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St. Louis Cardinals 2020 Photo Day – Partial

photo: Daniel Ponce de Leon (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

The St. Louis Cardinals held their annual photo day on Wednesday, February 19. Normally this would mean that all 73 players in camp as well as the 11 coaches would pass through a number of photography stations to have their pictures taken, in the first of 10 years wearing the Nike swoosh.

However, as luck would have it, Mother Nature intervened and those photographers who were set up outside, including Jasen Vinlove from Imagn, did not get to shoot everyone. So instead of the hoped-for three installments – one post each with pitchers, position players and coaches, the 39 who were captured by Vinlove are shown here together.

Cardinals Photo Day 2020 (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

For more, please click here to be taken to the Cardinals team roster page, including all major leaguers at the end of last season. From there, select any player’s name to be taken to his Player Profile page. In addition, all minor league rosters and the Roster Matrix, with all transactions and a view of rosters by level and position can be accessed from “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES” on the left menu bar, underneath the site logo.

This gallery is organized by logical category assignments which are mine. Pitchers lead the way, followed by position players and coaches.


Projected rotation (6)

Miles Mikolas (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Jack Flaherty (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Carlos Martinez (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Kwang-Hyun Kim


Relievers (7)

Brett Cecil (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
John Brebbia (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Andrew Miller (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
John Gant (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Jordan Hicks, Tyler Webb, Giovanny Gallegos


Rotation candidates – 40-man (8)

Alex Reyes (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Daniel Ponce de Leon (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Ryan Helsley (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Jake Woodford (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Alvaro Seijas (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Austin Gomber, Genesis Cabrera, Ricardo Sanchez


Relief candidates – 40-man (1)

Not pictured: Junior Fernandez


Non-roster starters (10)

Tommy Parsons (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Griffin Roberts (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Angel Rondon (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Zack Thompson (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Akeem Bostick, Nabil Crismatt, Alex FaGalde, Evan Kruczynski, Matthew Liberatore, Johan Oviedo


Non-roster relievers (7)

Roel Ramirez (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Ramon Santos (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Kodi Whitley (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Jesus Cruz, Bryan Dobzanski, Seth Elledge, Rob Kaminsky


Projected starters (8)

Matt Carpenter (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Dexter Fowler (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Harrison Bader (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Paul DeJong (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Kolten Wong (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Tyler O’Neill (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina


Projected reserves (5)

Matt Wieters (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Brad Miller (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Tommy Edman (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Lane Thomas, Rangel Ravelo


40-man players (6)

Justin Williams (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Austin Dean (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Yairo Muñoz, Edmundo Sosa, Andrew Knizner, Elehuris Montero


Non-roster catchers (9)

Jose Godoy (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Julio Rodriguez (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Carlos Soto (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Aaron Antonini, Oscar Hernandez, Ivan Herrera, Dennis Ortega, Pedro Pages, Alexis Wilson


Non-roster infielders (5)

Evan Mendoza (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
John Nogowski (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Max Schrock (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Luken Baker, Nolan Gorman


Non-roster outfielders (1)

Dylan Carlson (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Coaches (11)

Mike Shildt (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)
Jobel Jimenez (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

Not pictured: Mike Maddux, Bryan Eversgerd, Jamie Pogue, Kleininger Teran, Oliver Marmol, Willie McGee, Jeff Albert, Ron “Pop” Warner, Stubby Clapp

All photos were taken by Jasen Vinlove of Imagn and were provided via license.


For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Breaking Down Cardinals Reserve Decisions – Spring 2020


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Annual members may purchase the new 2020 Prospect Guide for less than half price. In addition, our new, limited edition printed and bound Guide is now available.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

photo: Nolan Gorman and Dylan Carlson

An annual tradition continues with the unveiling of the 15th version of The Cardinal Nation Top Prospect 50 List, beginning on Monday, November 11.

During the period we call “50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects”, a new top St. Louis Cardinals prospect is disclosed each day, starting with number 50 and carrying us to number 1 on December 30th – our top prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system coming into the 2020 season. We will continue into January with a series of articles analyzing the list from a number of different perspectives.

Who will be number 1 this year, replacing four-time leader Alex Reyes? How will the comparison between Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman conclude for the new king of the farm system – or will an underdog slip ahead of the highly-heralded duo?

As always, following the top 50 countdown will be our annual 12-pack of “best-of”, “just-missed” and in-depth analysis articles. This series will conclude as the arrival of Instructional Camp and Winter Warm-Up signal that pitchers and catchers will be reporting in just four more weeks.

Continuing our well-oiled process, the final ranking representing the site is a melding of three individual prospect lists. Our 2019 voters return for another year – TCN owner Brian Walton, reporter Derek Shore and you, the readers.

Since just after Labor Day, the members of our free message board community voted for their own Cardinals prospect list. This detailed annual ranking involves considerable debate and discussion. The fan voting process has been imitated but never duplicated, as our readers continue to be the some of the most knowledgeable people anywhere when it comes to the players in the Cardinals minor league system.

The Cardinal Nation community ranking is given its customary one-third weighting to yield the countdown order to be unveiled here. The community leader who led the voting process, “14NyquisT,” a.k.a. John Baker, will summarize the group discussion in the individual player capsules posted daily. Shore will provide his scouting-oriented commentary on each member of the new top 50 as well as on a handful of others who just missed out.

To follow the countdown, you can either read each new story when posted on our home page every morning or click on the individual players’ names, which will be listed below as they are unveiled. You can also return to this page daily to check the current status of our Top 50 countdown.

As always, readers can join in the debate at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board, where there will be discussion surrounding that day’s entry onto the top prospect list.

To check out the corresponding rankings from each of the past 14 winters, click here, or you can always access them the permanent link in the left column located underneath the site logo called “PROSPECT RANKINGS”.


The Cardinal Nation Top 50 Prospects – 2020

Update: Due to the Cardinals’ acquisition of pitcher Matthew Liberatore on January 9, the left-hander was been installed as the new no. 3 prospect for 2020. In the process, the prior no. 3 through no. 6 prospects each move down one spot in the rankings. The prior no. 7, Randy Arozarena, was traded away in the same transaction.


There’s more!

At the conclusion of the countdown, a 12-part series follows, as we drill down into the details behind the top 50. Most of these articles will be exclusively for TCN members.

We will analyze individual top 50 lists, year-to-year changes and the top additions. The voters highlight their ranked players that did not make the combined top 50 and we unveil our All-Prospect Team – the highest-ranked players at each position.

We will take a view behind the numbers, a look back at our best and worst picks from the previous year, the top prospect list cut by level of play, those on the 2019 list who dropped off for 2020, a potential-only based-list and wrap it up with a tiered-view of the top 50.

Top 50 analysis 12-pack


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That way, you will not miss a word of the most in-depth Cardinals prospect information available anywhere, including every article in this top 50 prospect series!


The voting process

Here is a bit of insight into the process behind the picks. Earlier this fall, Brian Walton and Derek Shore independently documented their top prospects in the Cardinals minor league system. The Community vote was then folded in.

A weighted score was tabulated, which drove the ranking you will see here. The individual scores will also be shown on the player pages as they are unveiled each day, along with a wealth of additional information on each of the 50 prospects.

To come up with the 50 names, each of us submitted a list of 65 players. This year, there was a high level of general agreement, as 71 prospects were identified by at least one voter, with all members of the top 50 required to have received at least two votes. Ties were broken by the best individual voter score.

