As a team that is consistently battling towards a playoff push it’s not surprising that the St. Louis Cardinals’ system isn’t as impressive as some others. That’s what happens when you trade off prospects for current help (or are more aggressive with promotions). The addition of Matthew Liberatore from Tampa Bay does help the overall depth, as he earns the top spot, but he’s not the only one with upside. Who else has the upside to emerge? Who is more hype than potential? Let’s take a look:
1) Matthew Liberatore – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2022
Grade – B+
Liberatore is still a work in progress, but his upside is clear. Pitching at Single-A in ’19 he posted a 3.10 ERA while displaying all of the skills we look for from a pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 8.73 K/9 (courtesy of a 13.3% SwStr%)
- Control – 3.56 BB/9
- Groundballs – 57.3%
There’s obviously more upside in the strikeout department, especially with a curveball that has already flashed plus. He complements it with a mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup, giving the 6’6” southpaw the arsenal to develop into a top of the rotation stud. He’ll pitch the year at 20-years old and has only thrown 111.0 professional innings, so he still needs time to refine his stuff and develop. That said the upside is obvious and it’s only a matter of time before he gets the respect he deserves.
2) Dylan Carlson – Outfielder
ETA – 2020
Grade – B+
The 2016 first round pick split time between Double and Triple-A last season, posting highly impressive results:
- Double-A (483 PA) – .281 with 21 HR and 18 SB
- Triple-A (79 PA) – .361 with 5 HR and 2 SB
He saw his strikeouts rise (20.3% to 22.8%) and his walks regress (10.8% to 7.6%) after the promotion, and his 12.1% SwStr% at Double-A is a number that will need to be monitored. He has solid skills across the board, but he doesn’t possess blazing speed or double-plus power so expectations need to be tempered. Could he take another step forward in terms of his power? Perhaps, though the speed could also take a step backwards. Think of him as a potential 20/15 type player at the highest level, assuming he can continue to keep the strikeouts in check.
3) Nolan Gorman – Third Baseman
ETA – 2021
Grade – B
The 2018 first round draft pick split time between Single-A and High-A, showing signs of the power that should continue to develop as he matures. Over 456 AB he posted 51 extra base hits (30 doubles, 6 triples, 15 HR), but the problem is going to be whether or not he can make enough contact to tap into it. Just look at the Strikeout Rate and SwStr% at each level last season:
- Single-A – 28.0% // 14.5%
- High-A – 31.7% // 17.7%
He won’t turn 20-years old until May, so we do have to give him time but those are scary numbers considering the levels. The strikeout problem isn’t going to go away, and if he can’t keep it in check the power potential could prove meaningless. This is going to be a key year, because he could either re-establish himself or completely fall off the prospect radar.
4) Andrew Knizner – Catcher
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B-
He’s assumed the role of Yadier Molina’s heir, replacing Carson Kelly as the Cardinals’ young catcher waiting for one of the all-time greats to retire. Knizner struggled in his first taste of the Majors (.226 with 2 HR over 58 PA), but he thrived at Triple-A hitting .276 with 12 HR over 280 PA. It’s a strong approach that fuels the upside (8.5% SwStr%, 13.2% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate), as he doesn’t have top-end power (he only added 10 doubles). Of course there’s value in a catcher who could hit .270+ along with double-digit power. It’s not an elite profile, but it’s a solid one.
5) Elehuris Montero – Third Baseman
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
There was some hype behind Montero heading into 2019 and he “rewarded” us by hitting .188 with 7 HR over 238 PA at Double-A. He struggled with a poor approach, posting a 31.1% strikeout rate and 5.9% walk rate courtesy of a monstrous 19.5% SwStr%. Maybe the Cardinals were a little too aggressive with the 20-year old (he turned 21 in August), considering he had spent just 106 PA at High-A, and two separate injuries cost him significant time. He should repeat the level and has the potential to figure it out with health and experience. Now isn’t the time to write him off.
The Next Five:
6) Trejyn Fletcher – Outfielder (Grade – C+) – He was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft, but was that because scouts didn’t have as many opportunities to see him due to being from Maine? That lack of experience was exposed after being selected, with a 43.4% strikeout rate over 175 PA, but the hope would be that he could make adjustments as he gains experience. If he can do that there’s 30/30 upside to be unlocked, and that can’t be ignored. It may take some time, but with patience there’s an impressive award waiting.
7) Genesis Cabrera – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – Cabrera posted a 5.91 ERA over 99.0 IP at Triple-A (18 starts, 2 relief appearances) and a 4.87 ERA over 20.1 IP in the Majors (2 starts, 11 relief appearances), so it’s hard to get overly excited. He has potentially elite swing and miss stuff and if he never finds his control (3.55 BB/9 at Triple-A, 4.87 in the Majors) he could become a Craig Kimbrel-type closer. With questions in the bullpen and Carlos Martinez reportedly moving back into the rotation, could the change come in ’20?
8) Zack Thompson – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – Selected in the first round of the 2019 draft (19th overall), there’s a history of arm issues along with questionable control that clouds the outlook slightly. On the positive side he could move quickly and in his first 15.1 IP in professional baseball he showed impressive swing and miss stuff (15.4% SwStr%, 13.50 K/9) and the ability to generate groundballs (51.3%). There are big questions that need to be answered, but the upside is there.
9) Ryan Helsley – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – Helsley made 24 appearances out of the Cardinals’ bullpen last season, posting a 2.95 ERA with improved control (2.95 BB/9 over 36.2 IP). Working with two pitches and given his control problems working as a starter the transition makes sense, and now he should start to be dubbed as a potential closer (at least until Jordan Hicks is deemed ready). Considering his fastball averaged 97.1 mph in the Majors, it’s easy to get excited about that potential.
10) Ivan Herrera – Catcher (Grade – C+) – Will he stick behind the plate and ultimately overtake Knizner as the Cardinals’ future at catcher? It’s the defense that’s in question, after hitting .284 with 9 HR over 306 AB as a 19-year old. Of course there were more struggles after being pushed to High-A (10.7% SwStr% over 65 PA), but that’s a small sample size. If he can handle the position defensively, the upside is there to emerge.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: