photo: Juan Yepez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2020 continues with a corner infielder who expanded his versatility to include the outfield and rebounded with the bat to reach Double-A at the age of 21. FREE article.
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Link to Juan Yepez’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 (31): The community voters thought enough of Yepez’ potential/production to slot him into the #31 position for this season. Last year, the group had Yepez at #63. Two seasons ago, the now 21-year-old was in the TCN’s top 50 at #44.
Early support came from gscottar at #21, plus PugsleyAddams and Christopher Jeske in the #23-26 round. gscottar wrote: “I thought Yepez had a very solid year and the organization must have thought so also because he made it from Peoria all the way to Springfield. His numbers aren’t eye popping and he may or may not make it to St. Louis but he is a very steady, above average minor league player and at age 21 he still has time to make a name for himself.”
Jeske: “Generally speaking, Yepez has been promoted aggressively (reaching A in his age 18 season and AA in his age 21 season). In between, though, it’s been a little weird as he was assigned to A in each of his age 18-21 seasons. During this time his performance varied from positive (getting by offensively despite being young for his level and showing flashes of elite hitting ability) to negative (an extreme, prolonged slump in A+). This year he hit for more power mainly due to an increase in his HR/FB%.”
NigelT: “Twice he has had runs where he dominates with the bat. I believe he can hit, but he has never put it all together. How he is placed relative to (Luken) Baker will be interesting and telling.”
I’ve been pulling for Yepez since he was the return for Matt Adams. 2020 will be the Venezuelan’s sixth pro season and look for him to break camp at Springfield. He’ll need to step it up a notch or two to reach Memphis in 2020. – John Baker
Derek Shore (30): For the second straight season, Yepez backtracked to open a year. Not only did he not make a full-season club out of spring training, but stayed in extended spring training before reporting to Low-A Peoria in June for the third time.
To his credit, Yepez performed well for the Chiefs, earning another promotion to High-A Palm Beach. This time, the Venezuelan native delivered for the Beach Birds, including 20 RBIs in 29 games. His OPS in his second shot at High-A was a credible .782.
That powered Yepez’ third promotion of the second half, with a move to Double-A Springfield for the final 17 games of the season. He OPS’d .673 and plated 10 runs.
“I gave my best every day and I ended up in Springfield,” Yepez said. “That was my goal for this year.”
Yepez credited former Cardinals all-star Ryan Ludwick and Gulf Coast League Cardinals hitting coach Joey Hawkins with improving his hitting. He said when he was promoted to Palm Beach last year – the duo wanted him to spread out his legs and lower his hands in his stance because his hands were too high and legs too narrow.
Yepez said he spent the offseason and part of extended working on that.
“I felt comfortable with my stance, my hands, my legs and the position I’m hitting in,” Yepez said. “I did better things with those adjustments.”
Springfield manager Joe Kruzel liked what he saw in Yepez during the season.
“In a very limited look, he is very confident in the batter’s box,” Kruzel said. “He is very balanced. He has a simple approach it appears. He is also capable of running into some balls and putting a charge in them. He can also play more than one position, so he can play left or right. He can first or third. That gives him a little flexibility.
“He is intriguing in that regard. He looks real comfortable in the batter’s box. Real confident. Since he has been up, he has done a really nice job in a short time.”
From a scouting standpoint, Yepez’ raw power stands out the most. He features above-average raw power that has yet to fully translate into games.
Scouts say he has a natural ability to drive the ball that can’t be taught, but he’s still working on his hitting approach to put himself in hitters’ counts more frequently.
Yepez explained where he is at now in regards to his plate discipline.
“When I’m in a good spot and I’m hot, I can recognize pitches in and out of the strike zone,” Yepez said. “I’m laying off the balls and swinging at strikes. When I’m hot at the plate, I can lay off those balls. When I get in trouble, I start swinging at those pitches out of the zone.
“That is one of the main things. I’m trying to swing at strikes and get some walks, too.”
The biggest issue surrounding Yepez is his future defensive home. While he may not profile as an everyday player, his two main positions are first and third base.
He also saw time at left field and right field in 2019.
“At the beginning, it was tough,” Yepez said. “I didn’t know where I was supposed to go and where I was supposed to be. I have to say thanks to all my teammates from extended to Double-A, helping me. All the coaches helped me. It was tough at the beginning, but it got easier and easier.
“Out there, I was just trying to catch the ball and throw it in the right spot. It’s different, but I will be working on it in the offseason to get better.”
Yepez should return to Springfield to start 2020.
Going forward, his goals are simple.
“I want to get stronger,” Yepez said. “I want to work on my arm and defense in the outfield and the infield. I just want to keep hitting and do the same as I was doing this year with the adjustments of my hands and legs. All that.”
Brian Walton (54): Well, I didn’t get the news of the Yepez train leaving the station. Now, I know that may seem odd at first blush, since I named him TCN’s system-wide Comeback Player of the Year for 2019. Just remember that these rankings are about career, not a single season. Further, to be a comeback qualifier, one must have gone from a significant low to a major high. In prospect rankings, consistency is important.
As noted, Yepez was ranked no. 44 on our top 50 two seasons ago but went unranked last year. I am not convinced that he is a better prospect now, two years older but just one level higher than where he was assigned a month into the 2018 season.
This past season, Yepez could not escape extended spring training until June. I get that he was learning the outfield, but his very rough-hitting 2018 had to make the decision to take him out of league action for the first half much easier. Once activated, he was solid at Peoria, but short of his season-opening 2018 success there with the bat. That is not a step forward, but just approaching a prior level of performance.
A month later, Yepez received his second shot at Palm Beach, the level that did him in during the majority of 2018. He had a good, not great July in terms of his slash line (.275/.351/.431/.782) for the Beach Birds and was very productive, with 20 RBI in 29 games. At that point, he became a corner outfielder more than a corner infielder. Then again, part of the reason may have been the fact that a better first base prospect, Luken Baker, was already with Palm Beach.
In a surprise (to me), when Springfield needed injury backfill help for the final month of the season, Yepez received the call rather than Baker. While the two had about the same career experience at high-A at that point, roughly 100 games, Yepez had only those most recent 29 games of strong results at the level. In all fairness, Baker’s 2019 was not exceptional, such that his results screamed “promotion”. I just figured player development would have wanted to get him out of Palm Beach.
Not surprisingly, Yepez did not excel in his first shot at Springfield in August, not that I am penalizing him for that. But to summarize, he only played three months in 2019 after practicing for two months. One month was good, but at a level he already mastered a season and a half earlier. The middle month was great – at a level at which he previously struggled for four months in 2018. Yepez was challenged at Double-A to close the season and did not take off.
That one great month while repeating the high-A level isn’t enough for me to rank Yepez in the vicinity of the Cardinals top 30 future MLB prospects, as did my peer voters. Hence, my score dragged him down to this overall no. 40. My reminder is that he has had good months before, only to regress.
To double check, I recently (after the season) asked a Midwest League scout about Yepez. “He has a long swing and I don’t like his approach at the plate,” was the reply I received. But maybe that was about the old Yepez, not the current one. Perhaps his inconsistency is in the past. After all, he does not turn 22 years of age until February, with more career twists and turns and opportunities still ahead.
I currently have Yepez’ scouting grade at “3.5”, between an up and down player and spot starter, with moderate work yet ahead to achieve it (“medium” risk).
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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