In terms of qualification, all players in the Cardinals minor league system are eligible, including those on the 40-man roster, as long as they have not exhausted their MLB rookie designation of at-bats or innings pitched. (For this year, Ryan Helsley, Lane Thomas and Tyler O’Neill are among those who are out. Andrew Knizner, Randy Arozarena, Junior Fernandez, Genesis Cabrera, Justin Williams, Edmundo Sosa and Adolis Garcia are in.)

The unequaled depth of coverage of the Cardinals system all year ‘round by The Cardinal Nation means there is much more behind these rankings than just a list of names.

Brian and Derek, who is Springfield-based, ranked based on personal observation as much as possible, and with local reporters in every affiliate city, TCN knows these players well. Brian was out to see the affiliates in person this spring, summer and fall. That included covering instructional camp, spring training, extended spring training, and the Arizona Fall League first-hand. We also received valuable input from coaches, scouts and others in and out of the organization.


Scouting Grades return for 2020

Brian Walton is again grading each prospect on a 2-8 scale, based on their most likely future potential. This mirrors the standard 20-80 scouting scale, while taking a simplified look at ultimate potential, rather than a full detailed, tool-by-tool breakdown. The grades are accompanied by a risk factor, which assesses the likelihood of a player reaching or exceeding his ceiling.

Grades:

8 – Elite talent
7 – All-star
6 – Above average starter, top to mid-rotation starting pitcher, closer
5 – Average starter, #3-5 starting pitcher, impact reliever
4 – Bench/bullpen contributor, spot starter
2 – Career minor leaguer

Risk:

Safe – Almost certain to reach ceiling
Low – Strong chance of reaching ceiling
Medium – Some work to become an MLB player
High – More projection than results
Extreme – Highly projectable, small chance of making the majors

Remember that these are point-in-time assessments, which can easily be overachieved (or underachieved) in the future as some players break out and others regress.

© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #1 – Dylan Carlson

photo: Dylan Carlson (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown reaches no. 1 with the 2019 Player of the Year across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. For 2020, the question is when he will be deemed ready for St. Louis. FREE article.


2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
8 OF 10 23 98 6-3 205 S L 2016 1st 2020 2020

Link to Dylan Carlson’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Dylan Carlson


Selected 2019 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
Spr 0.281 0.315 108 417 81 117 24 21 59 52 98 18 142 0.364 0.518 0.882
Mem 0.361 0.429 18 72 14 26 4 5 9 6 18 2 161 0.418 0.681 1.098
Total 0.292 126 489 95 143 28 26 68 58 116 20 0.372 0.542 0.914

TCN Scouting Grade: 6.5, Risk: low (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (1): Our Message Board voters took note of Carlson’s extra base hit rate of .437 (62 of his 143 hits were XBH) and his reasonable K rate (20.6 percent).

Just last season Carlson was #11 with the Group and #8 overall in the final TCN ranking.

Grenadier1 said, “You see he has a great approach at the plate, He should develop power as he continues to mature. He has a great attitude and takes instructions well.”

stlcards25 wrote, “He’s just been solid everywhere so far and always young for his level. Good arm, good athlete. Simply put, the switch hitting Carlson is everything that you could expect out of a #1 prospect. I think that the Group nailed it.”

I’d just like to add that it was a pleasure putting your thoughts, comments, predictions and rebuttals in black and white. I’d like to thank the readers of TCN, the participants in the rankings and especially those who added their remarks, stats and reasoning to their selections.

Also, a big “thank you” to Brian Walton and Derek Shore for their in-depth commentary on the top 50 prospects, their research and their knowledge of the Cardinal organization is truly appreciated right here on what is known as The Cardinal Nation. – John Baker


Derek Shore (1): There was a strong buzz heading into this past spring.

It was a buzz about St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Dylan Carlson, upon whom the organization was betting big on his breakout this year in the hitter-friendly environment of the Texas League.

Carlson proved the Cardinals right, showing a mix of tools and savviness. He demonstrated above-average hitting ability, plus power, above-average defense and enough speed and instincts to be a base-stealing threat.

As spring training progressed and players started moving out and over to the minor-league side of the complex, one of the youngest players in the Cardinals big-league camp remained.

That was not only because of the potential he showed, but because of the game performances he delivered in spring.

Carlson is the latest in the line of young, ascending outfielders the likes of which the Cardinals haven’t seen since the late Oscar Taveras. Late in one of his spring starts, Carlson drilled a home run off Mets all-star closer Edwin Diaz.

“He looks like he belongs,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt told the media during spring training.

At High-A Palm Beach last year, in a ballpark that suppresses offense, Carlson slashed .247/.345/.386 with nine home runs in 99 games. He drew 52 walks against 78 strikeouts in the Florida State League after earning a promotion from Low-A Peoria after 13 games.

Carlson said playing in the Florida State League taught him to stay dedicated to the process. He took that into this past season at Springfield instead of worrying about the results.

That mindset paid off.

Carlson broke out in 2019, opening at Springfield as the second-youngest position player in the Texas League and won the league MVP award. He finished second in the circuit in OPS (.882), home runs (21), runs scored (81) and extra-base hits (51).

“For me, I tried to stick with my plan,” Carlson said. “That has been the biggest difference – trying to stick with my strengths, my plan and executing as opposed to giving in to how they are trying to get me out and getting out of my plan. I’m swinging at strikes, handling pitches that I can handle.

“For me, that was the biggest thing (in making myself a complete hitter).”

“He dominated that league at a young age,” St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told the media. “You think about going wire-to-wire (as a leader). It’s a hard league to dominate unless you’re truly an elite player.”

Carlson finished the season leading Springfield in a number of major offensive categories. He was the Cardinals first prospect to put together a 20-20 season since Tyler Greene and Terry Evans did it in 2006.

“I was very fortunate to have been in the same city as he was for most of the season this year,” Springfield manager Joe Kruzel said. “I always thought every time Dylan comes to the ballpark he expected to play and wanted to play. You never knew if he was doing well or not. He just acted the same every night. The best thing I did for him this year was I stayed out of his way, let him play and let him grow.”

Carlson also made the Futures Game and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he collected 11 extra-base hits in 18 games.

From a scouting standpoint, Carlson has always shown advanced instincts, controlling the strike zone and flashing the ingredients to hit with above-average bat speed and hand-eye coordination.

Carlson added 10 pounds of muscle this past offseason, which allowed him to impact the ball more. A switch-hitter, he also ironed out his once loopy left handed swing and now projects as an above-average hitter from both sides of the plate.

He also studies pitchers’ tendencies diligently, stays within the strike zone and doesn’t miss his pitch when he gets it. Carlson’s pure power is average, but his growing strength and smooth swing mechanics give him a chance to hit for 20 or more home runs at the major-league level.

Dylan Carlson (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

Carlson has average speed, but is an above-average runner who steals bases efficiently. Those instincts allow him to hold down center field, though he profiles best in the corners where he’s an above-average defender.

His average arm fits best in left, but he could certainly play right field as well.

Carlson will be just 21 years of age in 2020 and still has time to grow. He has the profile of a solid everyday player and a chance for more.

One professional scout who saw him this past summer said he is an above-average corner outfielder and compared him to a MLB All-Star.

“He is very comparable to Nick Markakis,” the scout said.

With an all-around game blossoming at a young age, Carlson has become the Cardinals top overall prospect and a likely cornerstone outfielder in St. Louis for years to come.

“I hate to do this, but he’s the Albert Pujols type or the Oscar Taveras type,” Mozeliak recently told KSDK. “From an offensive standpoint, he has done a lot at a very young age… He is also one of those players who is a very complete player. Good defensive player and physically maturing right now.

“I think there is a lot to be excited about with him. I would imagine that at some point in 2020 we will see him (with St. Louis).”


