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TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #5 – Tyler O’Neill

photo: Tyler O’Neill (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 moves into the top five with the best power prospect in the Cardinals system. Still, Tyler O’Neill has yet to earn an extended shot in the majors and his 2019 picture remains unsettled, as well.

2018 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
5 OF 6 22 95 5-11 210 R R 2013 3rd (Sea)

Link to Tyler O’Neill’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Tyler O’Neill

Selected 2018 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
Mem 0.311 0.324 64 238 61 74 9 26 63 29 68 3 170 0.385 0.693 1.078
StL 0.254 0.364 61 130 29 33 5 9 23 7 57 2 114 0.303 0.500 0.803

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


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (3): Tyler O’Neill finished at #3 during the community vote after debuting at #4 last year, following his mid-season 2017 trade with Seattle for Marco Gonzales. Oddly, O’Neill received his many votes at #2 during the community vote, as voters debated whether he should count as a prospect at all, due to his major league service time. He ended up just shy of the rookie requirement finishing with exactly 130 at-bats.

During the vote, most of the early discussion centered on O’Neill’s chances of losing his rookie status. Cardinals27 hopes that O’Neill is not a Quad-A ballplayer. Jungmh323 has some concerns about O’Neill’s contact rates, but thinks his power could offset his problem. I posted that O’Neill crushes the ball and that I would support him getting playing time over Marcell Ozuna in left field with Ozuna having shoulder issues. Ratsbuddy disagreed with that, arguing that with O’Neill’s +40% K-rate, he shouldn’t even be on the team.

Robert Reed was disappointed in manager Mike Shildt burying O’Neill on the bench the last few weeks of September. Reed went further, saying that O’Neill doesn’t figure to be similar to former high strikeout, big power player Mark Reynolds, for instance, due to his above-average defense and baserunning. He mentioned another cool stat about O’Neill in that O’Neill has now played 162 games in the Cardinal organization and has hit 47 home runs in just 514 at-bats, believing O’Neill to have played at an all-star level across his entire time in the minors despite being young for his league at every stop. – Jeremy Byrd


Derek Shore (5): O’Neill has made a mockery of minor league pitchers since entering professional ball with his mammoth power.

He set full-season career-highs in all three slash line categories at Triple-A Memphis while cutting his strikeout rate to a career-low 24.9 percent, which led to his major-league debut in 2018.

In only 64 games at Memphis this past season, O’Neill crushed Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .311/.385/.693 line with a whopping 26 homers and 63 RBI.

“I worked a lot with my hitting coach and we really focused on keeping things simple (at Triple-A),” O’Neill said. “I cut down a few things in my load and preparation. I stayed up the middle and tried not to do too much. I didn’t try to hit home runs. Just tried to hit the ball hard somewhere and stay up the middle.

“That’s what I did well in Triple-A this year is trusting my hands and trusting my eyes.”

O’Neill made his big-league debut on April 19 and was hitting in the middle of the Cardinals order by the summer. He slugged nine homers in 61 games for St. Louis.

From a scouting perspective, evaluators said O’Neill began to mature in his approach by adjusting to the situation and pitcher within the at-bat, rather than swinging at one spot this past season.

As a result, he started striking out less, walking more and picking out better offerings to swing at, depositing hittable pitches a mile away with his tremendous bat speed and strength.

“He’s from another planet,” one opposing Triple-A manager said. “I’ve seen him hit balls normal beings can’t hit it to. That’s pretty special power. His balls go further than anybody else I’ve seen.”

While his power will ultimately play in the big-leagues, scouts are still concerned that O’Neill’s steep uphill swing path will get exposed against quality pitching, and he did strike out 57 times in 142 plate appearances.

O’Neill also showed himself to be a near plus-plus runner as well and improved drastically in right field.

He remains aggressive in his approach and prone to strikeouts, which likely inhibits him from hitting for average, but now he gets to his power enough to profile as an everyday regular.

Even though the Cardinals appear committed to Dexter Fowler as their everyday right fielder for now, O’Neill is waiting in the wings as he will likely vie for that starting job next year as well.

“We also have Tyler O’Neill and he is someone that if he is given 700 plate appearances – he could very easily post 40 home runs,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak recently told KMOX.


Tyler O’Neill (Memphis Redbirds)

Brian Walton (5): I was really torn on where to place O’Neill. This may sound odd, but I don’t recall ever being so unsure about such a successful minor leaguer who is so close to graduating from this list.

Due to the realities of the roster and his remaining open questions, I put O’Neill fifth, but I could make as articulate of an argument to place him first. While Lane Thomas led the Cardinals system with 27 home runs to O’Neill’s 26 this past season, the latter did it in less than half the plate appearances – 273 to 575. O’Neill’s isolated power was an other-worldly .382.

The only players in the organization with a higher OPS than O’Neill’s 1.078 at Memphis were two short-season stars in Malcom Nunez (in 44 games) and Jhon Torres (in 17 contests).

It seemed that O’Neill was definitely focused on hitting the ball out of the park, as he had just nine doubles and two triples. At Memphis, it worked, as he struck out at a 24.9 percent rate that was tolerable to go with a 10.7 percent walk rate.

