Top 10 Prospects (2018): St. Louis Cardinals: Questions Blur The Top Of A System With Potential

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

It’s pretty obvious where the organizational strength of the St. Louis Cardinals lies, as they have a plethora of young outfielders (some of which are already in the Majors and a few more intriguing names on the way).  They may not be the elite prospects in the system, but it will allow them to capitalize and trade from the surplus to fill other needs.

There are some top prospects, but there are significant questions whether it’s health or playing time.  Let’s take a look at their outlook, as well as all the rest:

 

1) Alex Reyes – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – A-
ETA – Already Arrived

It’s easy to forget about Reyes, after he missed all of ’17 due to Tommy John surgery.  Obviously that adds a few more questions, as there’s never a guarantee that he will return to 100% (as much as you want to believe that he will).  That said there’s no questioning the upside he possesses.

Even before the injury there were questions (so, when coupled with the injury, he gets dropped a partial grade from an “A” last year).  Here’s what we said last year, as we will still be looking for answers to these:

Reyes arrived in the Majors in 2016 with much fanfare, and while he did spend some time pitching out of the bullpen (12 appearances, 5 starts) he showed off his electric stuff en route to a 10.17 K/9.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t questions, as he continually has struggled to find his control:

  • High-A (2015) – 4.38
  • Double-A (2015) – 4.67
  • Triple-A (2016) – 4.41
  • Majors (2016) – 4.50

Just 22-years old (he’ll turn 23 in August), there’s obviously still time for him to figure things out.  However we’d like to see some sort of growth, otherwise a move to the bullpen where he could emerge as an elite closer isn’t out of the question.  There was also the 50-game suspension to open the season for testing positive for marijuana, just adding another thing to keep an eye on.

 

2) Carson Kelly – Catcher
Grade – B+
ETA – Already Arrived

It’s been a slow build for Kelly, who is the heir apparent to Yadier Molina.  He has continued to show a strong approach at the plate, including a 14.3% strikeout rate and 11.8% walk rate over 244 AB at Triple-A last season.  With a solid 8.7% SwStr% in the minors, and a 6.0% mark over 69 AB in the Majors in ’17, there’s little reason to think there’s going to be a change.

The question has always been if he would develop power, and as he matures that’s beginning to show up.  He hit 10 HR (with 13 doubles) last season at Triple-A, though we’ll have to keep that in perspective having come in the Pacific Coast League.  He may never be a 20+ HR hitter, but it seems like he could develop into a consistent 12-15 HR catcher to go along with a .270+ average.  That’s a rare combination, especially in a backstop who can handle the job defensively, the big question is simply when the opportunity will come.

 

3) Jack Flaherty – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B
ETA – Already Arrived

There’s some upside, as he posted strong numbers across Double and Triple-A last season (2.18 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) and made his MLB debut.  He’s shown tremendous control along the way, with a 2.12 BB/9 in the minors in ’17, and his strikeout potential is growing.  In the minors he posted a 10.6% SwStr% and even more than that in the Majors (13.1% SwStr%).  Those are all promising, though there are going to be questions as to whether or not he can keep the ball in the ballpark at the highest level.  We started to see signs of it as he advanced (GB% // HR/9):

  • Double-A – 40.0% // 0.28
  • Triple-A – 41.0% // 1.05
  • Majors – 47.6% // 1.69

Obviously his time in the Majors was limited, but the Triple-A mark is a warning sign.  That could ultimately cap his value, so keep a close eye on that.

 

4) Oscar Mercado – Outfielder
Grade – B
ETA – 2018

It’s going to surprise many that he is the highest rated outfielder in the system, but he’s coming off a highly impressive Double-A campaign and shouldn’t be overlooked:

.287, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 76 R, 38 SB

His speed is going to be his biggest asset, though the growth in his power can’t go overlooked.  Entering ’17 he had 8 career home runs, and while he may not be able to take another step forward it seems like he could settle into an 8-12 HR hitter moving forward.  When you couple that potential with an ability to hit the ball hard (22.8% line drive rate) and a solid approach at the plate (9.9% SwStr%) and there’s a lot to like.

There’s obviously work that needs to be done, as he didn’t draw many walks (6.1%) and you can argue that he put too many balls in the air (37.2%).  We’ll have to continue monitoring those, though the latter has been declining and correlating with an improvement in his line drive rate.  The arrow is pointing up at this point and he’s a name to keep on your radar.

 

5) Tyler O’Neill – Outfielder
Grade – B-
ETA – 2018

No one is about to question his power, hitting 31 across two organizations in ’17, and even at a time where power is growing across the game it can’t be ignored.  The problem, and what drags him down, is his consistent struggle with making contact.  He posted a 27.1% strikeout rate in ’17, courtesy of a gaudy 16.4% SwStr%.  That comes after a 15.8% SwStr% at Double-A a year ago, and therefore it’s hard to believe that anything is suddenly going to change.  In other words we’re looking at a player who could be a .250 hitter with 30 HR, though if the power isn’t there he could instead hit .220 or worse.  That makes him a significant risk.

 

The Next Five:
6) Magneuris Sierra – Outfielder (Grade – B-)
7) Harrison Bader – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
8) Delvin Perez – Shortstop (Grade – C+)
9) Jordan Hicks – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+)
10) Randy Arozarena – Outfielder (Grade – C+)

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com

Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

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