Top LineupC – Ivan Herrera – I have to say that although I grew up (and still am) a Pirates fan, from a UTRMinors standpoint, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of my favorite organizations to cover. In short, they never disappoint. Cardinals hitters can always be counted on to produce and looking down through this year’s lineup of minor leaguers, it’s the same old thing. It’s like making difficult cuts in a keeper league. You love this guy and that guy, but you can’t keep them all. You have to whittle your roster down to the best of the best; and we’ll kick off this year’s Cardinals list with Panamanian teenager Ivan Herrera. Signed for $200K during the July international free agent signing period in 2016, the 6’0”- 180 lb. righty made his pro debut in 2017 in the Dominican Summer League. He led the team in hitting (.335), on-base percentage (.425), OPS (.866), doubles (15) and ranked second with 57 hits and RBi 27 runs batted in, earning him Dominican Summer League All-Star team honors and a promotion to The Gulf Coast League last season where he (again) ranked as one of the team leaders in hits (T-3rd), RBi (T-3rd), batting (.348) and total bases (56). In 70 career games, Herrera carries a .989 fielding percentage, which is good, but not great and the organization feels he has work to do behind the plate, but he’s still a teenager with an obvious bat-first profile. And with (absolute) Hall-of Famer Yadier Molina in tow for another season (or two), Matt Wieters recently signed to a 1-year deal and former 2-timeUTR OASAndrew Knizner patiently awaiting his turn in St. Louis, Herrera has plenty of time to develop; and if he stays on the path he’s on, maybe, just maybe he’ll find himself together with Knizner in St. Louis within the next 3-4 seasons. 1B – Freddy De Jesus – Despite the presence of Paul Goldschmidt, the recent extension given to Jose Martinez, Stefan Trosclair and top prospect Luken Baker at first, much like catcher, we’re sticking with the lower levels. When Jim and I look at who earned a place on the OAS lists, it isn’t always about what a player did in one season. Sometimes it’s about the improvement from one season to the next. So, we’re going with another second year player in 6’0”- 200 lb. Freddy De Jesus. The righty slugger signed with the Cardinals from the Dominican Republic in September 2016 and started his pro career in the hometown DSL the following summer. De Jesus was teammates with the aforementioned Herrera on the Cardinals DSL squad in 2017 and led the roster in home runs (7), tied Herrera in RBi (27) and ranked second on the team in total bases (79). Last year, De Jesus repeated the DSL with the new DSL split affiliate Cardinals Blue roster. Although De Jesus saw a small dip in batting average (.263 from .277) and home runs (7 to 3), he led the Dominican Summer League in doubles (29) and tied for 6th in walks with 50. In fact, De Jesus increased his walk rate nearly 7 percent and his K rate dropped by 4.5 percent. In other words he more than doubled his walk rate and posted only 10 more strikeouts than he had his previous season. With a performance like this, I fully expect De Jesus to head to either the Gulf Coast League to start 2019 or maybe even a stronger push to Rookie Johnson City of the Appalachian League. 2B – Ramon Mendoza – The Cardinals are loaded with infielders in the mid-to-upper minors. When you boast the likes of third basemen Nolan Gorman and Elehuris Montero and Malcolm Nunez, and up-the-middle guys like Edmundo Sosa and former UTR OASTommy Edman, it’s a fantastic problem to have even from a UTR point of view, and although the competition is stiffer, it gives us a chance to lean back in our seats a little further and survey a little longer, even for an annual all-star list. Going back to the DSL, first-year pro Ramon Mendoza fits perfectly here. Signed as a non-drafted free-agent in April 2018, the Tijuana, Mexico native had zero time to waste and headed straight to the DSL. In 41 games he batted .311 with 47 hits, legged out five triples, drove in 33 and walked 22 times to 29 strikeouts. He got on base to a .419 clip and ranked fourth on the team with a .916 OPS. Now, long-time readers understand that the goal Jim and I set forth is not to reinvent the wheel. We just want to add a spoke or two to it. In this case with Mendoza, he’s another spoke on the wheel of second basemen within the system, but with light hitting Kolten Wong manning second and 24-year-old Yairo Munoz at the major league level, I firmly believe that despite our highlighting Mendoza as this year’s OAS, push will definitely come to shove, and one or two of the Cardinals top prospects will eventually replace not only Wong, but Munoz too. My money is on Sosa being the full-time successor with Edman as an uber infield backup. Hopefully Mendoza can continue the trend of top hitting middle infielders, with 2019 coming in the Gulf Coast League. 