Brian Walton (1): By July, Carlson’s MVP-pace season in the Double-A Texas League pushed him squarely ahead of Nolan Gorman to take over the mantle of the no. 1 prospect in the Cardinals organization. At this time, I do not believe there is credible doubt about that.

Oscar Taveras (Getty Images)

So, let’s move the analysis to how Carlson stacks up to those who came before him. In doing so, I will return to several player comparisons mentioned above.

Because Oscar Taveras emerged earlier in his career than Carlson, Taveras first appeared on national top 100 lists following 2011, when he won the Midwest League batting title in his age 18-19 season. For each of the next two years, Taveras rocketed to a consensus place among the top three prospects across all of baseball.

After being unranked nationally a year ago, Carlson has vaulted into the top 25 of two early well-known prospect raters for 2020. So, he has emerged quickly, but still has a ways to go comparatively.

But who I really want to talk about is Albert Pujols. OK, actually, I don’t, but I feel I have to.

This is NOT a player to whom Dylan Carlson (or any other 21-year old) should be compared. It just isn’t. In my opinion, it was a surprisingly reckless comment from an executive who has earned a well-known reputation for just the opposite.

I get that Mr. Mozeliak is excited about his team’s next big thing, not to mention that the more focus is placed on the promise of this prospect, the less criticism may be placed on the front office and ownership for not (at least yet) externally replacing the offense generated by Marcell Ozuna the last two seasons.

Albert Pujols (USA TODAY Sports Images)

But putting that all aside, let’s step back and look at this with a clear head and an open mind.

Pujols is arguably the greatest player of his entire generation. Not the best Cardinal, mind you – the best player. He will not just be a Hall of Famer – he will almost certainly be a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown. His no. 5 will be retired one day, with his image forever placed on the Busch Stadium outfield wall – all as it should be.

Even whispering the two names together is a tremendous disservice – both to Carlson, who cannot measure up, and to the casual fans who might take Mozeliak’s overhype as gospel and expect far too much from the Californian far too soon.

This comparison was not a misquote or twisted out of context. See and hear for yourself.

In viewing this clip again, it almost feels as if Mozeliak realized what he said, so he swung the pendulum back in the other direction as hard as he could with his prediction that Carlson should reach St. Louis in 2020 “at some point”.

That caused my neck to snap!

Some may recall that Pujols never played a game at Double-A and only a handful of Triple-A contests to conclude the 2000 season before the decided underdog hit his way onto the 2001 Cardinals out of spring training. Mozeliak clearly wants to tamp down that kind of parallel, however, at least for a while.

He moved straight from creating a totally unfair, elevated expectation to making likely his greatest understatement of the off-season. Can anyone imagine the fan mutiny that would occur if the 2020 All-Star break comes and goes, for example, and Carlson is still sitting in Memphis?

Now, we all know that some teams artificially keep players in the minors longer than perceived necessary. The most famous case is the Chicago Cubs vs. Kris Bryant (whose appeal is still unresolved five years later thanks to some classic MLB foot-dragging). The reason for this service time manipulation is to either maintain another year of control before free agency or to keep the player away from arbitration eligibility (and a major salary increase) for a year – or both.

For this very reason, some front office critics are already assuming that Carlson will not break spring training camp with St. Louis. I disagree. I have challenged – and will continue to challenge – these self-professed subject matter experts to provide one example of when the Cardinals managed service time.

One need look no farther back than (injured) closer Jordan Hicks for a contrary current case. Off the top of my head, Colby Rasmus was another celebrated player whose service time could have been held down, but it was not.

However, I do share the expectation that Carlson will not break 2020 spring camp with St. Louis – but for a different set of reasons.

If I was managing the team this coming spring, I would make it a much higher priority to give as many plate appearances as possible to outfielders Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena and Justin Williams – while not forgetting Harrison Bader, who spent last August back in Memphis trying to rediscover his stroke. All five are on the 40-man roster (Carlson is not) and the future for each remains promising, but unsettled. This needs to be sorted out as soon as possible.

In my camp, Carlson would certainly see action, but it would be secondary to this more experienced quintet.

While Carlson’s 2019 at Double-A was a true breakout, he has just 18 games of experience at Triple-A. They were a very good 18 games, but 18 games nonetheless – during a time when the Memphis offense was hitting like crazy from top to bottom. Carlson was in the middle of the pack of six Redbirds hitters with OPSes of over 1.000 in August.

Further, Carlson did not have to face battle-tested Pacific Coast League pitchers a second or third time over a long season, to demonstrate if he can adjust to the adjustments made to him. Finally, his Pacific Coast League BABIP was .429, a rate highly unlikely to be sustainable over a longer haul.

In the spring, unless Carlson performs at a level that is clearly head and shoulders above the aforementioned outfield quintet, I would ticket him for Memphis – but certainly not for the entire season. A natural opportunity to play every day somewhere in the St. Louis outfield will present itself soon enough. It does not have to be on Opening Day.

It would not change how highly Carlson is thought of within the organization. “He is a sponge for instruction,” a player development staffer said. “He works hard, and perhaps most importantly, he knows his limitations.” The latter could become extremely important to help him deal with the inevitable valleys that can follow the peaks.

I am going to come back to the subject of comps one final time. Regular readers have probably noticed that it is not a practice I regularly partake in – because I think it pigeonholes players. But in this case, I want to comment about the third Carlson comp made above, one that I think is actually closer to the mark.

Nick Markakis (Rheinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

Specifically, consider Nick Markakis. The Atlanta outfielder has enjoyed the kind of career that one could reasonably expect from Carlson. The 36-year old has put together an admirable 14 seasons in the Major Leagues and still counting. A right fielder, Markakis has been extremely durable and productive, with just two seasons in which he played in fewer than 147 games (one of which was his age 35 season in 2019).

Markakis has been with just two teams over his career, earning three Gold Glove Awards, a Silver Slugger Award and one All-Star Game berth. The lefty hitter has always been good, but short of great – poking 20 home runs twice and driving in over 100 runs twice, both when he was in his early-to-mid 20’s.

To the consistency point, Markakis hit double-digit totals of home runs in 11 different years and he plated 60 or more runs nine times. His career OPS+ is 109, meaning he has performed at a level nine percent above the average major leaguer, while coming in below 100 in just three of his 14 seasons.

If Carlson could craft as long and productive of a career as Markakis, he would have every reason to be proud of his accomplishments.

This does not mean that Carlson could not do more. For the second consecutive off-season, I have raised his scouting grade upward, this time from “6 medium” last winter to “6.5 low” now. That means I see Carlson landing between an above-average MLB hitter and an All-Star with little work remaining to realize his major league dream.

I should also point out that no other prospect in the Cardinals system has received a grade higher than “6” for 2020. In my view, Carlson is truly the best of St. Louis’ best.

But Albert Pujols? No, Mr. Mozeliak. For everyone’s sake, please do not go there again. Please. But just in case, let’s make a note to revisit the subject in 2030.

In the meantime, let’s just let Carlson be Carlson…

Link to Carlson’s career stats


 Our 2020 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown, now complete, and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day into January.

Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

Also, please participate in the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


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© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #5 – Ivan Herrera

photo: Ivan Herrera (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown reaches the top five with a new contender for the title of the St. Louis Cardinals’ “Catcher of the Future”. FREE article.

Update: Due to the Cardinals’ acquisition of pitcher Matthew Liberatore on January 9, the left-hander was been installed as the new no. 3 prospect for 2020. In the process, Herrera moves down one spot in the rankings to no. 6.


