photo: Justin Toerner (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
It is again the time to select The Cardinal Nation’s Player of the Month. This covers play during April across the St. Louis Cardinals’ four full-season affiliates.
As a reminder, this is NOT is the “Player of the Month Among Top Prospects”. Every hitter in the system has an equal chance, with only their performance during the month used to differentiate the best of the best. Age and level, which are key prospect ranking considerations, are not factors here, either.
As good of an April as was put together by the organization’s top prospect, Peoria third baseman Nolan Gorman, Palm Beach’s Justin Toerner was even better. For that reason, the 22-year old outfielder is our April Player of the Month.
I imagine you want to understand how I came to that decision. Of course, I will oblige, while also noting many other first-month offensive standouts.
To qualify, a player must have taken at least 40 at-bats in April. That narrowed our population down to 42 players. To make the list of 10 finalists, an OPS of .850 or higher was required.
We will take two views of the data. First look will be at counting stats, followed by rate stats. Names are listed in the same sequence in both tables, in descending OPS order.
Counting stats – finalists
Clearly, the two at the top – Toerner and Gorman – are different kinds of players.
Toerner led the entire system in hits (tied with Tommy Edman), runs scored and OPS. Gorman was tied for second in home runs and RBI (both behind Adolis Garcia), was first in total bases and second in OPS.
Other finalists who stood out include Dylan Carlson, tied for second in the system with seven doubles, one ahead of Gorman and two more than Toerner.
Hey! Where are Edman and Garcia and …?
Before we continue with our regularly-scheduled program, it is worth stopping to explain why Edman and Garcia (and several others) fell short of the finalist list.
Edman was one of just two .300 hitters in April to miss out, due to his .837 OPS. Still, his eight doubles were most by any Cardinal and his four steals tied for most with three other players, including Kramer Robertson.
The other .300 hitter to miss the top 10 is Edman’s teammate Andrew Knizner, who batted .329, but fell short in SLG and OPS due to just four extra-base hits during the month.
Garcia is the epitome of feast or famine. Despite the home run and RBI leadership, the outfielder batted just .230 and was tops in the system with 30 strikeouts. Then again, the Memphis outfielder was also the only player in the organization with as many as two triples.
Rate stats – finalists
Toerner led the entire system in April batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and with an amazing Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) of 223.
Toerner also had the highest walk rate in the system and was just one of three finalists who drew more free passes than struck out. (The others are Robertson and John Nogowski.)
Getting to my bottom line, any player who averages .394 over an entire month (including .421 with runners in scoring position) and reaches base at a rate that is nothing short of amazing at .531 – while competing in the big ballparks of the Florida State League – is most deserving of this honor.
In fact, that is the highest OBP of any player in all of Minor League Baseball (h/t TCN staffer Paul Ivice).
Gorman also had a tremendous month, obviously, ranking first in slugging and second in OPS and wRC+. Normally, a wRC+ of 189 would mean a landslide winner, but not this time. The third baseman’s only minor blemishes are a relatively low walk rate and a high strikeout rate.
But despite Gorman’s power-heavy showing, Toerner was no slouch in that department either. His SLG was third in the system behind Gorman and Springfield second baseman Irving Lopez.
Other April standouts include a pair who ranked second and third in the organization in OBP – Memphis first baseman Nogowski and Springfield shortstop Robertson, thanks in part due to their aforementioned ability to draw free passes.
Three hitters with OPSes over .900 are emerging players to watch closely – Peoria catcher Ivan Herrera, his first base teammate Brady Whalen and Lopez.
The Player of the Month
When all is said and done, Justin Toerner is the winner of The Cardinal Nation’s April Player of the Month honors. The left-handed hitter, who bats leadoff for first-place Palm Beach, was hot from the very start, named the first Florida State League Player of the Week in 2019, covering the period of April 4-14.
After his selection by the Cardinals in the 28th round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft, 843rd overall, the former Cal State Northridge star reported to short-season Class-A State College. Following 50 solid games in the New York-Penn League, with a .292 average and 11 steals, Toerner was jumped to Palm Beach.
In his initial 10 contests with the Beach Birds last August, Toerner performed even better, with a slash line of .300/.391/.425/.816. His next stop was to help Peoria out after injuries thinned their outfield. In the final week, he batted .500 and in two games in the Midwest League playoffs, he went 3-for-8 (.375).
Toerner is The Cardinal Nation’s 36th ranked prospect.
I do not normally draw attention to those players not doing well, but two drew attention to themselves. It was impossible not to notice the 41st and 42nd of the 42 qualifiers in OPS this past month. After all, both are former first-round draft picks of the Cardinals.
Peoria shortstop Delvin Perez managed just one extra-base hit all month, and coupled with a mere three walks, led to an OBP of .288 and a slugging percentage of .270.
Palm Beach’s Nick Plummer might be happy with Perez’ numbers. Known in the past for his plate discipline, the outfielder is striking out at an alarming 39 percent rate and no other qualifier had as few as his 10 hits in April, of which eight were singles.
Consistent with their hitting struggles were their results on the bases as the pair were a combined 1-for-5 in stolen base attempts.
May offers a time for both to turn the page.
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