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TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #1 – Dylan Carlson

photo: Dylan Carlson (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)

Dylan Carlson

Position: OF
Born: 10/23/1998 (22)
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 205
Hits / Throws: S/L
Acquired: 2016 Draft – 1st round (33rd overall)
Rule 5 Eligible: On 40-Man

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Carlson’s career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #1, Matt Thompson #1

Prior top 50 rankings – 2017 #22, 2018 #20, 2019 #8, 2020 #1

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Good sturdy frame. Athletic but strong. Smooth operator with robotic demeanor. Baseball savvy. Elite body control; looks like he’s coasting at times.

Hit: Switch-hitter with mirror-image swings from both sides. Controls the zone well, will take a walk with better than average whiff and chase rates. Sound mechanically, efficient swings. Versatile hitter who can occupy any spot in the order due to vast skills but ultimately fits best as a run producer. Grade: 60

Power: Has improved physically. Gotten stronger and will drive the ball more consistently. Some of his homers at AutoZone Park and Hammons Field were absolute moonshots. More gap to gap though, but can get into one. 25-30 homers annually with heavy amount of doubles. Grade: 55

Field: Average in center but with Harrison Bader on the roster I don’t anticipate much time in center, except for the lineups that are geared towards offense. In an ideal world he’s the left fielder, he’s a plus defender out there but so is Tyler O’Neill. His only average arm makes him still a fit for right field, but with Fowler and his contract out there, it’s likely Carlson moves around all season. Grade: 55

Arm: Fits best in LF due to arm, but arm plays at least average in right. Accurate arm with modest carry. Grade: 50

Dylan Carlson (Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports)

Run: Above-average speed but plus baserunner. Taking the extra base with a high success rate. Enough speed and instincts to nab 15-20 bases a year. Grade: 55

Overall: Versatile player who does everything well. Hit tool is the strongest tool, but the collection of tools is what makes him stand out. Ideally a good secondary bat in a lineup behind an established slugger, like Paul Goldschmidt. Good on-base skills and plus defensive skills.

Future Value: 55
Role: Above-Average Regular; Occasional All-Star
Risk: Low

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

Preview

To me, it seems more than a bit anticlimactic to profile Carlson as a prospect as we prepare to enter 2021, yet we maintained his eligibility here to be consistent with the industry.

Not only is the outfielder the incumbent no. 1 in the Cardinals system, even casual fans already know all about him. They watched Carlson improve over his 35 regular season games with St. Louis in 2020, playing in well over half of the team’s schedule. In the process, Cardinals faithful learned about Carlson’s back story – and even met his family (through their screens).

The final nail in Carlson’s prospect coffin would have to have been driven in October 2020, as he performed as the big-league club’s cleanup hitter in the playoffs.

In other words, Carlson has already arrived and isn’t going back – with his qualification for this list serving as his semi-official curtain call as a prospect.

Having observed that, we still have a job to do here…

2019 recap

The switch-hitter experienced his breakout in the hitter-friendly environment of the Texas League. Carlson did it all – demonstrating above-average hitting ability, plus power, plus defense and enough speed and instincts to be a base-stealing threat.

The second-youngest position player in the Double-A circuit as the season opened went on to win the Texas League Most Valuable Player award. Carlson finished second in the TL in OPS (.882), home runs (21), runs scored (81) and extra-base hits (51).

In an indication of his balance, Carlson was the Cardinals first prospect at any level in the last 13 years to put together a 20-20 season (home runs and stolen bases) – since Tyler Greene and Terry Evans in 2006.

Dylan Carlson (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

In July, Carlson played in the MLB All-Star Futures Game and earned an August promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he joined a Redbirds lineup that from top to bottom was mashing the (juiced?) Pacific Coast League baseballs.

For his part, Carlson collected 11 extra-base hits on his way to an OPS of 1.098 in 18 games. A caveat was his Memphis BABIP of .429, a rate highly unlikely to be sustainable over a longer haul.

Overall in 2019, Carlson slashed .292/.372/.542/.914 with 26 home runs, 68 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 126 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Dylan Carlson (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

That successful season, including its conclusion at Memphis, led Carlson and the Cardinals to jointly back off their earlier intent for him to play in the Arizona Fall League. His 562 regular season plate appearances in 2019 were deemed enough.

It certainly was impactful as the Cardinals named Carlson their cross-organization Player of the Year. For two years running, Baseball America has labeled him as the “Best Hitter for Average” in the system.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – no (non-roster invite to MLB camp already announced)
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – yes (non-roster returnee)
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – yes
  • Springfield alternate camp – yes
  • St. Louis – yes

As noted above, Carlson and the organization decided jointly that especially after his late-season success in 2019, that he would skip the Arizona Fall League. That continued in 2020, with Carlson given a pass to not attend instructs, keeping the focus on his non-roster invitation to MLB camp.

Expectations were higher for Carlson in his second official spring with St. Louis. He did not disappoint in his extended trial, slashing .313/.450/469/.919 in 13 games. Carlson collected 10 hits, of which four went for extra bases and drew more walks, seven, than strikeouts taken, five.

At the time camp was closed on March 12 due to the health threat presented by COVID-19, Carlson was still with the big league club. When the team reconvened in St. Louis to begin July, Carlson was there – and remained until the final cuts, despite the fact it was understood that he would not make the delayed Opening Day roster.

Though some continued to speculate that the Cardinals were manipulating Carlson’s service time by sending him to Springfield, there is no evidence that was the case. But when the other outfielders ahead of him in the pecking order began to go down and the Cardinals offense clearly needed a spark, priorities changed.

On August 15, after the team’s extended outage caused by the loss of 10 players and eight staffers to COVID-19, Carlson received “the call” as the Cardinals prepared to resume play in Chicago.

The then-21-year old was already in the 60-man player pool but at that point, required a 40-man roster spot as well. Carlson picked up his rental car and drove to the Windy City to join his new teammates.

Dylan Carlson via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

As team officials had made clear all along, Carlson was with St. Louis to play every day. And he did. However, his first time up, the switch-hitter did not provide the jolt the offense needed.

After playing almost every day since his August 15 arrival, Carlson’s situation changed in early September. Sabermetric measures suggested he had encountered significant bad luck at the plate, but his modest results were declining with particular troubles against breaking pitches. As a result, his playing time diminished until he was optioned out on September 8.

Specifically, Carlson only started two of seven games to open September, extending his then-current skid to 1-for-19 (.053) with no walks. His aggregate slash line over his first 79 MLB plate appearances was .162/.215/.243/.458.  Further, Carlson’s strikeout rate of 29.1% was only exceeded among team regulars by another struggler, veteran Matt Carpenter at 29.4%.

Recalled from Springfield 10 days later, Carlson began to put his game together. To conclude the regular season, he batted .278 (10-for-36), including four doubles, a triple, two home runs and a .936 OPS. His 11 RBI during that season-concluding period was the most among MLB rookies and fourth among all National League hitters.