In his worst month of 2018 with the Redbirds, O’Neill’s OPS was still .963, a mark that would have been fourth-best in the system for the entire season. In his most dominating period, in July, his OPS was an amazing 1.408, reflecting seven long balls and 13 driven in over 12 games.

To say he has nothing to prove at Triple-A seems unnecessary to state. Yet, that doesn’t mean he is yet proven at the next level.

As most know, O’Neill has been unable to translate that minor league dominance into MLB performance to date. His injury-wrecked spring training put him in Memphis to open 2018, aiding Harrison Bader’s ascension, but O’Neill soon earned a shot. When he launched home runs in three consecutive games in May for St. Louis, O’Neill teased us with his potential. But soon, he was struggling and found himself back in Triple-A.

If O’Neill cannot significantly improve his overall rate of 40.1 percent, he will have a very hard time in the majors. In today’s era of higher strikeouts, some scoff at my assertion. The problem is that O’Neill is beyond the highest extreme.

To put this into context, the two MLB regulars with the absolute highest strikeout percentage last season were Chris Davis at 36.8 percent and Joey Gallo at 35.9 percent. Davis has one of the worst contracts in the game right now and that is the only reason he is still playing every day. Gallo is very unique in that he can also maintain a high walk rate, a mark that was 2.6 times higher than O’Neill’s last season.

Other than Davis and Gallo, no one across MLB who reached qualifying levels of plate appearances struck out more often than one-third of the time – likely because they were benched before they could accrue that much playing time.

It is clear that the Cardinals are not yet ready to give O’Neill a starting job, and likely his inconsistency is a major reason why. As we saw late last season, even though both Opening Day center fielder Tommy Pham and right fielder Dexter Fowler were out of the picture, new manager Mike Shildt had Jose Martinez playing the majority of the time in right, not O’Neill.

Now, we see the odds of Martinez remaining with the Cardinals for 2019 increasing and Fowler having received assurance he will be given the chance to start in right. Harrison Bader is young, healthy and hungry in center and Marcell Ozuna is reportedly healed and ready to go in left. In fact, the bench competition is so tight, there is no guarantee that O’Neill will even be with St. Louis on Opening Day.

Considering everything, it is difficult to project how O’Neill is going to get his extended chance to show improvement in 2019, without injury, poor performance or further roster movement. If worse comes to worst, O’Neill does have minor league option years remaining, but again, he has nothing to prove down in Memphis. Yet it may be necessary at some point for him to secure every day at-bats rather than rust on the Cardinals bench.

Once new St. Louis hitting coach Jeff Albert gets a chance to work with his new charges, O’Neill will be the first player I will ask him about. Albert would earn his keep with this one player alone if he can help him make the final step.

Link to O’Neill’s career stats


Our 2019 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects – 2019

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

The Cardinal Nation Prospect Interview – Mateo Gil


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© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #10 – Malcom Nuñez

photo: Malcolm Nunez (Jesse Sanchez/MLB/Twitter)

FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 continues into the top 10 with a July 2nd signing who immediately followed with a historically dominating 44-game professional introduction.

2018 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA 3B 3 09 01 5-11 205 R R 2018 IFA

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

Selected 2018 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
DSLB 0.415 0.437 44 164 44 68 16 13 59 26 29 3 238 0.497 0.774 1.272

TCN Scouting Grade: 7, Risk: high (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (8): Malcom Nuñez rocketed up the prospect vote this year all the way to #8 in the community vote. PugsleyAddams believes Nuñez to be the Cardinals’ best prospect of all, picking him at #1, however, Nuñez received a more substantial support beginning at #7.

PugsleyAddams justified his early vote believing that the Cardinals have an absolute freak of nature on their hands with Nuñez. Cardinals27 said that Nuñez makes hard contact, hits for a high average, and plays good defense. Stlcard25 said that usually the big bats in the Dominican League are older, like Brian Sanchez a few years ago, whereas Nuñez is just 17 years old, i.e. league appropriate.

Robert Reed said that Nuñez was initially contacted by the Cardinals back when he was just 14 years old and a rapport was established, which explains the relative pittance for which he signed ($300k). Reed also posted that his favorite Nuñez fact – Malcom hit more home runs in his 164 at-bats than the combined total of the two Royals Dominican Summer League teams, leading to a 238 wRC+ on the year. Grenadier1 remarked that he loves the high leg kick that Nuñez swings with as he seems to barrel up everything he swings at. – Jeremy Byrd


Malcom Nunez (Jesse Sanchez/MLB/Twitter)

Derek Shore (10): The Cardinals may very well have their next phenom hitting prospect.

Superlatives aside, Nuñez, who signed with the Cardinals for a $300,000 bonus in July, made the most of his month and a half in his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League.

The 17-year old hit five home runs in a six-game span in the DSL and helped drive his team to the Cardinals’ first ever berth in that league’s playoffs. Along the way, he hit .415/.497/.774 and won the DSL Triple Crown with 13 home runs and 59 RBI.

