TCN 2018 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #20: Dylan Carlson

photo: Dylan Carlson (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

by The Cardinal Nation staff

Peo 0.240 0.323 383 63 92 18 7 42 52 116 6 0.324 0.342 0.347 0.690

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

Selected 2017 stats

2017 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
22 OF 10 23 98 6-3 195 S L 2016 1st

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

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (18): During the community vote, Dylan Carlson finished as the 18th highest rated player, exactly where he finished in the 2017 community vote. Bccran picked him first as his 11th best prospect in the system.

Brianpnoonan was the most adamant among the Carlson supporters. He believed Carlson survived playing in a horrible ballpark for hitters in a league that he was probably too young for and did fairly well. He said it wouldn’t shock him if management skipped him past Palm Beach next year either. 14NyquisT believed Carlson to be the only serious prospect at Peoria, giving him room to advance quickly in the coming years. During the vote, I mentioned that Carlson was younger than anyone else on his team. Last year, bccran said that Carlson seems to be flying a little too low on the radar of most of our voters for a first-round draft pick and that carried over some this year. – Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (17): From one of the youngest prospects in the 2016 draft to the one of the youngest prospects in the Midwest League, Carlson held his own against advanced competition that was on average three years older than him.

Dylan Carlson (The Cardinal Nation)

Carlson, who turned 19 on October 23, slashed .240/.342/.347 with low-A Peoria in 2017. In his first full season, he launched seven homers while driving in 42 runs in 115 games with the Chiefs. The switch-hitter also recorded 18 doubles over 383 at-bats.

“I think Dylan more than held his own,” Peoria manager Chris Swauger said. “I think like any 18-year old playing in that league – he went through some growing pains – but he made adjustments and tweaked his swing a little bit, becoming more upright with his set-up and it really opened up the fluidity of his swing, allowing him to make more contact.”

Not only that, his re-tooled left-handed swing allowed him to make more fly ball contact, which rose from 29% to 40%.

As one would expect, Carlson struggled early in the season, hitting only .197 through the first two months (44 games). As he adapted to the level of the league, the outfielder finished the season strongly with a .263 average, including four home runs, 15 doubles, and 31 RBI in the final 71 games.

Despite a high strikeout rate, Carlson also showed impressive patience for a young hitter. He sees a lot of pitches in each at-bat and posted an 11.5% walk rate by season’s end.

“He already had a pretty advanced approach as far as what he was looking to hit at the plate which is not surprising, because I’ve said this before – he’s by far the most mature 18-year old I’ve been around in my life,” Swauger said. “He took everything in stride – success, failure, and was extremely impressive to me.”

But that wasn’t what impressed his coaches the most.

“Considering he was a first baseman in high school, he went out in the outfield and was by far our best defensive outfielder,” Swauger said. “Not just best, but most instinctual. He has a great, natural first-step. He never seems to break stride and he covers a lot of ground.”

From the other end of the spectrum, scouts aren’t all that enamored with Carlson’s tools and direct observers were not especially impressed with him. Although, he is athletic and still has room to add physical strength, especially as he grows into more game power. One Cardinals official said he has potential 20 home run power down the road.

Some scouts even questioned his hittability, as Carlson’s swing tends to be long and flat from the right-side of the dish where he is more prone to strikeouts and less impact. Though, it should be mentioned he faced left-handed pitchers of quality way beyond what he faced as an amateur, coupled with his youth and playing in a cold-weather league could have been factors in his results as well.

Defensively, Carlson profiles as a left fielder/first base type, who is agile enough to remain competent in the outfield. One scout believes he will hit for more power and will hit better in the long-run, but the speed is fair which will allow him to stick in the outfield. The scout expects him to be a left fielder with left fielder’s arm strength.

“Near average major-league hitter and near average power for a left-handed/first base type is not a great fit,” he added. “I would compare him to a lesser John Mabry. Being optimistic I would call him a role player.”

With fringy speed, Carlson swiped six bags in 12 chances this past season, but is expected to lose a step as he continues to mature.

That said, Carlson has always gotten rave reviews for his makeup and baseball savvy. His second full-season, playing in the Florida State League, will be a telling factor of his development, with the potential to play every day.

“I think if you look at his numbers – you say (his season) might be okay,” Swauger said. “But if you look at where he started with the kind of start he got off to and what he built to the end of the year. I think it was really impressive and what you would look for in a developmental prospect, especially at his age.”

Brian Walton (20): I will be honest. I struggle to put Carlson’s 2017 into true context. The difference in his age (and that of Peoria teammate and fellow teen Juan Yepez) was huge – as much as four or five years less than all of the top hitters on the Chiefs last season.

