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Hitting: 55. Power: 55. Running: 55. Fielding: 55. Arm: 45. TRACK RECORD: Before he retired at the end of the 2018 season, Elk Grove (Calif.) High coach Jeff Carlson was known for producing future big leaguers. A remarkable eight Elk Grove alums have reached the majors from Carlson’s 16 seasons at the school, including his son Dylan. Dylan Carlson was one of the youngest players in the 2016 draft class and a late riser up draft boards. The Cardinals nabbed him with the 33rd pick. As one of the youngest players at every level he played, Carlson’s first couple of years in pro ball were solid but unspectacular. He broke out with an excellent 2019 season at Double-A Springfield and won the Texas League MVP award. The Cardinals brought him up from the alternate training site in mid August for his big league debut, but he struggled and was demoted in early September. Recalled 10 days later, Carlson homered on his first day back and hit .278/.325/.611 after he returned. He started all three of the Cardinals’ playoff games and batted cleanup. SCOUTING REPORT: Carlson is more of a well-rounded player with few glaring weaknesses rather than a tools-laden star. A switch-hitter, Carlson is an all-fields hitter who likes to spread the ball around from both sides of the plate. He is just as comfortable taking a pitch on the outer third the other way as he is yanking a ball down and inside. Carlson has the approach and demeanor of a savvy veteran and draws rave reviews for his poise at the plate. He controls the strike zone, recognizes spin and makes adjustments, ultimately projecting as an above-average hitter. Changeups gave him some trouble in his pro debut and he was also somewhat vulnerable against fastballs up in the zone, but he’s a smart player who doesn’t let a weakness hamper him for long. Carlson is one of the youngest players in the majors and should continue to get stronger and add power as he matures. His line-drive swing is more geared for singles and doubles than home runs at present, but more balls should travel over the fence as he fills out. Carlson is an above-average runner capable of stealing a base and playing all three outfield positions. He is best in a corner but can play center field as needed. His fringe-average arm is his weakest tool, but its accuracy helps make up for some of its strength shortcomings. THE FUTURE: Carlson’s strong finish helped wipe away memories of a rough first month in the majors. He should begin 2021 in the Cardinals outfield and has a chance to grow into a well-rounded, first-division player.
Fastball: 60. Slider: 50. Changeup: 55. Curveball: 60. Control: 55. TRACK RECORD: Liberatore was the ace of USA Baseball’s 18U World Cup-winning team in 2017 and was drafted 16th overall by the Rays the following year. The Rays traded him to the Cardinals before the 2020 season in a deal that quickly became known as the Randy Arozarena trade after Arozarena became the star of the 2020 postseason. SCOUTING REPORT: Liberatore is one of the most promising young lefties in the game. His four-pitch mix is topped by a 92-96 mph fastball that may settle into the upper end of his velocity range as he matures, and he backs it up with an assortment of quality secondaries. His upper-70s, downer curveball gives him a second plus pitch and his average slider has flashes of intrigue as well with late tilt in the low 80s. His changeup is his fourth pitch but still projects to be an potentially above-average offering. Liberatore ties his arsenal together with advanced command and control for a tall, young lefty. He repeats the delivery well with a clean arm action and should be at least an above-average strike-thrower without issue. THE FUTURE: Liberatore has front-of-the-rotation potential but is many years from that ceiling. He will make his Cardinals organizational debut in 2021.
Hitting: 45. Power: 70. Running: 40. Fielding: 45. Arm: 60. TRACK RECORD: Gorman was considered the best high school power hitter in the 2018 draft class and was selected 19th overall by the Cardinals. He showcased his power immediately in his pro debut but scuffled as he advanced to the offense-suffocating Florida State League in 2019. Gorman stood out at 2020 spring training before camps shut down and spent the summer at the Cardinals’ alternate training site, where he was one of the top offensive performers. SCOUTING REPORT: Gorman is the epitome of a modern power hitter. He strikes out and has holes in his swing, but he makes pitchers pay when they make a mistake. Gorman feasts on pitches down and makes balls disappear with his plus-plus power. He can be beat by fastballs up and needs to become more selective, but he hits lefties well for a young hitter and shows enough feel for contact to hit .240-.250 to go with his power production. Gorman has solid hands, a quick exchange and plus arm strength at third base, but his lateral range needs to improve for him to be average defensively. He’s a below-average runner. THE FUTURE: Gorman has the chance to hit 30-plus home runs in the majors if he puts it all together. He’ll try to carry his gains from the alternate site forward to Double-A in 2021.