“He has advanced hitting ability,” Cardinals director of international operations Luis Morales said. “He is not just a one-dimensional player who has the raw power. He has strength. He’ll hit for power. But he always understands the strike zone, especially for a hitter that young to have that recognition. He looks like a professional hitter up there.

“That is something that definitely interested us a lot. His advanced hitting ability was something that was very impressive for us.”

As the Cardinals have pushed to have a greater presence in Cuba recently, they have deployed scouts at tournaments wherever Cuba’s national team has played. That includes potential future signings of teenagers.

The Cardinals had ample reports on Nuñez, who they viewed as one of the best available bats in the 2018 July 2 international signing period. Area scout Alix Martinez and supervisor Angel Ovalles oversaw the evaluation and recruitment of Nuñez.

At those tournaments, the Cardinals liked Nuñez’ strong track of performance, as he stood out for his advanced physicality from a young age.

“He looked like a man among boys,” one scout said.

The Cardinals felt that track record of success could immediately translate into professional ball and it did.

“He is a gamer,” Morales said. “He has played in very important tournaments. He represented Cuba. He was definitely very advanced for his age and that level of competition. That was something you were able to see when he played in the DSL.

“He played for his home country and we know that in Cuba that is something that is extremely important. He was able to translate that to professional baseball.”

The right-hander hitter produces a mature tool set with his power, arm strength and below-average speed. Nuñez has plus raw power and puts up high exit velocity numbers when he gets his arms extended.

Though, there is some length to his swing where his hands shoot away from his body, leaving him vulnerable inside at times. But Nuñez has mostly shown a sound idea of the strike zone as well.

Defensively, the Cardinals see Nuñez as a third baseman – at least initially – with an average arm.

“We are going to give him all the opportunities to develop at third base,” Morales said. “We feel he makes all the plays. You can definitely project him to stay at third base, but time will tell where he will move defensively.”

Nuñez has also already worked out at the Cardinals facility in Jupiter, Fla, which introduces him to more of the organizations’ coaches.

Asked if he can potentially be a fast mover, Morales cautioned he is only 17, but he said the Cardinals group of third basemen – with Elehuris Montero, Evan Mendoza and Nolan Gorman – will help to not rush him through the system.

“Those are decisions that he is going to let us know,” Morales said. “When we get to spring training, it will be our farm director and coaches when they see him to make that decision. But once again, we have a good group.

“It is going to be a great problem for them to have deciding who is going to go where and when is going to be a good time to move them.”

Nuñez certainly raised eyebrows in his first pro season with the Cardinals.

“You always want to see that impact,” Morales said. “I don’t think any of us anticipated him winning the Triple Crown.”


Brian Walton (16): Ok, here comes Debbie Downer again. Had Carson Kelly not been traded a few weeks ago, my score would have kept Nuñez out of the overall top 10, not that I planned any of it.

My ranking is based on one thing and one thing alone – the total extent of Nuñez’ professional experience consists of 199 plate appearances as the lowest-level of competition of organized baseball. The Dominican Summer League is a level at which pitchers are not typically able to control their breaking pitches with consistency.

Having said that, there was a lot to like about Nuñez’ introduction. An awful lot.

The 17-year old needed absolutely no time to adapt. After signing on July 2nd, Nuñez finished the month with 25 RBI, tying fellow Cuban Adolis Garcia for tops in the entire Cardinals system and leading the way with his .401 batting average and 1.201 OPS. Then, in August, his first full month, he topped his July numbers at .420 and 1.345, respectively. As a result, Nuñez was named both TCN’s and the Cardinals organization’s August Player of the Month.

Nuñez had at least one hit in 40 of his 44 games and was kept off base for an entire game just twice all season long. His 2018 record included a 22-game hitting streak. Nuñez collected multiple hits in 21 contests and drove in multiple runs 17 times, with his highlight a two home run, eight RBI performance on August 7.

Nuñez ended the season not only tops in the DSL in the Triple Crown categories of home runs, RBI and batting average, the right-handed hitter was also first in total bases. Further, he led the way in on-base percentage, slugging and of course OPS, as well as wRC+.

Nuñez showed off his plate discipline by striking out at a 14.6 percent rate, the lowest on the Cardinals Blue. He walked in 13.1 percent of his plate appearances – a superior combination. He was TCN’s Player of the Year for the DSL and our top first-year player in the entire Cardinals system.

But let’s look beyond his DSL domination to try to put his introduction into broader context.

Nuñez led all of affiliated baseball in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, wRC+, and ranked second in on-base percentage, just 14 points behind the leader. To be specific, “affiliated baseball” here includes all of the minor leagues plus Major League Baseball.

His 238 wRC+ is 138 percent better than the DSL average and 38 percent better than the next highest wRC+ in affiliated ball in 2018, posted by another DSL player.

According to research by TCN’s Scott Schook, only two players have ever put up a season with a better wRC+ at any level – Babe Ruth in 1920 (239 wRC+) and Barry Bonds in 2002 (244 wRC+). Of course, both did it on the game’s biggest stage, a long, long way from the fields of the Dominican Republic.