In the final regular season game, Carlson was installed as the cleanup hitter and he continued there for all three games of the Wild Card Series against San Diego. The regular in left field (as Tyler O’Neill was reduced to reserve duties), was a standout. Carlson went 3-for-9, including a double, drew four walks and stole a base. His slash line was .333/.571/.444/1.016.

Farm director Gary LaRocque looked back at the importance of Carlson’s brief return to Springfield.

“As a real credit to him, his first opportunity once he came back and worked on a few additional things, he went back up and obviously finished well,” LaRocque told MiLB.com.

“That’s a quality of Dylan’s. He adjusts very well. … I think you look at all the work he’s put into this over the last few years, he’s prepared himself well.”

St. Louis chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. offered his own review, as shared with Bernie Miklasz of ScoopsWithDannyMac.com.

“We do have a number of outfielders, and now of course we have Dylan Carlson,” DeWitt said. “He’s done everything you could ask of a player coming through the system. First-round draft choice out of high school, moved up the ladder pretty quickly, lit it up in Double-A and Triple-A.

“He got an opportunity (with the Cardinals) and struggled a little bit early and then went down to Springfield, kind of regrouped, came back, and was everything we could hope for.”

Dylan Carlson (Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports)

As a footnote, the manner in which Carlson’s uniform numbers were assigned in 2020 was quite unusual, to say the least.

It began normally enough in spring camp. In Jupiter, he stepped up from no. 91 the year before to no. 68, appropriate for a youngster looking to make an impression.

But when the Cardinals reconvened in St. Louis in July, Carlson had to wear a jersey with no number, usually found on the batboy – and even he gets his first name on his shoulders! Though the summer camp contests were of the intrasquad type, a number of them were streamed, creating an odd spectacle for viewers.

Upon Carlson’s mid-August promotion, the club swung the pendulum in the opposite direction as far as it possibly could by awarding the rookie the last remaining single digit available, number 3. Its long history includes being worn by Cardinals legends Frankie Frisch, George Kissell, Dave Ricketts, Edgar Renteria and switch-hitting star outfielder Carlos Beltran.

Nothing like adding more pressure on the rook, while not so subtlety amping up fan expectations…

Let’s see… Counting from the start, we have Ozzie, Red, Dylan, Yadi, Albert, Stan…

2021 outlook

Let’s be crystal clear about one matter right up front. Carlson will be an everyday player in the 2021 St. Louis outfield. Full stop. If you have doubts about this, I don’t know what to tell you – other than you are misinformed.

If you don’t believe me, how about the ultimate authority, Mr. DeWitt?

“We have high hopes for Dylan Carlson, and we have three spots in the outfield and certainly we can count on him for one of them,” the Cardinals chairman told Miklasz in December.

However, Carlson is almost certainly not going to log those expected 140 to 150 games at a single position. With Harrison Bader’s career splits indicating his optimal offensive deployment would be against left-handed pitching, Carlson could see the majority of his time in center. When Bader is playing, O’Neill could get a day off in left or right fielder Dexter Fowler could sit, with Carlson sliding over to a corner.

It would not be unlike Carlson’s defensive use in 2020, during which he symmetrically started 16 games in center and eight contests each in left and right.

Of course, the preceding assumes the current personnel remains the same.

Dylan Carlson (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Regarding Carlson’s results ahead, I don’t know how much weight to attach to any projections coming off the wild and crazy season of 2020. But let’s review a few early entries.

Fangraphs’ ZiPS projections are widely publicized, perhaps partially because they are often among the first to come out each year. The preview of Carlson’s 2021 is, in the words of author Dan Szymborski, “fine but unspectacular.” It is highlighted by a .741 OPS, which translates to a 97 OPS+, and with his defense rolled in, an fWAR of 1.8. ZiPS’ number one player comp to Carlson is Junior Felix – probably not what anyone was expecting.

BaseballHQ’s 2021 Baseball Forecaster is only slightly more optimistic, pegging the 22-year old to register an OPS of .757 and 102 OPS+ just ahead, or 2% higher than the major league average hitter. It should be clear that none of this is a reflection of Carlson’s potential career ceiling, but instead what we may expect in his first full season as a big-league regular.

Whether these projections turn out to be accurate or end up being off base, it seems appropriate to note that some percentage of Cardinals fans have already attached expectations to Carlson’s 2021 that may prove unreasonable.

The fact that the St. Louis offense has struggled overall and is expected to continue to do so this coming season only increases pressure on Carlson to become the savior – as if batting him fourth in the most important games of 2020 wasn’t a clear enough indicator of how dire the situation around him has been.

Future outlook

It may be surprising to readers, but honestly I have very little to add, as I agree with every word that Matt wrote above. Carlson is positioned in both skills and opportunity to be an above-average corner outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals for a long time – at least through the 2026 season, if the current free agency rules remain in place.

We should be very satisfied if he can achieve that and not be disappointed if he does not become the next Mickey Mantle.

MLB debut: 2020


Our 2021 Top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day through the remainder of the year.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021

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


For members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Pitchers Report – December 23


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, including access to every article in our 2021 Top Cardinals Prospects series.

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

TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #5 – Zack Thompson

photo: Zack Thompson (Palm Beach Cardinals)

Zack Thompson

Position: LHP
Born: 10/28/1997 (23)
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 225
Hits / Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2019 Draft – 1st round (19th overall)
Rule 5 Eligible: 2022

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Thompson’s career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #5, Matt Thompson #5

Prior top 50 rankings – 2020 #7

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Pretty maxed out physically, not much room for growth to the frame here. Proven bat-missing arm in college, strong collegiate producer in elite conference. Strong athletic lower half. Checkered injury history.

Mechanics: Thompson pitches from a high 3/4 arm slot. Uses his lower half extremely well, good rotation and excellent extension. Gets toward home plate so well that he gets excellent extension, which gives him a lower than average release point. Pitches play from delivery and slot extremely well.

Fastball: Sits in the low 90s, bumps up to 96. Above-average command but modest spin rate. Gets good running action on the fastball. Has a bit of natural sink to it as well. Grade: 55

Curveball: Slow, high spin offering sits around 74-75 with spin rates over 3000 RPM. Primary put-away pitch against right-handers. Outstanding depth, some horizontal break as well. Plus pitch, with some characteristics of a potential plus-plus offering. Grade: 60

Slider: Used primarily against lefties. Comes in around 83 MPH. Lacks depth but makes up for it with good horizontal break. Almost cutter like, but slower. Commands the pitch well but lack of depth (drop) makes it a pitch right-handers are likely to hit fairly well. Grade: 45

Changeup: Pitch comes in at low-to-mid 80s. Disguises it well, good arm speed and resembles fastball until it drops off the table. Average command of the pitch, and used primarily against righties. Wish he would throw it a bit more. Grade: 50

Command and Control: Thompson is a strike thrower and a proven strikeout generator. Kept a weak Kentucky team in the game against tough SEC lineups while he was on the mound. Locates well, and when he misses it’s mostly glove side. Grade: 55 Command 50 Control

Conclusion: It all comes down to health for Thompson, and if he can stay on the mound he has the ingredients to become a number three starter or backend reliever. Has one plus pitch which could turn into an elite one if he finds more velocity on the curveball. The fastball and changeup are average or better and the slider plays above-average against lefties. Could be one of the best arms in the 2019 class, depending on health.

