TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #40 – Justin Toerner

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

Justin Toerner

Position: OF
Born: 8/11/1996 (24)
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 165
Hits / Throws: L/L
Acquired: 2018 Draft – 28th round (843rd overall)
Rule 5 Eligible: 2021

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Toerner’s career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #39, Matt Thompson #42

Prior top 50 rankings –2019 NR, 2020 #30

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Small frame, lacks muscle. Above-average athlete. Hard-nosed, gritty, grinder. Pick your favorite old-timey phrase and it’ll fit here. Toerner has touched four different affiliates since getting drafted and looked like he might have had an under the radar breakout in 2019. Plays above size and can be reckless at times.

Hit: Toerner was a four-year starter at Cal State Northridge and leadoff hitter in part due to his hit tool. He hits slightly crouched with legs spread wide. He puts the bat on the ball and has an advanced feel for the strike zone. Short quick swing and will take walks. Grade: 50

Justin Toerner (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Power: Toerner found some power, improving on the one homer he hit in his draft year with eleven in 2019. He’s been elevating the ball more as he jumps levels and also got out of tough power environments in Peoria and Jupiter. It’s likely a combination of things and I can see him hitting six to eight homers a year at the big league level, but with a fair amount of double and triples due to speed and all fields approach. Grade: 40

Field: Toerner is borderline reckless in the outfield, and that aggressiveness is part of what makes him such a strong defender. It also caused his season to end prematurely after he was injured in August after making an acrobatic play in the outfield. He gets fantastic jumps and is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Plus defenders up the middle don’t grow on trees. Has all the makings of a nice fourth outfielder. Grade: 60

Arm: One of the stronger outfield arms in the system. Grade: 55

Run: Above-average runner. Speed influences all aspects of his game. Can swipe a bag but the defense shows up more in the field. Grade: 55

Overall: Toerner will be a very popular player when he gets to the big leagues and the fan base will absolutely love how he plays. Max effort all the time. I’m not concerned about the strikeout jump in Double-A, and think it comes back to earth when baseball restarts. He should be the everyday centerfielder in Memphis and could reach the big leagues in 2021.

Future Value: 40
Role: Platoon/Bench Bat
Risk: Low

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

After signing with the Cardinals in 2018, Toerner spent most of the summer with short-season Class-A State College, but also debuted in Class-A and High-A. He opened 2019 with Palm Beach, where he started on fire. His .394 batting average and .591 on-base percentage in April led all of Minor League Baseball.

In the ongoing game of adjustments, Florida State League pitchers began to work around him and mix in more off-speed stuff. Toerner hit just .224 over 26 games in May as he struck out 31 times.

By mid-June, he had shown more restraint at the plate, and received a promotion to Double-A Springfield following recognition as a Florida State League All-Star. His Texas League debut was much quieter. Over 49 games, he hit just .211 with seven home runs and 18 RBI, but walked at a solid 14.1% rate.

In terms of monthly progress at Springfield, Toerner’s results were 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 percentages of .333 (June), .339 (July), .345 (August), .338 (overall) were noteworthy.

His Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) was 103, or just above league average. But it easily could have been better. Toerner’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) at Springfield was a full 100 points lower (.259) than with Palm Beach (.359). The latter was unlucky, with the prior result fortunate.

Known as a tough player packed into a 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame, Toerner was injured on a play in the field in mid-August to close his 2019 prematurely, but it did not seem to linger into 2020.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – yes
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – no
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – no
  • Springfield alternate camp – no
  • St. Louis – no

Toerner was back in Jupiter in January for his second consecutive instructional camp. There, he was one of six outfielders, and among three who had prior Double-A experience, along with Scott Hurst and Lars Nootbaar.

None of these players were selected to be part of the 60-man active player pool for 2020, however. In fact, no outfielders below Triple-A were in camp other than Trejyn Fletcher, who played in short-season ball in 2019.

2021 outlook

In these rankings, Toerner fell 10 spots year to year, but in all fairness, seven of those who moved ahead are the members of the Cardinals’ 2020 draft class and another is the organization’s top international signee. Two of them are outfielders. No one can ever stand still.

The good news is that Toerner has a partial season of Double-A experience. The bad news is that his OPS was just .706 in a hitters league and he struck out at a career-worst rate of 27.6%.

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

Other than Conner Capel perhaps, the competition from below for jobs with Triple-A Memphis should primarily consist of the aforementioned Hurst and Nootbaar. Toerner should have an advantage.

However, it remains unclear which of the eight 40-man roster outfielders will be with St. Louis. Several have minor league options remaining, including Austin Dean and Lane Thomas, but Justin Williams and Rangel Ravelo do not. In the latter cases, a trip through waivers would be required before they could return to the minors. Toerner’s immediate Memphis opportunity may depending on these others, but even if he isn’t a Redbird on Opening Day, he should get his chance during the season.

While Toerner has limited experience in left field and center, the vast majority of his playing time has been in right field, including in 2019. A chance to become the everyday center fielder with Memphis may depend on whether Lane Thomas and Conner Capel are also on the club.

Making the 40-man roster and reaching St. Louis during 2021 seems to carry much lower odds. Getting some exposure to the big league coaches as a non-roster invitee to spring training camp would be a nice start for Toerner. Remember, there are currently eight 40-man roster outfielders ahead of him as well as the more experienced Capel.

Future outlook

Because Toerner initially moved so quickly through the system, he has more time than most others to impress and better position himself for major league consideration. As Matt noted above, he has another year before any Rule 5 protection considerations come into play and two more seasons before potential minor league free agency.

A good showing at Memphis in 2021 could put Toerner in the picture to help St. Louis as a reserve in 2022. Not surprisingly, this is exactly a year behind the schedule I predicted in his 2020 prospect assessment.

MLB debut: 2022

Our 2021 Top 50 series continues

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50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021

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