I gave Nuñez a scouting grade of “7 high”. No Cardinals prospect this year will have a higher assessment than “7”, which is MLB all-star potential. “High” indicates there is far more projection than results behind it, though.

A jump from the DSL straight to the Midwest League for an 18-year old’s first full-season as a professional would be an extremely aggressive move. Demonstrating readiness for that involves more than just baseball skills – things we cannot assess.

But I don’t think it will come into play, as I expect that 2018 first-rounder Nolan Gorman will return to Peoria to open the season, with the 10 months-younger Nuñez in extended spring training. Even so, if Gorman earns a promotion to Palm Beach by June, Nuñez could replace him.

Still, no matter where he starts, I cannot think of a player I am more interested in seeing play in person than Nuñez.

Link to Nuñez’ career stats


Our 2019 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects – 2019

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

The Cardinal Nation Prospect Interview – Mateo Gil


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.

Special offer

Gift Memberships to The Cardinal Nation at 20 Percent Off!

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Christmas Day Marathon on FOX Sports Midwest

FOX Sports Midwest release

FOX Sports Midwest will replay five of the most memorable Cardinals games of 2018 in its eighth annual Cardinals Christmas Marathon on Tuesday, Dec. 25.

The games will also be streamed on the FOX Sports app and at FOXSportsGO.com.

The Cardinals Christmas Marathon is presented by the Mid-America Chevy Dealers.

This year’s games…

Cardinals Christmas Marathon – Tuesday, Dec. 25 on FOX Sports Midwest
Times Central | Programming available in the Cardinals television footprint

12:30 p.m. Cardinals Confidential: Inside the Winter Meetings

1 p.m.        May 20 vs. Philadelphia
Jack Flaherty strikes out 13 Phillies and Jordan Hicks touches 105.

3 p.m.        Aug. 2 vs. Colorado
Miles Mikolas throws seven innings of one-run ball and Jose Martinez singles in the winner in the ninth.

5 p.m.        Aug. 13 vs. Washington
Paul DeJong hits walk-off homer in the ninth to cap back-and-forth thriller.

7 p.m.        June 3 vs. Pittsburgh
Michael Wacha takes no-hitter into the ninth.

9 p.m.        July 20 at Chicago Cubs
Matt Carpenter hits three home runs and two doubles at Wrigley to tie the major league record for extra-base hits in a game.

Note: Each game is edited to a two-hour window.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #8 – Dylan Carlson

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

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Gift Memberships to The Cardinal Nation at 20 Percent Off!

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Winter Meetings Special Debuts Wednesday

image: John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch (FOX Sports Midwest)

FOX Sports Midwest release

FOX Sports Midwest takes Cardinals fans behind the scenes of the Baseball Winter Meetings in Cardinals Confidential: Inside the Winter Meetings. This 30-minute special premieres Wednesday, Dec. 19. Jim Hayes hosts the show, the network’s seventh from the Winter Meetings.

The show includes a look at the Cardinals’ pursuit of bullpen help, discussion of whether to pursue free agent Bryce Harper, an interview with manager Mike Shildt and the opinion of national media on the team’s trade for Paul Goldschmidt.

Cardinals Confidential: Inside the Winter Meetings on FOX Sports Midwest (times Central)

  • Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 6:30 and 9 p.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m.
  • Friday, Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Dec. 23 at 10:30 a.m.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 25 at 12:30 p.m.

TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #15 – Luken Baker

photo: Luken Baker (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 continues into the top 15 with an early 2018 draftee who may be St. Louis’ best first base prospect since Matt Adams.

2018 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA 1B 3 10 97 6-4 265 R R 2018 2C

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

Selected 2018 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
GCL 0.500 0.550 8 24 10 12 2 1 7 3 4 0 240 0.536 0.708 1.244
Peo 0.288 0.349 37 139 16 40 9 3 15 16 31 0 123 0.359 0.417 0.776
Total 0.319 45 163 26 52 11 4 22 19 35 0 0.386 0.460 0.846

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


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (17): Luken Baker was St. Louis’ second round draft pick, awarded to them as compensation for Lance Lynn. Baker was rated slightly lower during the community vote than the other votes cast here, ultimately landing at #17. 14NyquisT was the first to put Baker on the ballot, picking him at #8.

SoonerinNC compared Baker to former Cardinals’ first base prospect, Luke Voit, saying that Baker could be the better hitter, but he will have to watch his weight. 14NyquisT said that Baker has a high ceiling of potential as a prospect and could make his way to Double-A Springfield in 2019. Bw52 liked that Baker hit over .300 coming off serious injury in which he fractured his left fibula and tore a ligament in his ankle sliding during an April game with his former collegiate team, TCU. Wiley stated that the last behemoth of a player the Cardinals had like Baker was Matt Adams, but Baker can hit for a better average. Stlcard25 believes that Baker has 30+ home run potential. – Jeremy Byrd


Luken Baker (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Derek Shore (17): The Cardinals selected Baker with their remaining second round pick on Day 1 of their thunderous 2018 draft class that also included precocious high school power-hitting phenom Nolan Gorman.

