TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #1 – Dylan Carlson

photo: Dylan Carlson (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown reaches no. 1 with the 2019 Player of the Year across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. For 2020, the question is when he will be deemed ready for St. Louis. FREE article.

2019 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round R5/Opt MLB debut
8 OF 10 23 98 6-3 205 S L 2016 1st 2020 2020

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

Dylan Carlson

Selected 2019 stats

Spr 0.281 0.315 108 417 81 117 24 21 59 52 98 18 142 0.364 0.518 0.882
Mem 0.361 0.429 18 72 14 26 4 5 9 6 18 2 161 0.418 0.681 1.098
Total 0.292 126 489 95 143 28 26 68 58 116 20 0.372 0.542 0.914

TCN Scouting Grade: 6.5, Risk: low (click here to review scales)

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (1): Our Message Board voters took note of Carlson’s extra base hit rate of .437 (62 of his 143 hits were XBH) and his reasonable K rate (20.6 percent).

Just last season Carlson was #11 with the Group and #8 overall in the final TCN ranking.

Grenadier1 said, “You see he has a great approach at the plate, He should develop power as he continues to mature. He has a great attitude and takes instructions well.”

stlcards25 wrote, “He’s just been solid everywhere so far and always young for his level. Good arm, good athlete. Simply put, the switch hitting Carlson is everything that you could expect out of a #1 prospect. I think that the Group nailed it.”

I’d just like to add that it was a pleasure putting your thoughts, comments, predictions and rebuttals in black and white. I’d like to thank the readers of TCN, the participants in the rankings and especially those who added their remarks, stats and reasoning to their selections.

Also, a big “thank you” to Brian Walton and Derek Shore for their in-depth commentary on the top 50 prospects, their research and their knowledge of the Cardinal organization is truly appreciated right here on what is known as The Cardinal Nation. – John Baker

Derek Shore (1): There was a strong buzz heading into this past spring.

It was a buzz about St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Dylan Carlson, upon whom the organization was betting big on his breakout this year in the hitter-friendly environment of the Texas League.

Carlson proved the Cardinals right, showing a mix of tools and savviness. He demonstrated above-average hitting ability, plus power, above-average defense and enough speed and instincts to be a base-stealing threat.

As spring training progressed and players started moving out and over to the minor-league side of the complex, one of the youngest players in the Cardinals big-league camp remained.

That was not only because of the potential he showed, but because of the game performances he delivered in spring.

Carlson is the latest in the line of young, ascending outfielders the likes of which the Cardinals haven’t seen since the late Oscar Taveras. Late in one of his spring starts, Carlson drilled a home run off Mets all-star closer Edwin Diaz.

“He looks like he belongs,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt told the media during spring training.

At High-A Palm Beach last year, in a ballpark that suppresses offense, Carlson slashed .247/.345/.386 with nine home runs in 99 games. He drew 52 walks against 78 strikeouts in the Florida State League after earning a promotion from Low-A Peoria after 13 games.

Carlson said playing in the Florida State League taught him to stay dedicated to the process. He took that into this past season at Springfield instead of worrying about the results.

That mindset paid off.

Carlson broke out in 2019, opening at Springfield as the second-youngest position player in the Texas League and won the league MVP award. He finished second in the circuit in OPS (.882), home runs (21), runs scored (81) and extra-base hits (51).

“For me, I tried to stick with my plan,” Carlson said. “That has been the biggest difference – trying to stick with my strengths, my plan and executing as opposed to giving in to how they are trying to get me out and getting out of my plan. I’m swinging at strikes, handling pitches that I can handle.

“For me, that was the biggest thing (in making myself a complete hitter).”

“He dominated that league at a young age,” St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told the media. “You think about going wire-to-wire (as a leader). It’s a hard league to dominate unless you’re truly an elite player.”

Carlson finished the season leading Springfield in a number of major offensive categories. He was the Cardinals first prospect to put together a 20-20 season since Tyler Greene and Terry Evans did it in 2006.

“I was very fortunate to have been in the same city as he was for most of the season this year,” Springfield manager Joe Kruzel said. “I always thought every time Dylan comes to the ballpark he expected to play and wanted to play. You never knew if he was doing well or not. He just acted the same every night. The best thing I did for him this year was I stayed out of his way, let him play and let him grow.”

Carlson also made the Futures Game and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he collected 11 extra-base hits in 18 games.