Hitting: 55. Power: 45. Running: 30. Fielding: 55. Arm: 50. TRACK RECORD: Herrera earned an invitation to big league spring training in 2020 and took advantage of the opportunity to work with his boyhood hero Yadier Molina. Herrera stayed attached to the hip of the Cardinals great, whether it was early work in the batting cage at spring training or picking Molina’s brain at summer camp. Herrera spent the summer at the Cardinals’ alternate training site. SCOUTING REPORT: While Herrera worked with Molina on how to run a pitching staff, his bat is his calling card. He is one of the best hitters in the Cardinals’ system with a compact swing that is geared for contact and hard line drives. His exit velocities have steadily improved as he’s gotten stronger and he’ll flash above-average to plus raw power. Defensively, Herrera is a student of the game and has a tick above-average hands, which should allow him to present pitches well. His blocking and receiving still show signs of his youth, but he moves well and should eventually be at least an above-average defender. He’s steadily improved his throwing mechanics, although his pop times are fringe-average. THE FUTURE: Herrera’s well-rounded skill set, excellent makeup and grinder mentality make him the team’s likely catcher of the future.
Fastball: 55. Slider: 55. Changeup: 50. Curveball: 60. Control: 45. TRACK RECORD: Thompson broke James Paxton’s school record at Kentucky for strikeouts by a lefty with 130 punchouts in 90 innings as a junior. The Cardinals drafted him 19th overall and pushed him to high Class A Palm Beach in his pro debut. Thompson impressed at spring training and was tabbed as a potential breakout, but he instead spent the year at the alternate training site after the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 minor league season. SCOUTING REPORT: Thompson has loud stuff that brings to mind a front-of-the-rotation lefthander. His fastball sits 92-94 mph and touches 97, and his plus curveball has elite spin rates above 3,000 revolutions per minute. His mid-80s slider and mid-80s changeup give him two more average or better pitches and he is increasingly showing confidence in both of them. Thompson’s consistency and control, however, have not come together. His control was an issue in college and wavered at the alternate training site. He had an elbow injury in college that also scared some teams, and his fastball velocity wavered at times in Springfield, as well. THE FUTURE: Thompson’s stuff gives him a chance to pitch in the middle-to-front of a rotation, but he could also end up in the bullpen if his control and consistency don’t improve.
Hitting: 45. Power: 60. Running: 45. Fielding: 45. Arm: 55. TRACK RECORD: Walker was one of the few high school prospects who got to play meaningful games in the spring before the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. He took advantage with a red-hot start to solidify himself as one of the top hitters and sluggers in the 2020 draft class. The Cardinals drafted him No. 21 overall and signed him for $2.9 million to forgo a Duke commitment. Walker was the last player signed by Cardinals area scout Charles Peterson, who died from Covid-19 three months later. SCOUTING REPORT: Walker has the long arms and a big frame befitting a power hitter. While he has some unavoidable length to his swing, he has shown a feel for hitting and can catch up to top velocity. He has a shot to be a fringe-average or even average hitter to go with his plus raw power, which will likely tick up to plus-plus as he continues to grow. Walker moves remarkably well for a big man and has an above-average arm at third base. His excellent work ethic gives him a shot to stick there, but he may have to move to first base depending on how much bigger he gets. THE FUTURE: Walker has a chance to develop into a middle-of-the-order masher. He’s still a teenager yet to make his pro debut and is many years away.