3B – Nolan Gorman – Even with all of the drool-worthy stats that Cuban-born Malcolm Nunez blasted onto the scene with as a 17-year-old in the DSL last season, I’m going with Gorman here. Normally, I’d take that high quantitative measure over age/level, but the fact that Gorman performed at such a high level last season speaks volumes to what this kid is capable of. The 6’1”- 120 lb. lefty played in only 38 of Johnson City’s 69 Appalachian League games and still ranked among the league leaders in home runs (11) and OPS (1.107). Gorman moved onto LoA Peoria, where he slowed a bit as would be expected, batting .202, but still clubbed 6 home runs in 25 games. As an 18-year-old, the Phoenix native ranked fifth among all Cardinals Triple-A down to the DSL in home runs (17) and there’s really no reason to believe he’ll stop anytime soon. I believe Gorman will begin 2019 back in Peoria, however, with another scorching start, he’ll be headed to HiA Palm Beach in no time. Twenty-five games into Gorman’s pro career, I added him to my fantasy roster. If you haven’t already done the same, it may be too late. SS – Franklin Soto – It’s funny that with the fifth anniversary of UTRMinors coming next month, Jim and I now find that prospects we promoted from the very beginning are up against the new waves of kids we’re talking about now. Case in point, Baseball America’s #12 overall prospect Tommy Edman. He’s been a favorite of mine since his pro debut back in 2016 with SS State College, yet wasn’t recognized until 2018 when he came in at #29 on the (BA) Cardinals top 30 list. I mentioned above that Edman is a two-time UTR OAS choice, so it’s pretty cool, to see Edman knocking on the door, while talking about another kid we hope follows in his footsteps. And after reading so far, you’re probably getting the picture that the Cardinals boasted some of the better talent in the Dominican Summer League last year. Several Cardinals Blue kids put on a show, and now it’s Cardinals Red turn. Franklin Soto did everything you’d want a young middle infielder to do: hit for average (.305), show some pop (18 extra base hits), get on base (.402), steal bases (23) and show great patience at the plate (38 walks to 31 strikeouts). His 97 total bases and 23 steals ranked second on the Cardinals Red roster, but one glaring mark on Soto’s 2018 resume is the errors at short. Twenty-four to be exact, and no matter how solid a bat Soto waves each and every game, to be a top shortstop, you have to have the defensive chops. This is what makes Edman a great prospect. He does everything well and plays up his tools. If Soto can iron out the huge wrinkles in his defense, might we have another Edman’esque UTR on our hands. Only 2019 will tell. LF – Leandro Cedeno – I’m a Marcell Ozuna owner in the ever-so-talked-about National League-only fantasy league that Jim and I share, and when you own players like Ozuna in league-specific leagues that allow minor leaguers, your sonar commonly points toward who within your player’s organization might be his eventual successor. The Cardinals can certainly crow over the bevy of outfield talent, as nine out of Baseball America’s 2019 top 30 roamed the outfield in 2018. Most of them reside in the upper minors so I’ll definitely have plenty to choose from, but this is UTR, this is an all-star list and in 2018, the now 20-year-old Cedeno had himself quite a season. In his second year in the states, (2017 – GCL), the 6’2”- 195 lb. Venezuela native parked himself with Rookie Johnson City and all he did was rank second in the Appalachian League in hits (75) and home runs (14) and total bases (132), third in runs scored (47), and fifth in RBi (47). Cedeno spent time in both outfield corners, registering a perfect fielding percentage in right than in left, yet still committed only two errors. He also saw time at first base and held his own with a .976 in 23 games. For 2018, Cedeno was great. His bat earned him a spot on this year’s list. However, with the avalanche of high-minors talent ahead of him, I just can’t see him breaking through and making a huge impact moving forward. However, you can’t erase him completely from your radar. CF – Joerlin De Los Santos – Now talk about making an impact. The same goes for the 5’11”- 175 lb. De Los Santos when it comes to the pile of outfield prospects ahead of him. In fact, as a center fielder, he actually has more competition for organizational supremacy. However, after the 2018 that the DSL Mid-Season All-Star put up, he could very well be the next star outfielder in the St. Louis system. The now 18-year-old dominated the Dominican Summer League last season batting .359 with a league-leading 84 hits and 66 runs scored, all while stealing 30 