From a scouting standpoint, Carlson has always shown advanced instincts, controlling the strike zone and flashing the ingredients to hit with above-average bat speed and hand-eye coordination.

Carlson added 10 pounds of muscle this past offseason, which allowed him to impact the ball more. A switch-hitter, he also ironed out his once loopy left handed swing and now projects as an above-average hitter from both sides of the plate.

He also studies pitchers’ tendencies diligently, stays within the strike zone and doesn’t miss his pitch when he gets it. Carlson’s pure power is average, but his growing strength and smooth swing mechanics give him a chance to hit for 20 or more home runs at the major-league level.

Dylan Carlson (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

Carlson has average speed, but is an above-average runner who steals bases efficiently. Those instincts allow him to hold down center field, though he profiles best in the corners where he’s an above-average defender.

His average arm fits best in left, but he could certainly play right field as well.

Carlson will be just 21 years of age in 2020 and still has time to grow. He has the profile of a solid everyday player and a chance for more.

One professional scout who saw him this past summer said he is an above-average corner outfielder and compared him to a MLB All-Star.

“He is very comparable to Nick Markakis,” the scout said.

With an all-around game blossoming at a young age, Carlson has become the Cardinals top overall prospect and a likely cornerstone outfielder in St. Louis for years to come.

“I hate to do this, but he’s the Albert Pujols type or the Oscar Taveras type,” Mozeliak recently told KSDK. “From an offensive standpoint, he has done a lot at a very young age… He is also one of those players who is a very complete player. Good defensive player and physically maturing right now.

“I think there is a lot to be excited about with him. I would imagine that at some point in 2020 we will see him (with St. Louis).”

Brian Walton (1): By July, Carlson’s MVP-pace season in the Double-A Texas League pushed him squarely ahead of Nolan Gorman to take over the mantle of the no. 1 prospect in the Cardinals organization. At this time, I do not believe there is credible doubt about that.

Oscar Taveras (Getty Images)

So, let’s move the analysis to how Carlson stacks up to those who came before him. In doing so, I will return to several player comparisons mentioned above.

Because Oscar Taveras emerged earlier in his career than Carlson, Taveras first appeared on national top 100 lists following 2011, when he won the Midwest League batting title in his age 18-19 season. For each of the next two years, Taveras rocketed to a consensus place among the top three prospects across all of baseball.

After being unranked nationally a year ago, Carlson has vaulted into the top 25 of two early well-known prospect raters for 2020. So, he has emerged quickly, but still has a ways to go comparatively.

But who I really want to talk about is Albert Pujols. OK, actually, I don’t, but I feel I have to.

This is NOT a player to whom Dylan Carlson (or any other 21-year old) should be compared. It just isn’t. In my opinion, it was a surprisingly reckless comment from an executive who has earned a well-known reputation for just the opposite.

I get that Mr. Mozeliak is excited about his team’s next big thing, not to mention that the more focus is placed on the promise of this prospect, the less criticism may be placed on the front office and ownership for not (at least yet) externally replacing the offense generated by Marcell Ozuna the last two seasons.

Albert Pujols (USA TODAY Sports Images)

But putting that all aside, let’s step back and look at this with a clear head and an open mind.

Pujols is arguably the greatest player of his entire generation. Not the best Cardinal, mind you – the best player. He will not just be a Hall of Famer – he will almost certainly be a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown. His no. 5 will be retired one day, with his image forever placed on the Busch Stadium outfield wall – all as it should be.

Even whispering the two names together is a tremendous disservice – both to Carlson, who cannot measure up, and to the casual fans who might take Mozeliak’s overhype as gospel and expect far too much from the Californian far too soon.

This comparison was not a misquote or twisted out of context. See and hear for yourself.

In viewing this clip again, it almost feels as if Mozeliak realized what he said, so he swung the pendulum back in the other direction as hard as he could with his prediction that Carlson should reach St. Louis in 2020 “at some point”.

That caused my neck to snap!

Some may recall that Pujols never played a game at Double-A and only a handful of Triple-A contests to conclude the 2000 season before the decided underdog hit his way onto the 2001 Cardinals out of spring training. Mozeliak clearly wants to tamp down that kind of parallel, however, at least for a while.

He moved straight from creating a totally unfair, elevated expectation to making likely his greatest understatement of the off-season. Can anyone imagine the fan mutiny that would occur if the 2020 All-Star break comes and goes, for example, and Carlson is still sitting in Memphis?

