February 7, 2014
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
St. Louis Cardinals Top 10 Prospects
The Top Ten
1. Oscar Taveras
What Happened in 2013: A high-ankle injury spoiled what was to be his major-league breakout, limiting Taveras to only 46 games in Triple-A.
Strengths: Elite hit tool potential; natural feel for barreling the baseball; elite hands; elite bat speed; controlled chaos in the swing; batting title future; power will flow from the hit tool; raw power is near elite; game power likely to play above plus; arm is strong; good athlete with instincts for the game; average run; average (or better) glove; special offensive profile.
Weaknesses: Greedy at the plate; thinks he can hit every pitch thrown (usually can); can lose counts because of aggressive approach; reads/routes need work in center; good athlete but lacks plus run; baserunning needs refinement.
Overall Future Potential: 7; perennial all-star
Realistic Role: High 6; first division/all-star
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; ready for majors; ankle injury on resume (2013)
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a group of four elite fantasy prospects right now, and Taveras is squarely in the middle of it. There’s no one who can touch his batting average projection, which could be league-leading, but he’s certainly no slouch in power either (think 25-30 homers, realistically)—and he can even sprinkle in a couple of steals. This is a potential future first-rounder here, and a player to build around for the future.
The Year Ahead: Taveras lost some of his high-gloss prospect shine in 2013, but only because he was limited by a nagging ankle injury that prevented him from climbing to the major-league level, becoming a media darling in the postseason, and admitting to a national audience that his long-term goal is to become my best friend. The bat is very special, with electric hands, ferocious bat speed, and contact so easy and natural that it’s conceivable that Taveras shares a genetic relationship with the bat in his hand. He’s ready to hit at the major-league level, and the medicals suggest the ankle will be ready to go for 2014, so whenever he gets to promotion, be prepared to watch a future batting champion and perennial all-star.
Major league ETA: 2014
2. Kolten Wong
What Happened in 2013: Wong crushed in Triple-A, but struggled with the stick at the major-league level, retarding his prospect value in some circles.
Strengths: Tremendous feel for baseball; natural hitter; quick stroke; more pop than size suggests; hit tool projects to be plus (or better); several sources see a future .300 hitter; doubles power, but can put balls in the seats; above-average glove at second; overall defensive profile could play above average despite fringe arm; runs well; instincts and makeup.
Weaknesses: Setup (leg lift) can affect balance/landing; can struggle with off-speed; lacks plus game power; likely to play below average; arm is fringe; accurate but lacks much arm strength; aside from hit tool, needs instincts and aptitude to play up to potential.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; major league regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; achieved major-league level
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Power production will be the big driver of Wong’s future value. He’s ready to start for the Cardinals now, and he should be a good all-around player, especially in deep leagues. In shallow leagues, without 12-15 homer pop, he just becomes a guy who can hit around .280 with 20 steals—and while that’s above replacement level, it’s essentially a poor man’s Jose Altuve.
The Year Ahead: It’s generic to suggest, but the best way to describe Wong is to say he’s a gamer, a player who shows obvious feel and instincts for the game, which allows his average physical tools to play up. The hit tool could actually play above plus, as he shows excellent bat-to-ball ability, but the rest of his game lacks much impact and could keep him from becoming more than just a major-league regular. With a longer look and time to adjust, Wong is going to hit at the highest level, and given his style and approach to the game, it won’t take him long to establish himself as a fan favorite.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2013
3. Stephen Piscotty
What Happened in 2013: TINSTAASS: There is no such thing as a Stanford swing
Strengths: Natural hitter; has a knack for making hard contact to all fields; can shorten up or add length/leverage to stroke; good balance; minimal movement in setup; good approach; hit tool could play to plus-plus; game power should play average or better; arm is easy plus-plus; weapon in right; athletic and runs well; good glove/range for position.
Weaknesses: Bat speed isn’t special; can get tied up by inside velocity; doesn’t project to hit for plus power; more doubles/gaps than over the fence; still refining as an outfielder; glove likely to play average.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division/all-star
Realistic Role: High 5; above-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 49 games at Double-A level.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Piscotty is a potential .300 hitter at the major-league level, who can augment that with 15-20 homers. That may not be a fantasy star, but it’s certainly someone who will be plenty helpful in leagues of any size—especially in a points format. Like any other Cardinals position prospect, he may not get regular at bats as quickly as his talent may dictate.