bases, totalling 117 bases and walking 41 times to 36 strikeouts. He did it all last year. On the defensive side, he’s a burner in center field, yet some people look to his size as a potential roadblock to staying at the position. But wow, though, when you create a wave like De Los Santos did in 2018, your goal is to continue to ride it as long as possible, which he’ll have the chance to do, most likely in the Gulf Coast League this coming season. As true a UTR prospect that there is in the Cardinals system. Place him on all necessary “watch” lists. RF – Dylan Carlson – As much as I tried to avoid it, there was no denying Cardinals #10 overall prospect in 2019 (BA). Even though the switch-hitter batted a combined, less-than-stellar .246 on the season, take into consideration that after a late-April promotion from LoA Peoria to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, the 2016 – 1st round draft choice out of Elk Grove HS (CA) crushed 9 home runs, 19 doubles and walked 52 times for HiA Palm Beach as a 19-year-old. Carlson not only brings an advanced approach at the plate with plus-power potential, but he’s also a plus defender. As a right fielder, Carlson is the whole package. Power, plus-plus arm, the potential to hit for high average and the baseball IQ and acumen for the game at a very young age. Carlson was last year’s UTR OAS right fielder. Hopefully this is his last year on this list, and that he segues directly onto your fantasy rosters. I love everything about this kid. And you should to. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Alex Fagalde – (21) / HiA Palm Beach
** Leave it up to the Cardinals system to have a UTR-OAS roster consisting of middle round draft picks, an Independent signee, and reclamation project. Fagalde was a 30th round pick in 2017 and has had the stigma of having success because his age/level dont match. His debut season was spent in the relief role, sans one GCL start, with short-season State College. Over 14 appearances, the 6′ 3″ 225 lb right-hander struckout 26 and walk only four in 22.1 innings with a 2.42 ERA. Fagalde’s first full season saw more of the same across two levels. At LoA Peroia, he posted a 1.63 ERA and 4.53 K/BB ratio and he was equal to task with a late season promotion to HiA. His ERA may have spiked at Palm Beach (3.20), but the K/BB (4.33) ratio against advanced hitters remained steady. Fagalde turns 25-years old to start the 2019 season, but only has 139 pro innings under his belt. Look for his to return to Palm Beach to begin the new season, but watch closely when the promotion to Springfield occurs.
2. RHP Jake Walsh – (15) / HiA Palm Beach
** Walsh was taken in the 16th round in 2017 and was assigned to the bullpen at Johnson City (Appy League). In 16 starts, the 6′ 1″ 192 lb right-hander posted a 0.95 ERA in 28.1 innings and a 12.4 K9 rate. The impression was made and Walsh was quickly sent to LoA Peroia to begin the 2018 season. Now within the Chiefs rotation, Walsh only made 8 starts (3.12 ERA, 43.1 IP, 47 K, 15 BB) before receiving a promotion to Palm Beach. The 22 year-olds strikeout rate dipped (6.4 K9) but continue to impress with his 2.24 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
3. LHP Austin Warner – (14) / Triple-A Memphis
** Warner was signed by the Cardinals from the Frontier League on June 2017. He got a taste at the HiA level (1 appearance) in his debut season and looked good starting with Palm Beach to begin 2018. The Cardinals challenged him with promotions to Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, where he was overmatched. At this point, the 5′ 11″ 185 lb looks to be organizational filler.
4. RHP Evan Guillory – (12.5) / HiA Palm Beach
** The 23rd round pick in 2017 flashed decent outings, only to get shellacked next time out. It looked like the workload of starting started to wear-down the 6′ 3 ” 210lb right-hander, but he finished with a strong month of August.
5. RHP Casey Meisner – (10.5) / Double-A Springfield
** Meisner was a 3rd round high school draft pick by the New York Mets in 2013. He never preformed up to his high draft choice billing and was traded to Oakland for Tyler Clippard. He never gained traction with the Athletics and was again traded to the Cardinals before the start of the 2018 season. After 6 pro seasons, Meisner probably enjoyed his best season in 2018 playing across two levels, and reaching Double-A Springfield. Meisner turns 24 years-old in May, so there’s plenty of time for re-development with the Cardinals. His size (6′ 7″ 190 lb), pitch repertoire, and his capability to pitch deep in games places his ceiling as an innings-eating #4-5 type arm.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Thomas St. Clair – (12.5) / HiA Palm Beach
2. RHP Cory Malcom – (6) / LoA Peoria
3. LHP Jacob Patterson – (5) / HiA Palm Beach