St. Louis Cardinals Midseason Top 10 Prospects
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The Cardinals expected to compete this season, and made moves throughout the winter designed to further that goal.
Instead, they find themselves barely over .500 with an interim manager at the helm coming out of the All-Star break.
Injuries to Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright and Alex Reyes tested the Cardinals’ pitching depth early, but the bigger problem was the offense. Injuries to Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina, poor performances from Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong and a crash back to earth from Tommy Pham have conspired to keep the Cardinals in the bottom half of the game offensively. They ranked 19th in the majors in both runs and OPS at the break.
The bullpen has been source of concern too. The Cardinals relief corps has blown 14 saves and gotten no help from expected closer Greg Holland (7.98 ERA), who has since been demoted to a setup role.
But despite it all, they remain within striking distance. At 48-46 they entered the break just four games back out of the wild card, and have options.
Stuck in the middle with an aging group of veterans in their 30s and a group of young players needing playing time, the Cardinals could very well choose to sell.
But that wouldn’t be the Cardinal way. Mike Moustakas and Josh Donaldson are two power bats the Cardinals have been linked to, and they have a deep group of prospect righthanders, catchers and outfielder to deal from if they buy.
The Cardinals have not missed the postseason three straight years since 1997-1999. Unless interim manager Mike Shildt rallies the troops in an unexpected way, that streak appears likely to end this season.
Whatever direction the Cardinals decide to go will be made apparent soon. With upper management’s decisive move to fire Matheny and the hitting coaches, a decision on the direction of the team is soon to follow.
1. Alex Reyes, RHP
Reyes continues to show No. 1 starter stuff but just can’t stay on the field. After missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery, Reyes worked his way back, made one start with the Cardinals, and then needed season-ending surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right lat muscle. Reyes has now missed significant time in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, an alarming track record that prevents him from reaching his ceiling. Reyes still possesses three potential plus pitches and he improved his general fitness during Tommy John rehab, but he has to show he can stay on the mound.
2. Tyler O’Neill, OF
O’Neill was on pace to set full-season career-highs in all three slash line categories at Triple-A Memphis while cutting his strikeout rate to a career-low 24.5 percent. He was rewarded with was his first callups to the majors, where he showed his power plays. Evaluators remain concerned O’Neill’s steep uphill swing path will get exposed against quality pitching, and he did strike out 20 times in 47 plate appearances over three big league callups. Still, O’Neill’s performance keeps trending in the right direction, and he’s getting to his power more than ever with 22 home runs in 58 games.
3. Carson Kelly, C
Kelly failed to make the Cardinals out of spring training and went just 2-for-25 in two stints in the majors this year. Despite his struggles, Kelly continues to hit well in Triple-A and evaluators see no red flags in his swing or approach, predicting he can still grow into a solid hitter with double-digit home runs. Kelly still grades as a potential above-average defender with a plus arm, with his timing blocking balls in the dirt the main thing he needs to improve.
4. Dakota Hudson, RHP
Hudson has carved through Triple-A in his second full season, using his 94-95 mph and swing-and-miss slider to go 12-2, 2.42 and earn a Futures Game selection. Hudson’s scattered fastball command limits his ability to get strikeouts, but he keeps the ball on the ground, minimizes damage (one home run allowed all year) and rises up in big spots (.183 opponent average with runners in scoring position). If another injury hits the Cardinals rotation, Hudson is in position for his first callup.
5. Andrew Knizner, C
Knizner is closing in on Kelly as the best catching prospect in the Cardinals system. He ranks among the system leaders in batting average (.305) and is second in on-base percentage (.372) while playing at the highest levels of the minors, and his defense keeps improving. His receiving and blocking raise no red flags for evaluators, and even though his caught-stealing rate has dropped, he shows enough arm strength to keep baserunners honest.
6. Nolan Gorman, 3B
Rookie-level Johnson City
Gorman was arguably the top power prospect in the 2018 draft and signed for just over $3.2 million after the Cardinals drafted him No. 19 overall. Gorman has easy plus lefthanded power and gets to mid-90s velocity, although breaking pitches have given him trouble and evaluators question if he can stick at third base defensively. Even if he has to move to first base, Gorman has the power to profile there as long as he makes the expected gains as a hitter.