Fastball: 45. Slider: 55. Changeup: 60. Curveball: 45. Control: 60. TRACK RECORD: Kim was one of the stars of South Korea’s gold medal-winning 2008 Olympic team and was the ace of the SK Wyverns in Korea’s major league. The Cardinals signed him to a two-year, $8 million deal before the 2020 season. Kim began the year as the Cardinals’ closer but moved to the rotation after the team’s coronavirus outbreak and allowed one run or fewer in six of his seven starts. SCOUTING REPORT: Kim locates on the edges of the strike zone and has a unique movement profile that helps his pitches play up. His 87-93 mph fastball has less vertical movement than most heaters, but he locates it to both sides of the plate and keeps hitters off of it with his assortment of secondary pitches. His low-80s changeup plays as a plus pitch because of his well above-average command, and his 85-87 mph slider has a short break that catches hitters off guard. Kim’s fringe-average curveball is big, slow breaker that locks up hitters while meandering to the plate at 67-72 mph. Kim mostly relies on soft contact for success and induces a high volume of ground balls, helping him to work quickly and avoid damage. THE FUTURE: Kim can’t blow away hitters, but he can keep them from squaring him up. He has earned a spot in the Cardinals’ 2021 rotation.
Hitting: 55. Power: 45. Running: 30. Fielding: 45. Arm: 45. TRACK RECORD: Knizner was a productive third baseman at North Carolina State but agreed to move behind the plate as a sophomore. The Cardinals drafted him in the seventh round in 2016 and he quickly made his way up the minors. Knizner has proven to be a better hitter than most catchers, but with Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters ahead of him, he’s had just two brief big league callups so far. SCOUTING REPORT: Knizner is an above-average hitter and hits the ball as hard as any Cardinals player—his 110 mph maximum exit velocity was fourth best on the team in 2020 even though he had only 17 plate appearances. Knizner hits more line drives than fly balls, but he has the strength for double-digit home run power if he can lift the ball in the air more. The big question is whether Knizner will be good enough defensively behind the plate. His hands are below-average, which limits his ability to frame pitches, and his blocking is also fringy. He has shown better understanding of pitch-calling, but—like everyone else—pales in comparison with Molina. THE FUTURE: With Molina hitting free agency, Knizner entered the offseason as the team’s internal option to start at catcher in 2021. He will have to improve defensively to nail down the everyday job.
Hitting: 45. Power: 50. Running: 70. Fielding: 60. Arm: 50. TRACK RECORD: Acquired from the Blue Jays for international bonus pool space in 2017, Thomas has been productive when healthy but has had trouble staying on the field. He led the Cardinals system with 27 home runs in 2018 and had a loud big league debut in 2019, but it was cut short by a right wrist fracture. His 2020 season was derailed when he tested positive for Covid-19 amidst the teamwide outbreak. He missed almost all of August and looked overmatched when he returned in September. SCOUTING REPORT: Thomas has some of the best tools in the system. He’s a plus defender in center field, a plus-plus runner, has an above-average arm and average power. His only below-average tool is his fringy hitting ability. He expands his zone too much and is prone to over-aggressiveness, but when he focuses on line drives his power ensures that some of those drives clear the fence. Thomas’ tools don’t always add up to be the sum of his parts. His speed hasn’t led to many stolen bases and he has concentration lapses in the outfield. He he has the range to play center field and the arm for right. THE FUTURE: Thomas has all the attributes teams look for in a fourth outfielder. He needs to stay healthy in order to gain a regular role.
Fastball: 60. Slider: 55. Changeup: 45. Curveball: 50. Control: 40. TRACK RECORD: Oviedo had an excellent spring training and was ticketed for the alternate training site, but he was forced into emergency duty in the Cardinals’ rotation after the teamwide coronavirus outbreak decimated their pitching staff. Oviedo wasn’t quite ready and got hit hard. He also had a stint on the injured list after being exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19. SCOUTING REPORT: The 6-foot-6 Oviedo has long arms, excellent extension and two above-average to plus pitches. His fastball sits at 94-95 mph and has touched 98, and his slider sits in the mid-80s with bite to draw swings and misses. Oviedo is a long-limbed pitcher still learning to harness his body and has below-average command and control. The result was his fastball got too much of the plate and he often fell behind hitters, rendering him unable to bury his slider as a chase pitch in strikeout situations. Oviedo’s average curveball with 11-to-5 shape proved better than expected in the majors. His changeup shows deception and drop but is inconsistent. THE FUTURE: Oviedo is still developing and has a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. He’ll return to the minors in 2021 and could re-emerge in the majors at some point during the year.
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