The Year Ahead: Piscotty can absolutely rake, plain and simple. He might not end up hitting for plus over-the-fence power, but you can see a projection where he hits .300 with 30-plus doubles and 15 homers. Piscotty should develop into a solid-average right fielder, with a laser arm and more than enough athleticism for the position. It won’t take long for Piscotty to force the issue at the major-league level; a logjam of first-division outfield talent waiting for the opportunity to make an already strong team even stronger. The first three prospects on this list could eventually end up hitting .300 at the major-league level. That’s pretty crazy. LogJammin’.
Major league ETA: 2014
4. Alexander Reyes
What Happened in 2013: In his professional debut, Reyes flashed his frontline upside in the Appalachian League, missing 68 bats in only 12 starts.
Strengths: Prototypical size; room for physical projection; electric arm speed; easy action and smooth release; fastball already works plus; projects to be plus-plus; 92-98 mph with late action; curveball could be second well above-average offering; hard breaker with tight rotation and heavy vertical bite; feel for changeup; could end up playing above average; delivery conducive for command projection.
Weaknesses: Needs general refinement; still transitioning from thrower to pitcher; needs to sharpen up command; work on sequencing; PFP refinement; holding runners; changeup is third offering; can overthrow the pitch; more deliberate in release.
Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; short-season resume
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: One of two international arms to make the Fantasy 101, Reyes has enough upside to overcome his ETA right now. With his raw stuff and the Cardinals’ ability to transform tools into performance, he could be a big riser on this list next season and has the potential to be a top fantasy pitching prospect in baseball not long after that.
The Year Ahead: It’s a high-risk profile but Reyes has the highest ceiling of any arm on the Cardinals farm, a frontline type who should eventually move into the upper tier of all prospects in the minors. He’s still raw and needs refinement across the board, but has feel despite being a power arm, and could end up being a faster mover than his risk might suggest. With good present size and remaining physical projection, a clean delivery, a plus-plus potential arsenal, and pitchability, it would be difficult to build a more prototypical frontline pitching prospect, and with a strong debut at the full-season level in 2014, Reyes could rank among the top arms in the minors. This is legit.
Major league ETA: 2017
5. Marco Gonzales
What Happened in 2013: Popped with the 19th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Gonzales has a changeup that one source referred to as the best secondary pitch in the minors.
Strengths: Fluid, athletic delivery; repeats mechanics and consistent with release point; fastball plays to solid-average; upper-80s/low-90s; grade elevated by command and late arm-side life; changeup is religious experience pitch; easy plus-plus; some sources go to 8 with future grade; exceptional deception from the fastball/arm in combination with action; plays with two breaking balls; curveball should get to average; command should play to plus; great makeup
Weaknesses: Athletic but not physically imposing; fastball velocity is pedestrian; has to hit his spots to find success; breaking balls lack plus potential; curveball is loose, not of the hammer variety; command needs refinement to hit projection.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional experience; ready to move fast.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Lefties with great changeups can miss bats just as well as right-handers with great breaking balls, so while Gonzalez doesn’t have a special fastball, he can provide a lot of fantasy value if the change is what it can be. In a beneficial home park and division, Gonzalez could post an ERA south of 3.50 along with a strong WHIP.
The Year Ahead: Gonzales can ride his smutty changeup all the way to the majors, despite setting it up with an average fastball and a fringe (present) breaking ball assortment. His command will have to be sharp to reach his ceiling, but getting bats moving with a decent fastball will allow the mighty changeup to disrupt the timing and balance of hitters and miss bats and barrels alike. The soon-to-be 22-year-old should reach Double-A very early in his professional career, and could challenge for a major-league job at some point in 2015. Given the explicit rating on his changeup, he probably won’t face much of a challenge until he reaches that level.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
6. Carson Kelly
What Happened in 2013: A second round pick in the 2012 draft, Kelly shows a lot of promise with the stick, but the overall value just received a shot in the arm with a positional move behind the plate.
Strengths: Good athlete, with size and strength; strong arm; good feel for hitting; has quality at-bats; hit tool projects to solid-average; bat speed and strength to project for solid-average to plus game power; high baseball IQ; top shelf makeup.