Future Value: 50
Role: Mid Rotation SP
Risk: Moderate

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

In the spring of his junior year, Thompson was one of the best pitchers in the Southeastern Conference. The then-21-year-old was 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA for the Kentucky Wildcats, striking out an impressive 130 in 90 innings.

Zack Thompson (University of Kentucky)

Thompson made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, where he struck out four batters over two scoreless appearances. He finished at a much more challenging and appropriate level. With High-A Palm Beach, Thompson posted a 4.05 ERA over 11 games in short relief. Overall, he fanned 23 batters in 15 1/3 innings pitched, or 13.5 K per nine!

Thompson’s 2019 numbers were solid, but not extraordinary, as he was treated very carefully. As a result, he has not broken into any national top 100 prospect lists to date. In fact, he still has to climb over several prospects in the Cardinals system.

For example, in their recently-published Cardinals prospect list for 2021, Baseball America has Thompson fifth in the system. Same at MLB Pipeline, and now, The Cardinal Nation, too!

Here, Thompson was initially no. 6 in our rankings heading into 2020. However, after the acquisition of fellow lefty Matthew Liberatore, and his insertion into the 2020 top prospect list at no. 3, Thompson was one of the players to drop down a spot as a result. He jumped up two spots for 2021.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – yes
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – yes (non-roster invitee)
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – yes
  • Springfield alternate camp – yes
  • St. Louis – no

As the organization’s first-rounder from 2019, Thompson’s participation in the January 2020 instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida was a given. As then-new Cardinal Liberatore was not acquired until January 9 – after camp had already begun – it was Thompson’s final opportunity to strut his stuff as the system’s top left-hander. In fact, Thompson was cited by Baseball America as having the top curveball in the system – before Liberatore arrived – and he regained the distinction a year later.

Zack Thompson (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

There was a long period of time during which the Cardinals followed a practice of requiring every draft pick from the year prior to participate in minor league camp during their first spring in the organization as part of their indoctrination. That rule is no more, with Thompson’s non-roster invitation to St. Louis’ spring camp serving as the latest evidence of the shift in approach.

In his first, albeit brief big-league spotlight, Thompson performed at a level even better than advertised with three perfect one-inning outings, including three strikeouts. He was given meaningful innings, with his final pitch of the spring a swinging strike three by Nationals star Trea Turner.

Thompson was still in St. Louis’ camp when it was closed on March 12 due to the threat posed by COVID-19. He returned as part of the club’s summer camp in St. Louis in July and spent the remainder of the summer in the Springfield alternate camp. As such, Thompson was one of just a handful of top prospects who were deemed worthy of a 60-man player pool spot.

The return was potentially significant – two months of structured development during a year in which most of the minor leaguers in the system had to remain home. However, Thompson did not have 100% participation in the summer camp

With no media allowed in the alternate camp, reports on the activities in Springfield were filtered by what the Cardinals would share. Well after the fact, in November, Mark Saxon of The Athletic reported that Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told him that Thompson had been “held back by shoulder soreness in summer camp, though Mozeliak said he finished in good health.”

Earlier, general manager Michael Girsch had alluded to Thompson’s lower level of alternate camp workload without providing specifics.

“He (Thompson) went to summer camp and he went to zero to 100 pretty quick,” Girsch told the Post-Dispatch’s Rick Hummel, “so we kind of eased him back to get him in good shape before we started stretching him out. He was a little behind Liberatore as far as accumulating innings down there but he did well.”

As expected, director of player development Gary LaRocque saw positives.

“He got planned innings and faced a number of hitters, where he was able to work on certain things that we wanted him to work on,” LaRocque told MLB.com. “Zack clearly got his work in. He’s got a great upside, and I don’t think this stopped any of that. It helped him.”

For 99% of the Cardinals minor league population, I would let the summer shoulder soreness pass with no more than a passing mention, if at all. But Thompson has a history that cannot be ignored. In fact, his left shoulder is probably the only reason he is a Cardinal today.

Many observers felt that health concerns were behind  Thompson’s fall in the 2019 draft to the Cardinals at pick no. 19 despite him being either the best or second-best college pitcher on the board, depending on the scouting source. Instead, he was the fifth hurler chosen in the first round.

His injury history includes a sore shoulder that limited Thompson as a high school junior and an elbow ailment as a sophomore at Kentucky, which caused him to miss seven starts and led to subpar results.

However, it was not an overwhelming concern, as he rebounded for a strong Cape Cod League showing and with USA Baseball following his sophomore year and had the aforementioned excellent junior campaign just prior to the 2019 draft. Still, in his three seasons at Kentucky, Thompson totaled under 200 innings.

This was another example of a pattern of the Cardinals taking the best player available, one with the talent to have been picked higher but was not. Yet, there was and still is some associated risk.

Of course, the Cardinals have far more details on Thompson’s medicals than the sketchy information available to us and are going to remain on top of his health. But they are not going to go public with any specifics. So, we will continue to monitor the situation as we head into another uncertain season.

2021 outlook

An unanswered question to me is how far Thompson is behind Liberatore. Recently, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt singled out the latter for his work in the 2020 alternate camp and noted he has the talent to pitch in the majors today. Thompson was not showered with the same level of praise, but that is nothing against him necessarily. The bar has been set high.

Zack Thompson (Palm Beach Cardinals)

As already noted, the body of Thompson’s contribution to date as a professional consists of just 15 1/3 innings mostly at High-A in 2019 and whatever work he was able to get in down in Springfield in 2020. Over the last four years combined, he has logged just 212 innings in official games, not all of which can be attributed to his health, however.

Given the low level of recent action, coupled with his medical history, it is tough for me to project how many innings Thompson will throw in 2021. If all looks good in the spring, he should be on the short list to join the Double-A rotation to start the season. A strong eight to 10 outings in Springfield could even lead to a bump up to Memphis.

But will those external factors lead the Cardinals to take preventive actions, such as to shorten his outings or have him pitch less frequently, or even shut him down earlier than normal? (It should be noted that these same questions could be asked for any number of pitchers.)

Future outlook

I want to be crystal clear that the preceding points are totally speculation that may be completely over-cautious. But it does seem clear to me that Liberatore is on a faster track to St. Louis.

Still, if Thompson can perform well at Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, it would put him in a good place to contribute to St. Louis in 2022. For the vast majority of prospects, that would be an admirable progression, so it is unfair (for me and you) to use Liberatore as a definitive yardstick (yet, I acknowledge that is precisely what I did).

As Matt notes, Thompson has the offerings to become a solid no. 3. Anything short of a regular rotation berth for St. Louis by the end of 2022 or start of 2023 would be a disappointment.

MLB debut: 2022


Our 2021 Top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day through the remainder of the year.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021

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


For members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 22


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, including access to every article in our 2021 Top Cardinals Prospects series.

Gift Memberships to The Cardinal Nation at 10 Percent Off!

