2016 St Louis Cardinals

  • Julio Rodriguez – 19 yo
    • 4.23/.994 – PAG/APPA – (DSL) 
    • 2016 stats:  .322/.400/.580;   .980 OPS;   10 doubles, 7 home runs

Yesterday, we presented the Pittsburgh Pirates UTR OAS; and in compiling the inner-division rival of the Cardinals list, incredible depth was one thing that stood out. With the exception of right field, the Pirates were strong in the high minors at every single position. Such is the same with the Cardinals. And it starts once again at catcher. With catcher Yadier Molina‘s career on the downward side of its slope, 2012 – 2nd rounder Carson Kelly is considered the heir apparent to the position. Kelly boasts a minor league career 2.85/.787 P/A score, but it’s his defense that gets rave reviews. He shifted from third base to catching full-time in 2014 and in three short season’s has already become what some in the organization call “a gifted receiver.” He’s a leader in the clubhouse, a minor league Gold Glove winner and has off-the-charts makeup. Not bad wouldn’t you say? So, this allows us here to take our time to dig deep and find that/those next kid(s) and this year offered a real strong OAS choice in 6’0″- 195 lb. Dominican Julio Rodriguez. Signed in February 2016, the polished righty swinger started his pro career in the Dominican Summer League. He ended the season ranking second on the DSL squad in home runs, RBi’s, slugging percentage and OPS. He also posted a .994 fielding percentage and threw out 43 percent of would-be base stealers. Rodriguez may carry the “age/’level” stigma until the Cardinals can challenge him to produce at a higher level against older competition. But 2016 proved that he may possess the goods to do it. Place him on a deep, deep level prospect watch list. 

  • 1B – Andrew Knizner – 21 yo
    • 3.57/.851 – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Johnson City) 
    • 2016 stats:  .319/.423/.492;   .915 OPS;   12 doubles, 6 home runs;  21:21 BB:K 

Sometimes in baseball we hear managers, coaches or GMs say, “We will find a place to put him” when discussing players who can really hit, but have no true, fundamental defensive home. Well, that can work inside the UTR OAS series as well. Thus is the case with this year’s Cardinals first base OAS selection Andrew Knizner. The Cardinals drafted the 6’1″- 200 lb. junior in the 7th round of the 2016 draft out of North Carolina State and assigned him to Rookie Johnson City of the Appalachian League. Knizner made his mark early on in his college career earning Freshman All-American honors in 2014 as a third baseman. The following season the Wolfpack moved him behind the plate; and although he made rapid defensive strides, some say his overall offensive game fell behind. However, he still maintained a high batting average (.317) during his first year in transition. Knizner closed out his college career with a .312/.364/.420/.784 slash line along with 26 doubles and 15 homers. To say Knizner made a smooth transition to pro ball would be an understatement. He lead the J.C. Cardinals squad in home runs and RBis (42), while ranking in the top three in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and total bases (91). He lead the Johnson City roster in games played at both catcher and first base. In fact, he logged nearly as many games at first (19) than behind the plate (21). So, the phrase, “We’ll find a place to play him” is why I placed him as my OAS first basemen instead of at catcher. I chose him as my first baseman because I needed to find room for him (and his bat) on this list. He’s learning a new position and he’s hit everywhere he’s played. He’s the quintessential under-the-radar player. It’s scary to think that Knizner, who’s continued to perform at the plate despite the position switch, has the potential to become even better the more he finds comfort at his new position. A true sleeper in the Cardinals system.

  • 2B – Eliezer Alvarez – 21 yo
    • 3.66/.850 – PAG/APPA – (LoA Peoria) 
    • 2016 stats:  .332/.404/.476;   .879 OPS;   36 doubles, 6 triples, 6 home runs;  36 stolen bases

In his first three years as a pro from 2012 to 2014 , 5’11”- 165 lb. Dominican Republic native Eliezer Alvarez combined to bat .238 with 13 doubles, 10 triples, 4 home runs and 19 stolen bases. We here at UTRMinors used to use the term “breakout” to describe a prospect we feel could be in line for a breakout performance the following season. Well, if we were to rename that feature, I might have to title it after this year’s UTR OAS second baseman for the cardinals, Eliezer Alvarez. To say the 2011 free agent signee broke out would be a colossal distortion of the facts. In 2015, for Johnson City, Alvarez started to show break out signs, as he clubbed a team leading 20 doubles while ranking within the top J.C. top three in hits (64), runs scored (32), RBi’s (31), stolen bases (9) and total bases (92). Now, you’d think that this was it, Alvarez’ big season, where he put himself on the map with the likes of fellow international star prospects like Edmundo Sosa and Magneuris Sierra. Alvarez was giving us just a taste and blasted us with production that surpassed both Sosa and Sierra, all within his first taste of full-season ball. His 36 steals lead the Midwest League while his 36 doubles ranked second behind only Cubs uber-prospect Eloy Jimenez‘ 40. With this kind of statistical explosion, it’s hard to tell where Alvarez’ ceiling is. However, the ceiling of making it to the major leagues may not be too far away. He should be a target of any and every minor league portion of fantasy. 