A two-way star in high school, Baker lived up to expectations at TCU, when healthy. However, his career has been marred by a number of freak injuries.

Baker’s sophomore season ended early when he injured his arm and elbow in a collision at first base and he needed surgery to repair his elbow. As a junior, he missed a couple of games after he took a bad hop off his eye, then had his season end prematurely when he broke his left fibula sliding into second base.

Baker began his TCU career as a two-way player, but he gave up pitching as a sophomore for good reason.

The 6-foot-4 first baseman, who hit .347 in 145 career games for the Horned Frogs, slugged 28 home runs and drove in 129 runs in his three years with the program. A prolific home run hitter, Baker hit a home run every 12.6 at-bats his junior year and once every 18 at-bats throughout his college career.

Baker officially signed with the Cardinals on June 13, inking a $800,000 signing bonus.

“Baker is an impressive player, and we didn’t think we would have the chance to draft a high-caliber player like him at that spot,” Cardinals scouting director Randy Flores said. “He’s proven himself at a high level and we admire his resiliency.”

Once he was deemed healthy and ready to play, Baker started his pro career with the GCL Cardinals, where he hit .500 (12-for-24) in eight games. He was then promoted to Low-A Peoria on July 21 and was a key component in the Chiefs’ playoff push, batting .288/.359/.417 with 12 extra-base hits and 15 RBI in 37 games down the stretch.

His performance caught the eye of his new skipper.

“I saw a guy that had outstanding attributes,” Peoria manager Chris Swauger said. “How hard he hits the ball. He is a guy with a very advanced approach coming out of a major college program. I think we saw an improvement in his athleticism around the bases and at first coming off that injury he suffered in college.

“He was productive and he helped us out a lot. More importantly for his own development, we were able to identify some things that he can work on and become a true asset for our organization.”

From a scouting perspective, Baker has a long track record of performing when healthy. He walked more than he struck out at TCU and tapped into much of his top-of-the-scale power potential.

Some scouts feel his best position is as a designated hitter in the American League, but he has shown he has the physical abilities needed to profile at first base.

“I was actually impressed with his athleticism, his general agility,” Swauger said. “Most guys that are that size are kind of lumbering.”

Baker should open next year at either High-A Palm Beach or Double-A Springfield.


Brian Walton (15): Baker is a very large man and may offer the Cardinals their best home-grown power threat at first base since Matt Adams, who was drafted almost a decade ago. My most-optimistic vote of no. 15 among our voters reflects this.

However, while Adams was a long-shot 23rd-rounder, Baker was taken 75th overall. That pick was St. Louis’ compensation for the loss of free agent Lance Lynn, a decision that backfired on the right-hander when he could not find a multi-year contract, but one that looks to have come out just fine for St. Louis. The Cardinals had forfeited their regular second-rounder, 59th overall, when signing free agent closer Greg Holland.

Luken Baker (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

While Baker’s injury history at Texas Christian is of concern, it is a two-edged sword. Had his slate been clean, he would have been off the board much sooner than no. 75 and likely with another organization instead.

Baker knew his background affected his perceived value, but still decided to sign rather than return to school for his senior year.

“There were some teams that had lost a little bit of interest after I broke my leg, especially early on the draft,” Baker said. “So I am really thankful that the Cardinals weren’t one of those teams and I am happy to be here.”

Despite having leverage in the negotiations as a junior, it was not a difficult negotiation. Baker was among the Cardinals’ first wave of signings, receiving $400 over slot, making his bonus an even $800,000.

“They said, ‘Hey, do you want to be a Cardinal?’, Baker recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, sign me up. That was it.’”

Though clearly a power threat, Baker is different in that he walked as often as he struck out in college. In his initial professional season, the split was not quite as good, with 19 free passes against 35 strikeouts.

I asked Baker if pitchers were pitching around him or it is an indicator of a superior batting eye.

“It was a little bit of both,” he replied. “Every once in a while, I would not get much to hit. A lot of the time, pitchers try to make pitchers’ pitches and try to get you to chase pitches just off the plate. I’ve always done a pretty good job of not chasing after those and getting into favorable counts.”

Baker’s general approach as a hitter is not complicated.

“The goal for me as a hitter is to hit the ball hard and hit it where they’re not,” he said.

In the past, the Cardinals’ philosophy about first base seemed to be to not draft players there, and fill the position with hitters who could not make it defensively at their prior position. A prime candidate from which to source them is third base, though some outfielders have moved in, as well.

Just to illustrate how rare it is for the Cardinals to take a first baseman this early, the last time it occurred was in 2004, when St. Louis drafted Mike Ferris of Miami of Ohio in the second round, 60th overall. Ferris eventually topped out at Triple-A, never reaching the majors.

Of course, expectations are greater for Baker. Without being blatant about it, he understands the end goal is St. Louis.

“I feel like the ability I have will help me move up in this organization and ultimately help it out,” Baker said.

