on the list is that my number two is a catcher with the ability to catch and hit and that’s as rare of a commodity in baseball as you can find.
The 21 year old Flaherty has turned himself from questionable prospect dropping off of organizational top 10 lists into a front line starter who can command his entire arsenal of pitches. I’ve heard John Mozeliak now, on multiple occasions, regard Flaherty as the type of pitcher that has the potential to anchor a rotation.
Flaherty doesn’t just command his pitches, he takes it to another level. It’s like he’s toying with hitters. He can throw all of his pitches in every count at any time in any quadrant of the zone and he’s doing it successfully at the most advanced level in the minor leagues
And, honestly, what more do you need to know than that? If he was capable of throwing 100 MPH he’d be the best prospect in the organization, bar-none. He’s gone unnoticed nationally long enough. It’s his world and we are all making weak contact in it.
2. Catcher Carson Kelly: Age 22 – 2nd Round, 2012
2017 Stats, Memphis: 6 Games, 221 AB, 62 H, 13 Doubles, 0 Triples, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 28 BB, 37 SO, 2 SB, 3 CS, 281/367/448/814. 98 Total Bases.
Preseason Ranking: 3rd, Up 1 Spot
It simple with Kelly: He’s the best option as an everyday catcher for the Cardinals right now. He’s more consistent than Yadi, both behind the plate and at the dish. He’s more committed to blocking junk in the dirt and his arm is the type that, much like Yadi, runner don’t dare to even sneak on.
His bat is live, too. He just battled his way out of a rough June in which he slashed 200/309/243/551. But he’s been his old standard, solid self since a two hit game on June 24th and over the 8 games since, entering Thursday night, he’s slashed 267/333/467/800.
If that’s the worst that we see out of Kelly, and it just might be, then the future is bright for this young man. I can’t remember a time in my life that the Cardinals kept a kid so ready to be an everyday major leaguer in the minors like they have with Kelly. Yes, I do believe that he is best served finishing the year at Memphis and I do know that it might seem like a contradiction, but I’m the type that would rather play it conservatively than aggressive with prospects. And with that in mind, please understand the levity that comes when I say that Kelly is the best all around catcher that the Cardinals are paying for.
At the very least, he’s better than being a part of a battery that sees someone else get the lion-share of reps. It’s an absurd proposition. Even with the incumbent being Yadier Molina.
1. RHP Alex Reyes: Age 22 – International Free Agent, 2012
2016 Stats, Memphis & St. Louis: 36 Games, 19 Starts, 6-4, 111.1 IP, 99 H, 42 ER, 7 HR Allowed, 55 BB, 145 K, 3.56 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .237 Batting Average Against.
Preseason Ranking: 1st, No Change
Everyone knows that Reyes is a unique talent. He’s the rare potential “Ace” that few organizations have. Cardinals’ fans were able to see that from almost the moment that he enter his August 9th, 2016 debut against Cincinnati. Reyes is dynamite. He can be as good as any pitcher in the league.
But then the injury came, a torn UCL, at the onset of spring training and it required Tommy John Surgery to repair. So, away went the chance of seeing Reyes pitch for the Cardinals in 2017.
The good news is, all signs point to a strong recovery for Reyes. He’s exactly where he needs to be at this point in his recovery. On June 20th it was reported by The St. Louis Post Dispatch that Reyes was getting close to starting a throwing program. Gotta like that.
But the injury presented an interesting conundrum for the rankings. A torn UCL is a lot harder to come back from than Twitter and your friends make it out to be. It’s a serious procedure and there is no guarantee that Reyes will ever come close to pitching the way he did post-TJ. I thought about moving him down the list.
But then I made the mistake of watching some of his highlights from last season. And researching his stats. And watching more highlights. And reading what I and others had written about him. I just couldn’t move him.
Until Reyes comes back and struggles he will keep this spot. He’s too good and too unique to fall and, honestly, even with the tremendous seasons from the 29 other members of this list, there isn’t another player in the organization that possess the talent or gifts that Reyes possesses.
It’s just that simple.
Now, if only the Cardinals had signed Luis Robert, we’d be singing an entirely different tune…
And that concludes our listing! Thanks for tuning in to all three parts. Catch part one of our rankings, prospects 30-21, right HERE, and get part two of our rankings, prospects 20-11, right HERE. If’ you’d like to check out which players fell off of the list and where they were ranked prior to the fall, click HERE. Let us know what you think Down below. Who have I missed? Where was I wrong? WHY DIDN”T THEY SIGN LUIS ROBERT?! Other questions!
Thank You So Much For Reading!!!