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

TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #10 – Angel Rondón

photo: Angel Rondón (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Angel Rondon

Position: RHP
Born: 12/1/1997 (23)
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 205
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: IFA – 2016 (Dominican Republic)
Rule 5 Eligible: On 40-Man

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Rondón’s career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #9, Matt Thompson #13

Prior top 50 rankings – 2017-2019 not ranked, 2020 #9

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Ideal pitchers frame. Long limbs with athletic build. Former OF prospect converted to pitching very early in his professional career. He led the Texas League in innings pitched and has the type of stuff to succeed as a starter or play up out of the bullpen.

Mechanics: High effort delivery with a lot of moving parts. Mechanics remind me a bit of former Braves righty Julio Teheran. Starts high during delivery but gets very compact with a high leg kick and slumped upper half. Long arm action as he drops and drives towards the plate. Drives over front leg very well, but inconsistent stride length can lead to mechanical issues at times. Will alter delivery to mess with hitters. Has some added deception as he hides the ball behind his body during delivery.

Fastball: Sits around 93 with the fastball, can get an extra 2-3 MPH if he needs it, but 93 is enough especially with added deception from long arm stroke that is essentially behind his body. Pitch has some arm-side movement, making it tough to square up. Works it primarily up or away; would like to see him go inside more with the heater. He does also cut the fastball, offering a different look. Grade: 55

Angel Rondon (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Curveball: Rondón features a power curveball, which should play well in the modern game. It plays well due to its late break, and its vertical break allows it to get groundballs as well as miss bats. He commands it just as well as he commands the fastball, and it might be his best overall pitch. Grade: 55.

Changeup: Rondón actually is tougher against lefties than righties, and it’s because of his secondaries. Rondón’s changeup looks just like the fastball coming out of his hand, and that is evident by the types of swings it gets. The pitch has late downward action with some fade. He will set up the fastball with his changeup, especially low in the zone against lefties. He will get a fastball for strike one, typically up, then throw a changeup low for a chase pitch. The hitter recognizes the change and how it tumbled below the zone, but then Rondon beats them with a fastball at the knees in a 0-2 or 1-2 count. Potential plus pitch.  Grade: 55.

Control/Command: His delivery will never allow him to have pinpoint control, but he is around the zone enough and will fill it up with all three pitches. He will miss in the zone too often though, and did give up 11 homers during his time in Double-A. More often than not, the late movement saves him but he does need to be better at hitting the glove. 55 Control 45 Command. 

Overall: Rondón has been the organization’s best pitcher in the minors the last few seasons and was rewarded by being added to the 40-man this winter. It was a bit surprising he wasn’t called up in 2020 with the Covid-19 outbreak because he had to be added to the 40-man this winter anyway and had seemingly earned it due to his strong 2019 production. I do expect him to play a role on the 2021 staff, and should be a long term rotation piece for the Cardinals.

Future Value: 45
Role: Backend SP
Risk: Moderate

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

After tearing through the High-A Florida State League with a 2.20 ERA in eight starts, earning an unused mid-season All-Star berth, Rondon was promoted to Double-A in mid-May. It was only 10 calendar months after he had left short-season ball behind.

For Springfield, the then-21-year-old made history, delivering one of the best single-season pitching performances among pitchers with at least 20 starts since the S-Cards were created 15 years earlier, in 2005.

The Texas League ERA champion’s 3.21 mark was the third-best in team history, behind only Lance Lynn (2.92 in 2009) and David Kopp (3.05 in 2010). Rondón also capped his breakout season with the franchise’s fourth-lowest WHIP ever (1.23). That trailed only Seth Maness, Austin Gomber and Randy Leek.

Rondón was a quality-start machine for the S-Cards. He went at least six innings or more and allowed three or fewer earned runs in 10 of his 20 starts at Double-A.

Along with his Texas League ERA title, Rondón also ranked among circuit leaders in opponent batting average against (.230, first), strikeouts (112, 10th) and WHIP (second).

Across the Cardinals system in 2019, Rondon placed in the top four in ERA (third), wins (11, tied for second), strikeouts (159, second), innings (160, second), opponent BAA (fourth) and WHIP (tied for third). Another measure of his durability is his admirable total of zero injured list days over his first four professional seasons.

As such, it was not surprising that he was named the organization’s Pitcher of the Year for 2019. Earlier, we had given Rondón our similar honors here at The Cardinal Nation.

Based on his tremendous 2019, Rondón went from a relative unknown to a prime prospect. One indication is that his first-ever appearance on The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 was as an honorable mention in August 2018.

Still unranked prior to the 2019 season, Rondón was targeted as my “Deep Sleeper” pick in that preseason’s The Cardinal Nation Top Prospect Guide. It was a prescient choice, if I may take a quick bow.

During 2019, Rondón climbed to number 35 in April, and to 26 in May. After a break in our monthly rankings for the draft, the right-hander continued his in-season ascent, to no. 22 in July and finally up to our 18th-ranked prospect in August. 12 months ago, he vaulted to no. 9.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – yes
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – yes
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – yes
  • Springfield alternate camp – yes
  • St. Louis – no

Coming off Rondón’s breakout 2019, it is not surprising that he made a clean sweep of camp invitations in 2020. However, not only was it his first big-league camp (as a non-roster invitee), it was also his first-ever stint in instructional camp – to open his fourth season in the US and fifth as a professional.

However, Rondón was unable to leverage it as well as others. He was among the few pitchers in the alternate camp to have played extensively at Double-A during the year prior to not be called upon to help out the beleaguered St. Louis staff during the grueling run of doubleheaders in 2020.

For example, take Johan Oviedo, who spent most of 2019 alongside Rondón in the Double-A Springfield rotation. The former threw 113 innings in the Texas League that season, with Rondón right alongside at 115 frames. As noted, Rondón was ranked no. 9 here last winter, with Oviedo placed at no.14.

Yet it was Oviedo who made his major league debut for the Cardinals in August, going on the make five starts for St. Louis, while Rondón remained in the alternate camp. However, we have no way who was healthy in Springfield and who was not; who was playing well and who was not.

Regardless of the reason, Oviedo clearly passed Rondón during the uneven 2020 season.

Even so, it seemed a lock for Rondón to be added to the organization’s 40-man roster in the fall of 2020. While it did occur just ahead of the November deadline, the circumstances were odd.

Catcher Ivan Herrera received his coveted spot one day before Rondón’s similar move was announced, creating 24 hours of expectations in between that the right-hander would almost certainly be lost to the Cardinals organization in the Rule 5 draft.

Rondón continues to pitch this winter, currently starting for Las Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. (Members can follow his exploits and those of over a dozen Cardinals prospects playing winter ball right here at The Cardinal Nation.)

Angel Rondon (Mega Deportes RD)

2021 outlook

It is reasonable to assume Oviedo and Rondón will again open 2021 as rotation mates, but this time with Triple-A Memphis. Given his 2020 MLB indoctrination, Oviedo has to be considered to be ahead in the call-up pecking order, but Rondón can change that with his Pacific Coast League performance, his 40-man spot in hand. Jake Woodford is another who should be in that same hunt.