His scouting grade of “6 medium” indicates a ceiling as an above-average MLB starter with moderate work required to get there

Given there is no real competition ahead of Baker at first, a jump to Springfield seems quite possible. Examples of recent early-drafted players to do that include Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong. Even if Baker starts at Palm Beach, I would not expect him to be in the Florida State League too long.

Link to Baker’s career stats


Our 2019 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects – 2019

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

The Cardinal Nation Managerial Interview – Peoria’s Chris Swauger, Part 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.

Take advantage of our special 20 percent off holiday offer running currently.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #20 – Jhon Torres

photo: Jhon Torres (Joseph Freiday Sr.)

Editor’s note

Some of you may have noticed our prospect articles were missing the past two days. This was in response to the trades of Carson Kelly and Andy Young. We made the decision to move other prospects up to fill their gaps, leaving nos. 21 and 22 open. This is a small inconvenience, and we wouldn’t think of delaying the annual November start of our top 50 as a result.


FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 continues into the top 20 with an 18-year old outfielder acquired from Cleveland who made an eye-opening Cardinals debut in the Gulf Coast League.

2018 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA OF 3 29 00 6-4 199 R R 2016 IFA (Cle)

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

Selected 2018 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
AZI 0.273 0.324 27 99 16 27 3 4 16 11 24 3 122 0.351 0.424 0.776
GCL 0.397 0.457 17 63 11 25 6 4 14 8 13 1 255 0.493 0.683 1.176
Total 0.321 44 162 27 52 9 8 30 19 37 4 0.409 0.525 0.933

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


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (27): Jhon Torres was one of the players the Cardinals received in exchange for Oscar Mercado. Torres checked in at #27 during the community vote. This was a little bit lower than the #21 The Cardinal Nation as a whole has him here. In the community balloting, RememberDiz supported Torres first, all the way up to #9 on his list.

Grenadier1 started the Torres discussion saying that Torres has the room to grow into a physical specimen and has as much potential as fellow Cardinal prospects Malcolm Nunez and Nolan Gorman. Robert Reed agreed, saying that the Cardinals appear to have unlocked additional power in Torres’ swing after acquiring him from the Indians. Reed also mentioned that Baseball Prospectus believes Torres defense was outstanding in 2018.

14NyquisT stated that the 6’4” outfielder is just 18 years old and tore up Gulf Coast League pitching to the tune of a .397 batting average. Reed echoed, noting Torres’ gaudy 163 wRC+ across two domestic rookie ball leagues. Stlcard25 said that Torres was a steal in the Mercado deal. He thinks the Cardinals may place him at full-season Class-A Peoria next year. – Jeremy Byrd


Jhon Torres (Joseph Freiday Sr. photo)

Derek Shore (14): As the Cardinals deployed scouts dedicated to the lowest levels of the minor leagues in 2018, they located and the front office acquired one of the more dynamite physical specimens on the backfields of the Arizona desert this past summer.

The Indians dealt Torres and outfielder Conner Capel to the Cardinals in return for Oscar Mercado at the July 31st deadline. Torres received rave reviews from scouts who saw him in the Rookie-level Arizona League, with that praise only getting louder after he arrived in the Gulf Coast League.

Torres, who hit .273/.351/.424 over 27 games for the AZL Indians 2, slashed an impressive .397/.493/.683 through 17 games for the GCL Cards in 2018. Overall, the 18-year-old slugged eight homers and drove in 30 runs between both teams.

“Jhon has a presence about him amongst the other players,” AZL Indians 2 manager Jerry Owens said. “You can kind of feel there is something special there as far as his overall game. He can play the outfield – play all three positions. He has an arm that plays at all three.

“His offensive tool-set is special. He has got some unbelievable power at the plate. He is also a good hitter, too. I feel like that is lost nowadays with all of the home runs being hit. He gives you a good at-bat and he is a good hitter as much as the raw power he has.”

The most impressive aspect about his game is the fact he is already tapping into his raw power at such a young age while controlling the strike zone relatively well.

In fact, Torres posted a combined 37-to-19 strikeout to walk ratio over 162 at-bats this past season.

“That is the most impressive thing for me that he is so young and he conducts himself like a professional,” Owens said. “Jhon embodies that when he plays.”

From a scouting perspective, Torres has the quintessential size (6-foot-4, 199 pounds) and strength of a power-hitting corner outfielder. And he still has growth potential from both a physical and mechanical standpoint.

Torres projects to have above-average power and a plus arm while his bat speed and strength allow him to have all-fields power.

Owens said Torres using the whole field as he advances and faces more advanced pitching in the higher levels will serve him well and unlock his ceiling.

“For Jhon to improve and progress, I told him this and I tongue-in-cheek asked him if he wanted to play in the big leagues,” Owens said. “Of course, he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘You need to use the whole field when you hit.’ He has power to all fields and it is common in young hitters to get pull-happy. I think he can grasp the idea of using the whole field and taking what the pitchers give him.

“Once he figures that out, he is capable, because I have seen him do it. I know he is capable of doing it.”

Scouts said his biggest in-season improvement in 2018 was that he controlled the zone and started making better contact, although he did have a tendency to struggle to pick up breaking balls from right-handed pitchers.

