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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 (non-roster invitee)
  • 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


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 – November 25


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 #30 – Logan Gragg

photo: Logan Gragg (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Logan Gragg

Position: RHP
Born: 8/8/1998 (22)
Height: 6’5”
Weight: 200
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2019 Draft – 8th round (245th 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 Gragg’s career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #42, Matt Thompson #26

Prior top 50 rankings – 2020 not ranked

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Lanky, long, skinny frame. Fits the Cardinals archetype. Tall, projectable arms. Takes care of himself physically, got stronger during Tommy John rehab, and in today’s weird fact of the day, he doesn’t like ice cream. Oh, the things you learn when you sit behind the plate and chat with guys as they chart pitches.

Mechanics: Stands tall on mound, but delivery doesn’t fully utilize XL frame. Flexes back leg and drops body before delivering towards the plate. High three-quarters arm slot. Just a lower release point than you might think. Weak front side that I would look to incorporate more. Best way to explain it, glove hand is just along for the ride as he goes towards home and not helping him generate torque.

Fastball: Sits 92-94. Can touch 95. Works the pitch primarily on the outer quadrants, and sticks to the lower quadrants primarily against lefties. Will need to be less strict with his patterns and move the fastballs around more. Hitters can crowd the plate knowing he won’t attack them inside. Grade: 50

Logan Gragg, Johan Oviedo, Tony Locey (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Slider: Inconsistent shape. Wish he would throw it more inside, with intent. The versions that end up in miss the catcher’s glove by six-to-eight inches. Gets more horizontal break than drop against lefties. Right-handers get a slurvier version that he looks to catch on the corner or get them to chase off the plate away. Grade: 50.

Changeup: Haven’t seen enough of this pitch to be firm on a grade here, to be honest. I suspect if he moves to the bullpen full time he would simply eliminate this pitch from the arsenal. Grade: 40.

Control/Command: Struggles to repeat. That was a focus of his after entering pro ball. Was better, but tough to completely ignore his college numbers. 40 Control 30 Command

Overall: I see a lot of potential here with Gragg, sort of look at him like a blank slate. Only started a handful of games for Oklahoma State after coming over from Connors State College, a junior college in Oklahoma. High risk due to command issues.

Future Value: 40
Role: Spot Starter/Long Relief
Risk: High

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

In his junior year, Gragg served as a swingman for Oklahoma State as he both started and came out of the bullpen.

After being drafted as a junior and signing for his eighth-round slot value of $167,800, Gragg joined short-season Class A State College to begin his professional career.

For the Spikes, the Arkansas native posted a 2.45 ERA and quickly moved up to Low-A Peoria after only eight relief appearances. With Peoria, the right-hander’s role changed as he logged a 3.38 ERA over nine games (eight starts).

Overall, Gragg registered a 3.15 ERA in 17 games. He struck out 50 batters and walked 15 through 45 2/3 innings, showing considerable improvement in strike-throwing over his college results.

2020 recap – Assignments

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

Gragg was one of the many to receive a head start in the January instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida, but his relative lack of experience kept him from yet being invited to any of the big league camps. Therefore, he was not a part of the Springfield alternate camp, either.

2021 outlook

Another instructional camp invitation seems likely, but it feels too early for Gragg to receive a non-roster invitation to 2021 St. Louis spring training camp.

Based on his eight successful starts at Class A, Gragg could open 2021 at High-A. To be assessed in spring camp along with his readiness for the level will be how he stacks up against the considerable rotation competition, which I expect will increase for all five remaining minor league clubs in the US.

If Gragg does need to return to Class A to open 2021, and assuming he will continue to take care of business on the mound, he should be able to earn his way forward before the season extends too far.

Future outlook

A normal progression would be Double-A in 2022 and Triple-A in 2023, with perhaps a St. Louis debut in the second half of 2023. At that point, Gragg will be 25 years of age.

A possible complication will be his Rule 5 eligibility after the 2022 season. At that point, based on the aforementioned promotion scenario, Gragg would potentially be exposed coming off his Double-A season. Of course, he could show enough to be protected – and/or have moved ahead more quickly.