2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
23 C 6 01 00 6-0 180 R R 2016 IFA 2020 2021

Link to Ivan Herrera’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Ivan Herrera


Selected 2019 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
Peo 0.286 0.337 69 248 41 71 10 8 42 35 56 1 136 0.381 0.423 0.805
PB 0.276 0.357 18 58 7 16 0 1 5 5 16 0 102 0.338 0.328 0.666
Total 0.284 87 306 48 87 10 9 47 40 72 1 0.374 0.405 0.779
AFL 0.324 10 34 3 11 2 0 6 5 4 0 0.439 0.382 0.821

TCN Scouting Grade: 6, Risk: medium (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (6): There was a general consensus among the Message Board voters that Herrera will only get better and his defense will improve with time. He has already succeeded with the bat at High-A.

ChristopherJeske and UncleDenny feel so strongly about Ivan that they included him in their top three.  Jeske reasoned, “Quietly on the same trajectory as Carlson and Gorman. Exceptional bat (.805).”

Herrera also drew praise from CardFanInChiTown. “19 year old already catching in A+.”

stlcard25 noted, “If (Elehuris) Montero isn’t the best pure hitter in the system, this guy may be. I’ve read at least twice that his glove is, at a minimum, passable and improving. On top of that he has hit well. His defense might be a question mark now but if he can stick at catcher, watch out. He will get some more attention next year nationally.”

Ivan has improved his approach at the plate significantly and had it not been for his still slightly raw play behind the dish, (something that Herrera vows to improve on), he could have wound up a few ticks higher in the consensus voting. He is one more prospect that should already be on the “untouchable” list. – John Baker


Derek Shore (4): After spending his first two seasons at complex leagues (aside from 18 at-bats in the Texas League in 2018), Herrera reached Low-A Peoria at age 18 in 2019 and quickly established himself as one of the system’s top hitters.

The Panama native showed power and patience as he adjusted to the Midwest League, and he earned a promotion to High-A Palm Beach to finish the regular season. His coming out party was capped by a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League.

Across the two levels, Herrera hit .284/.374/.405 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He also threw out 31 percent of would-be basestealers (32 of 104).

“I’m very impressed with Herrera for his age,” Glendale Desert Dogs manager Luis Bolivar said. “Behind the plate, it’s awesome to see a guy his age catching older guys in the higher levels. His framing and game-calling were great. He has a strong, accurate arm with quick feet and a quick release.

“Offensively, he can spray the ball to all parts of the field. He has good strike zone discipline and is very calm at the plate. I like that he goes up there with a plan. He has the ability to hit for power, but more of that will come later on.”

From a scouting standpoint, Herrera is described by scouts as an offensive catcher who makes frequent contact with a compact, right-handed swing. He is short to the ball, rarely swings and misses in the zone and lines the ball to all parts of the field.

He is a patient hitter who takes his walks, though he will chase at times and swing through upper-end velocity like most young hitters.

Herrera continues to get stronger physically and has a chance to hit for 12-15 home runs as he fills out.

He has the strong, athletic frame to catch and is willing to learn, but his blocking and receiving are inconsistent. Most scouts expect him to stick behind the plate down the road.

Herrera is just 19 and has plenty of time to polish up his game. He has the ceiling of a well-rounded future regular or slightly better, according to one scout.

Expect to see Herrera open 2020 at Double-A Springfield.


Brian Walton (6): Earlier, I wrote about Angel Rondon having made the biggest strides among top prospect starting pitchers in 2019. Herrera is his offensive counterpart, in my assessment.

One year ago, Ivan (ee-VAHN) Herrera ranked no. 23 overall. In the 2019 Top 50, he had surged past the two catching prospects ahead of him in terms of team assignments, Julio Rodriguez and Dennis Ortega. However, Herrera was still nowhere near no. 6 prospect Andrew Knizner in any of our three separate votes, which come together for the consolidated ranking.

Ivan Herrera (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

After Herrera’s successful 2019 and Knizner became blocked in his attempt to become a regular big-leaguer, that gap between the two catchers in the rankings is now basically non-existent. In fact, Derek has already moved Herrera ahead of Knizner in his personal rankings.

I cannot argue with that. The points made in his write-up above are right-on, in my view. Knizner has been successful longer, but has more or less plateaued. Because he is more than five years older, Knizner’s clock is ticking more loudly.

In 2019, Herrera’s batting average, OBP and OPS topped all Peoria Chiefs players, with his slugging behind only Nolan Gorman. This came in a season in which he had jumped all the way from the Gulf Coast League in 2018. After 18 games in the Florida State League with Palm Beach to conclude the regular season, Herrera’s reward was an assignment to the Arizona Fall League.

As has been the case at most of his career stops, Herrera was the youngest player on the AFL’s Glendale Desert Dogs and the only one born in the new millennium. Remember that he had not yet reached Double-A, making him one of the least experienced players in the prospect showcase, as well. There, the catcher not only caught much older pitchers, he faced an increased level of mound competition at the plate.

Herrera was more than up to the challenge, performing credibly both offensively and defensively, and was recognized by his selection to the League’s Fall Stars Game.

A smart and motivated individual, Herrera told me he has gone beyond the English classes provided by the Cardinals, working very hard on building his language skills with teammates. Recognizing the leadership value in being bi-lingual, he can already conduct interviews clearly in English.

Herrera’s first MLB spring training camp invitation is almost certainly just around the corner, giving him important opportunity to work with Yadier Molina directly and to establish a first-hand impression with St. Louis’ coaches.

Likely becoming the every-day catcher at Springfield at age 19-20 will be a strong progression for a player who is bound to make some national top 100 prospect rankings in the spring of 2020. Herrera will become Rule 5 eligible next winter, and at this point, he is about as close to being a lock to be added to the 40-man roster by November 2020 as any player in the system.

“I like him,” a scout said about Herrera. “He can hit – but he is going to need a couple more years before being ready (for the majors).”

Herrera’s upcoming season could answer two very important questions for the Cardinals. The first is if he can one day replace Molina as St. Louis’ regular catcher. The second is if the organization can afford to move Knizner, who would be a valuable trade chip, to help them improve the roster in another area.

This year, I have upgraded both components of Herrera’s scouting grade. Last year, he was a “5 high” – an average starter in the future whose ranking was still more based on projection than results. However, for 2020, I have recognized his considerable progress by improving his grade from “high” to “medium” and bumping his ceiling to a potential above-average MLB starter, a “6 medium” grade.

Link to Herrera’s career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 11 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day into January.

Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

Also, please participate in the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Link to related article for TCN members

Herrera spoke from the Arizona Fall League.

Ivan Herrera is both Very Young and Very Good


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

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TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #10 – Junior Fernandez

photo: Junior Fernandez (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown moves into the top 10 with a hard-throwing right-hander whose career took off like a rocket in 2019. What will 2020 bring for Junior Fernandez? FREE article.


2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
36 RHR 3 02 97 6-3 205 R R 2014 IFA 3 2019

Link to Junior Fernandez’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Junior Fernandez


Selected 2019 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G SV SVO IP H ER HR BB SO AVG WHIP G/AO BABIP
PB 0 0 1.54 3.74 9 4 4 11.2 8 2 0 8 11 0.190 1.37 0.92 0.258
Spr 1 1 1.55 1.80 18 5 6 29 18 5 0 11 42 0.176 1.00 1.15 0.295
Mem 2 1 1.48 3.18 18 2 2 24.1 17 4 0 11 27 0.191 1.15 1.65 0.274
Total 3 2 1.52 45 11 12 65 43 11 0 30 80 0.185 1.12 1.27
StL 0 1 5.40 5.27 13 0 3 11.2 9 7 2 6 16 0.205 1.29 2.17 0.269

TCN Scouting Grade: 5, Risk: low (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (12): Healthy in 2019, Fernandez showed what he can do without the injury setbacks of the prior two seasons. The Message Board community selected him at #12 after his #38 finish last season.