The good news for all of these St. Louis rotation hopefuls is that the major league club will not be able to get through the entire 2021 season with just five starters. Still, more experienced starters like Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon may be first in line.

But it would not be the end of the world if Rondón had to break in as a reliever during his first season up. He would hardly be the first future member of the rotation to do so.

Future outlook

As Matt explained, Rondón appears to be a future long-term starter with St. Louis. The main question remaining seems to be “when?”

Among the Cardinals rotation members who may be leaving in a series of wholesale changes following the 2021 season are Adam Wainwright (again?), Carlos Martinez and Kwang-hyun Kim.

In other words, even if Rondón cannot crack the 2021 starting five, with continued progress, his time in the biggest spotlight every fifth day could begin in 2022. He won’t displace Jack Flaherty at the top and may not have the ceiling Martinez once did, but if he could simply be a Kim replacement, it would be a pretty good outcome.

MLB debut: 2021


Our 2021 Top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day through the remainder of the year.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021

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


For members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 15


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, including access to every article in our 2021 Top Cardinals Prospects series.

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TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #15 – Junior Fernandez

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

Junior Fernandez

Position: RHP
Born: 3/2/1997 (23)
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 205
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: IFA – 2014 (Dominican Republic)
Rule 5 Eligible: On 40-Man

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Fernandez’ career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #15, Matt Thompson #14

Prior top 50 rankings – 2015 not ranked, 2016 #18, 2017 #11, 2018 #17, 2019 #36, 2020 #10

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Long legged with broad shoulders and small waist. Projectable body but durable build. Has frame to support additional muscle. Could even add some velo?

Mechanics: Pitches exclusively from the stretch. Comes set at the belt before long, equal/opposite arm action. Will vary his cadence as well as the leg kick and temp of his delivery to mess with hitters.

Fastball: Wouldn’t surprise me if there’s something going on health wise, as we saw a notable decrease in fastball velocity from 2019 with Fernandez. I know they switched to a new method for tracking velo, but were looking at a near three MPH drop from 96.8 to 94.1 average velocity. It’s a loud pitch though. He works it to all four quadrants of the zone. Commands the pitch well. Plus pitch assuming health. Grade: 60

Junior Fernandez (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

Changeup: Could be best secondary for any prospect-eligible arm in the system. True weapon. Will use against any hitter in any count. Has some arm side run as well as fade. Looks like fastball until just before the point of contact. Grade: 60.

Slider: Will use against right-handers. True two plane depth. Will catch too much of the plate at times. Doesn’t command pitch as well as others in his arsenal. Grade: 45.

Control/Command: High effort delivery and long arm action can make it difficult to throw strikes with ease, and that’s likely part of the issue here. Fernandez’ control and command is the only roadblock (besides health) to him working the late innings for the Cardinals. 45 Control 40 Command

Overall: Fernandez has battled a ton of injuries so far in his career and it wasn’t a surprise to see the Cardinals push him to the big leagues in 2019. He’s been used sparingly, but he’s proven he can miss bats but unfortunately has shown the poor command/control as well. Earning a manager’s trust can be tough when you come out of the bullpen and walk guys.

Future Value: 45
Role: High Leverage Relief
Risk: High

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

Simply put, 2019 was an amazing comeback season for the then-22-year-old. In fact, it was one of the most eye-catching campaigns 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. In fairness to them, due to injuries, Fernandez’ career appeared stalled. He 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.

Junior Fernandez (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

While he moved quickly once the 2019 season got underway, one could observe that he was making up for lost time. Across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, he threw 65 innings in 45 appearances, logging a 1.52 ERA. Fernandez struck out 80 and held opposing batters to a collective .185 average, but also issued 30 free passes.

That winter, there was no Rule 5 protection decision to be made, as he had already been added to the 40-man roster before making his St. Louis debut in August.

In his initial 13 games with the Cardinals, his ERA was 5.40. Fernandez registered a strong .205 batting average against, but two of those hits left the park and he walked six in 11 2/3 innings. His 16 punchouts were eye-catching, though.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – no
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – yes
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – yes
  • Springfield alternate camp – yes
  • St. Louis – yes

Due to his injuries and recoveries, Fernandez’ first St. Louis spring training invitation did not occur until 2020, after he was already on the 40-man roster – and had already made his MLB debut. That is a very unusual set of circumstances.

Though he remained in St. Louis’ spring training camp after its close date of March 12, Fernandez was one of a group of four players optioned to the minor leagues on March 26.

In six spring contests totaling five innings, Fernandez yielded two runs on four hits and three walks for a 3.60 ERA. He struck out eight batters while holding opposing batters to a collective .167 batting average.

Coming out of summer camp, Fernandez made the expanded and delayed Opening Day roster. However, he was among the initial group to test positive for COVID and was placed on the injured list on August 4. At that point, he had only thrown one scoreless inning.

On the 20th, Fernandez was cleared to begin ramping up at the Cardinals alternate site in Springfield and one week later, he was activated by St. Louis. The next day, on the 28th, he was brought in to pitch with the Cardinals already down 8-2 to Cleveland. He was bombed, charged with six runs in one inning, including two walks, two doubles and a home run, and was optioned back out the following day.

Fernandez did not receive another shot with St. Louis again for three weeks, finally recalled on September 16. He tossed a scoreless inning the next day, but was optioned out again on the 22nd, not to return in 2020. Overall, Fernandez made just three regular season appearances with that six-run outing fresh off the COVID IL tanking his numbers.

He was an alternate for the post-season, but remained inactive.

2021 outlook

2020 was not a good year for so many, and Fernandez is among the many significantly impacted. Hopefully, he is fully recovered from the after-effects of the virus and can start fresh in the spring. Based on where he is in his career, I think the lost year did not hurt Fernandez as much as some others.

As his rankings indicate over the years, we have recognized Fernandez’ potential with his first top 20 selection six years ago. He finally cracked the very bottom of the top 10 one year ago on the heels of his standout 2019, but lost his momentum in 2020.

Matt’s and my individual 2021 rankings suggest we are in general agreement about Fernandez, but there is a difference under the covers. He slots Fernandez six and seven spots ahead of fellow relievers Kodi Whitley and Seth Elledge, respectively, while I have moved Whitley two spots above Fernandez and four ahead of Elledge.

My thinking has evolved as I believe Whitley has better positioned himself to contribute in the short-term with Fernandez still carrying both substantial risk and considerable upside.

Junior Fernandez (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

I had already mentioned this in the Whitley article, but the point that follows is even more applicable for Fernandez. After not making the 2020 playoff roster, and as the team looks currently, the Cardinals seemed well-stocked with MLB-ready pitchers.

As such, there does not seem to be room for Fernandez to open 2021 with St. Louis. With Miles Mikolas, Jordan Hicks, John Gant and Carlos Martinez all slated to rejoin the active roster, relievers with options like Fernandez may need to open next season in Memphis and stand ready as big-league reinforcements when needed.

Even if he starts 2021 back in the Pacific Coast League, Fernandez will surely get another chance soon enough. And frankly, more reps honing his skills in Triple-A would not be wasted effort.

