Welcome back for our second leg of our three-part deep dive into the Cardinals’ minor league system. Today, we offer to you the middle-third of our Top 30 Prospects in the organization. Yesterday we gave you prospects 30-21. On Friday we will have prospects 10-1 for you.
There is one player that wasn’t on the Top 30 list at all that has put his name on the this part of our countdown. This grouping of prospects is by far my favorite of the three groups. It contains the most interesting names on our list as well as some of the fast movers and highest ceilings in the organization.
It also contain a player that has dropped out of our preseason Top 5.
But why keep teasing you when we can just give you:
The St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospects: Prospects 20-11
20. RHP Johan Oviedo: Age 19 – International Free Agent, 2016
2017 Stats, Johnson City: 2 Appearances, 2 Starts, 1-0, 9 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 HR Allowed, 5 BB, 9 K, 2.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .161 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 21st, Up 1 Spot
Oviedo gets the nod as number 20 on our list because of that fake word that both makes and doesn’t make sense: projectability.
It’s uncommon for me to be so bullish on a player with so little experience. Normally I’d refrain from putting a kid so young and so far away from the big leagues into my top 20. However, Oviedo is a special talent. Oviedo is a 6’6, 220 lb physical specimen of a human being. He has good, repeatable action on his pitches. He’s shown in the past that he can touch the high 90’s with his fastball, but it’s been a pretty standard low to mid-90’s over his two starts this season.
Oviedo is an intimidating force on the mound. Like with so many young pitchers that are this far away from the majors, consistency with his breaking pitches will make or break him in his development. His curveball is the key. It has shown signs of being a plus pitch, but it is terribly inconsistent.
Oviedo had a tremendous 2016 season after he signed out of Cuba for $1.9 Million. He’s gotten off to a good start so far for Johnson City. He has the potential to be a top 10 organizational prospect by the end of the season and everyone of his starts should be a must-follow affair.
19. RHP Junior Fernandez: Age 20 – International Free Agent, 2014
2017 Stats, Palm Beach: 12 Appearances, 12 Starts, 4-3, 71 IP, 72 H, 34 ER, 7 HR Allowed, 27 BB, 50 K, 4.31 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .271 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 11th, Down 10 Spots
I’d like to point out that this is probably an unfair tumble for Fernandez to take. He’s still so young and he’s pitching in a very good league. The problem for me is that it’s has been a roller coaster season so far for Fernandez.
At times, Fernandez has been an ‘”Ace” on the mound. On April 19th he took a perfect game into the 8th inning. Three starts later he threw the first 9 inning complete game shutout of his career. Those two starts stand as 2 of the top 10 starts in the entire organization up until this point in the season.
At times, Fernandez has been terrible. A lot of that has happened recently. Over his last 4 starts he’s sporting an ERA of 6.30 and an OPS against of .806. There’s a chance that he might just be fatiguing, but this has kind of been his M.O so far in his career. He started the year exchanging good start for mediocre start almost one for one. Then he was dominant. Now he is exposed.
As the season started, many a-scout was already calling for a move to the bullpen for Fernandez. I am not of that mind. I would definitely like to see him get the walks down, but I love that he is issuing 44% ground balls and I think that he’ll be fine if he can just command his pitches even a little bit better.
18. RHP Zac Gallen: Age 21 – 3rd Round, 2016
2017 Stats, Memphis, Springfield, & Palm Beach: 15 Appearances, 15 Starts, 7-5, 90.1 IP, 79 H, 22 ER, 4 HR Allowed, 18 BB, 87 K, 2.19 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .235 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 23rd, Up 5 Spots
It happened under the radar, but Gallen has had the best season of any of the draft picks from the 2016 class. He’s made his way all the way to Memphis which puts him one step away from a major league call up.
Gallen was drafted as a contact-inducing, back of the rotation pitcher out of the University of North Carolina. He had a small taste of professional baseball at the end of the season last year and he was impressive while striking out 15 and walking zero over 9.2 IP for the GCL Cardinals.
The Cardinals were impressed with what the saw from Gallen in spring so they assigned him aggressively to Palm Beach. But nine starts after completely dominating that level to the tune of a K per inning, a batting average against of .215, and an ERA of 1.62, Gallen was promoted to Springfield. Gallen was fine, but not dominant, over 4 starts at Springfield. It was believed that Gallen was trying too hard to avoid bats and that was costing him some long AB’s as the more advanced hitters in the Texas League weren’t biting on the trash he’d throw in pitcher’s counts.