Voters took varying approaches, including several placements high on the list. Forsch31 explained his #3 selection. “This will be a somewhat surprising placement considering he is a reliever. However, I think he is perfectly suited to be a closer and he has excelled in the position this year. I believe he should open the 2020 season as the major league closer for the Cardinals.”

Grenadier1 and stlcard25 agreed, with the latter posting, “He finally got things rolling and he could be a back end of the bullpen guy with his electric fastball and change with a developing cutter/slider.”

As one assumes from the results, more of the community do not consider Fernandez a top 10 prospect. CariocaCardinal said, “Not criticizing the votes of others but extremely surprised by the early support for Fernandez. Mostly because he seems that he will be relegated to relief and our prospect rankings (as most others) have seldom given such high rankings to relievers – even potential lock down closers. Do those voting for Fernandez anticipate him being the closer next year?”

NigelT wrote, “With his injury history, I can’t see him in the top 15”.

bicyclemike said, “I am not a prospect list-maker, as I do not follow these guys close enough to know. But I love reading the bios on here and learning about the guys coming through the system. (Fernandez) has a big-time arm and great stuff. The ideal relief pitcher prospect. He has the look of a future closer.”

ChristopherJeske might have said it best. “He’s not a typical relief prospect.” – John Baker


Derek Shore (11): Fernandez has certainly gone through his trials and tribulations over his professional career with the Cardinals.

He’s had health issues. Inconsistencies. Troubles throwing strikes. A role change.

But in 2019, it all clicked.

Finally healthy, Fernandez spent this past offseason and spring training working on finding a rhythm within his mechanics, so he could command the strike zone more consistently.

And he did.

The 22-year-old was a breakout prospect this year. He started at High-A Palm Beach and was promoted to Springfield on May 1. The Dominican spent only a month and a half with the Double-A club before another promotion – to Triple-A Memphis – from where he pitched his way to St. Louis.

What clicked for Fernandez this season may be that he was able to “pitch backward.” He had advanced as far as he could with premium velocity, but command escaped him and too often when he didn’t use one of his best pitches, a changeup.

He started working off the changeup, found the strike zone and let the fastball follow instead of lead.

“It really paid off,” Fernandez said. “I started missing bats. Less walks.”

Springfield manager Joe Kruzel was impressed with Fernandez, who found a rhythm in a multi-inning role in his time with the S-Cards.

“He has a really good plan of how he goes about it,” Kruzel said. “He has been really good at not letting the hitters be comfortable up there. He has three quality pitches that he throws at any time. He can run it up there pretty good. He also has had better control of his fastball. His slider and changeup have been the difference makers for him, throwing those two pitches for strikes.

“He is getting them for called strikes and swing-and-miss strikes. I hope whatever he found he keeps it.”

From a scouting perspective, most evaluators like Fernandez as a back-end type in the bullpen. His heater sits 96-98 mph and reaches 99 mph. Scouts say it is very straight, but he can create sink with it at times.

He combines that high-powered fastball with a changeup that flashes plus. He can throw it early and late in counts for strikes. Fernandez also has a short slider that has received mixed reviews from scouts.

One said it’s an average pitch on its best days and another said it has a chance to be an above-average offering depending on the consistency of his command.

His ceiling is a set-up man if everything comes together.

Expect to see Fernandez open 2020 in the bullpen for St. Louis, where he should make a name for himself.


Brian Walton (7): It is clearly my vote that propelled Fernandez into our overall 2020 top 10. It seems fitting recognition for the right-hander’s amazing comeback season. In fact, it is one of the most eye-catching years by any prospect in my years of ranking Cardinals.

In just eight calendar months, Fernandez progressed from a sore-armed high-A relief pitcher passed over in the Rule 5 draft to making his Major League debut, promoted three times in the process. He was recognized as the organization’s Pitcher of the Month for May and after the season concluded, The Cardinal Nation selected him as our system-wide Relief Pitcher of the Year for 2019.

Yet, in December 2018, Fernandez had been available for the taking in the Rule 5 draft, and the other 29 organizations all passed on him. Now, in fairness to them, Fernandez had been stuck at Palm Beach for the better part of three years, actually having debuted there in 2015, when he was a hotshot prospect starter.

The prior winter, when Fernandez was just 18 years of age, he had debuted at no. 18 on our top prospect list. Back then, he was listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. It was the first of three consecutive years he placed in the top 20.

A year ago, Fernandez skidded to no. 36, with my vote still most optimistic at no. 32. I had not given up on his big-league potential even after he was moved to relief and filled out to his current 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Junior Fernandez (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

Beyond the shoulder injuries and related career stall, another reason he was not appealing in the 2018 Rule 5 was that his 16-game Double-A debut in 2018 did not go well.

Specifically, in his relatively new role coming out of the bullpen, he walked almost as many as he struck out (16 to 17 in just 21 innings). His 5.14 ERA was the result of wildly inconsistent results – either shutting down the opposition or giving up a crooked number, with almost nothing in between. That certainly did not scream out, “Major League-ready.”

In another reminder of his prior struggles, Fernandez was not invited to 2019 big-league spring training camp. While he moved quickly once the season got underway, one could observe that he was making up for lost time. This winter, there was no Rule 5 decision, as he was added to the 40-man roster and made his St. Louis debut in August.

One scout to whom I spoke considers Fernandez the system’s second-best pitching prospect after 2019 draftee Zack Thompson, noting Fernandez’ “live arm” is his difference-maker. As it came to pass, my personal rankings agree. Of the five pitchers I placed in my personal top 10, Fernandez came in just ahead of Genesis Cabrera, Angel Rondon and Jake Woodford.

Even so, I do not share the optimism of others that Fernandez could snare the 2020 closer job for St. Louis just based on spring training. After all, he was left off the 2019 playoff roster, suggesting the coaches must believe more work is required. Fellow rookies Cabrera and Ryan Helsley had passed him by, at least temporarily.

My guess is that a Bud Norris-like veteran signing or Carlos Martinez will initially lead the way out of the 2020 pen. Also ahead of Fernandez in the on-paper closer pecking order are 2019 standouts Giovanny Gallegos, John Gant and Andrew Miller, not to mention the open questions of how Helsley and Cabrera will be deployed come April.

In other words, the Cardinals have a lot of bullpen options, so it would not upset me in the least if Fernandez was Memphis’ closer on Opening Day. In a way, he is like a pitching Dylan Carlson – very limited Triple-A experience (just 24 1/3 innings for Junior) and likely he would benefit from a bit more seasoning.

While the Redbirds should have a loaded bullpen in 2020, Fernandez is the only one on my projected season-opening roster who is already on the 40-man. As a result, even if he goes down to Memphis, Fernandez could be first in line to rejoin the Cardinals – if he is pitching well when others falter or are injured.

For the second consecutive year, I have Fernandez’ scouting grade as “5” – an impact reliever. However, for 2020, I have improved his grade from “medium” to “low”, meaning he is close to being ready to stay in the bigs.

Link to Fernandez’ career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 11 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day into January.

Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

Also, please participate in the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019-2020 Cardinals Winter Ball Pitchers Report – December 19


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #15 – Justin Williams

photo: Justin Williams (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown moves into the top 15 with a left-handed hitting outfielder who struggled through an injury-plagued 2019 before posting strong results in August. FREE article.