  • 3B Casey Turgeon  – 23 yo
    • 2.93/.712 combined – PAG/APPA – (LoA Peoria – 2.13/.596;  HiA Palm Beach – 3.82/.829;  Double-A Springfield – 1.70/.472) 
    • 2016 stats:  .257/.376/.410;   .785 OPS;   15 doubles, 3 home runs

While the Cardinals are stacked high with intrigue at catcher, first base and second base, the cluster isn’t quite as high at the hot corner. From the DSL all the way through Triple-A, 2015 – 4th rounder Paul DeJong is primarily the only third basemen in the system that actually resembled one in 2016. The 6’1″- 195 lb. righty came to the organization from Illinois State in 2015 with massive power potential and he showed it off this season pounding 29 doubles for Double-A Springfield. In fact, DeJong hit 22 of the 57 home runs hit by Cardinals who played a majority of their games at third this season. That’s 37 percent of the entire organizations home runs from the hot corner. However, the UTRMinors caveat is that DeJong played a full season at Double-A, so he’s outside of our HiA and down criteria. This brings me to Casey Turgeon, who lead all third basemen HiA down in walks (33), on-base percentage (.376), slugging (.410) and OPS (.785) in only 54 games across three levels. The scouting report on Turgeon coming out of college was that he’s a patient, top-of-the-order type hitter, but if he could only hit for more power, he might be discussed much more than he is. Sadly, the power has yet to come as a pro, as Turgeon has only eight round-trippers in three minor league seasons. Turgeon will probably spend all of 2017 in Double-A and turn 25-years-old soon after the upcoming season ends. I hope he has a nice breakout season, possibly playing left field, as he’s seen considerable time there. But otherwise, my primary hope is that someone deeper inside the third base depth chart has his own breakout, giving us UTR folk something more worthy to chew on. 

  • SS Tommy Edman  – 21 yo
    • 4.09/.871 – PAG/APPA – (Short Season) 
    • 2016 stats:  .286/.400/.427;   .827 OPS;   14 doubles, 5 triples, 4 home runs;  19 stolen bases. 

One thing I’ve learned as I get older is how defiant I am when it comes to the use of acronyms in text messaging. Sure, I, like everyone else, have found myself using the proverbial  “lol” or “smh” every so often. But one particular acronym I found myself instantly shouting recently was “OMG”, which most know stands for “Oh my God.” The reason was because in several 2016-2017 post season top prospect publications, I was stunned at the inconceivable omission of 2016 – 6th round draft choice Tommy Edman. All the Stanford University draftee did in his pro debut was rank in the top five of every offensive statistical category on the State College Spikes and rank first in the New York-Penn League in runs scored (61) and walks (48). He came to the Cardinals with a scouting report of a great hit tool (and he’s hit), no power (but hit 14 doubles, 4 home runs and a .315 extra-base percentage), good speed (ranked 3rd in the NYPL in steals) and superior plate discipline with 48 walks to only 29 strikeouts this season. In the late-September 2016 Baseball America chat on the New York-Penn League Top 20, a reader asked about Edman. Chat moderator Michael Lananna said that Edman came away from the NYPL with reports that he’s a “better version of David Eckstein” and he has advanced plate discipline and a feel for the strike zone that resembles that of major leaguer Ben Zobrist. So, how can a guy have all those traits, yet be snubbed when it comes to placement on a top prospect list? Probably because of what he’s “projected” to become, not based on what he’s produced. Let’s see how things progress. I’m strongly rooting for Edman to prove mainstream publications wrong, After all, once upon a time, several prognosticators once said a little second baseman in the Astros system named Jose Altuve (a four-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger, two-time A.L. batting champion) was too small.

