TCN 2024 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #5 – Thomas Saggese

photo: Thomas Saggese (Springfield Cardinals

In a FREE article, The Cardinal Nation’s prospect countdown for 2024 reaches no. 5 with an advanced hitter who won the 2023 Double-A Texas League MVP award. After Thomas Saggese masters Triple-A, how and when might the second baseman fit onto St. Louis’ roster?

Thomas Saggese

Position: Second baseman
Age: 21 years old
Bats/Throws: R/R
Height/Weight – 5’11/175
Acquired: from Texas with Tekoah Roby and John King for Jordan Montgomery, Chris Stratton and international cap considerations on July 30, 2023. Originally selected by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2020 First-Year Player Draft, 145th overall

Hometown: Carlsbad, California

Opened 2023: Frisco RoughRiders (Texas, Double-A)
Primary team in 2023: Frisco RoughRiders (Texas, Double-A)
Finished 2023: Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A)

Prior Top 50 rankings – not applicable

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

Link to Saggese’s career stats

Blake Newberry’s scouting report

Blake’s ranking – no. 4

(current grade/future grade)

Hit Power Field Arm Run FV
50/55 50/55 45/50 50/50 45/45 50
AVG OBP SLG OPS HR SB CS BB% K%
.306 .374 .530 .903 26 12 2 8.3% 22.9%
ISO wRC+ GB% LD% FB% Pull% Cent% Oppo%
.224 142 (AA)

51 (AAA)

36.5% 24.8% 38.7% 41.1% 24.1% 34.7%

I really like Thomas Saggese, a player who tends to get underrated by the national prospect sites because of his lack of high-end Statcast data. I can’t confirm the truth of the prior statement because all I have is 63 plate appearances of Triple-A data to go from and those weren’t his best.

Still, the supposed lack of high-end exit velocity doesn’t bother me because I feel confident that Saggese can continue to hit for power. His swing is built to put the ball in the air and he’s good at doing so. That allows him to consistently get to his power in game.

He pulled the ball a lot less after being traded to the Cardinals but that’s due in part to the fact that he hit many line drives and sprayed them around the field. While that was impressive, it was more of a hot streak than a trend we should expect to continue. Saggese is very good at hitting the ball at optimal launch angles, with a lot of line drives and hard fly balls.

I’m also a believer in Saggese’s hit tool. Because I tend to believe in both his power and his hit tool a bit more than other evaluators, I have Saggese at the Cardinals #4 prospect instead of putting him somewhere in the 5-10 range.

This depends on how we define “hit tool”. If it is a measurement of how adept he is at making contact, then he’s probably right around average. That’s a 50. I think we need to look at more than that, though. Saggese has been a consistent .300 hitter in the past two seasons because he makes enough contact, and it is quality contact. That has me higher on Saggese than some.

On the surface, it looks like Saggese has an average feel for contact, but I think it’s better than that. He makes a lot of in-zone contact which is important because he’s thrown an absurd quantity of breaking balls. I commented on it when the Cardinals first acquired him, and I mention it again here. Because the righty hitter was so dangerous at the plate, pitchers stopped throwing him fastballs and fed him mostly breaking and offspeed stuff. Those pitches are tougher to hit.

Saggese’s chase rate was a bit high because of that and a large percentage of his whiffs came on pitches out of the zone.

Another part of Saggese’s game that stands out is that he is a very good breaking ball hitter.

Here’s are some examples:

He was a bit too aggressive at times, which is understandable since he was a 21-year-old in Double-A and Triple-A who had to deal with being pitched around constantly. So, while it’s fair to say that he could improve his approach, I expect this to occur with time.

I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Saggese have early success in the majors if pitchers attack him with fastballs instead of using the off-speed approach that minor league pitchers deployed in 2023.

Defensively, Saggese has a utility profile. He appeared most at second base but played significant time at third base and even mixed in a bit of shortstop. He’s not a great athlete and doesn’t have a great range so he doesn’t profile best at shortstop. But his ability to play there in a pinch is a positive.

He is a dependable fielder so he should be able to play a solid second base at the highest level. While his arm isn’t outstanding, it’s enough for him to play third base without being overmatched. He profiles best at second, but I wonder if the Cardinals will try to add corner outfield in 2024 to help enhance his defensive profile.

Saggese is a decent defender but not much more and that’s not a bad thing. It’s his bat that will carry him. He plays good enough defense at multiple positions and that will get him in the lineup where his bat can add value.

I’m (marginally) higher on Saggese than Victor Scott because Saggese’s offensive profile is surer. Scott plays great defense at a more valuable position, but I have very few questions about Saggese’s bat and his ability to dominate Double-A pitching. He did this despite the way he was pitched and even though he was more than three years younger than the average Texas League hitter. That bodes well for him going forward.

His Triple-A introduction may not have gone well but Saggese is too good of a hitter to not rebound in 2024 and that’s exactly what I expect him to do now that he’s had a taste of the level.

Summary: Saggese profiles as a potential impact bat who can play multiple positions well enough to get in the lineup. His instinctive feel for the barrel and ability to hit breaking pitches portend a hitter much more advanced than his youth suggests.

Future Value: 50
Role: Average everyday player
Risk: Medium

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

Brian’s ranking – no. 6

Unlike Blake, I don’t have Saggese ahead of Scott in my rankings. Between Scott’s plus defense at a premium position and- game-changing speed, I think the center fielder is a better prospect and has what appears to be a much clearer future path to a starting job in the majors. The two will likely be 2024 teammates with Memphis, which should be fun to watch.