As far as his eventual St. Louis role, it is just too early to tell. But in many cases, even if a pitcher is projected as an eventual starter, chances are better that he will first have to break into the majors as a reliever because of a lack of rotation openings. Claiming a spot among St. Louis’ starting five is not easy, but generally speaking, that is a good thing.

MLB debut: 2023


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

Cardinals Rule 5 Draft Preparation Changes


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 #35 – Pedro Pages

photo: Pedro Pages (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Pedro Pages

Position: C
Born: 9/17/1998 (22)
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 234
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2019 Draft – 6th round (185th 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 Pages’ career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #31, Matt Thompson #43

Prior top 50 rankings – 2020 #43

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Thick-bodied catcher with a high motor and leadership traits. Speaks fluent English and Spanish, leads by example. Some legit concerns about the body. Very soft.

Hit: Active hands, holds them at ear level. Uses double toe-tap as timing mechanism. Lets the ball travel and attacks with very level swing. Very pull heavy, line drive oriented cut.  Grade: 45

Power: Not a lot of power despite the big frame. Swing doesn’t create natural loft. Gap-to-gap line drives are his game. Not a strong enough defender presently to make up for lack of power. Grade: 40

Pedro Pages, Dennis Ortega, Ivan Herrera (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Field: Above-average overall defender behind the plate according to everything I’ve been able to find. One of the players I’m putting on my priority list to see more of when baseball resumes. Grade: 55

Arm: Threw out 40% of potential base stealers. Fantastic mark for his professional debut. Quick feet for size. Grade: 55

Run: Well below-average runner. Grade: 30

Overall: It’s hard to project Pages as anything other than a defense-first backup catcher due to his hit and power tools both being below-average, and the body concerns make it unlikely that he can catch every day. He handles a staff very well and has many positive leadership traits, which is ideal for a catcher. I view him as an up and down piece until he finds another gear on offense.

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

 Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

Let’s start with the correct way to speak our subject’s last name. In the Spanish language, “g” is pronounced “h”. That makes his surname, “PAH-hays”.

It is only fitting that the Cardinals’ earliest-drafted collegiate hitter in 2019 went on to be their best first-year batter.

In fact, among all Cardinals minor leaguers in 2019, Pages was fourth in on-base percentage (.398). Further, he placed in the top 10 in the New York-Penn League in all four slash categories (BA, OBP, SLG, OPS) as well as in doubles.

At State College, Pages’ Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) was 149, or 49% above the NYPL average hitter. That compares very favorably to the last notable college catcher drafted by the Cardinals. In his first season as a professional, in 2016, Andrew Knizner delivered a wRC+ of 156, but he started one level lower – at Johnson City. Knizner was a seventh-rounder.

Continuing the initial season direct comparison, Pages had both a higher walk rate (by four percent) and a higher strikeout rate (by eight percent). Knizner had the edge in ISO (isolated power), .173 to .140, indicating one area of potential concern/growth opportunity for Pages.

Another positive is that Pages did not celebrate his 21st birthday until mid-September, after State College’s season concluded. Knizner played his first professional season a year older, at the age of 21.

I am not suggesting that Pages will be the next Knizner, but at this point, I am also not ready to limit his ceiling to be an up and down player.

2020 recap – Assignments

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

While this list of assignments may not look particularly impressive, step back and reconsider it in the context of a player who had just been drafted in the sixth round the previous June.

Inclusion in instructional camp was to be expected and putting him in big league camp would not have made any sense. Still, the fact he was called in during August to join the alternate camp and 60-man player pool was a recognition of how well Pages is thought of by the player development staff.

2021 outlook

I expect Pages will be among the bevy of backstops who will receive non-roster invitations to St. Louis’ 2021 spring training. Further, I predict he will not depart for minor league camp in the first wave of cuts.

Pedro Pages (Steve Manuel/State College Spikes)

The pecking order in the catching position in the organization has thinned out a bit with the departure of free agent Jose Godoy and the presumed promotion of Andrew Knizner to St. Louis.

