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St. Louis Cardinals: Week 17 Prospect Awards

Every Friday (and some Saturday’s when I’m too busy to get it out on Friday) until the end of the minor league season we will present you with the awards for the past weeks top pitcher and position player at each affiliate. We will include a capsule at the end of each list on an under the radar performer that has had a very good week. The stats will run from Friday through Thursday. The stats are a reflection of that weeks success.

WEEK 17 (July 28th – August 3rd)

 

MEMPHIS (72-38) 1st Place, 21 Games Up, lol

Hitter Of The Week –Tyler O’Neill: OF, Age 22 – 24 AB, 9 H, 2 Doubles, 1 Triple, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 0 BB, 5 SO, 1 SB, 375/375/792/1.167

I think if you were to ask either John Mozeliak or Mike Girsch if Tyler O’Neill has been better than they expect you’d get a resounding “YES” in response, if they decided to be candid.

I know that Tyler has been every bit as good as I had hoped he would be when the Cardinals acquired him for Marco Gonzales in January. His numbers since joining the organization aren’t telling a false tale, either. Entering Thursday night, in 9 games with the organization, he’s slashed 306/308/694/1.002 with 3 HR, 3 Doubles, 14 RBI, 1 BB, and 10 strikeouts in 36 AB.  The power has been there. The ball-striking has been there. The K’s are down a kick on average, but barely. He has only walked once, which isn’t going to work, but he’s still taking good at-bats. It’s just that, right now at least, he’s seeing enough around the zone late in counts to go chasing a little bit.

O’Neill has also had a chance to put some of that athleticism to the test in CF. As you know if you read my player profile on O’Neill, I view him as a perfect-profile LF. So far, the short amount of time that he’s spent in CF has only reaffirmed my initial thoughts, although he’s been fine in CF at the Triple-A level.

The future is damn bright for this 22 year old slugger. Only time will tell how he’ll fit in with the major league club, and my bet is that by this time next year we’ll have a pretty good, first-hand idea.

 

Pitcher Of The Week – Kevin Herget: RHP, Age 26 – 1 Start*, 0-0, 4 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. Game Score of 55

*This award comes with the caveat that Herget was the scheduled starter for Thursday night. However, with Memphis on the West Coast and that game starting at 9:00 CT I’ve decided that I’m not including it in this week. Totally lazy move by me*

Herget is an interesting fella. He entered the season as a promising, albeit older, bullpen arm. He hadn’t started a game since 2014 and he had been relatively lights out while pitching in the bullpen. Herget seemed all but destined to start 2017 in Memphis’ pen, but he actually wound up back in Springfield where he had pitched 36 outstanding innings the year before. When he finally got his promotion to Memphis he was shelled: In 5 IP he allowed 9 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, while striking out 5 and allowing 2 HR. So, back to Springfield he went.

It took Herget 10 appearances (basically the entire month of May) to find his way back to Memphis. Since June 10th, his first appearance back in Memphis, He’s pitched 27.2 IP while striking out 28, walking 6, allowing 2 HR, and holding runners to a batting average against of .239. Even more amazing, Herget has found his way into Memphis’ injury-plagued and always-transitioning rotation. In his two starts since becoming a rotation member he’s pitched 7.1 innings of 9 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K baseball. He’s also thrown 67% of his pitches for strikes with an impressive ERA of 2.45.

Herget is in the rotation because the Cardinals have decided to move Mike Mayers, Josh Zeid, and Arturo Reyes to the bullpen in preparation for what might be where they profile as having the most suitable major league role. However, I do think it will benefit Herget to get the experience pitching at the beginning of the games. Let’s get him stretched out and see if we can make a right handed Tyler Lyons out of him.

He’s a 39th round pick out of a Division 3 school. Root for the kid. He deserves it.

*For the record, Herget pitched 4.1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K in his Thursday night start.