Background

Saggese (soo-JAY-see) was the Rangers’ final (fifth-round) selection in the truncated 2020 draft after having a relatively low profile, ranked just 279th among eligible players by Baseball America. The California prepster was convinced to forgo his commitment to Pepperdine by a bonus of $800,000. That $425,000 over slot amount was especially significant in a draft in which there was less money than usual to shift among players. (This was the same draft in which the Cardinals chose high schoolers Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Tink Hence.)

Starting his career and 2021 at Low-A Down East, Saggese played in 73 games with a line of .256/.372/.463/.835.

Opening 2022 in High-A, he batted .308 in 98 games, barely missing out on the South Atlantic League batting title. One of the youngest players in the Sally League, Saggese also placed in the circuit’s top 10 in slugging (.487) and OPS (.846) and was named to the post-season All-Star team.

The Rangers moved him up to Double-A in mid-September, and he immediately earned his first Texas League Player of the Week award. Saggese remained with Frisco through the playoffs and played well with his new team, establishing a base to build upon for 2023.

Following the season, Saggese received the Texas organization’s True Ranger Award for his core values demonstrated on and off the field. He was Baseball America’s 23rd-ranked Rangers prospect and no. 19 in the system per MLB Pipeline coming into 2023.

2023 recap

As expected, Saggese returned to Frisco for 2023. He was putting together a sensational year when the Cardinals acquired him with major league lefty John King and top prospect right-handed pitcher Tekoah Roby in a trade with Texas at the July deadline for Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton. It was suggested at the time that perhaps a reason Saggese was made available was an abundance of infielders already in the Rangers’ system, though he had worked his way up to no. 8 among Texas prospects, per MLB Pipeline.

Thomas Saggese (Springfield Cardinals)

The right-handed swinger did not miss a beat after the trade, and in fact, was even better in his month-plus as a Springfield Cardinal. In August, Saggese led the Cardinals system in hits (37), extra base hits (17), runs scored (23), triples (three), home runs (nine), RBI (26), slugging (.714), OPS (1.140) and isolated power (ISO at .362) plus he was third in batting average (.352). That included a cycle on August 19. Not surprisingly, he earned consensus system-wide Player of the Month honors.

After Saggese played in 33 games with Springfield, September 8 marked his well-earned promotion to Memphis. Between his two Double-A stops in 2023, Saggese had slashed .318/.385/.551/.936 with 25 home runs and 107 RBI. Despite leaving the Texas League with a month to play, for the season the 21-year-old led the circuit in batting average, RBI, OPS, hits (158), extra base hits (60) and total bases (274).

With Memphis, Saggese ventured into uncharted territory. Not only was it his Triple-A debut, but he also struggled for the first time as a professional. It was only 63 plate appearances in 21 games, so certainly not a long period of time. Yet it was quite a contrast with his splashy arrivals in Frisco the year before and Springfield the month prior. His Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) of 51 with the Redbirds was the first time in his career he registered below 127, 27 percent above league average. Saggese slashed .207/.270/.345/.615 in his maiden International League action. His strikeout rate was constant from Double-A, but his walk rate dropped by half to just 4.8%.

After the season concluded, Saggese was named to the 16-member 2023 Texas League All-Star Team, along with Springfield teammates Pedro Pages and Chandler Redmond. Saggese was also the deserving selection as the Double-A league’s Most Valuable Player. He became the S-Cards’ third Texas League MVP in the last four played seasons, following outfielders Moises Gomez (2022) and Dylan Carlson (2019).

2024 outlook

A return to Triple-A to open 2024 seems almost certainly the Cards’ initial plan for Saggese, after giving him a long look in his first major league spring camp, I imagine.

While his initial Triple-A numbers likely won’t be the norm going forward, improving his offensive results against the better pitching in the International League will be especially important for the bat-first Saggese in 2024.

While keeping him fresh at multiple positions makes sense, most agree his best defensive spot is second base. His early use since arriving in trade supports this. But if the infield was crowded in Texas, the situation isn’t that much different in St. Louis’ system.

Interestingly, the Cardinals acquired another infielder during the same week Saggese arrived. Cesar Prieto is not as promising a prospect as Saggese, so my guess is that he will be used more at third base while Saggese plays up the middle. But the Cardinals also have 40-man roster infielders Jose Fermin and newcomer Buddy Kennedy, potentially crowding the Memphis mix. None of them are really shortstops, but that is a matter for another time.

Then there is the static second base situation with St. Louis. Even putting aside the most versatile player on the roster, Tommy Edman, who is penciled in to be the starting center fielder, the Cardinals still have two starting quality second sackers in Nolan Gorman and Brendan Donovan. Both are established major leaguers who have not even yet reached arbitration eligibility, let alone become close to free agency.

In other words, there looks to be a lot of traffic ahead for Saggese to negotiate through to reach St. Louis in 2024. Of course, injuries to others could help his chances.

A professional scout is unsure why the Cardinals acquired the infielder. “He was great in the Texas League, but he is not a good defender, and he doesn’t play shortstop, so what do they do with him?”, the scout asked rhetorically. “Every team already has a right-handed batter who hits doubles, and he is not half as good as (current utilityman Brendan) Donovan (who has the advantage of hitting lefty). I don’t see the fit.”

Future outlook

There is no impending pressure to have answers to all these questions. For example, and reference, Saggese is three years younger than Donovan. Over time, perceived roster log jams can work themselves out.

The Cardinals can afford to give Saggese all of 2024 if needed to play up to the level of Triple-A. A 40-man roster decision will be required in the fall of 2024 and there seems little reason to doubt he is going to be protected from the December Rule 5 Draft.

Once on the 40-man and with a period of Triple-A success added to his portfolio, Saggese should be ready to compete for a reserve role with St. Louis by 2025. How the rest of the roster evolves in the interim is perhaps a greater wild card than Saggese’s expected performance, but he is going to need both opportunity and results.

MLB debut: 2025
Rule 5 eligible: 2024


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