But after four starts at Springfield, the Memphis rotation needed a starter and that aligned with the day that Gallen was supposed to starter so he got the call. Plus, he’s so advanced that there was a good chance that he wouldn’t embarrass himself. He was also told to stop playing with hitters and go after them. And that’s what he’s done in his two very impressive starts so far in Memphis.
Gallen is a fast mover with a feel for 4 pitches that are all average. He probably shouldn’t be pitching in Memphis, so any struggle from here on out is to be expected at that level. Keep an eye on how many people he is striking out. He was never supposed to be the type of guy to strike out a player an inning, If he keeps that up at the advanced levels then he’ll move way up the list.
Gallen is a smart pitcher that has seen his command and velocity increase with nearly all of his pitches. The second most unheralded prospect in the organization behind Ryan Helsley, Zac Gallen is a name you need to get to know and you need to do it quick.
17. RHP Jordan Hicks: Age 20 – 3rd Round, 2015
2017 Stats, Peoria: 14 Appearances, 14 Starts, 8-2, 78 IP, 75 H, 29 ER, 3 HR Allowed, 39 BB, 63 K, 3.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, .260 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 24th, Up 7 Spots
Jordan Hicks has one of the best fastballs in the organization. It’s a lively number that’s been know to reach the upper 90’s when called up.
Jordan Hicks has one of the best(see; THE BEST) curves in the system. A potential 70 grade, sharp little ditty that knee-locks batters when it’s at it’s best.
Jordan Hicks is one of the best pitchers in the system. No qualifiers needed.
While it might not look like the most statistically dominant season among pitchers, Hicks has done a masterful job for Peoria. He’s been a stabilizing force for a rotation that has seen the most turnover and turmoil among the full season affiliates. He’s worked through some tough starts to gut his way through 6 innings in an effort to save the bullpen. He’s a battler and a learner with what gym coaches in movies set in high school call “moxie”.
Hicks is still walking way too many hitters and that’s my major complaint with his season so far. He has allowed more than 1 walk in 11 of his 14 starts. That won’t be good enough as he moves up through the system.
What I like most about Hicks is that it appears that he has gotten better as the season has progressed. Over his last 6 starts he’s K’ed 34 in 36.1 IP while walking 18 (again, still too many), allowing 1 HR, a 2.70 ERA, and a batting average against of .259. His ground ball percentage over those starts is 56% and that will most certainly play at any level.
16. OF Dylan Carlson: Age 18 – 1st Round, 2016
2017 Stats, Peoria: 69 Nice Games, 218 AB, 50 H, 7 Doubles, 1 Triple, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 35 BB, 70 SO, 5 SB, 5 CS, 229/341/339/681. 74 Total Bases
Preseason Ranking: 18th, Up 2 Spots
Dylan Carlson is really really good.
His stat line might not seem like the most impressive thing on Earth, but what you are seeing are numbers brought down by a very rough start. I am dismissive of that rough start however, as there is no reason that the 18 year old should have started the year as a member of a full season affiliate. That’s a tough ask for even the most advanced of high school-drafted prospects.
Carlson has really around since his early struggles. He’s hit 279/354/395/750 since June 1st in 86 at-bats with 4 doubles and 2 HR while striking out 17 times and walking 10 times. I’ve been know to be a sucker for strong second halves, and Carlson is poised for that.
Carlson is a toolsy, athletic, gym rat, student of the game, 6’3 monster of a man. He’s gone from high school to budding corner OF star in just over a year. Personally, I’d like to see him transition to 1st base as soon as possible to give a clearer bath to the majors. There are too many quality outfielders ahead of him in the system and the organization has a need for a mashing 1st base prospect.
Either way, this teenager is on the fast track for the major leagues and might have the highest upside of any of the bats on the list. The slugging stats will come in time.
15. RHP Jake Woodford: Age 20 – 1st Round, 2015
2017 Stats, Palm Beach: 13 Appearances, 13 Starts, 5-4, 70 IP, 76 H, 24 ER, 5 HR Allowed, 17 BB, 47 K, 3.09 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, .279 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 13th, Down 2 Spots
Here we are. Just you, me, and what is probably the most boringly-good prospect in the system.