Beyond the aforementioned pair and Pages, Julio Rodriguez and Ivan Herrera were the only other catchers in alternate camp this past summer. The latter two prospects could carry the every-day catching load at Memphis and Springfield, respectively. Pages is seemingly well-positioned to grab the job at High-A, despite no time in full-season Class A, assuming he looks good in spring camp.

Future outlook

This is another player about whom Matt and I are not in total agreement. I felt Pages’ professional introduction at short-season Class A State College was solid, both defensively and offensively.

He hit for average (.291) and has a good eye at the plate, as evidenced by a 23-game on-base streak. Granted, the power was the weakest part of his game, yet 17 doubles in 179 at-bats shows some promise. His strikeout rate was a good 18.2% and his walk rate of 13.1% was strong. A concern might be his .355 BABIP.

OK, it would have been even better had Pages put up those numbers at Peoria instead, but I like what I saw from him in his rookie year against an appropriate level of competition. .

Having said that, there is a lot of work to be done before he enters the St. Louis picture. Even if Pages can make the jump to High-A to open 2021, a year at each level from here on forward would not be unusual. I could see maybe a late season 2023 MLB debut as an injury replacement.

In between, we will acquire much more data to make a better assessment as to Pages’ career ceiling.

MLB debut: 2023


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

Cardinals 2020-2021 Winter Leagues Preview


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 #40 – Justin Toerner

photo: Justin Toerner (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Justin Toerner

Position: OF
Born: 8/11/1996 (24)
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 165
Hits / Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2018 Draft – 28th round (843rd 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 Toerner’s career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #39, Matt Thompson #42

Prior top 50 rankings –2019 NR, 2020 #30

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Small frame, lacks muscle. Above-average athlete. Hard-nosed, gritty, grinder. Pick your favorite old-timey phrase and it’ll fit here. Toerner has touched four different affiliates since getting drafted and looked like he might have had an under the radar breakout in 2019. Plays above size and can be reckless at times.

Hit: Toerner was a four-year starter at Cal State Northridge and leadoff hitter in part due to his hit tool. He hits slightly crouched with legs spread wide. He puts the bat on the ball and has an advanced feel for the strike zone. Short quick swing and will take walks. Grade: 50

Justin Toerner (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Power: Toerner found some power, improving on the one homer he hit in his draft year with eleven in 2019. He’s been elevating the ball more as he jumps levels and also got out of tough power environments in Peoria and Jupiter. It’s likely a combination of things and I can see him hitting six to eight homers a year at the big league level, but with a fair amount of double and triples due to speed and all fields approach. Grade: 40

Field: Toerner is borderline reckless in the outfield, and that aggressiveness is part of what makes him such a strong defender. It also caused his season to end prematurely after he was injured in August after making an acrobatic play in the outfield. He gets fantastic jumps and is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Plus defenders up the middle don’t grow on trees. Has all the makings of a nice fourth outfielder. Grade: 60

Arm: One of the stronger outfield arms in the system. Grade: 55

Run: Above-average runner. Speed influences all aspects of his game. Can swipe a bag but the defense shows up more in the field. Grade: 55

Overall: Toerner will be a very popular player when he gets to the big leagues and the fan base will absolutely love how he plays. Max effort all the time. I’m not concerned about the strikeout jump in Double-A, and think it comes back to earth when baseball restarts. He should be the everyday centerfielder in Memphis and could reach the big leagues in 2021.

Future Value: 40
Role: Platoon/Bench Bat
Risk: Low

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

After signing with the Cardinals in 2018, Toerner spent most of the summer with short-season Class-A State College, but also debuted in Class-A and High-A. He opened 2019 with Palm Beach, where he started on fire. His .394 batting average and .591 on-base percentage in April led all of Minor League Baseball.

In the ongoing game of adjustments, Florida State League pitchers began to work around him and mix in more off-speed stuff. Toerner hit just .224 over 26 games in May as he struck out 31 times.

By mid-June, he had shown more restraint at the plate, and received a promotion to Double-A Springfield following recognition as a Florida State League All-Star. His Texas League debut was much quieter. Over 49 games, he hit just .211 with seven home runs and 18 RBI, but walked at a solid 14.1% rate.