2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
24 OF 8 20 95 6-2 215 L R 2013 2nd (Ari) 1 2018

Link to Justin Williams’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Justin Williams


Selected 2019 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
Spr 0.193 0.256 17 57 7 11 1 1 3 4 17 1 43 0.246 0.263 0.509
Mem 0.353 0.439 36 102 20 36 5 7 26 16 30 0 152 0.437 0.608 1.045
Total 0.296 53 159 27 47 6 8 29 20 47 1 0.372 0.484 0.856

TCN Scouting Grade: 5, Risk: medium (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (14): Williams made great strides on the field during the 2019 season and also in the community rankings, from #24 last season to his present #14 spot. He made the same stride on the TCN aggregate ranking, improving from #24 to #15.

Bicyclemike wrote, “I am not a prospect list-maker, as I do not follow these guys close enough to know. But I love reading the bios on here and learning about the guys coming through the system. (It is) good to see people impressed with Williams. I liked his potential when the Cards got him. Williams could factor into a spot on the 2020 big league roster.”

stlcard25 has a mixed view. “He was excellent at the end of the season, but the injury that caused him to miss the start of the year is a bit concerning. All Triple-A stats come with a grain of salt this year, so it is possible he is more the guy we saw in 2018 than this year. If that’s the case he may have a niche as a lefty 4th outfielder type.”

Grenadier1 wrote, “Has been well above average at every level with the exception of 2019. Showed glimpses at the end of the year of returning to that form by punishing Triple-A pitching. It would be handy to have another capable left handed option in the lineup or even on the bench. Still a lot of upside as he was three years younger than the league average for Triple-A.”

NigelT is frustrated. “It is amusing how the wealth of set starters and depth make this whole process so frustrating. I can’t think of a single outfielder signed or traded so far that I would rather have than Justin Williams, and he is little more than an afterthought.” – John Baker


Derek Shore (14): Williams had an injury-plagued first full season with the Cardinals, but when he was healthy, he was surprisingly productive.

Acquired in the Tommy Pham trade in July 2018, Williams had three different stints on the injured list this past season, missing nearly three months. He missed the first month of the season recovering from a fractured hand after he punched a television in the offseason and also missed a month due to an unspecified lower-body injury.

It’s unknown if he went on the IL for a third time because of the same leg injury. Through 53 games overall in 2019, the 24-year-old slashed .296/.372/.484 with eight homers and 29 RBIs between Triple-A Memphis and Double-A Springfield, but it is the finish to his season that caught the organization’s attention.

Despite all the injuries, Williams came back to Memphis and hit .353 with nine extra-base hits (four doubles and five homers) while driving in 21 runs in August. He finished with a 1.011 OPS in that month.

From a scouting standpoint, Williams’ left-handed power and athleticism intrigues, but he is still raw. He takes defensive, segmented swings and the Cardinals see him as a swing-change candidate. He flashes plus raw power, and the hope is a swing change can unlock that in games.

Williams’ jumps and instincts come and go in right field, but he works hard and has the plus arm for the position. He’s a fringe-average runner so he’s mostly limited to the corners, although he can cover center in a pinch.

The Cardinals likely have a fourth outfielder in Williams with left-handed power and ability to move around the outfield. If he continues to work on his swing, he may be more.

Williams certainly belongs in the conversation of outfielders competing in spring training with Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena and Dylan Carlson.

Expect to see Williams back at Memphis to open 2020, but if he performs like he did in the final month of 2019, he may not be long for Triple-A.


Brian Walton (19): From among our three voters, I am the least optimistic about Williams as a prospect – and I am ok with that. Through this capsule, I will explain why we really don’t know all that much more about Williams than we did 12 months ago.

Going back to July 2018, Williams appeared to be the top get of the three prospects the Cardinals received from Tampa Bay for a full-time MLB starter, Tommy Pham. Just days before, Williams had been a Triple-A All-Star for Durham and made his MLB debut with the Rays (albeit brief). He offered tantalizing power potential while swinging from the left side, with the latter a stated desire of the Cardinals.

It looked like a great fit, but hasn’t turned out that way – at least yet.

Now, with 2020 upon us, the team is still searching for left-handed hitting externally as Williams essentially ruined his 2019 opportunity to make an impact for a Cardinals team that needed outfield help. The big league club gave chances to Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena and even infielder Tommy Edman in the outfield, while Williams was either on the injured list, rehabbing or trying to get his mojo back in the minors.

There is no need to dwell on his unfortunate winter of 2018-2019 injury other than it added new questions about his maturity and commitment to the game. The on-field impact was the loss of his important first big-league camp as a Cardinal and a delay to the start of his season until May.

Ben Johnson and Justin Williams (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

Williams had to backtrack to Springfield, playing less than three weeks while looking very rusty (.196 BA, .529 OPS) before going back on the shelf for another month. As the calendar flipped to July, Williams was finally promoted back to Memphis, where just a week later, he returned to the injured list for the remainder of the month.

Finally able to play every day in August, Williams delivered, with the stats noted above plus a system-best (tied) 21 RBI in his 27 games. Then again, we all know about the impact of the lower-seam MLB baseballs, both at the big-league level and at Triple-A.

In fact, pretty much everyone wearing a Memphis uniform in August hit with authority, as the club made its late-season run that fell just short of a miraculous comeback in the standings.

Here are nine Redbirds OPSes from that same period during which Williams excelled.

Harrison Bader 1.165
Adolis Garcia 1.160
Dylan Carlson 1.098
Randy Arozarena 1.053
Williams 1.010
Andrew Knizner 1.005
John Nogowski .954
Ramon Urias .912
Edmundo Sosa .894

So, as good as Williams’ August OPS was, it was still just the fifth-highest among Memphis outfielders during that time.

To help make up for lost at-bats, Williams continued his 2019 by playing in winter ball in Mexico. Against pitching that is not of Triple-A caliber, in my opinion, Williams had a so-so .747 OPS and 17 RBI in 31 games.

The comments about Williams still being “raw” and relatively young concern me. After all, he is heading into his eighth season of professional ball, including what should be his third year at Triple-A. In my opinion, it is time to stop talking about potential and adjustments and time to deliver results.

Another indication that time is running out on Williams is his minor league option status. He has just one remaining, meaning that he is going to have to stake out an MLB job no later than spring 2021 or lose his 40-man roster spot. From there, the downside could be the less-than-glamorous life of a Triple-A vagabond.

While quotes from organization officials are always interesting, it can be very difficult to get candid opinions, especially when a player’s situation is uncertain. So, I tend to look more closely at their actions.

In this case, the indications are not so positive. Despite that great August and his left-handedness, Williams was one of just three healthy 40-man roster players passed over for promotion to St. Louis last September. Further, remember that Lane Thomas was out for the year, at least theoretically creating more opportunity.

Looking ahead to spring 2020, I fear that both Williams and Adolis Garcia may find it quite difficult to get enough game at-bats to prove anything, especially given the sheer quantity of outfielders ahead of them in the pecking order to sort through.

For me, the situation was aptly summarized by a scout’s reaction when I asked him this fall about Williams. “From what I see, I want to like him, but was his August real?” the evaluator wondered.

For the second consecutive year, I have Williams’ scouting grade at “4.5 medium”, between a bench contributor and an average starter, with some work yet ahead to achieve it. Based on his mostly lost 2019, that may be optimistic, but again, “Was his August real?” We certainly cannot rule it out.

Link to Williams’ career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 11 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day into January.

Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

Also, please participate in the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Cardinals Add Three, Lose Two in 2019 Rule 5 Draft


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #20 – Kodi Whitley

photo: Kodi Whitley (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown moves into the top 20 with a fast-rising, hard-throwing relief prospect who may make his MLB debut in 2020. FREE article.