 

Springfield (60-51, 25-16 In 2nd Half) 2nd Place, 2 Games Back

Hitter Of The Week – Andrew Knizner: C, Age 22 – 18 AB, 8 H, 2 Doubles, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 3 SO, 444/450/556/1.006

With a week of solid, but not outstanding, performances out of the Springfield hitters, Andrew Knizner is the hitter that stuck out to me.

Sure, Eliezer Alvarez forced extra innings on Wednesday night with a HR to the opposite gap. Sure, Oscar Mercado found his way back onto the homer-board. Sure, Randy Arozarena is a god that we should all worship. However, there are some things from a scouting perspective that I wanted to go over about Knizner and that’s part of the reason why the award is his this week.

My colleague Colin Garner and I were watching the Springfield game on Tuesday night at the same time and we were both impressed with Knizner’s ability to recognize how he was being attacked. Early in his first AB he looked TERRIBLE while swinging at a breaking pitch on the outside corner. It was the kind of swing that a pitcher exploits over and over again. That exploitation didn’t happen to Knizner. They kept throwing it to him, trying to get him to chase. He kept laying off of it, knowing and expecting it. Those are the kind of in-game adjustments that less-advanced hitters do not make and it’s the most impressive thing about Knizner at the plate, to me. Give me as much of that as you can, please.

He’s come a long way behind the plate, but you can tell that he’s starting to fatigue out. He’s isn’t getting down on the  balls in the dirt like he used to. He’s getting more aggressive throwing behind runners at first, which is something that hasn’t gone well for Knizner. I’ve seen him throw the ball into right field twice. I’m OK with him trying it as much as he needs to in an effort to develop that weapon. I just want to see it go well…

 

Pitcher Of The Week – Austin Gomber: LHP, Age 23 – 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. Game Score of 70

It has been a somewhat disappointing, complete roller coaster season for Gomber. At the beginning of the season, I would have been willing to swear up and down that Gomber would be poised for a Memphis promotion by now. Unfortunately, things just haven’t gone that way.

The Cardinals have been strict with Gomber in an effort to straighten out some of the mechanical “issues” that some inside the organization see with Gomber. The Cardinals have been working with Gomber to hold base runners on better, mask pitches better, and control counts better in an effort to prepare him for what’s to come as he progresses through the top levels of the minors.

And I hate it.

The more I think about it the more upset I get about the changes that Gomber has been forced to make. At first I thought that changing his throwing mechanic to help downsize the large hitch in his delivery was a good idea. Too much herky-jerky can be a bad thing for a pitcher. It wears them out. It can cause timing issues. But that’s not who Gomber is. He’s a big boy and he can handle the stress.

It isn’t rare that I say this, but let the kid pitch and let him die trying. They need to let that hitch roll if they want to maximize Gomber’s potential. Otherwise, this pitcher, who is too talented to toil, will be riding the roller coaster for the rest of his career.

 

PALM BEACH (59-47, 19-20 In 2nd Half) 5th Place, 5 Games Back

Hitter Of The Week – Leobaldo Pina: IF, Age 23 – 22 AB, 8 H, 2 Doubles, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 3 SO, 364/417/591/1.008

Before I even address the player that I picked, I’d like to point out, once again, how poor the Palm Beach club is from a talent-to-majors perspective as far as everyday players goes.

Most of the time I use this space to, somehow, optimistically bag on a prospect that has the tiniest chances to make the major leagues. I try to be witty, but it’s time that we address what this means for the organization.

The Cardinals do not have an effective prospect at this level currently. I’m bullish on Andy Young as you know, but the violent hitting confines of Roger Dean Stadium have helped to neutralize his gap to gap game. Also, he isn’t walking and that has me worried. Other than that this roster is full of under-achieving prospects and over-achieving minor league depth guys. And Chris Chinea and Andy Young.