Weaknesses: New to position; needs to learn/refine footwork; strong arm but limited experience throwing from behind the plate; game calling is at beginning stages; hit tool isn’t impact; good swing but unlikely to develop into plus bat; swing can show some violence and could struggle against better arms/better secondary stuff.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; new developmental trajectory; dual threat
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: This is an interesting one. Kelly was a fringe fantasy prospect as a third baseman, but as a catcher, the bat becomes very interesting. He’s a long way from realizing any of this, but he certainly falls above the Blake Swihart line as far as future potential goes. Could be a .270 hitter with 20-25 homers.
The Year Ahead: While Kelly might not have profiled as a solid third baseman, his skill-set is a much better fit behind the plate, where his strong arm can be a weapon, his athleticism can be an asset instead of an obstacle, and his overall baseball aptitude can take a solid-average profile to a higher level. It’s going to take time and patience, but the defensive opportunities and the offensive projections could make Kelly a first-division talent at a premium position. The bat has a good chance to take a step forward in 2014, and I expect more over-the-fence power to show up in another pass in Peoria. As he rounds into shape behind the plate, Kelly’s prospect stock should soar.
Major league ETA: 2017
7. Rob Kaminsky
What Happened in 2013: Diminutive southpaw with one of the best (if not THE best) curveball in the entire draft class, Kaminsky wasted little time showing off his bat-missing prowess in his eight Gulf Coast League appearances.
Strengths: Short but pitches tall with high slot; creates some plane; fastball is average at present, but can push the velocity into plus range; some action to the arm-side; projects as plus offering; curveball is future plus-plus offering; big tumble with tight rotation and depth; hard for bats to adjust to; changeup plays well off fastball; fringe at present but projectable; solid-average command projection; competitive.
Weaknesses: Fastball command is fringe at present; can struggle to finish his delivery and work down (which is necessary for him to create plane); curveball is a developed pitch and is often used as the primary to a fault; fastball velocity can play down; upper-80s and flat when he elevates; changeup is fringe at present; can sail the pitch and lose action.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 5 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited professional experience; 19-years-old.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There may be more fantasy upside to Kaminsky than Gonzalez, but there’s also more risk and a longer timeline. Which you prefer may just come down to philosophy. The diminutive lefty will be pitching in a great park for his fly ball inducing skills, and he could rack up close to 200 strikeouts a year if the curveball develops into the monster pitch it could.
The Year Ahead: Kaminsky has all the necessary components to start, despite limited size or physical projection. He has some pitchability, and the fastball has more projection than fellow southpaw Marco Gonzales. As he adds strength to his frame and settles into more consistent velocity, the fastball should develop into an excellent compliment to his already monster curveball, a pairing that should allow him to miss a lot of bats at the minor-league level. The changeup and command need work, but he’s a 19-year-old arm with limited professional experience, so refinement will come in the developmental process.
Major league ETA: 2017
8. Randal Grichuk
What Happened in 2013: Grichuk enjoyed good health for the second straight season, allowing him to take a step forward in his development and move beyond the injury issues that slowed his progress after being drafted.
Strengths: Good athlete; can handle the demands of right; arm is solid-average; has good raw strength and power; can drive the ball out of the ballpark; good natural lift to the swing; has some bat speed; good hitter against left-handers; leaves it all on the field.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t make consistent contact; struggles against arm-side pitching; will get aggressive at the plate; susceptible to good off-speed stuff; lacks up-the-middle defensive profile; has power but hit tool could limit utility.
Overall Future Potential: 5; second-division player
Realistic Role: High-4; platoon bat/4th outfielder
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; injury free for two full seasons; 500 at-bats at Double-A level.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Outside of NL-only leagues, Grichuk has minimal value, as the combination of non-sexy eligibility and a fantasy ceiling that is barely above replacement leaves a lot to be desired.
The Year Ahead: Grichuk could develop into an average player at the highest level, which sounds like a pejorative outcome, but that is far from the truth. If you assume the hit tool manages to play to fringe-average, but he makes enough contact to let his raw power play, Grichuk could be a .250 type with 15-20 bombs, all from a decent defensive profile in right field. That’s a second-division player, and that’s probably the ceiling here, but that’s still a valuable commodity to have under cost control for six seasons.