“He is so young and this was his first year playing in the States,” Owens said. “That comes with experience. You can count on one hand how many 18 and 19 year-old kids can do that right now. As he gets more experience, he definitely has it in him. I really am impressed by his approach at the plate as far as being a hitter not just a power guy, but being a hitter.”

With fringy speed, Torres is light on his feet and reads the ball well off the bat in right field, making all the routine plays.

Owens sees him sticking in right field down the road despite some questions about his limited range, especially as he fills out.

At maturity, Torres could be a 6-foot-5, 230 pound power-hitting force in the middle of the lineup, according to scouts.

That said, he is quite a ways off still, but it is hard to ignore how loud the reports were on him out of the complex leagues this past summer.

“He is kind of like a major-leaguer in an 18-year old body right now with everything that entails,” Owens said. “I think he is going to get to the major leagues as long as he continues to stay consistent and stay healthy. If he can make the adjustments as he moves up the levels and the pitching he is going to be seeing, his power plays and the arm plays. His defense plays.

“I think he is a guy that can hit .280. It is not a .230 boom-or-bust kind of a guy. He is a guy that is going to hit a lot of doubles. He is a special talent.”

Don’t be surprised to see Torres get his first crack at full-season ball in 2019.


Brian Walton (23): As I analyze and internalize what I have seen, heard and read about Torres, I have questions.

First and foremost, why did the Indians let the Colombian native go? And why at the bargain price he fetched? Finally, is his Cardinals debut a true indicator of how good he can become?

Capel is the more known of the two prospects to come over from Cleveland, because he has been around longer and has greater visibility, already having reached high-A. However, from almost the moment the trade was announced, one scout told me that Torres is “the get” in this trade.

Though the Cardinals appear to have made out well in the swap, I do not want to denigrate Mercado in any way. He was, in my opinion, the best hope of any player in the Cardinals system to eventually become a traditional leadoff man. Having already reached Triple-A and with a 40-man roster spot in hand, his St. Louis debut seemed close at hand, despite a lot of competition in the outfield.

Mercado had greatly improved his entire game, including significant increases in his on-base percentage and stolen base success rate. Yet, when the deal is reviewed, the Cardinals gave up their best base stealer for a slugger with tremendous potential who is five years younger, plus Capel, who is our no. 31 prospect for 2019.

At this very early stage, I gave Torres a scouting grade of “6 high” – the first 6 in this year’s countdown. That indicates his projected ceiling is as an above-average MLB starter, with reaching that still having high risk – due to his limited experience and current distance from St. Louis. That could change quickly, though.

As already noted in both capsules above, there is anticipation that next spring, Torres will become the next in a line of teen outfield sensations to make the jump from the Gulf Coast League to Class-A Peoria to open the regular season. If Torres continues his progress through spring training, it seems attainable. And if he can deal with the cold weather and stick in the Midwest League (like Dylan Carlson, but not Magneuris Sierra), then the sky could be the limit.

But still, remember that Torres’ GCL breakout occurred over a very short period – just 17 games – roughly two and a half weeks. His BABIP during that period was a very high .457, but then again, he batted .397. It was impressive enough that Torres was named the rookie-level league’s August Player of the Month as he helped the Cards win their division.

Yet, because of that short period, I was not quite ready to place Torres in my system-wide top 20, ahead of players who have performed well longer at much higher levels. Though that could change quickly once the 2019 season gets underway – if he is in full-season ball.

How he reacts to a 140-game Midwest League grind – if that is what is just ahead – will tell us a lot about how fast Torres can advance toward St. Louis.

Link to Torres’ career stats


Our 2019 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects – 2019

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Potential Cardinals Farm System Trade Fodder


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TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #25 – Johan Oviedo

photo: Johan Oviedo (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 continues with a big right-handed pitcher who still has rough edges but remains a promising talent at 20 years of age.

2018 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
24 RHS 3 02 98 6-6 210 R R 2016 IFA

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

Selected 2018 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG WHIP G/AO BABIP
PEO 10 10 4.22 4.21 25 23 1 121.2 108 57 6 79 118 0.238 1.54 0.66 0.304

TCN Scouting Grade: 5.5, Risk: high (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (34): During the community vote, Johan Oviedo finished as the 34th highest rated player, much lower than the cumulative Cardinal Nation vote. Oviedo got a lot of support early in the vote from VegasJim at pick #20.

Dennis Johnson liked that Oviedo is a big, strong right-handed pitcher, definitely one to keep an eye on. Stlcard25 mentioned that Oviedo has been pitching at a higher velocity this year, which is promising given he is still just 20 years old. CariocaCardinal posted that Oviedo’s issue with allowing walks are beyond being just an issue. The issue is a showstopper. Vegasjim commented that Oviedo seemed to hit a nice groove for a large part of the second half, going 9-5 with a 3.10 ERA with 79 K’s in 81 innings pitched.

