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.
Selected 2019 stats
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.)
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.
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.
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