  • LF Matt Fiedler – 21 yo
    • 3.54/.836 – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Johnson City) 
    • 2016 stats:  .325/.386/.487;   .874 OPS;   20 doubles, 4 home runs;  8 stolen bases

When Jim and I write about the kids we bring attention to on the website, our simple goal is to share individual stats, stat comparisons and possible projections based on the landscape of the organization at press time. But one of the greatest things is finding those crooked facts, those intriguing stories surrounding the kids we select, even if it’s a backstory or something interestingly noteworthy. The Cardinals selected the 5’10”- 195 lb. righty out of the University of Minnesota in the 9th round of the 2016 draft. The fun fact about Fiedler is that he pulled off an extremely rare feat in a March 18, 2016 game versus Utah State. Fiedler completed the baseball hat-trick hitting a home run (his first on the season), stealing a base (his 3rd) and notching win (his third) after tossing 6 innings of 6 hit, 2 run ball. Yes, the baseball hat trick. In his three year career with the Golden Gopher’s Fiedler batted .337 with 12 homers and 72 RBi’s and on the mound compiled a 11-5 record with a 4.61 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. But what the Cardinals saw when they drafted him was a bat-first prospect; and his production didn’t skip a beat upon his assignment to Johnson City. Fiedler’s 20 doubles ranked first in the Appalachian League while his 64 hits, .325 batting average and 96 total bases all ranked him within the APPY League’s top 10. With Feidler’s supreme versatility, his ceiling is difficult to gauge. His home is either in the outfield or on the mound (with a fastball clocked in the low-90s), but how can you take a guy who can hit like this out of the batter’s box? Whatever the Cardinals decide to do, I’m a fan regardless. 

  • CF – Wadye Ynfante – 18 yo
    • 3.65/.852 combined: – PAG/APPA – (DSL – 4.04/.912;  GCL – 0.50/.158) 
    • 2016 stats combined:  .308/.404/.419;   .823 OPS;   15 doubles, 1 home run;  9 stolen bases

This off season, the Cardinals leaped into the free-agent market signing center fielder Dexter Fowler to a 5 year-$82 million dollar deal. This takes Fowler and the Cardinals to the year 2021, and places an impact veteran at the top of their lineup. What the signing also does is places pressure on 22-year-old top center field prospect Harrison Bader in a little bit of limbo. The 2015 – 3rd rounder out of the University of Florida spent time in both Double and Triple A this season where he bashed 19 doubles, 19 home runs and stole 13 bases. I believe Bader will spend all of 2017 in Triple-A, but what will St. Louis do if they feel Bader is ready to contribute? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, this year’s OAS choice Wadye Ynfante has plenty of time to polish his game, and he did a good job of it in 2016. The Cardinals signed the 6’0″- 160 lb. righty to a free-agent contract in February 2014 and assigned him to the Dominican Summer League. In his first season of pro ball, he failed to impress batting .200 with only 10 extra-base hits in 46 games. Ynfante repeated the DSL in 2015 and was a totally different player. In only three more games played than in 2014, he lead the DSL squad in hits (66), batting (.311) and total bases (97) and ranked second in doubles (16), RBi’s (34), slugging (.458), OPS (.820) and a 3.73/.782 P/A score. This helped earn Ynfante the 2015 Cardinals Dominican Player of the Year award.  The Cardinals like Ynfante. He has good size, good arm strength, and a good combo of power, speed and the ability to simply put the bat on the ball. There’s absolutely no reason to rush Ynfante with the high minors and major league level secured for the next several seasons. Ynfante should spend all of 2017 in the GCL, but if he bolts out of the gate, he could see a promotion to Rookie Johnson City by the end of the regular season. 

  • RF – Brian Sanchez – 20 yo
    • 5.00/1.109: – PAG/APPA – (DSL) 
    • 2016 stats:  .349/.433/.642;   1.075 OPS;   13 doubles, 15 home runs