Major league ETA: Late 2014
9. Tim Cooney
What Happened in 2013: In his first-full season, Cooney pitched his way to the Texas League, where the former third round pick made 20 starts and missed more than a bat an inning.
Strengths: Polished; sound delivery and good command profile; creates good angle; fastball velocity is average, but he spots the pitch well; good arm-side life; changeup is solid-average; plays well off the fastball; good deception and action; can throw curveball for strikes; cutter can force weak contact; plus pitchability.
Weaknesses: Lacks impact stuff; relies on sharp command and sequence to keep hitters off balance and force bad swings; fastball plays in the zone too often in the 89-91 range; works in Double-A but likely to get hit in the majors; finds too many bats; lacks a wipeout breaking ball; unlikely to miss bats at the highest level.
Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter
Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; Double-A experience; could reach majors in 2014
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: While the strikeout-to-walk rate is awfully pretty, Cooney isn’t someone to target heavily in fantasy leagues. He could throw a lot of innings (if he can squeeze into that crowded rotation) with a strong WHIP (potentially under 1.20), but he may give back some of those gains in ERA and strikeouts.
The Year Ahead: Cooney is a polished arm with pitchability and a deep arsenal he can locate, which allows him to find success at the minor-league level. Despite the size, the angles, and the ability to change speeds, Cooney will need to have sharp command to have sustainable success against major-league bats, a starter’s profile but more of a back-end variety than a pitcher capable of missing enough bats to be considered a mid-rotation type. He will reach the majors in 2014, but I wouldn’t expect more than a no. 4 starter at best, and most likely a capable and durable no. 5 type.
Major league ETA: 2014
10. Vaughn Bryan
What Happened in 2013: The raw 35th round talent showed a lot more on the field than some expected, and his physical electricity made him a much-talked-about sleeper to watch as he matures into a baseball player.
Strengths: Elite athleticism; good present strength; plus-plus run; covers a lot of ground in center; glove projects to plus; bat shows promise; good hip rotation and fluidity in the swing; has bat speed and power potential; work ethic is plus.
Weaknesses: Very raw; reads/routes need refinement in center; arm is below average; better stick from the right side; needs to improve left-hand swing; game power is more gaps than over the fence (at present); impact talent but a long way to go.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division/all-star level player
Realistic Role: High 4; bench outfielder/below-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited professional experience; big questions about raw tools playing against better competition.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: This is a fun one. Someone who is undoubtedly unowned in your dynasty league, Bryan has tools to make fantasy owners drool. However, he’s forever away (both developmentally and chronologically) from turning this into production. But a potential 20+ homer, 40+ steal player? That makes his extreme risk worth it now in deeper leagues.
The Year Ahead: Bryan is a classic boom or bust prospect, a high-impact athlete who might not be able to turn that premium athleticism into usable baseball skills. He can run for days, so his range in center will be a weapon if he can refine his reads off the bat and his path to the ball. His arm has strength but plays below average at present, but has a chance to improve a bit through instruction. The swing is actually quite pretty, with good hips and hands, capable of generating plus bat speed from both sides of the plate. He needs a lot of work and this ranking might be a year premature, but the physical characteristics are hard to ignore, and if he can take a step forward in 2014, he has the potential to develop into a significant prospect.
Major league ETA: 2017
Prospects on the Rise:
2. OF Charlie Tilson: The plus athlete that took a big step forward in 2013, hitting his way to the Florida State League after missing the entire 2012 season with an injury and subsequent surgery to his shoulder. A fully healthy Tilson is an impact talent on all sides of the ball, and if he continues the healthy trend in 2014, his inclusion in the Cardinals top 10 will be a given.