2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
NR RHR 2 21 95 6-4 220 R R 2017 27th 2020 2020

Link to Kodi Whitley’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Kodi Whitley


Selected 2019 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G SV SVO IP H ER HR BB SO AVG WHIP G/AO BABIP
PB 0 0 0.00 2.38 3 0 0 4.1 1 0 0 2 5 0.077 0.69 0.75 0.125
Spr 1 4 1.83 3.17 31 7 9 39.1 31 8 3 13 46 0.208 1.12 0.72 0.275
Mem 2 0 1.52 2.02 16 2 2 23.2 21 4 0 4 27 0.233 1.06 0.42 0.323
Total 3 4 1.60 50 9 11 67.1 53 12 3 19 78 0.210 1.07 0.60
AFL 0 1 1.64 9 4 11 8 2 1 1 13 0.205 0.82 0.58

TCN Scouting Grade: 4.5, Risk: medium (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (20): No player has burst onto the prospect rankings this year like Whitley, at #20 on the Community’s list as well as overall. Despite being selected by TCN as low-A Peoria’s Reliever of the Year in 2018, Whitley got little attention on last year’s prospect lists.

gscottar said, “To go from Peoria to Memphis within 12 months is very impressive. Whitley really burst onto the scene in a big way in 2019, which is a good thing considering he is 24. He might press for time in St. Louis in 2020.”

CardsFanInChiTown had more praise for Whitley. “Great bullpen arm and could be a huge add to the pen in 2020, likely one of the famous non-trade additions that Mo adds around the trade deadline. The K % was in double digits and the BB % got better as he progressed this year. There isn’t much not to like here and he should possibly be much higher.”

mudville predicted, “This kid has been lights out as a reliever through three levels all season long. He’s almost a ‘can’t miss’ MLB bullpen guy”. He could be just the reliever that the organization is looking for and we should watch to see how the Whitley saga plays out in 2020. – John Baker


Derek Shore (18): Tommy John surgery has proven to be high-risk, high-reward for some pitchers, who return with even better stuff post-surgery.

Whitley injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John during his junior year at Mount Olive in North Carolina. He came back in the spring of 2017 for a very brief senior season, but his fastball velocity was back.

He touched 95 mph and with potential for more in the tank.

That was enough for the Cardinals to select him in the 27th round of the 2017 draft and he has taken off since.

Whitley moved through the Cardinals system quickly – already reaching Triple-A Memphis in just his second full season of pro ball.

As he continued to get healthier, Whitley experienced a four-to-five mph jump in his velocity, going from 92 to hitting 96-97 routinely. He attributed the spike in velocity to fine-tuning his mechanics with his Peoria pitching coach Cale Johnson in 2018.

Whitley said he shortened up his arm and used more of his lower half in his delivery, which allowed him to be on time more often than not.

The 24-year old opened 2019 at High-A Palm Beach, and after three scoreless appearances, he was promoted to Double-A Springfield on April 12.

With the S-Cards, Whitley forged a minuscule 1.83 ERA in 31 games. He also struck out 46 batters over 39 1/3 innings and converted seven saves in nine chances.

Whitley received the promotion to Memphis on July 20 after mastering the Texas League. At Triple-A, he was terrific with a 1.52 ERA through 16 games.

Springfield manager Joe Kruzel said the biggest thing that stood out about Whitley is that he is a competitor and trusts his stuff.

“He has got two, maybe even three, really good pitches,” Kruzel said. “He has got the ability to throw three pitches for a strike at any time in any count. He has a lot of faith in all of them.”

Whitley took yet another step forward in 2019. His ERA is down nearly a full point from the year before. His strikeout rate was up and his walk rate dropped. Whitley said trusting his stuff and not giving the opposition too much credit are reasons for his increased success.

“Somebody said this to me in spring training and it really stuck with me, ‘Trust your stuff in the zone,’” Whitley said. “The more I started doing that, no matter what level, the better the results. You’re not working back behind in counts. You’re staying ahead because you are trusting your stuff in the zone early.

“Late in counts, you are putting hitters on the defense instead of you being on the defense. That makes a huge difference in terms of getting strikeouts and not giving up hits and runs. That is one of the things I have really tried to do this year is get ahead more and throw more strikes.”

His improvements have also piqued the interest of other organizations’ scouts.

“I like him and I think he is a sleeper,” one scout said. “When I saw him last year, I thought he was as an organizational type. I believe he is one of the more improved players in their system this year.”

Whitley’s four-seam fastball grades out as an above-average offering by scouts. The heater touches 96-97 and the pitcher says that it is his best pitch.

“I use it to get ahead and use it late in counts – up in the zone to strike guys out,” Whitley said.

He also has a slider he creates depth with and has enough command with his changeup to set up his fastball and make it that much more effective.

Whitley said he worked diligently to refine his slider in 2018 and started to show progress in 2019.

“This year, it has gotten better,” he said. “I’m still working on it. I’m still trying to make it the best pitch that it can be. That is probably my second best pitch. I also have a changeup I will use to lefties and I’ve been trying to use to righties as well. The more I throw it to righties, the more comfortable I get.

“I feel like it is a good pitch and it can still be used. Just in different situations.”

Scouts say he has the potential to be a middle relief arm at the major league level.

Whitley should enter the Cardinals 2020 relief plans next season, but expect to see him open at Memphis initially.


Brian Walton (23): As I have mentioned before, I look at player groupings within position before finalizing my top 50. Among those prospects who are clearly relievers, Junior Fernandez is the undisputed top dog. From there, it is a considerable gap to the next two – Whitley and Seth Elledge. (Following them are Edgar Escobar and Bryan Dobzanski.)

In the site’s overall rankings, the difference between Whitley and Elledge is a significant 11 spots – no. 20 vs. no. 31. My peer voters had 14 and 15 spots, respectively, between the two. I don’t agree. I pegged the relievers just three places apart – no. 23 vs. no. 26.

The main reason I gave Whitley the slight edge is due to his recent numbers. He blew though Palm Beach, dominated at Springfield and reached Memphis on July 20, where he remained for the rest of the 2019 season. This was an impressive rise in a very short period of time.

On the other hand, Elledge has the pedigree of a former fourth-rounder, acquired from Seattle for a major league reliever, Sam Tuivailala. Just a few months after the July 2018 trade, he was promoted to Memphis, where he pitched in the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

Both are big men, with Whitley listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and Elledge an inch shorter, but 25 pounds heavier. Though both were drafted in 2017, Elledge is 15 months younger. Their offerings are comparable, though Whitley’s fastball is a tick better, a decided factor in his favor.

Kodi Whitley (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

While their respective Triple-A batting average against marks were an identical .233, Whitley had a higher strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, and a lower ERA and FIP. However, the gap between Whitley’s FIP and xFIP (Expected FIP) was very large, 2.02 vs. 5.10. Still, Elledge’s Memphis xFIP was even higher (6.11), though he was hurt by yielding five runs in his first Triple-A appearance.

Both relievers were heavily used during 2019, often going more than one frame. For the season, Whitley was asked to get an average of four outs per appearance, while Elledge averaged five. Both threw a career high in innings (including AFL) – 78 1/3 for Whitley and 76 2/3 by Elledge.

In the Arizona Fall League, they both excelled, though Whitley’s numbers were again better.

However, in 2019, Elledge was recognized with an invitation to big-league spring training camp, an honor for any player, let alone one who had been drafted less than two years before. Though Elledge returned to Springfield to open 2019, he reached Memphis a month earlier than Whitley – on June 25.

In the AFL, Elledge showed well enough across the prospect showcase to be named to the Fall Stars Game (along with catcher Ivan Herrera). Though minor perhaps, Elledge was invited to Winter Warm-Up in St. Louis and join the Cardinals Caravans that same weekend. In other words, by their actions, it is clear the organization (as well as outsiders) like what they see in him.