Future outlook

Matt put it very well. Fernandez has tons of talent, but major questions still remain, going on two calendar years into his MLB career. It seems rare that a player who has already reached the top still carries a “high” risk, but that is an accurate assessment, in my opinion.

How concerned should we be about the drop in velocity? The strike-throwing inconsistency? His checkered injury history?

The good news for the Cardinals is that they have ample time to continue to work with Fernandez and try to fully unlock that tremendous potential. Because of his long period of no movement due to injury, followed by rapid ascent in 2019, Fernandez still has two minor league option years remaining and two more years of MLB service time to accrue before the Cardinals are faced with any tough decisions regarding his future.

By then, it is likely hoped he will answer the above questions and solidify his permanent spot in the St. Louis bullpen, perhaps as a key seventh- or eighth-inning option.

MLB debut: 2019


Our 2021 Top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day through the remainder of the year.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021

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


For members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 8


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, including access to every article in our 2021 Top Cardinals Prospects series.

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

Adam Wainwright to Receive 2020 Roberto Clemente Award

photo: Adam Wainwright via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Major League Baseball press release

All-Star pitcher Adam Wainwright has been named recipient of the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award, the most prestigious individual player honor by Major League Baseball. Wainwright, nominated by the St. Louis Cardinals, is the sixth Cardinals player to win the Award, the most by any MLB Club, joining Hall of Famers Lou Brock (1975) & Ozzie Smith (1995) as well as Albert Pujols (2008), Carlos Beltrán (2013) and Yadier Molina (2018). Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. officially announced Wainwright’s selection during the first-ever Roberto Clemente Award special on MLB Network from Studio 21 in Secaucus, N.J.

Wainwright, who was previously nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award by the Cardinals from 2015 to 2017 and then 2019, is being recognized for his outstanding philanthropic work around the world through Big League Impact (www.bigleagueimpact.org), which he founded in 2013. Some of his highlighted efforts include:

  • Constructed Haiti’s Ferrier Village Secondary School, which opened for the 2019-2020 school year. Also partnered with Water Mission to build a clean water system for the community.
  • In Honduras, BLI funded the construction of a clean water system servicing more than 15,000 people.
  • In Ethiopia, his mission trip there led to the purchase of an 11-acre plot that is now the site of a clinic and a dairy and crop farm. Adam also partnered with Crisis Aid International to feed children in Africa who would have died of starvation, and also provided aid to help give victims of sex trafficking a new opportunity at life.
  • BLI’s relationship with Crisis Aid provides weekly meals for 3,000 families in the greatest need, including a local campaign that helps feed 200 families per year in South St. Louis.
  • In 2019, Big League Impact partnered with the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation to launch the MLB- and Club-backed “Home Plate Project” to address family and childhood food insecurity. To date, the effort has provided nearly 8 million meals across the United States and Canada, including 4 million meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • More than 150 Major League players have worked with Big League Impact to bring their charitable aspirations to life, with appx. $5.8 million donated to 94 charities.

“Congratulations to Adam for this well-deserved recognition of his long and meritorious philanthropic efforts in St. Louis, across the United States and around the world,” said Commissioner Manfred. “The personal and dedicated attention he has given to addressing issues that affect those in greatest need is a wonderful demonstration of Roberto’s humanitarian legacy. He is most deserving to be counted among the recipients of this prestigious honor.”

In a joint statement, Roberto’s sons – Luis, Roberto Jr. and Enrique – said: “2020 is of special significance as we observe the first anniversary of our mother’s passing. Her contributions to humanity are immeasurable. Her dedication to the true meaning of the Award added to its significance. We find comfort in knowing that MLB has these exceptional gentlemen representing the league, their teams, their families and communities where they play, live and beyond. We are honored to welcome Adam Wainwright to the family of Clemente Award Winners for his career-long passion to help others. Adam truly exemplifies our father’s beliefs and values, leveraging the baseball platform to give voice to the voiceless. The Clemente Family congratulates Adam in becoming the recipient of the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award.”

Adam Wainwright

“On behalf of the entire Cardinals organization, I would like to congratulate Adam on his deserving selection as the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award honoree,” stated Cardinals Chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt, Jr. “In addition to his many accomplishments on the field, Adam has been a tireless contributor in the community and around the globe, giving back to those in need. There can be no better tribute to Roberto’s lasting legacy than the difference-making humanitarian efforts demonstrated by Adam and past Clemente Award winners.”

Wainwright said: “This is the crown jewel of any award I have ever received! But, to me, it’s more than just an award. What Mr. Clemente stood for, and the way he lived his life on and off the field, goes beyond what any award could fully embody. Even being mentioned in the same sentence with him is an incredible honor. I feel very blessed and honored to receive the Clemente Award, and I will continue to try and live up to his standards as long as I live. And, the reason we feel led to help people is not for trophies or accolades of any kind…. but I have to admit… this trophy is pretty awesome! Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this happen. It is truly a dream come true.”

Wainwright was selected from a list of 30 Club nominees by a distinguished panel that included Commissioner Manfred, former players (including former Roberto Clemente Award winners) and journalists from MLB-affiliated network partners – MLB Network, FOX Sports, ESPN and TBS – and MLB.com, as well as Roberto’s children, EnriqueLuis and Roberto Clemente, Jr. Additionally, fans were given the chance to vote via MLB.com/Clemente21. Each September since 2002, Major League Baseball has commemorated Roberto Clemente Day to recognize all 30 Roberto Clemente Award nominees and to honor the Hall of Famer’s indelible legacy.

The Roberto Clemente Award is the annual recognition of a Major League player who best represents the game of Baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy, and positive contributions, both on and off the field. The concept of honoring Major League players for their philanthropic work was created in 1971 as the “Commissioner’s Award.” It was renamed to the “Roberto Clemente Award” in 1973 to honor the Hall of Famer and 15-time All-Star who died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

The distinguished list of past Roberto Clemente Award winners includes 19 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

1971: Willie Mays + (Originally known as the Commissioner’s Award prior to 1973)
1972: Brooks Robinson + (Originally known as the Commissioner’s Award prior to 1973)
1973: Al Kaline +
1974: Willie Stargell +
1975: Lou Brock +
1976: Pete Rose
1977: Rod Carew +
1978: Greg Luzinski
1979: Andre Thornton
1980: Phil Niekro +
1981: Steve Garvey
1982: Ken Singleton
1983: Cecil Cooper
1984: Ron Guidry
1985: Don Baylor
1986: Garry Maddox
1987: Rick Sutcliffe
1988: Dale Murphy
1989: Gary Carter+
1990: Dave Stewart
1991: Harold Reynolds
1992: Cal Ripken Jr. +
1993: Barry Larkin +
1994: Dave Winfield +
1995: Ozzie Smith +
1996: Kirby Puckett +
1997: Eric Davis
1998: Sammy Sosa
1999: Tony Gwynn +
2000: Al Leiter
2001: Curt Schilling
2002: Jim Thome +
2003: Jamie Moyer
2004: Edgar Martínez +
2005: John Smoltz +
2006: Carlos Delgado
2007: Craig Biggio +
2008: Albert Pujols
2009: Derek Jeter +
2010: Tim Wakefield
2011: David Ortiz
2012: Clayton Kershaw
2013: Carlos Beltrán
2014: Paul Konerko
2014: Jimmy Rollins
2015: Andrew McCutchen
2016: Curtis Granderson
2017: Anthony Rizzo
2018: Yadier Molina
2019: Carlos Carrasco
2020: Adam Wainwright