Woodford is water. He’s toast. He’s an episode of one of those British Soap Opera’s from the 90’s.
But he’s one of the best you’ll find at it.
It might sound like I’m trashing on Woodford, but that’s far from the truth. I love that Woodford is boring. It’s predictable, something that prospects rarely are. If you take away the non-baseball comparisons that I gave you a second ago, Jake Woodford is exactly Mike Leake. He is exactly Jake Westbrook. At the very least, he’s Jason Simontacchi.
But there is room for growth in this perfectly molded back-end starter. He’s 6’4, and there’s reason to believe that he could rear back and tap out in the mid 90’s if he chose too. He has great command of his off-speed offerings, and while those offerings aren’t exactly plus on the movement scale, he does enough with them that he’d be really dangerous if he could ever get them to dance.
Woodford is a sure things. he’ll be pitching at the back end of a rotation when it’s all said and done. He’s 20 years old pitching well in a league that is way too old and way too advanced for how good he’s been. He’ll have to cut down the walks and the hits allowed, but he’s more than capable of it.
14. OF Randy Arozarena: Age 22 – International Free Agent, 2016
2017 Stats, Springfield & Palm Beach: 73 Games, 275 AB, 74 H, 22 Doubles, 3 Triples, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 14 BB, 55 SO, 11 SB, 5 CS, 269/330/458/788. 126 Total Bases.
Preseason Ranking: 20th, Up 6 Spots
Randy Arozarena is what many thought that Eli Alvarez was entering the season: a speedy, gap-hitting, spark plug at the top of the order.
The difference between the two is that Arozarena’s skill set is so much more advanced at this point than Alvarez’ that his success this season has real staying power.
First, a couple of highlights for Arozarena this season: He was a starter in the Florida State League All-Star game. He won a home run derby. From May 15th to June 29th, the day before he was promoted to Springfield, he slashed 343/398/622/1.020 with 26 extra base hits in 143 AB’s.
He’s struggled a bit in the smallest of samples since being promoted to Springfield, but that doesn’t concern me at all. He’ll come around with time. His swing is too short, compact, and powerful for him to not be successful in the Texas League. He can play CF, but he is a Dexter Fowler type there and is probably best suited for LF, where he’s played mostly this season.
Arozarena is my favorite hitter in the system and, much like with Ryan Helsley(scroll down), I am so biased towards him that I have to admit that my judgement is clouded. However, Arozarena has done nothing yet to make me worry that my fandom isn’t founded.
13. OF Oscar Mercado(Pictured): Age 22 – 2nd Round, 2013
2017 Stats, Springfield: 73 Games, 299 AB, 12 Doubles, 4 Triples, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 22 BB, 71 SO, 27 SB, 10 CS, 321/375/468/844. 140 Total Bases
Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked
This is the most amazing turn around from a prospect that I think I have ever seen. At least in the Cardinals organization. Sure, what Aledmys Diaz did in going from being DFA’ed to being added to the 25 man in less than a year was incredible, but that’s a totally different set of circumstances.
This time last year Mercado was a failed prospect. He was a “glove-first” short stop that was terrible at short stop. Much like with prospect #22 on our list, 2B Eliezer Alvarez, he’d show signs of pizazz that were quickly forgotten because of fundamental failures. So, with hope that he’d be able to relax with a position change, but still wanting to maximize his athleticism, Mercado was moved to CF on July 22nd of 2016. At the time of the position change he was hitting 205/278/255/533, which is terrible.
Mercado finished last season slashing 236/333/306/639 in 144 at-bats. Still, not great, but there was reason to believe in bloom. And bloom is exactly what Mercado has done.
It wasn’t easy for me to put Mercado in the 13-hole on the list. However, every time I did a new draft I’d find him sneaking up the list. We are more than halfway through the season and Mercado hasn’t slowed down. he’s worked through slumps and struggles, and all signs point to those moments of strife making him stronger. he still has work to do in CF, but I truly believe that he can stick there. Sometimes he gets a little complacent and boot a weakly hit ball to him, but other than that he’s been better than he should be for being so new to the position. Mercado is also the most prolific base-burglar in the system and has the best chance at this point, aside from Darren Seferina and maybe Eli Alvarez, of having a countable total if he were in the majors.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Mercado is pretty damn good and he is definitely here to stay.