For instance, take Leobaldo Pina. He’s a great organizational depth guy. He can hit for a bit of power. He plays all over the diamond. He’ll even throw an inning in a blow out. But it doesn’t matter how successful he is because it isn’t sustainable upon progression. I love the way he plays, but there just isn’t enough there. It was a great week for him, but a great week in a see of blackness.

The Palm Beach roster outlines a serious hole in the major league-capable talent level of the organization. It’ll be interesting to see how that hole opens or closes from this point until the beginning of the 2018 season. I think all that we can do is hold our collective breath and hope that Chinea or Young rise to the top.

 

Pitcher Of The Week – Jordan Hicks(Pictured): RHP, Age 20 – 2 Starts, 0-0, 10 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, 9 K. Batting Average Against of .222. Game Scores of 64 & 61.

When I think about the recent history of the pitchers that have been promoted to Palm Beach mid-season I can’t seem to remember one that has been as impressive as Jordan Hicks‘ has been.

Hicks has been great in all five of his starts so far for Palm Beach. He threw 80 pitches in his first start, but he’s been on a strict pitch count, 30 in his 2nd start and 60 in his last 3 starts, and that has skewed how deep he’s gone in games. Hicks allowed 3 ER in his first start but hasn’t allowed an earned run in 17 innings since while striking out 24 and only walking 4. All indications are that Hicks is using that potential 70 grade curve more effectively than he ever has and that his change up is taking steps to be consistently average while flashing above average. If that’s the case then that means that Jordan Hicks is truly a top of the rotation arm that has worked his way through the tough part of his development.

With so many arms so close to the majors it shouldn’t be over looked how important Hicks’ development will be. He’s poised to be the depth-bridge between the advanced arms of Gomber, Hudson, Helsley, and Flaherty, and the budding starts known as Johan Oviedo and Alvaro Seijas.

I have all the confidence in the world right now that Hicks is destined to be everything that he can be.

 

Peoria (52-57, 22-18 In 2nd Half) 3rd Place, 3 Games Back

Hitter Of The Week – Juan Yepez: 3B/1B, Age 19 – 24 AB, 8 H, 3 Doubles, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 6 SO, 333/385/583/968

Baseball is a fickle mistress. It gets what it deserves. It balances itself out without asking and it does it mercilessly.

And it’s beautiful for being that way.

Juan Yepez is the prospect that the Cardinal acquired from the Atlanta Braves for Matt Adams. You’ll know him better as that kid you’ve been cursing because Matt Adams had very little trade value before he was traded and blew a hole through ATL after he was traded. Yes, he’ll probably never give you the major league value that Matt Adams gave the Cardinals or the Braves.

But, you know what? He’s had a great week while Matt Adams has been removed as the starting 1B for the Atlanta Braves. And you know what else? Matt Adams is headed back to left field! So, HA!

Honestly, I don’t know what to expect out of Yepez professionally. I honestly haven’t seen enough of him. But he is still only 19 years old playing at an advanced level in the minors. It’s a default, cop-out answer, but we’ll have a better idea of Yepez’ value and skill is in one year. Stay tuned. I do know that there appears to be some untapped power potential in that bat and I’m anxious to see if he can mine it.

 

Pitcher Of The Week – Ronnie Williams: RHP, Age 21 – 1 Start, 2 Appearances, 6 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K. Game Score of 65

I write about Ronnie Williams a lot, but never in a flattering way, it would seem.

Let me give you the short of the long in case you already didn’t know about how Williams’ season has gone; Struggle. Bad Struggle. BAD STRUGGLE. Moves To Bullpen. Struggles worse. Struggles worse-bad-more. Falls off the face of the Earth-Bad. All of his friends in Peoria leave him for Promotions.

But that leads us to his return to the Peoria rotation.

Because of bad weather and a constant stream of pitching promotions, Peoria was in need of a starter for a double header. They turned to Williams and he didn’t disappoint. He went 4 innings of hitless baseball and he was impressive while doing it. His fastball velocity was up and his energy level was dialed up to 11.