When it is said that Carlson “held his own” in the Midwest League, that is very fitting. His weighted runs created plus, wRC+, for the season was 101, on a scale where 100 is league-average.

On the 2017 Chiefs, nine regulars or semi-regulars (with greater than 170 plate appearances with the team) logged higher wRC+ marks than Carlson and eight others had lower wRC+s. At age 22, the outfielder would not have registered as a top prospect following a showing like that.

Yet the reality is that Carlson was just 18 and the nine ahead of him played the 2017 season at either 22 or 23 years of age, all former college players. Peoria’s top wRC+ was 158, posted by infielder Andy Young. Others above 120 were Stefan Trosclair, our Chiefs Player of the Year, and Andrew Knizner, the fastest-rising prospect in the system and one who has yet to be unveiled in this countdown.

In fact, Carlson has always been younger than his peers, from being drafted at 17, to his debut that summer in the 2016 Gulf Coast League to the aggressive Midwest League placement to open 2017.

Among the high school-drafted outfielders on the Chiefs, Carlson stood out. Unlike his early-season teammate, Bryce Denton (TCN prospect #42), who was eased down to short-season State College, Carlson showed enough to remain with Peoria all season long. Carlson also outshone fellow first-round outfielder Nick Plummer (#46), two years older at age 20 during the season. Plummer finished his MWL year under the Mendoza Line at .198. However, the former Braves prospect Yepez (#44) showed more power with an OPS very close to Carlson’s.

Yet, Carlson did not have smooth sailing. His strikeout rate of 25.7 percent was too high, though it was partially mitigated by his 11.5 percent walk rate. A .240 batting average and a .690 OPS would not generate much interest if he was 22 or 23. But, as I keep reminding myself, he is not.

I next looked at the switch-hitter’s monthly splits, searching for encouragement.

Apr 18 57 13 10 1 3 8 11 27 0 0.175 0.324 0.351 0.675
May 26 75 11 16 2 0 3 14 26 3 0.213 0.341 0.267 0.607
Jun 21 71 11 21 4 2 11 8 14 2 0.296 0.367 0.437 0.804
Jul 23 84 10 21 5 1 7 6 23 0 0.250 0.323 0.345 0.668
Aug 24 87 15 22 6 1 11 12 24 0 0.253 0.353 0.356 0.709
Sep 3 9 3 2 0 0 2 1 2 1 0.222 0.364 0.222 0.586

It was an uneven season, with his peak in the middle. If the year had ended on July 1, after 65 games, I would have considered 2017 a major success. In fact, at that point, I had bumped Carlson up four spots in my monthly prospect rankings, figuring he had turned the corner. That was not the case, however.

After a predictably rough start in the cold April Midwest weather while also adjusting to the better pitching, Carlson then sacrificed power to get his average over .200 in May. It all seemed to come together in June, his best month of the year in all four slash categories. Even his strikeouts dropped to a very acceptable 16.5 percent.

From there, however, it was back downhill. His July looked very similar to his April, only with batting average up, but walks down accordingly. The only change in August was a bounceback in his free pass rate, but in aggregate, the California native’s final month was not much better than the prior and was comparable to his season overall.

Was it due to nagging injuries or the travel or perhaps the wear and tear of his first season playing so many games (115) while making 451 plate appearances? Did the older pitchers of the MWL figure out a more effective way to pitch him and he was unable to readjust? We don’t know the answers, but it is fair to observe that Carlson did not close 2017 with significant momentum.

A year ago, I gave Carlson a Scouting Grade of “6 Extreme,” reflecting a ceiling of an above-average starter but with much to show to get there. This time around, I am adjusting the sights to “5.5 High”. The numeric change suggests his peak is in between above-average and an average starter, with “High” reflecting significant work still remaining ahead for him to achieve it, while also recognizing progress shown in 2017. To be honest, if he was not so young, I would have gone down to “5 High”.

To open 2018, I understand the potential temptation of hopping Carlson over Palm Beach and avoiding the big parks and winds of the Florida State League. However, I seriously question whether dropping him into Double-A at this point would be best for his development. I think that would be pushing him too hard. Further, the Cardinals have a glut of outfielders just ahead of him in the system and I do not see how there would be ample playing time for everyone.

In fact, if pressed into an unrealistic either-or decision, I might go the other way and return Carlson to Peoria to open 2018 and after showing real success, then promote him to Palm Beach in-season. Wherever he is, Carlson needs to play every day and continue to accrue at-bats and experience.

Our 2018 top 50 series continues

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