In terms of monthly progress at Springfield, Toerner’s results were flat. Or more positively, he was consistent in the partial months of June and August and the full month of July in between. Of the slash stats, only his on-base percentages of .333 (June), .339 (July), .345 (August), .338 (overall) were noteworthy.

His Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) was 103, or just above league average. But it easily could have been better. Toerner’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) at Springfield was a full 100 points lower (.259) than with Palm Beach (.359). The latter was unlucky, with the prior result fortunate.

Known as a tough player packed into a 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame, Toerner was injured on a play in the field in mid-August to close his 2019 prematurely, but it did not seem to linger into 2020.

2020 recap – Assignments

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

Toerner was back in Jupiter in January for his second consecutive instructional camp. There, he was one of six outfielders, and among three who had prior Double-A experience, along with Scott Hurst and Lars Nootbaar.

None of these players were selected to be part of the 60-man active player pool for 2020, however. In fact, no outfielders below Triple-A were in camp other than Trejyn Fletcher, who played in short-season ball in 2019.

2021 outlook

In these rankings, Toerner fell 10 spots year to year, but in all fairness, seven of those who moved ahead are the members of the Cardinals’ 2020 draft class and another is the organization’s top international signee. Two of them are outfielders. No one can ever stand still.

The good news is that Toerner has a partial season of Double-A experience. The bad news is that his OPS was just .706 in a hitters league and he struck out at a career-worst rate of 27.6%.

Dylan Carlson and Justin Toerner (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Other than Conner Capel perhaps, the competition from below for jobs with Triple-A Memphis should primarily consist of the aforementioned Hurst and Nootbaar. Toerner should have an advantage.

However, it remains unclear which of the eight 40-man roster outfielders will be with St. Louis. Several have minor league options remaining, including Austin Dean and Lane Thomas, but Justin Williams and Rangel Ravelo do not. In the latter cases, a trip through waivers would be required before they could return to the minors. Toerner’s immediate Memphis opportunity may depending on these others, but even if he isn’t a Redbird on Opening Day, he should get his chance during the season.

While Toerner has limited experience in left field and center, the vast majority of his playing time has been in right field, including in 2019. A chance to become the everyday center fielder with Memphis may depend on whether Lane Thomas and Conner Capel are also on the club.

Making the 40-man roster and reaching St. Louis during 2021 seems to carry much lower odds. Getting some exposure to the big league coaches as a non-roster invitee to spring training camp would be a nice start for Toerner. Remember, there are currently eight 40-man roster outfielders ahead of him as well as the more experienced Capel.

Future outlook

Because Toerner initially moved so quickly through the system, he has more time than most others to impress and better position himself for major league consideration. As Matt noted above, he has another year before any Rule 5 protection considerations come into play and two more seasons before potential minor league free agency.

A good showing at Memphis in 2021 could put Toerner in the picture to help St. Louis as a reserve in 2022. Not surprisingly, this is exactly a year behind the schedule I predicted in his 2020 prospect assessment.

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.


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 #45 – Evan Mendoza

photo: Evan Mendoza (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Evan Mendoza

Position: 3B/1B/SS
Born: 6/28/1996 (24)
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 205
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2017 Draft – 11th Round (334th overall)
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 Mendoza’s career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #34, Matt Thompson #53

Prior top 50 rankings – 2018 #26, 2019 #26, 2020 #32

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Average build that lacks physical projection. No issues with listed height of weight. He plays much smaller than his frame. Naked eye says he should have some pop but that’s not his game.

Hit: He does a lot of things well at the plate. Excellent plate coverage and a pest in the box that is difficult to strikeout due to his two-strike approach. Contact first approach, but to the point where it sacrifices driving the ball. He’s going to get challenged at the big league level though. Grade: 45

Power: He’s going to get challenged by pitchers because they can knock the bat out of his hands. There might be 40-grade raw pop here, but his in game power is nearly at the bottom of the scale. All the good he does at the plate will be completely undone at the big league level due to the lack of power. Grade: 30

Field: Mendoza might be the best defensive infielder in the system and one of the top defenders on the infield in all of the minor leagues. He lacks footspeed but his instincts and lateral quickness is very strong. He covers a lot of ground at third base, and spent some time at shortstop during instructs in January, and if he can play a strong defensive shortstop that is a huge plus for this profile. Grade: 70