3. RHP Sam Tuivailala: An infielder turned reliever, Tuivailala made his full-season debut in 2013, and despite some minor injury setbacks, he flashed his late-innings upside in a 35-inning sample. Working mainly off a fastball that routinely sits in the 97-100 mph range, the 21-year-old has the type of fastball to move through the minors very quickly. The command needs work, and his hard breaking ball comes and goes, but the fastball is special, so if Tuivailala can stay healthy, he should blossom into yet another successful conversion arm for the Cardinals.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
2. LHP Lee Stoppelman: Drafted in the 24th round in 2012, Stoppelman had a whirlwind run through the minors in his full-season debut, pitching across three levels and finishing the year in the Arizona Fall League. The arsenal isn’t going to scare children or break radar guns, but the average arsenal (FB/CH/CB) is brutal on lefties, and despite a limited ceiling, the 23-year-old is likely to carve out a long major-league career as a situational reliever.
3. RHP Seth Blair: It’s been a rocky developmental path for the former supplemental first round pick, with a poor debut season and a scrubbed 2012 season thanks to a tumor found on his pitching hand. But he found his stride in 2013, logging 22 starts at the Double-A level, battling with command issues but getting back on the developmental track. His most likely role will come out of the bullpen, where his low-90s fastball and hard breaking ball could play up and his command woes could play down.
Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/88 or later)
The clear leaders in the scouting and player development world in recent years, the St. Louis Cardinals have constructed their organization by accumulating tremendous depth that can supplement the major-league roster and by developing homegrown first-division talent. The esoteric sector of the baseball orb in which we reside enjoys debating the merits of a farm system teeming with depth versus one that can boast potential superstars. The Cardinals have been fortunate enough to possess both qualifications the past few seasons, and despite several graduations to the major-league squad in 2013, the system is still quite strong and holds many of the same distinctions. As is the case with the recently profiled Pittsburgh Pirates, each member of this list is either an integral member of the major-league roster or a Top 101 prospect. The young talent found within is legitimate.
Despite battling injuries in 2013, Oscar Taveras highlights this impressive list. In fact, several drafts of the list had the top three players in different order with each one sitting atop at some stage of the process, but the ultimate determination came down to upside, a quality that Taveras possesses loads of. The combination of top-shelf bat speed, preternatural bat-to-ball ability, and the potential for prodigious home run totals pushes him into rarified air as a player who could be a perennial all-star candidate once he reaches the highest level. Miller and Wacha each have a case for the list’s highest placement, as the respective components of each pitcher’s repertoire elicit both high grades and room for secondary growth and improvement. Both have pitched extremely well at the highest level thus far and should find themselves near the top of a rotation for years to come.
Live-armed Dominican Carlos Martinez checks in behind the triumvirate of Taveras, Miller, and Wacha. The 22-year-old slots ahead of Trevor Rosenthal due to the ever-enticing chance that he remains a starter long-term, as the arsenal’s electricity would undoubtedly have an impact near the top of a rotation. Rosenthal, a former 21st-round selection who has seen success out of a major-league bullpen, seems destined for the closer role long-term, a position in which he could easily find success and become one of the league’s premier arms. Kolten Wong has all of the necessary ingredients to be a first-division player and is slated to start the season as the team’s second baseman, where the instinctual hitter has the chance to be a large part of the team’s future. Slugging first baseman Matt Adams has shown some platoon struggles in a small sample and is limited defensively, but the plus-plus raw power and surprisingly solid bat-to-ball ability at the highest level have combined to give the Cardinals a hefty return on their initial investment to secure the former 23rd-round selection.
The 2012 supplemental first-round selection Stephen Piscotty did everything in his power in 2013 to quell pre-draft skeptics who questioned his ultimate offensive output at the professional level, displaying a plus-plus potential hit tool and burgeoning extra-base pop across two levels of the minors, ending his season on a very high note in the Arizona Fall League. Nineteen-year-old Alexander Reyes makes the list on the promise of his right arm, displaying two potential plus-plus pitches in his fastball and hammer curveball. The overall package is raw and development of the changeup and command is imperative, but the payoff could be quite large. While one could argue that 2013 first-rounder Marco Gonzales deserves the final spot on the list at the behest of his impressive command profile and devastating changeup, Joe Kelly receives the nod in his final year of consideration. The right-hander has pitched very well in multiple roles for the major-league squad and should ultimately settle in as a solid back-of-the-rotation arm with a plus sinker and three usable secondaries. –Ethan Purser
A Parting Thought: Despite graduating top talent like Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals system remains in the top tier in the game, built on impact ceilings, depth at every level, and a track record for turning late-round talent into major-league quality contributors.