While I make this seem like a direct competition, in many ways it is, in the real world. They both want to join the St. Louis bullpen and are just one step away. Neither has been required to be added to the 40-man roster yet – a key gate to reaching the majors. The first one to do so is likely going to earn it via his pitching in 2020. Elledge may have the intangible edge, but Whitley has the better recent results almost across the board. If Whitley can continue his 2019 mound success, he just might get that call first, though I predict both will make it.

I currently have Whitley’s scouting grade at “4.5 medium”, between a bullpen contributor and an impact reliever, with some work yet ahead to achieve it. However, the majors are definitely nearing. Assuming Fernandez is also back, the Memphis bullpen should have a strong 1-2-3 punch from the right side to open 2020.

Link to Whitley’s career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 11 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day into January.

Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

Also, please participate in the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019-2020 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – November 27


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TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #25 – Mateo Gil

photo: Mateo Gil (Johnson City Cardinals)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2020 continues with a teenage shortstop who finished his second professional season strongly with Johnson City. FREE article.


2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
NR SS 7 24 00 6-1 180 R R 2018 3rd 2022 2023

Link to Mateo Gil’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Mateo Gil


Selected 2019 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
JC 0.270 0.333 51 204 42 55 8 7 30 17 56 1 106 0.324 0.431 0.756
PB 0.000 0.000 2 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 -100 0.000 0.000 0.000
Total 0.262 53 210 42 55 8 7 30 17 58 1 0.316 0.419 0.735

TCN Scouting Grade: 4.5, Risk: high (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (25): Gil was drafted out of high school in the third round of the 2018 draft. He did not make the TCN top 50 for that season, but he did squeeze onto the Community’s list at #48.

In this fall’s voting, Gil jumped up 23 spots to #25 this after a fairly good season and his draft reputation. Two message board voters placed him a bit higher: stlcard25 and mudville at #22.

stlcard25 said, “(Gil) put up a bit better than expected .270/.324/.431 line at Johnson City. This was also his age 18 season, as he turned 19 in late July. He did make a whopping 17 errors, but that’s not uncommon for young guys like this. I think he’s a sleeper future starter.”

Mudville added, “It’s hard for me to vote for any player based on early stats. But I just have a good feeling about Mateo Gil. I agree that he could be a sleeper”.

Grenadier1 wrote, “Might be a little early for a guy with a +106 in Rookie league ball, but he was 2.4 years below the league average. Generally considered a good fielder with the skills to remain at shortstop long term and showed a little more pop than I expected. He has a long way to go as a prospect, but certainly has the tools to work with to be a really good value.“ – John Baker


Derek Shore (26): The son of former big leaguer Benji Gil immediately impressed the Cardinals with his athleticism and instincts after they drafted him in the third round in 2018.

After holding his own in his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League in 2018, Gil moved up to (short-season) Johnson City and did the same as a 19 year-old. The shortstop slashed .270/.324/.431 through 51 games while flashing intriguing extra-base pop.

He collected eight doubles, two triples and slugged seven homers while driving in 30 runs over 204 at-bats for Johnson City this past season.

Coming into 2019, Gil said he felt more comfortable after having his draft year under his belt, which helped him slow down the game. He said he struggled during extended spring training, but felt he turned it around after a two-game taste of High-A Palm Beach.

“I felt like I learned a lot from the little time I was there and I think it helped me start off hot at Johnson City,” Gil said. “I rode the hot streak for a while, but then went into a little slump then got hurt for the first time in my career.

“I think I ended really well and did my best to help the team win the (Appy League) championship.”

Gil attributed his offensive improvements, including his power, to feeling more comfortable in the box and committing to an approach while adding strength this past offseason.

From a scouting perspective, Gil is a good all-around player but there is no huge tool that stands out. Evaluators see him mostly as a solid big-leaguer, not an All-Star.

He has a medium frame and is described as “wiry strong” particularly in the lower half. He has above-average bat speed and a longish swing.

His carrying tool right now is the power. One scout thinks he has a chance to hit 20 home runs in the future. His approach is to be patient early in the counts, but he shows a willingness to expand with two strikes.

Gil’s speed is average. Defensively, he is smooth and confident defender at short and features a strong and accurate arm, enabling him to make all the plays he needs to make.

Gil said he worked a lot with Cardinals infield gurus Jose Oquendo and Johnny Rodriguez on his footwork this past summer. He said the focus was being softer and getting around the ball more.

“They’re great coaches,” he added.

Gil should open 2020 at Low-A Peoria. His goals for the upcoming season are simple.

“My goal for next season is basically the same as last year,” Gil said. “I want to make a full-season club and improve in every aspect of my game.”


Brian Walton (25): Again, our voters are of a like mind about where Gil is positioned among Cardinals organization prospects, as well as among middle infielders. Nothing against our no. 26-ranked prospect, Ramon Urias, but it illustrates the importance of potential early in a career vs. a player who is six years older. Of course, there is also a greater risk for Gil to achieve his peak considering how many more levels he has yet to master.

Any high school draft pick is young by definition, but Gil was young for a prep selection. Specifically, he was 17 years of age on his draft day and for the first half of his debut season. That he did not hit at a high level immediately in the Gulf Coast League was not overly concerning.

Though Gil did not place in the overall site top 50 prior to the 2019 season, his 94 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) was just six percent below Gulf Coast League average.

Mateo Gil (Joe Freiday Sr.)

It would be impossible for me to evaluate a teenage shortstop prospect taken early in the draft without drawing a comparison to Delvin Perez. Both were top three-round draft picks by the Cardinals as teenagers, two years apart.

In his GCL debut, Perez posted a 123 wRC+, 23 percent above league average. However, in his year two in the Appalachian League, Perez stumbled to a 64 wRC+. Contrast that with Gil’s improvement also at Johnson City, as he reached a 106 wRC+ in 2019.

Coming in above the Appy League offensive average is a step in the right direction and helps to explain why Gil placed here at no. 25 and Perez has slid to no. 33 for 2020. Perez might still have a higher potential ceiling, but his time to achieve it is two years shorter.

Trusted to hit in the top or second spot in manager Roberto Espinoza’s lineup for much of the 2019 season, Gil began and ended solidly (.300 in June and .307 in August) with a dry spell in the middle. As Gil told Derek above, his .190 July was due to a combination of slump and minor injury. (He sat out from July 23-30, though the injured list is rarely used in the Appalachian League.)

It might be easy to overlook major improvements in Gil’s numbers in August without calling it out here. The 10 extra base hits were great, especially given he had just seven in about the same number of plate appearances in June plus July. However, I was even more impressed by the 12 walks he drew in August (after just five prior). That improved his final month on-base percentage to a very good .374. If Gil can carry that overall strong August performance into 2020, it could be the start of a legitimate offensive emergence.

Gil is well positioned to compete for a full-season spot to open 2020 at Peoria. With Perez likely to move up to Palm Beach, Gil should not be blocked. In other words, his immediate advancement should depend on how he performs in spring camp. Even if he doesn’t make it initially, he should get his first chance at the Midwest League by May, as did notable position player prospects Jhon Torres and Malcom Nuñez in 2019.

I currently have Gil’s scouting grade at “4.5 high”, between a spot starter and an average MLB starter, with considerable work yet ahead to achieve it. Given how much play is still ahead in Gil’s career, I would give this grade an incomplete, but one trending in the right direction.

Link to Gil’s career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 11 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day into January.

Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

Also, please participate in the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019-2020 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – November 27


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.