In the much documented fantasy league that Jim and I share (the PFL), of all the players  sitting on my roster, Cardinals right fielder Stephen Piscotty is the one who draws the most trade interest. After all, what’s not to like? The 2012 – 1st rounder out of Stanford has a career 3.12/.744 P/A score in the minors and so far, in 216 games as a major leaguer, his mark is even better at 3.24/.773. That’s an average of 3+ fantasy points per day folks. The math equates to 525 fantasy points, and I’ll take that eight days a week out of a 26-year-old right fielder who’s yet to reach his prime. He’s the pillar of consistency in reference to P/A score and that speaks well for N.L.-only fantasy owners. Piscotty is under team control with his arbitration years coming between 2019-’21, and he can become a free agent in 2022. So, this leaves more than enough time for St. Louis to sort out what’s going on down in the minors; and in 2016, there wasn’t much besides 20-year-old Dominican Summer League slugger Brian Sanchez. Now, I’ve see incredible P/A scores in my day, but what Sanchez did in 2016 was almost beyond comprehension. The only other prospect I recall finishing a season with a PAG/APPA score of 5.00/1.000 or higher was Cleveland’s Bobby Bradley, who churned out a 5.36/1.188 in his 39 game pro debut in the Arizona League. Now listen, I’ve stated in the past that I’m not big on player comparisons. I’m not comparing Bradley and the 6’2″- 180 lb. Sanchez. I’m here to report stellar 2016 performances and for one to think that Sanchez or even Bradley can sustain that type of production over a full season is a bit nonsensical. However, Sanchez put on quite a show in the DSL this season. His league leading 15 home runs more than doubled second place finisher’s seven, smacked by fellow 2016 UTR OAS mate, catcher Julio Rodriguez. Sanchez also lead the league in RBi’s (76), total bases (149) and ranked second in the league in slugging percentage (.642) and OPS (1.075). If it doesn’t appear that I’m too excited about Sanchez, despite his stat explosion this season, you’re right. It’s great and it was a lot of fun to watch take place this season, as he made my UTR Hitters of the Day post 11 times during the season. But let’s be honest. Sanchez cannot sustain that level of production, he’s yet to see American soil and he’s looking up at one of the premiere young right fielders in the game in Stephen Piscotty. For UTRMinors sake, I hope Sanchez becomes the next Babe Ruth. But for the sake of pure averages, just enjoy Sanchez while the sparks can still fly. 

Pitchers

While information gathering to begin my 2014/2015 review of the Cardinals, I saw a list of past UTR-OAS pitchers slated to be bumped from minor league camp and used to plug holes in the big club roster during Spring Training. It could be a great opportunity for 2015 OAS Jack Flaherty, Daniel Poncedeleon, Artie Reyes, and 2015 OAS Austin Gomber to make an impression, according to Jesus Ortiz at the St. Louis Dispatch. Flaherty immediately hit our radar in his pro debut with the GCL Cardinals in 2014. The former 1st round pick hails from the same high school as Max Fried and Lucas Giolito, who were  drafted in 2012. The 6’4″- 205 lb. righty repeated on my list after his 2015 season, which earned him the “Solid Stash” tag. While Flaherty ranks as a Cardinals Top 5 prospect (Baseball America), Daniel Poncedeleon (9th Rd- 2014) has remained under the radar and was my 2015 “One to Watch.”  The now 25-year old right-hander probably has the most at stake, in trying to make a splash to St Louis. He just missed the 2015 UTR-OAS ranking and completed a solid Double-A stint in 2016. The other Reyes arm in the Cardinals’ stable, Artie or Arturo, is the epitome of UTR with his 40th round draft status in 2013. Artie Reyes has moved through the system and saw most of his time at Triple-A Memphis, after a taste in 2015. He proved to be hittable in 2015 (12.8 H/9), but keeps balls in the park (0.3 HR/9). He reversed the trend in 2016 with a promising 8.8 H/9 rate, but gave up 12 home runs in 107.2 innings (1.0 HR/9). Watch him closely in Spring Training during outings on the main field. Chances are, that if you hear the name Reyes during Spring ball it will be Artie, since top pitcher Alex Reyes will miss the 2017 season with Tommy John surgery.
The 2015 UTR-OAS was highlighted by 4th round (2014) pick Austin Gomber, who tore-up the Midwest League. The Cardinals rewarded Gomber with a Spring Training invite after last season and he kept the train rolling in 2016. He makes a repeat appearance below in the runner-up slot. It’s actually been tough for true UTR’s to crack the Cardinals list, with the like of Gomber, Flaherty, and 2015 OAS Luke Weaver. One young arm to remember and was my 2016 “One to Watch” the 20-year old David Oca. He’s another pitcher that appeared on my list after the 2014 season with the DSL Cardinals. He made his U.S. debut in 2015 and over four seasons sports a strikeout rate of 23.5 % in 250.2 innings. He only saw two months during the 2016 season in the Appy League, so it may be worth tracking him when he gets his first full season at LoA, hopefully next month. Most the above names seem to be a call-up away to St. Louis, so let’s see what crop of new UTR’s will be filling their void.
 
