Its that time once again where I rate the top seven prospects in the Cardinals system. Once again the Cardinals keep turning out young pitching prospects that seem to quickly find their way onto the roster every season. Here we go……….
- Harrison Bader The last time the Cardinals took a full-time college hitter in the top three rounds before nabbing Bader from the University of Florida in 2015 was back in 2012. That effort brought Stephen Piscotty to the organization. If Bader’s pro debut and first full season are any indication, he’s ready to follow in his footsteps.
Bader has shown average to above-average tools across the board as a pro, jumping on the fast track and reaching Triple-A in his first full season. He projects to be a Major League average hitter, if not above-average, with a good approach at the plate, to go along with average power. While he possesses a tick above average speed, he showed excellent instincts on the basepaths and better range in the outfield than anticipated. A left fielder at Florida because of Buddy Reed, Bader has played all three outfield spots as a pro, but he has the chance to stay in center field long term.
- Delvin Perez Perez was headlining a strong class from Puerto Rico in the 2016 Draft, when news of a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs put a huge question mark next to the toolsy shortstop’s name. The Cardinals rolled the dice with the first of their three first-round picks, signing him for full pick value at No. 23 overall.
The first Puerto Rican to be taken in the first round since Carlos Correa and Jose Berrios in 2012, Perez has everything needed to stay at shortstop long-term. He has good speed, instincts, range and hands, as well as a plus arm. Able to make the flashy play, perhaps his only flaw defensively is that he can try to do too much on occasion. Perez’s bat is behind his glove, but there are tools to work with. He can ambush a fastball early in the count, but his approach at the plate and pitch recognition need to be refined. Perez’s speed works offensively, and he could grow into more power as he matures.
It’s not easy to find premium middle infielders, a big reason why the Cardinals were willing to take a chance, even given the positive drug test. If that was a one-time mistake, Perez could provide the Cardinals with a first-round bargain.
- Jack Flaherty In 2012, Harvard-Westlake High School in Southern California had two first-round pitchers in Max Fried and Lucas Giolito. Flaherty, a two-way player in high school, became pitcher No. 3 to go in the first round two years later and would have finished ninth in the Midwest League in ERA during his full-season debut had he thrown enough innings to qualify.
Flaherty provides the Cardinals an intriguing combination of pitchability and upside. He’s more polished than you’d think for a former two-way player and right now is more of a feel to pitch starter than a pure stuff guy. But there might be more to come. His fastball is average to a tick above velocity-wise and he could add some miles per hour as he matures. His changeup is his best pitch and he’s not afraid to use it, maintaining his arm speed and throwing it with good deception. He throws both a slider and a curve, with the former better than the latter, though they sometimes blend together.
- Carson Kelly Originally drafted as a third baseman with power potential, Kelly moved behind the plate after his first full season. His development hasn’t taken a typical path, as he’s become more of a defensive-minded backstop with the bat lagging behind.
Watching Kelly behind the plate, he no longer looks like a conversion case. His arm that fired 92-mph fastballs as a high school pitcher works very well at catcher, throwing out 34 percent of would-be basestealers over his first two years behind the plate. He’s a natural leader who works with pitchers and frames well. Offensively, it’s been a struggle, though he started to come around in the second half of 2015, with the cavernous confines of Palm Beach not doing him any favors. He’s likely never going to hit for a high average, but the raw power that enamored scouts in high school is definitely still there.
Some consider Kelly to be big for a catcher, but the fact that St. Louis manager Mike Matheny fit that description as well could work in his favor. If he can find some offensive consistency, something that started to show up in 2016, Kelly still has the chance to be a power-hitting regular.
- Junior Fernandez Following the same path top prospect Alex Reyes did — starting high school in the United States, but then moving to the Dominican Republic and signing as an international free agent — Fernandez’s United States debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2015, followed by an even more successful jump to full-season ball in 2016, has the Cardinals thinking their $400,000 investment in 2014 was money well spent.
Fernandez lit up radar guns last summer, throwing his four-seamer in the 94-99 mph range and touching triple digits on occasion. But the teenager is more than just a thrower, with a solid feel for pitching. He’ll throw a two-seamer with pretty good sink and shows an advanced feel for his changeup, an offspeed pitch that could be plus in time. His third pitch is his slider, which is fairly new to him. Fernandez throws it with tight spin, but it’s still inconsistent.
His ability to command his fastball and changeup alone should allow him to succeed at some level. If the slider improves, Fernandez has the chance to be a pretty special starter. If not, his power stuff certainly would work out of a bullpen. Fernandez’s combination of stuff and pitchability gives him the most upside of any pitcher in the system after Reyes.
- Magneruris Sierra
After Sierra, who signed with the Cardinals for just $105,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, had a huge United States debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2014, he was pushed aggressively to full-season ball in 2015. That didn’t go so well, but the toolsy outfielder righted himself following a move down to the Appalachian League.
While the demotion may have slowed his timetable a bit, it could be a very positive step in his development in terms of learning to harness his natural ability. Sierra is extremely athletic with plus speed that he uses on both sides of the ball. He should be a solid defensive center fielder and a basestealing threat. While he doesn’t have a ton of home run power, he does have considerable strength, particularly in his wrists and forearms and could eventually reach double-digits in that offensive category.
Outfielders in the Cardinals system unfairly get compared to the late Oscar Taveras, who reached Double-A at age 20. Sierra is still ahead of the curve at that age for the entire 2016 season and has the chance to jump back on a faster track.
7. Paul DeJong
There is little question the Cardinals have some aptitude in evaluating, drafting and developing college hitters. The big league roster is all you need to see as proof, with Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and Stephen Piscotty serving as perfect examples. DeJong could be part of the next wave of college bats to impact St. Louis.
DeJong’s advanced approach at the plate, with excellent plate discipline and a good idea of the strike zone, has helped his transition to pro ball. He has both strength and bat speed from the right side, with the chance to have at least Major League average in-game power, which was on display as he slugged .516 during his pro debut and reached full-season ball. DeJong moved around defensively at Illinois State, but played third base exclusively during his pro debut. He has a solid arm, though needs to work on his accuracy, and he’s a fringy defender. The Cardinals believe he has a chance to stay there.
DeJong has quickly become the top third baseman in the system and there’s not much in front of him blocking his path. Assuming he plays solid enough defense, he could hit St. Louis in a hurry.
Source: St. Louis Cardinals