Now, we all know that some teams artificially keep players in the minors longer than perceived necessary. The most famous case is the Chicago Cubs vs. Kris Bryant (whose appeal is still unresolved five years later thanks to some classic MLB foot-dragging). The reason for this service time manipulation is to either maintain another year of control before free agency or to keep the player away from arbitration eligibility (and a major salary increase) for a year – or both.

For this very reason, some front office critics are already assuming that Carlson will not break spring training camp with St. Louis. I disagree. I have challenged – and will continue to challenge – these self-professed subject matter experts to provide one example of when the Cardinals managed service time.

One need look no farther back than (injured) closer Jordan Hicks for a contrary current case. Off the top of my head, Colby Rasmus was another celebrated player whose service time could have been held down, but it was not.

However, I do share the expectation that Carlson will not break 2020 spring camp with St. Louis – but for a different set of reasons.

If I was managing the team this coming spring, I would make it a much higher priority to give as many plate appearances as possible to outfielders Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena and Justin Williams – while not forgetting Harrison Bader, who spent last August back in Memphis trying to rediscover his stroke. All five are on the 40-man roster (Carlson is not) and the future for each remains promising, but unsettled. This needs to be sorted out as soon as possible.

In my camp, Carlson would certainly see action, but it would be secondary to this more experienced quintet.

While Carlson’s 2019 at Double-A was a true breakout, he has just 18 games of experience at Triple-A. They were a very good 18 games, but 18 games nonetheless – during a time when the Memphis offense was hitting like crazy from top to bottom. Carlson was in the middle of the pack of six Redbirds hitters with OPSes of over 1.000 in August.

Further, Carlson did not have to face battle-tested Pacific Coast League pitchers a second or third time over a long season, to demonstrate if he can adjust to the adjustments made to him. Finally, his Pacific Coast League BABIP was .429, a rate highly unlikely to be sustainable over a longer haul.

In the spring, unless Carlson performs at a level that is clearly head and shoulders above the aforementioned outfield quintet, I would ticket him for Memphis – but certainly not for the entire season. A natural opportunity to play every day somewhere in the St. Louis outfield will present itself soon enough. It does not have to be on Opening Day.

It would not change how highly Carlson is thought of within the organization. “He is a sponge for instruction,” a player development staffer said. “He works hard, and perhaps most importantly, he knows his limitations.” The latter could become extremely important to help him deal with the inevitable valleys that can follow the peaks.

I am going to come back to the subject of comps one final time. Regular readers have probably noticed that it is not a practice I regularly partake in – because I think it pigeonholes players. But in this case, I want to comment about the third Carlson comp made above, one that I think is actually closer to the mark.

Nick Markakis (Rheinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

Specifically, consider Nick Markakis. The Atlanta outfielder has enjoyed the kind of career that one could reasonably expect from Carlson. The 36-year old has put together an admirable 14 seasons in the Major Leagues and still counting. A right fielder, Markakis has been extremely durable and productive, with just two seasons in which he played in fewer than 147 games (one of which was his age 35 season in 2019).

Markakis has been with just two teams over his career, earning three Gold Glove Awards, a Silver Slugger Award and one All-Star Game berth. The lefty hitter has always been good, but short of great – poking 20 home runs twice and driving in over 100 runs twice, both when he was in his early-to-mid 20’s.

To the consistency point, Markakis hit double-digit totals of home runs in 11 different years and he plated 60 or more runs nine times. His career OPS+ is 109, meaning he has performed at a level nine percent above the average major leaguer, while coming in below 100 in just three of his 14 seasons.

If Carlson could craft as long and productive of a career as Markakis, he would have every reason to be proud of his accomplishments.

This does not mean that Carlson could not do more. For the second consecutive off-season, I have raised his scouting grade upward, this time from “6 medium” last winter to “6.5 low” now. That means I see Carlson landing between an above-average MLB hitter and an All-Star with little work remaining to realize his major league dream.

I should also point out that no other prospect in the Cardinals system has received a grade higher than “6” for 2020. In my view, Carlson is truly the best of St. Louis’ best.

But Albert Pujols? No, Mr. Mozeliak. For everyone’s sake, please do not go there again. Please. But just in case, let’s make a note to revisit the subject in 2030.

In the meantime, let’s just let Carlson be Carlson…

Link to Carlson’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, now complete, and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up at the rate of one article per day into January.

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

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