 Top 5 Starting Pitchers – Factor Score / TPS
 
1. RHP Matt Pearce – 25 / .135     *Legit UTR*

  • 22 years old – (HiA Palm Beach / Double-A Springfield / Triple-A Memphis)
  • 13th round – 2014
  • Pearce just turned 23 this week and has already seen time at HiA Palm Beach (HiA) and Triple-A Memphis. He Ranked in the #5 slot last season and blew away his (9) Factor Score, but held his TPS rate steady. He would blow-up as a prospect if he could only miss more bats. Known more as a finesse pitcher, Pearce’s peripherals were promising across three levels in 2016. In work-horse fashion, Pearce threw 163.2 innings and posted a 3.08 ERA and 1.057  WHIP. Look for the 6’3″- 205 lb. right-hander to spend more time at Double-A in 2017.
2. LHP Austin Gomber – 19 / .091   *Solid Stash*

  • 22 years old – (HiA Palm Beach / Double-A Springfield)
  • 4th round – 2014
  • Gomber is the lone lefty in a right-hander dominated system, which increases his fantasy ‘stash’ value. What lacks in Pearce, you will find in Gomber. The imposing 6″5″- 235 lb. pitcher registered very Pearce-comprable ERA and WHIP stats, but his 8.2 K/9 rate makes him a bit more attractive.
3. RHP Junior Fernandez – 17 / .129    *Legit UTR*
  • 19 years old – (LoA Peoria / HiA Palm Beach)
  • International Free Agent – 2014
  • Fernandez has held is own despite facing much older competition, and being the youngest pitcher in the Florida State League. The teenage righty was added to the Spring Training roster recently to fill the void from injuries and other pitchers playing the World Baseball Classic. This is good news, as quality time spent working on his command of a plus- fastball (that can run up into the high 90’s) is nothing but positive. He also exhibits a plus change-up, which could place his ceiling as a late-inning reliever. He holds onto his #3 spot, earning the “Legit UTR” stamp.
4. RHP Sandy Alcantara – 14 / .086   
  • 20 years old – (LoA Peoria / HiA Palm Beach)
  • International Free Agent – 2013
  • To be honest, I had to back track into last years’ spreadsheet to see how close Alcantara came from making the 2015 UTR-OAS roster. If you look back to 2015, he was so close and almost got the “One to Watch” for 2016. Wow, I missed that one, as the 20-year old averaged 28.8 strikeout percentage over two levels. Joseph Werner over at ProspectDigest.com reported that hasn’t happened since Tyler Glasnow in 2014.
5. RHP Ryan Helsley – 14 / .074
  • 21 years old – (LoA Peoria)
  • 5th round – 2015
  • OK UTR Fans…..remember this kids name. And I state that with the same enthusiasm as I did back in 2011 with Trevor Rosenthal at LoA Quad Cities. I then drafted him prior to the 2013 fantasy season and he’s still on my roster. My system hit on Rosenthal when he was starting games, thus making his way as the Cardinals’ closer when the rotation was busting at the seams with arms. Don’t rule out that he could return back to his roots with Seung hwan Oh projected to be the closer in 2017. So here’s Helsley, a starter, but I project him to be the future closer, with his fastball touching triple-digits (100 mph). The now 22-year old was the best kept secret in 2016 with LoA Peoria and has yet receive the deserved ink….so he’ll get it here. He made 11 appearances (9 starts) in the Appy League in 2015 posting a 2.01 ERA over 40.1 innings. He jumped to full season LoA and went 10-2 with a 1.61 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.3 SO/9 rate (109 K’s) in 95 innings. I always try to select a true UTR (below 5th round draft pick) as my “One to Watch”, but Helsley makes the 2017 choice too obvious.
 
 
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – Factor Score / TPS
 
 1. RHP Landon Beck –  10 / .081    *Legit UTR* 
  • 24 years old – (LoA Peoria / HiA Palm Beach)
  • 25th round – 2014
  • Beck was a 2014 UTR-OAS as a starter. Back then, I wrote about the abundance of relief arms within the Cardinal system and that Beck would probably remain as a starter. The table has turned with Beck having the most saves (11) of any reliever in the Cards system below Double-A.
 2. RHP Tyler Bray –  / .077    
  • 24 years old – (LoA Peoria / HiA Palm Beach)
  • 26th round – 2014
3. RHP Rowan Wick –  / .068   
  • 23 years old – (LoA Peoria / HiA Palm Beach)
  • 9th round – 2012
  • A converted outfielder that throws in the upper 90’s along with deception. Could be decent future set-up guy.