Evan Mendoza (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Arm: It’s a plus arm for Mendoza. Accurate and strong. Capable of making any throw. Different motions but was a pitcher briefly at NC State. Grade: 60

Run: Not fast, but is quick. Speed tool shows up more defensively for Mendoza. Grade: 45

Overall: It’s a strange profile, but if he can play shortstop at the big league level then that changes the profile for me. Right now he’s a fringe big leaguer due to the complete lack of power for a corner infielder. He’s an off the charts makeup guy and likely has a future in coaching or player development if he wants it, but if he can play a passable shortstop he can hold off on buying suits and polos for a bit longer.

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

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

As a third baseman, the former North Carolina State teammate of Andrew Knizner was coming off all-star berths earned in each of his first two professional seasons – at Short-Season Class-A State College in 2017 and High-A Palm Beach in 2018.

Mendoza had two long cracks at the hitter-friendly Texas League – 98 games in 2018 and 54 in 2019. This total of 152 games is more than one full season, yet the aggregate results were underwhelming – six home runs, 46 RBI and an OPS of .636. His Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) with Springfield fell from 81 down to 70 in his second season. In other words, his 2019 output was 30 percent below the TL average.

While his 2019 began with those two months in Double-A, Mendoza’s season came to an abrupt, premature and painful end at just six games into his Triple-A debut. While chasing a foul ball at Memphis’ AutoZone Park on June 14, he slammed into a side wall, breaking his right arm. So he did not receive the chance for an extended trial in the Pacific Coast League. That should be rectified in 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

Mendoza was a repeater for instructional camp in Jupiter to open the New Year. The new news, broken by me, was that Mendoza was exclusively playing shortstop. This move came in the best Paul DeJong tradition, though it appears it was a broadening assignment, rather than a permanent shift. Mendoza did stay at short for all of instructional camp.

He reprised his role in the abbreviated original big league camp after having appeared in 15 games the prior March. Mendoza showed his versatility, playing at first, short and third. However, he was not added to the 40-man roster, so of course, did not reach St. Louis during the shortened 2020 regular season.

When a first baseman was needed, John Nogowski received the call from alternate camp instead. Max Schrock took the second base opportunities, though Mendoza doesn’t play that position. With Matt Carpenter, Tommy Edman and Brad Miller all on the active roster, no Springfield replacements at the hot corner were required. When Paul DeJong was out with COVID, Edman was the primary shortstop, backed up by Miller (at least on paper), as Edmundo Sosa was sick, as well.

2021 outlook

Here we are with the second of our back-to-back “Evans”, with Mendoza following our number 46, Kruczynski. This is also one of the greatest ranking differences between Matt and I in the new Top 50 – 19 spots – with my score more bullish.

The Cardinals have a well-established track record of squeezing the maximum value from players like Mendoza. With just a little more in the bat, his defensive strength would almost certainly carry him ahead to St. Louis. When injuries occur in 2021, I believe it will happen, though probably only as a fill-in.

Evan Mendoza (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

With Schrock and Miller gone, it seems Sosa is the next in line for reserve infielder duties. Mendoza is perhaps next in the chain, though Kramer Robertson should not be counted out, either.

Given third base is chock full of prospects and with Nogowski likely back at first for the 2021 Memphis club, my on-paper choice to start at short for the Redbirds would be Mendoza.

Getting on the 40-man roster probably won’t occur until the day he is actually needed in St. Louis. I do not expect Mendoza to be added to the 40-man roster prior to the December 2020 Rule 5 Draft, nor do I anticipate he will be taken.

Future outlook

I cannot take exception to Matt’s assessment of Mendoza’s future probably being that of an up-and-down player. He simply lacks the power to be a big-league starter at either infield corner.

But heck, Pete Kozma’s defense was good enough that he could forge a seven-year off-and-on MLB career with a similar profile. I am not suggesting Mendoza is as slick at short, but I do think he will be able to keep playing for some time if he so chooses. Versatile guys who are plus defenders seem to always have a home.

MLB debut: 2021


Our 2021 Top 50 series continues

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

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