(+ denotes Hall of Fame member)

TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #20 – Griffin Roberts

photo: Griffin Roberts (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Griffin Roberts

Position: RHP
Born: 6/13/1996 (24)
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 205
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2018 Draft – Competitive Balance Round A (43rd overall)
Rule 5 Eligible: 2021

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Roberts’ career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #25, Matt Thompson #16

Prior top 50 rankings –2019 #13, 2020 #23

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Looks much shorter and smaller than listed height and weight. Thin, long legs. Has frame that needs to add mass, looked more chiseled while at Wake Forest. Doesn’t look like the same guy physically. Would attack hitters, now he has the look of someone that thinks too much on the mound. Worried about the next pitch before he throws this one. Missed some time with drug suspension.

Mechanics: High effort delivery with an arm slot that has dropped some since Wake Forest days, now has unique 3/4 arm slot. Delivery was tighter in college as well. Front half opens up much sooner now, gives hitters longer look at baseball. I can’t think of a big league starter with an arm slot like this.

Fastball: Was around 93 and touching 96 at Wake Forest. Hasn’t been around there since entering Cardinals organization. Fastball sits around 90 with some sink and run, does have decent movement, but arm slot combined with movement make it tough for him to command the pitch as it will get away from him arm side. He’s not getting this fastball past big league hitters. Was sitting upper 80s in AFL. Grade: 40.

Griffin Roberts (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Slider: Roberts had the best breaking ball coming out of the 2018 draft, and the slider features two-plane depth with an insane 15” inches of horizontal break. I just worry about how it plays with a fastball like this. The pitches don’t play very well off each other for tunneling purposes as they both have differing movement profiles. Fastball is arm-side break, slider is glove side. It’s a plus pitch metrically, but I’m bumping it down because of my concerns with how it will translate in game. Grade: 55.

Changeup: Sits around 85, the pitch has good traits. Moves well with some depth, but he lacks the ability to throw it for strikes consistently. It’s a chase pitch right now that doesn’t get many swings and misses. Grade: 45.

Control/Command: Roberts has had a difficult time throwing strikes, and you can pull up the disappointing numbers and see for yourself. He has poor feel for putting the fastball where he wants, and actually has better command of his slider. 40 Control 30 Command

Overall: I was somewhat more optimistic on Roberts as we were constructing this list for The Cardinal Nation, but after some conversations with a few trusted sources I’ve gone the other way. I saw him in the AFL and while he was throwing strikes more consistently, he wasn’t missing bats and the velocity was well below average. I think his only path to the big leagues is leaning heavily on the slider, and working as a reliever. That’s obviously not his call, but he did have success as a reliever in college. The arm slot should play in that role, and the team needs to find a way to get the fastball to jump. I’m not the first person to make the comp, but Roberts could be a Luke Gregerson-type slider monster out of a big league bullpen. If he wasn’t a top pick with some dollars invested in him he might not be in the organization with how poorly it’s gone to this point.

Future Value: 35
Role: Spot Starter/Low Leverage Reliever
Risk: High

Video from Prospects Live

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

To open 2019, Roberts served a 50-game suspension due to failed tests for marijuana use, though he was still able to throw in extended spring training camp. Against much-younger competition, I watched him dominate. When activated at High-A Palm Beach, however, it was a different story, as he delivered mostly unimpressive results with his wildness standing out.

With the Beach Birds, Roberts logged a 6.44 ERA in 15 appearances, 13 starts, totaling 65 2/3 innings pitched. Walks and strikeouts were almost equal at 35 and 36, respectively. He also hit 17 batters.

But it wasn’t just wildness and free passes that did him in, as Florida State League hitters batted .305 against him.

Still because of his time missed, the Cardinals invited Roberts to pitch against the advanced competition in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. There, he was arguably the most pleasant surprise among the eight prospects from the organization competing in the desert. Roberts logged a 3.07 ERA to go with 18 strikeouts and just two walks issued in 14 2/3 innings, four starts.

Griffin Roberts (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Even that came with concern embedded, however. I saw Roberts’ fourth AFL start on October 10, during which he yielded a solo home over four innings. What drew my attention was his fastball velocity of just 86-88 mph. That turned out to be his final Arizona Fall League appearance, leading me to wonder how healthy he was heading into his offseason.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – yes (repeat)
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – no
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – no
  • Springfield alternate camp – no
  • St. Louis – no

For the second consecutive January, the right-hander was among the pitchers invited to the organization’s instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida. That was especially positive from my perspective since Roberts’ Arizona Fall League stint apparently ended prematurely.

Roberts was not given a non-roster invitation to St. Louis’ spring training camp, however. This was not a huge disappointment given he has no Double-A time. Still, two other pitchers with even less experience were there, but Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore are the most promising arms in the organization.

The two lefties were among the top prospect pitchers in the 60-man player pool, along with Angel Rondon and Johan Oviedo. Again, Roberts missed the cut, excluding him from an important summer of development.

2021 outlook

It is surprising to me that Roberts has improved his overall ranking here coming off a year in which he did not play. But with a different voice this year, changes should be expected. Matt was initially strong on Roberts, but if there was a re-vote, I think the results would be different for the reasons he explained.

Based on the number of potential competitors, the level of competition to make the Springfield starting five out of spring camp should be extremely high. The aforementioned lefty duo should be at the top of the list, but I see no reason why a healthy Roberts should not be able to earn a Double-A rotation spot as well.

Given the year off on top of the fact he has never thrown more than 100 innings in any season as a college or professional sets up Roberts’ 2021 as crucial to his (presumed) long-term hopes of remaining a starter into the major leagues. Despite relatively high pitch counts, he has not pitched deeply enough into games to get through a lineup a third time on a regular basis. So there is a lot of work still ahead.

Future outlook

My late 2022 projection for Roberts reaching St. Louis assumes a season each starting at Double-A and Triple-A, with a late season arrival in St. Louis the second year.

However, his 2021 really needs to be strong for the Cardinals to use a 40-man roster spot to protect him from that December’s Rule 5 draft. Even if the Cardinals do not make him a reliever this coming season, another organization could decide to snag him and make that change in the bigs.

A quicker move to the bullpen could both accelerate his arrival in the majors and help him earn that coveted roster spot. But the consistency has to come first.

MLB debut: 2022


Our 2021 Top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day through the remainder of the year.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021

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


For members of The Cardinal Nation

2020-2021 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – December 1


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, including access to every article in our 2021 Top Cardinals Prospects series.