12. RHP Ryan Helsley: Age 22 – 5th Round, 2015
2017 Stats, Palm Beach: 14 Appearances, 14 Games, 77.2 IP, 65 H, 26 ER, 2 HR Allowed, 23 BB, 72 K, 3.01 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .230 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 11th, Down 1 Spot
Anyone that follows me on Twitter know that my love for Helsley as a prospect knows no bounds.
And, more than likely, it has blinded me to some of his inefficiencies. But, hey, it’s my list so #12 he is!
I’ve said it more times than I care to admit(see above in the Zac Gallen part of our list), but there isn’t a more unheralded prospect in the Cardinals system than Helsley. He’s constantly passed over when pundits mention the top pitching prospects in the organization. However, that hasn’t stopped him from pitching lights-out. In 200+ IP in the minors since being drafted he’s K’ed a batter an inning while holding hitters to an average against of .223. He’s thrown a quality start in 9 of his 14 starts this season. He started the season off by throwing 5 no-hit innings and that’s set his pace for the season so far.
You can usually tell what you are going to get out of Helsley early on in a start. Sometimes he’ll struggle early on with command and he’ll walk a few guys early on. Sometimes that compromises his composure. But way more often than not he is poised and powerful, and damn near dominant from the start.
My favorite little number about Helsley is that he’s only allowed 6 career HR in 213 career innings pitched. You won’t find too many pitchers in the organization who can claim that. Helsley is less than 20 innings away from his season high (95 IP in 2016), and I’m really anxious to see what happens to that number as he eclipses that total this season.
Helsley still has work to do on his breaking pitches, a curve and a change, but his fastball that sits easy in the mid-90’s will take him far if ever ends up reduced to a bullpen role. However, that’s the worst case scenario for Helsley and an outcome that I’d be surprised with. he’s shown staying power at each level and he deserves the first promotion to Springfield that becomes available.
Helsley has electric stuff, a delivery with enough deception to help his stuff play up, and the mindset, the majority of the time, of a top of the rotation arm. I believe that he is the total package for major league success in one role or the other.
11. RHP Sandy Alcantara: Age 21 – International Free Agent, 2013
2017 Stats, Springfield: 14 Appearances, 14 Starts, 76 IP, 85 H, 47 ER, 11 HR Allowed, 29 BB, 64 K, 5.57 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, .286 Batting Average Against
Preseason Ranking: 5th, Down 6 Spots
Alcantara’s fall on the list has just as much to do with his tough season as it does with what scouts are saying about him.
First, there is no doubt that his 100 MPH fastball with easy motion will play in the majors. However, when and how he uses it has become his big problem. The advanced hitters at Double A shrug off his fastball early in counts because he doesn’t throw it enough for strikes. This also makes throwing his inconsistent, but sometimes flashing plus, off speed offerings pointless.
He’s a young thrower trying to learn how to pitch to professional hitters for the first time in his career. A few bumps along the way were to be expected. However, I can’t help but think that he would have been best served starting the season in Palm Beach where he could have worked in a pitcher’s friendly environment in Palm Beach with some of the Cardinals top instructors. I just hope the aggressiveness doesn’t permanently stunt his growth.
Between June 3rd and June 15th Alcantara put together a three start-stretch of solid pitching and it looked like he was starting to come around, but he wasn’t striking out anyone. With that in mind, I haven’t been surprised to see him struggle over his two starts since that stretch. Something just isn’t right here and it’s going to take more time of watching and analyzing him for me to find out what exactly it is.
More than likely, this is just a rough, developmental year for Alcantara and he’ll be back on track next year. But there is enough there this season to merit the concerns and the drop on the list.
His strike outs are down, his HR allowed are through the roof, and his batting average and OPS against are way larger than I ever could have imagined them being. On multiple occasions I’ve heard some of the Baseball America guys rank Austin Gomber ahead of Sandy Alcantara over the course of the season, and that’s with Gomber less than effective.
I happen to completely agree with them.
That completes part 2 of our list. You can find part 1, prospects 30-21, HERE. Come back tomorrow for our Top 10 Prospects in the system
Thanks For Reading!!!