This small stretch is easily the best and most important stretch of Williams’ season so far. He could easily use this as a spring board to success and I hope that he is given the chance to pitch in the rotation for the rest of the season, even if it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen right now.

Williams is a passionate guy and that has aided some of his failures this season. I’m willing to bet that he is going to thrive if he is given the chance to end the season in the rotation. He is still only 21 with some pretty good stuff. Maybe recovering from that much adversity was all that this young man needs to regain his prospect stature.

 

 

 

**SHORT SEASON PITCHER AND PLAYER OF THE WEEK**

*Writer’s Note* – With the short season clubs in full swing, I’ll be highlighting one pitcher and one hitter over the four short season affiliates that I believe is worth mentioning. It won’t always be the best player out of those affiliates for the week. I’m not doing it level by level because these kids are FAR away from the majors. They deserve to be looked upon with a little bit of distance.

Short Season Player – Evan Mendoza(Pictured), State College: 3B, Age 21 – 26 AB, 11 H, 3 Doubles, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 BB, 7 SO, 423/423/654/1.077

They are two completely different players playing two different positions, but there is a lot of Tommy Edman in Evan Mendoza.

What I mean by that, is that Mendoza is a mechanically sound, advanced college bat that is out-kicking his collegiate power numbers, average, and OPS. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t sustainable.

On the contrary, Mendoza looks as much like a victim of collegiate BABIP as any prospect I’ve seen enter the system in a long time. A former pitcher/3B at NC State, Mendoza is proving to be a nimble third baseman with all of the necessary skills to stick as he progresses through the system. Personally, I would like to see him at Peoria by then end of the season because he’s just too advanced for the New York/Penn League. His 7/0 K/BB rate this week is a little alarming, but he’s hitting the ball with authority and he’s starting to make a name for himself in the New York/Penn League.

Even when he struggled as a junior at NC State his walk rate and K rate were solid. Speaking of walking and K-ing, he matched those two stats 1 for 1 in his final collegiate season, striking out and walking an equal 28 times. That’s the kind of hitter that you want entering your system. Just ask Andrew Knizner and the aforementioned Tommy Edman.

Mendoza is name to keep an eye on with a bat to follow the track that Tommy Edman paved in front of him.

 

Short Season Pitcher – Johan Oviedo, State College: RHP, Age 19 – 1 Start, 1-0, 5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 K. Game Score of 56

Again, this wasn’t the best start of the week in the lower minors, but it was the most important.

Oviedo wasn’t exactly great during his 6 start-stint at Johnson City to start the season. The 6’6 Cuban is immensely talented and I was growing a little concerned that maybe my over the top expectations might have been even more unrealistic than I originally thought.

But thanks to the shuffling at the upper levels, the advanced Oviedo is going to get a chance to prove that the hitter friendly environment in Johnson City had just as much to do with his struggles as anything.

Just a few things I like about Oviedo; in 55 minor league IP over two seasons he’s struck out 68. He hasn’t allowed a HR. He’s holding hitters to a batting average against of .240 and an OPS against of .671. His groundball rate is 52%.

What I don’t like is that he’s only throwing strikes 56% of the time, and that’s not going to be good enough. He’s better than that. When he starts to trust his stuff and stops nibbling on the fringe he’s going to be an absolute force to reckon with.

 

PREVIOUS AWARD WINNERS

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

Week 12

No Prospect Awards For Week 13

Week 14

Week 15

Week 16

 

Thanks for reading!

Kyle Reis

@kyler416

Kyle Reis
Kyle is a South City St Louis born and raised. He is 30 years old and grew up at old Busch Stadium. His favorite Cardinals player of all time is Ray Lankford. Kyle is an overly simple person who loves countable baseball statistics, following minor league baseball, and friendly discourse. He tends to not take people seriously that refer for the team that they root for as "we" instead of "them".
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