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

TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #25 – Julio Rodriguez

photo: Julio Rodriguez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Julio Rodriguez

Position: C
Born: 6/11/1997 (23)
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 245
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: IFA – 2015 (Dominican Republic)
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Rodriguez’ career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #19, Matt Thompson #31

Prior top 50 rankings – 2017-2018 not ranked, 2019 #45, 2020 #21

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Stocky, good durable frame. Will hold up despite the rigors of the position. Has stayed healthy throughout professional career. Some long-term maintenance required for the frame, a little on the thick side and could lose agility behind the plate.

Hit: Short swing that puts an emphasis on contact skills. A little on the aggressive side. Will take what pitcher gives him, and works the entire field line-to-line. Has improved his pitch recognition skills but will jump on fastballs early in the count, but too often results in weak contact. He’s a true talent .230ish type hitter. Grade: 30

Power: Has average power to his pull-side, but zero opposite field power. Will find the gaps. Despite frame, his swing isn’t built for power. Likely tops out at about 8-10 homers a season if he’s a starting catcher. Grade: 40

Julio Rodriguez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Field: Moves well behind the plate despite soft frame. Agile, smooth, quiet defender. Blocks pitches in the dirt very well. Pitchers love throwing to him. Best defensive catcher currently in organization, and second best behind Molina when/if he re-signs.  Grade: 55

Arm: A real weapon. Routinely posts sub 2.00 pop times, which is average. High velocity on the throws with outstanding footwork and accuracy. Strong pop times plus strong and accurate arm is the ideal package. Grade: 60

Run: Not a tool I’m concerned about with Rodriguez, but he’s near the bottom of the scale here. Zero career stolen bases. Grade: 20

Overall: Rodriguez is a backup catcher. Nothing sexy about the profile here, but he likely has a big league future if he stays healthy. There’s not enough in the bat to ever be a big league regular, the question is if there’s enough defensive skills to be a long term backup, or one that floats around from org to org holding it down in Triple-A until injuries strike. I’d bet on the latter. I don’t think the defensive skills are enough to overcome a zero bat, especially with robot umpires on the way. He’s emergency depth in my eyes.

Future Value: 35
Role: Up/Down Emergency Depth
Risk: Low

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

The name “Julio Rodriguez” is known by almost all prospect watchers across the game. However, the guy on everyone’s radar screen is an outfielder in the Seattle Mariners system, the no. 15 prospect nationally according to MLB Pipeline, just one spot after Dylan Carlson.

While a solid player in his own right, St. Louis’ Rodriguez often seems to find himself in the background.

Only because of Matt’s #31 view of Rodriguez, did the catcher fall in our site rankings from year-to-year. I consider him to be on the fringe of the top 20 players in the system.

Rodriguez proved to be a complete player in 2019 whose offense may be slightly underrated. Between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, he slashed .268/.311/.393/.704 through 85 games (including 71 contests in the pitcher-friendly ballparks of the Florida State League).

His OPS at Palm Beach was an impressive .727 with a strong wRC+ of 115 and he made strides defensively as well. Rodriguez was a steadying presence for the Beach Birds’ pitching staff and established himself as one of the top backstops in the league due to his big arm. Managers and coaches named him to the High-A league’s Mid-Season All-Star team.

As noted, Rodriguez’ overall offense improved in 2019 while he was an environment in which it is tough to hit – in the FSL. Even so, his time at Palm Beach was wildly inconsistent, with a great start and a poor finish.

His stint as a Beach Bird was a tale of two very different periods. Rodriguez batted .331 in April and May before stumbling to just .225 over June and July. Still, he was given the opportunity to finish with Springfield when Chris Chinea was placed on the injured list on July 29. Rodriguez’ initial Double-A numbers during August were not good either, but his first 14 games at a new level should not be held against him.

Julio Rodriguez (Leones del Escogido)

After that solid but inconsistent 2019 season, Rodriguez was unable to establish any offensive momentum in winter ball. The catcher slashed just .200/250/.200/.450 in 45 at-bats for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican and never seemed to find his rhythm. All nine of his hits were singles and he struck out an equivalent nine times and walked in just three plate appearances.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – yes (repeat)
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – yes
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – no
  • Springfield alternate camp – yes
  • St. Louis – no

Rodriguez repeated as one of the four catchers at the organization’s January 2020 instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida.

He then scored a non-roster invitation to St. Louis’ original spring training camp in February, his second consecutive big-league camp selection. Rodriguez appeared in just one game, as the designated hitter, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He was also hit by a pitch and came around to score. He was reassigned to minor league camp with the first large group of cuts on March 7.

When the Cardinals prepared to re-start the season, Rodriguez was one of six catchers initially in the 60-man player pool. However, instead of being assigned to the St. Louis-based Summer Camp, he was dispatched to the alternate camp in Springfield (along with fellow prospect backstop Ivan Herrera).

Beyond the big three of Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters and Andrew Knizner, veteran minor leaguer Jose Godoy was the fourth catcher in St. Louis’ camp and seemingly would have been added to the 40-man roster if an emergency replacement was needed.

2021 outlook

However, three of the aforementioned four have left the organization as free agents, with only Molina having a realistic potential to remain a Cardinal in 2021, along with the incumbent Knizner.

While 40-man roster spots are definitely tight, there are several factors which together made a decent case to protect Rodriguez from the December 2020 Rule 5 Draft. However, the Cardinals rolled the dice and left him exposed.

One factor is the aforementioned thinness of the catching position at Double-A and Triple-A levels of the system. Granted, the Cardinals signed journeyman Tyler Heineman as a free agent, but who wouldn’t prefer Rodriguez’ upside?

Julio Rodriguez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Further, young catchers with growth opportunity on top of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues can be a hot commodity in Rule 5. Especially with expanded MLB rosters (whether 26-man or higher) in 2021, another team may be more inclined to take a gamble on an emerging second or third catcher.

Taking the glass-half-full outlook for the Cardinals, however, if Rodriguez remains, I would expect him to be in a job-share with Heineman at Triple-A Memphis in 2021. There, Rodriguez could continue to build his skills and try to prove that if an injury replacement is needed by St. Louis this coming season, it should be him added to the roster rather than Heineman.

(Update: Rodriguez was not selected in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft and remains a Cardinal.)

Future outlook

Rodriguez is a very strong defender and has proven he can hit enough to hold his own. Over his four years as a professional, Rodriguez has thrown out 99 of 243 attempted basestealers, for a strong 40.7% success rate. In fact, in both 2020 and 2021, Baseball America named him the “Best Defensive Catcher” in the entire Cardinals organization.

Clearly, these skills could be useful as a major league reserve. After all, Tony Cruz played parts of seven seasons in the majors. In fact, he is a player one scout cited as a comp for Rodriguez (“Potential to be a little better than Cruz,” he opined).

Perhaps the Cardinals are hoping Rodriguez’ relative inexperience (just 14 career games at Double-A) and offensive limitations will keep other teams away.

However, I doubt he is off anyone’s radar screen. For example, there have been ample opportunities to scout Rodriguez, including his current return winter ball stint playing in the Dominican Republic for Escogido.

Granted, the Cardinals already have higher-potential catchers in Knizner and Herrera in the fold, but Rodriguez clearly has value, too. We will have to see if his MLB debut is with St. Louis or it occurs elsewhere.

MLB debut: 2022


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