7. Ryan Helsley, RHP
Helsley continued to show power stuff with a 95-98 mph fastball before going on the disabled list in early June with shoulder fatigue. Both his cutter and curveball flashed above-average to plus, helping elevate his stock to that of a potential mid-rotation starter. Controlling his power arsenal remains a challenge at times for Helsley, and will be a focal point of his development when he returns.
8. Oscar Mercado, OF
Mercado’s rapid advancement as a hitter has made him the best outfield prospect in the system for some evaluators. He’s developed a short quick stroke, has vastly improved his approach, and is showing the strength to hit balls over the fence on a line. Mercado is playing an above-average center field with top-flight speed, and only needs to show he can maintain his offensive improvements over the course of a season. Even if he doesn’t, his speed and defense make him a major league bench option.
9. Austin Gomber, LHP
The Cardinals broke Gomber into the majors in relief as they often do with their pitching prospects, and he’s settled in nicely as a middle/long reliever. Gomber’s fastball has ticked up to 94-95 mph out of the bullpen, and his big breaking curveball is an out pitch. Gomber’s arm action adds deception but limits his control, making him a reliever in the majors for many evaluators rather than a starter. He has limited righthanded batters to an .071 average, showing he is more than just a lefty specialist.
10. Dylan Carlson, OF
high Class A Palm Beach
The young, projectable Carlson is starting to figure things out. His natural hand-eye coordination and bat speed always gave him offensive potential, and he’s leveled out his approach to become a more complete hitter. He’s hit particularly well since the start of June (.281/.354/.460), excellent production given his age in the unforgiving Florida State League. Carlson remains a solid defender with a plus arm in right field, and his offensive improvements have him back on the radar as one of the organization’s better prospects.
Cardinals Won't Waver From Hitting Philosophy
Despite a fitful hitting performance in 2019, the Cardinals are committed to the organizational hitting plan they put in place before the season.
3B Elehuris Montero ranks among the Midwest League leaders in average (.308) and OPS (.857), showing plus power potential to all fields. His defense at third base projects fringe-average, but it’s enough he can stay there.
LHP Austin Warner, signed out of the independent Frontier League, excelled in high Class A and earned a June promotion to Double-A. His 91-94 mph fastball, future above-average changeup, average curveball and outstanding mound presence have evaluators turning him in as a potential back-end starter.
3B Evan Mendoza lacks big tools but keeps adjusting to the speed of the game and squaring balls up at every level. He reached Double-A less than a year after he was drafted, with his advanced feel for the game on both sides helping overcome any athletic shortcomings.
OF Adolis Garcia has fallen into being a wild swinger without an approach. He’s batting .237 with a .266 on-base percentage at Triple-A and has fared particularly poorly against good breaking stuff.
OF Jonatan Machado was physically overmatched in full-season ball and was demoted from low Class A Peoria to extended spring training after a month. He’s bounced back to hit well at Rookie-level Johnson City, but his bony 5-foot-9, 155 pound frame lacks projection and concerns evaluators.
OF Tyler O’Neill (hamstring strain) has been on the 10-day disabled list since July 5 and will be out until after the All-Star break.
RHP Ryan Helsley (shoulder fatigue) is day-to-day and does not have a timetable to return.
RHP Junior Fernandez (right shoulder impingement) returned to pitching on June 10, nearly 11 months after his last outing.
RHP Jack Flaherty moved into the Cardinals rotation and is 3-4, 3.24 in 14 starts. He leads the staff in strikeout rate (10.4) and has emerged as a National League Rookie of the Year contender.
RHP Jordan Hicks jumped from from high Class A to the Cardinals bullpen and has surpassed Aroldis Chapman as the hardest throwing pitcher in the majors, averaging 100 mph on his sinker compared to Chapman’s 99.2 mph average fastball. Hicks tied a major league record by twice touching 105 mph and has a 3.56 ERA as the Cardinals primary setup man.
OF Harrison Bader has emerged as one of the fastest players and top defensive outfielders in the National League while serving as the Cardinals oft-used fourth outfielder
C Francisco Pena made the team as a non-roster invitee and has stuck all year, serving as the backup catcher and filling in as the starter while Yadier Molina recovered from his gruesome pelvic injury.