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

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

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


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

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

Junior Fernandez


Selected 2019 stats

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

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


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

But in 2019, it all clicked.

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

And he did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Junior Fernandez (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Fernandez’ career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

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

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

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

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019-2020 Cardinals Winter Ball Pitchers Report – December 19


Not yet a member?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Justin Williams


Selected 2019 stats

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

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


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Williams’ career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

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

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

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

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Cardinals Add Three, Lose Two in 2019 Rule 5 Draft


Not yet a member?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Kodi Whitley


Selected 2019 stats

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

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


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Kodi Whitley (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Whitley’s career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

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

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

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

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019-2020 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – November 27


Not yet a member?

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

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

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

photo: Mateo Gil (Johnson City Cardinals)

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


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

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

Mateo Gil


Selected 2019 stats

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

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


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re great coaches,” he added.

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

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


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

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

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

Mateo Gil (Joe Freiday Sr.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Gil’s career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

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

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

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

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019-2020 Cardinals Winter Ball Hitters Report – November 27


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

TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #30 – Justin Toerner

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

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2020 continues with the organization’s 28th-round outfielder from 2018 who spent most of his first full season as a professional at Double-A. FREE article.


2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
NR OF 8 11 96 5-11 180 L L 2018 28TH 2021 2021

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

Justin Toerner


Selected 2019 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
PB 0.290 0.369 54 193 39 56 5 4 29 33 50 4 142 0.403 0.389 0.792
Spr 0.211 0.269 49 166 30 35 5 7 18 28 55 10 103 0.338 0.367 0.706
Total 0.253 103 359 69 91 10 11 47 61 105 14 0.374 0.379 0.752

TCN Scouting Grade: 3.5, Risk: medium (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (32): We now have reached the top 30 and the third rung on our way down to number one. Although Toerner was at #32 on our community list, he still remains close enough to top 30 status.

CJeske was impressed with Justin, selecting him at #14 during the polling. He said, “An unexpected fast-riser. He’s been almost exactly the average age for his level until Double-A this year, where he was a little younger. His prior performance across two seasons was outstanding (509 PA: 140 wRC+, 151 DRC+). In Double-A, his performance was about average (199 PA: 103 wRC+, 109 DRC+). stlcard25 wrote this, “His left handed profile gives him at least a puncher’s chance of making it to the big leagues someday.”

Later, CJeske added, “I like that his walk rate remained consistently excellent at 14% across both levels this year, but don’t like that his strikeout rate increased from 21% to 27%. Though it could largely be attributed to the hitting environment in Palm Beach vs. Springfield, it was nice to see his ISO improve from .098 to .157 with the move to Double-A. I would be remiss not to mention that he was one of the hottest hitters in the minors through the first month of the season (96 PA: 1.081 OPS).”

Toerner should get another try at Springfield and with some solid play, he could get into that outfield mix already ahead of him. – John Baker


Derek Shore (31): Toerner put himself on the prospect radar with his performance in his first full season of professional baseball.

After signing with the Cardinals in 2018, he joined short-season Class-A State College, where the then 22-year old was solid but unspectacular. His slash line was .292/.390/.351 and he stole more bases (11) than runners driven in (10 in 171 at-bats).

Perhaps more telling about how the organization feels about Toerner was how he was handled, given brief experience at both Peoria and Palm Beach – unusual in any player’s first partial season.

“I felt (my draft year went) pretty well,” Toerner said. “There was obviously a big adjustment from college. Playing in the Big West Conference as I did, it is a pretty good pitching conference. I felt the pitching lined up pretty well with that.”

His experience at those three levels likely gave him a leg up as he earned his way onto Palm Beach’s roster to open 2019.

And what an opening it was.

Among Toerner’s April accomplishments were a .394 batting average and a .591 on-base percentage that led all of Minor League Baseball.

“Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking,” Toerner said. “That is really what was going on. I was going up there seeing the ball and hitting the ball. That helped a lot.”

Florida State League pitching started to adjust to Toerner in May. The opposition began to pitch around him and mixed in more off-speed stuff. Toerner hit just .224 over 26 games in May as he struck out 31 times.

“I became a little impatient, whereas in the beginning I was waiting for my pitch,” Toerner said.

By June, he adjusted back and showed more restraint in his at-bats, which warranted a promotion to Double-A Springfield on June 14.

With the S-Cards, the 23-year-old went through his share of peaks and valleys. Over 49 games, he hit .211 with seven homers and 18 RBIs through 49 games.

“At the beginning, he probably did a little more than what he needed to be doing,” Springfield skipper Joe Kruzel said in August. “He is really starting to swing the bat better. He has always been a good outfielder. Good base runner. He has always had some savvy for the game. He has been able to relax a little bit and put his spikes in the ground at the new level.

“You have to remember this kid was just drafted last year. He is already in Double-A and sometimes guys go through stretches where things don’t go the way they anticipate. He is working at it. He has spent a lot of time with “BA” (hitting coach Brandon Allen) and working on his swing. He is swinging the bat much better now.”

Allen liked what he saw from Toerner since the latter joined Springfield in June.

“He is a scrappy guy,” Allen said. “He has an idea of what he wants to do at the plate. He is unorthodox, but he gets into a position to hit and he has an electric bat. He is a good defender. I think he is a good overall player.”

Toerner ended the season on the injured list with a lower body injury after hurting himself making a catch at the wall to rob a possible home run on Aug. 14.

Scouts project Toerner as a tweener in the outfield, although he shows good athleticism and makes the routine plays plus some. Evaluators say he plays the game hard and is a true “grinder type”.

Toerner should return to Springfield to open 2020.


Brian Walton (29): It does not occur often, but our three voters are of like mind about where Toerner fits in the system – around the no. 30 area.

That puts him ahead of fellow outfielders Rangel Ravelo and Conner Capel, among others in and out of the top 50. Coming in future days in this countdown are younger flychasers Jhon Torres and Trejyn Fletcher and a pair closer to MLB in Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena. (Lane Thomas and Tyler O’Neill have graduated.)

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

In terms of monthly progress at Springfield, Toerner’s result was 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 percentage of .333 (June), .339 (July), .345 (August), .338 (overall) was noteworthy.

In his support, Toerner’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) at Springfield was 100 points lower at Springfield (.259) than with Palm Beach (.359). The latter was unlucky, with the prior result fortunate.

As Derek noted above, Toerner was injured trying to make a play in the field in mid-August to close his 2019 season. That kind of determination can be the difference-maker for a former 28th-rounder trying to earn his chance to keep pushing toward the major leagues.

That reputation appears to be fairly wide-spread. A scout who I queried used just three words in sharing his view of Toerner. “Tough as nails,” was the talent evaluator’s assessment.

Not that Toerner is done with his ascent, but it is still worth noting that to advance to Double-A this quickly is admirable for any player, let alone the 843rd drafted in 2017.

I currently have his scouting grade at “3.5”, between an up and down player and a spot starter, with moderate work yet ahead to achieve it (“medium” risk).

There is a log-jam ahead of Toerner, which – short of an epidemic of injuries – means there will be no room for him at Memphis to open 2020. Given the speed of his moves to date and the fact he could accomplish more by returning to Springfield after logging a league-average 103 wRC+, this is not a bad thing. Toerner is nowhere near a stagnation point in his career.

Link to Toerner’s career stats


Our 2020 top 50 series continues

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

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

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

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


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

2019-2020 Cardinals Winter Ball Pitchers Report – November 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.

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