Last year, bccran was curious how the Cardinals would allow Oviedo to progress given all the high-upside pitching in front of him. Flash forward a year and many posters, like Grenadier1, see the donut hole in the system now and are looking forward to seeing Oviedo pitch in the High-A Florida State League and progress to Springfield by the end of the summer. – Jeremy Byrd


Johan Oviedo (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Derek Shore (24): Oviedo’s first year in full-season ball, at Low-A Peoria in 2018, proved to be a tale of two halves.

After posting a 5.82 ERA in a rough first half, Oviedo quickly settled down to become one of Peoria’s more durable starters down the stretch. He finished the season 8-4 with a 3.06 ERA over his last 13 starts.

The Cuban righty struck out 68 batters through 70 ⅔ innings in that span, holding opposing hitters to a .212 average.

“There was a really good amount of progress made by Johan as far as just overall maturity and being in his first full season,” Peoria manager Chris Swauger said. “It is always what you like to see – guys getting stronger as the season goes along.”

Like many 20-year-old pitchers, Oviedo is not all that consistent yet, but he did make steady improvement. He cut his ERA by nearly three runs from the first half to the second half while also improving his walk rate and holding hitters in check for the most part.

“He corrected some things,” Swauger said. “He moved a little bit better and worked on the delivery of his throws. He was throwing more consistent strikes. That was the biggest thing with him. He was able to fill up the strike zone and start controlling all four of his pitches.

“He has got premium stuff. Now that he has been able to control it a little bit more, the results clearly spoke for themselves. A lot of that is maturation and hard work in the right direction by Johan.”

From a scouting perspective, a late-season uptick in stuff was the silver-lining for Oviedo in an up-and-down first full season. His velocity has been all over the place in his pro career, being anywhere from 87 to 97 mph since he signed.

Early in 2018, Oviedo was at 90-94 with below-average secondary stuff. As the season went on, though, he touched 96 and flashed a plus changeup and curveball.

At a workhorse-like 6-foot-6, it seems reasonable to think Oviedo’s command will come later the more he grows into his body and is able to control his limbs.

He has the ceiling of a mid-rotation hurler if the quality of his stuff stays consistent and he refines his control. There is a range of potential outcomes for Oviedo from a possible starter to candidate to be released.

All in all, there is no denying the potential with Oviedo, who once was proclaimed as having frontline starter potential when he first signed with the organization two years ago.

Expect to see him start next year at High-A Palm Beach with an outside shot at Double-A Springfield.


Johan Oviedo (Peoria Chiefs)

Brian Walton (21): If this was a ranking of results in 2018, Oviedo would not be at no. 21 on my list. But these rankings are about potential and he has a lot of it. In my opinion, Oviedo has as much upside as any pitcher in the system who pitched at Springfield or below in 2018.

In his scouting grade, I had Oviedo pegged last year at “6 high,” which is an upper-to-mid rotation starter. This year, he is down a half-step to “5.5 high,” where “5” is a back-end guy. That is still pretty darned good, but the “high” indicates the rough edges that remain.

Let’s step back for a moment. Oviedo left Cuba in his teen years before his path brought him to sign with the Cardinals on July 2, 2016 for a $1.9 million bonus. I do not have details on what he was doing in his formative years, but he settled in Haiti, not exactly a baseball hotbed. Oviedo is likely less developed as a pitcher than the average 20-year old from the US who spent years on travel teams and in showcases.

Physically, Oviedo is the most impressive physical specimen of any pitcher in the system, in my opinion. He is tall and while large, is well-built. Could he do more in the weight room? Good question, but I do not know his level of commitment today. I can say that he was listed at 220 pounds when signed but now is 260, on a 6-foot-6 frame.

With fewer than 100 career innings as a professional, Oviedo was placed by the Cardinals into cold-weather Peoria to start the 2018 season in April. He was a year and a half younger than the average pitcher in the league and the second-youngest pitcher on the Chiefs (after no. 37-ranked Alvaro Seijas).

Results were not great to start, but as noted above, he showed enough to remain, going on to make a team-high 23 starts for the Chiefs.

Here is a summary of his first- and second-half splits.

Oviedo Avg IP ERA K/9 BB/9 WHIP BAA
1H 2018 4 1/3 5.82 8.8 6.9 1.80 0.272
2H 2018 5 1/3+ 3.06 8.7 5.1 1.38 0.212

Oviedo pitched on the average more than an inning deeper into his second-half outings. He held his strikeout rate and lowered his walks considerably, which the latter still his primary problem. His batting average against dropped 60 points to a very strong .212. In doing so, he allowed almost one fewer baserunner on the paths every two innings. Given all that, basically cutting his ERA in half from the first half was a reasonable, deserved and strong result.

So, as the season progressed, Oviedo demonstrated considerable improvement. Isn’t that the idea? Challenge a young player and watch him work his way up to the level of his league, and beyond.

Still, I think Springfield would be too aggressive for Oviedo out of the gates in 2019. Perhaps he can hone his control and solidify his fastball velocity while initially working in the larger ballparks of the Florida State League and go from there.

Link to Oviedo’s career stats


Our 2019 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects – 2019

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #26 – Evan Mendoza


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.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.