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St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospects: 1-10

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In part two of my St. Louis Cardinals top prospects series, we focus on the top 10. The cupboard of the farm system has been bare since the likes of Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, Michael Wacha, and more have had major league successes. It took a few seasons for the Cards to retool their system and this top 10 shows that their efforts have paid off.

You can find my write-up on prospects 11-20 here.

10. Paul DeJong, 23

Paul DeJong has had a pretty impressive rookie season with the Cardinals. Going into 2017, the club had returning All-Star Aledmys Diaz ready to take another step forward and DeJong was continuing to learn the shortstop position. Poor performance from Diaz and strong minor league play from DeJong flipped the script. DeJong has a 115wRC+ for the Cardinals and also has accounted for 3 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) to this point.

However, there are some concerning things to look at. First, his BABIP of .350 is likely to drop causing his .279 batting average to drop. Second, he is striking out way to much. In fact, his 32.9% K rate would be tied for 5th worst in MLB if he qualified and his BB/K ratio would be the absolute worst. If he wants to continue as a MLB regular he needs to work the zone more.

Bottom line is I don’t think DeJong is the long-term answer at short stop for the Cardinals. His offense is probably near its peak right now and I don’t know if his defense can stay at this level over time.

9. Sandy Alcantara, 21

Sandy Alcantara has been aggressively promoted throughout his stops in the Cardinals minor league system and it may have caught up to him and the club in Springfield. The hard throwing righty has struggled this year to the tune of a 5.22 ERA and 5.07 FIP. While other past hard throwers like Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez also had their struggles at Double-A, Alcantara doesn’t have really any bright spot starts. His longest is just 6 innings and he has yet to pitch into the 7th inning yet.

The good news is Alcantara is young and can throw really hard. He has plenty of time to get right.

8. Dakota Hudson, 22

Dakota Hudson has been a quick riser through the Cards system as he was drafted in the first round just 13 months ago. Unlike his rotation mate Alcantara, Hudson is having good success at Double-A Springfield. Through 18 starts this season, Hudson has a 2.53 ERA and has worked deep into games, pitching into the 7th 8 times.

The scouting report on Hudson suggests he could begin his major league career in the bullpen as he has a nice fastball/slider combo, with his slider probably the bets in the entire Cards organization. However, I think his long-term future is still in the starting rotation.

7. Magneuris Sierra, 21

Magneuris Sierra is an interesting prospect in that I feel like he is overrated by many Cardinals fans because he is an exciting player to watch. Sierra has 55 major league plate appearances thus far and that is probably 55 more than anybody thought he would have at this point in his career, however I think there are two issues preventing him from being a top ranked prospect. First, he is a singles hitter who doesn’t get on base enough to hit at the top of the lineup. Second, he needs to play center field to have a lot of defensive value. Yes, he is a plus defender, but he loses value if he has to play a corner outfield spot.

With the surplus of outfielders, I think Sierra would be one to offer up to opposing teams.

6. Harrison Bader, 23

If Sierra is overrated by Cards fans, I think Bader is slightly underrated by fans and prospect evaluators. Yes, you shouldn’t evaluate players based on their stat lines but Bader is doing everything right at Triple-A Memphis. Through 96 games, he has a 122 wRC+ and has hit 19 home runs with a .355 on base percentage. Defensively, he is playing great center field this season.

Many people have Bader behind Sierra in rankings, probably due to the fact that Sierra has a higher ceiling and is a couple of years younger. However, Bader is more of a middle-of-the-order bat than Sierra and can play pretty goo defense.

5. Delvin Perez, 18

2017 has been a struggle for the Cardinals top pick from the 2016 MLB Draft. Recently, I noted some off the field issues that Perez went through while with the Johnson City Cardinals. Since then he has been demoted to the GCL Cardinals, a move that has to do with those off field issues as much as his poor play. Since his demotion, Perez has hit much better over 7 games in the Gulf Coast League.

When he was drafted, the Cardinals and fans knew he would be a high risk, high reward player that the organization hasn’t seen since Oscar Taveras. While his stock has slipped a little since the season began, he still has a high ceiling. Under the tutelage of Jose Oquendo, Perez should see improvements on and off the field for the remainder of the season.

4. Luke Weaver, 23

I will be upfront with you and tell you I am not a big Luke Weaver fan, but he takes the #4 spot because he could be in the major league rotation right now if there was an opening. I think Weaver’s biggest problem is that he is probably at (or very close to) his ceiling right now. I just don’t think his “stuff” is good enough for anything above a #4 starter.

If I were the Cardinals, I would be shopping Luke Weaver and trying to include him in a package for a big bat.

3. Carson Kelly, 23

Like with Weaver, I probably have some bias when it comes to Carson Kelly. However, in this case I am huge Kelly fan. I think Carson Kelly has gold glove, all-star potential. In just his first full season behind the plate, Kelly earned the minor league gold glove award. Offensively, his bat took a back seat to his glove while he was learning the position, but he has finally shown tons of improvement. This season with Triple-A Memphis, Kelly slashed .283/.375/.459 which was good enough for a 118 wRC+.

Last week, Kelly earned his second major league call up which sent Eric Fryer packing his bags. Kelly’s apprenticeship has begun. It will be interesting to see how the playing time dynamic between him and Yadier Molina plays out over the next three and a half seasons. I don’t like saying anyone is “untouchable” but Kelly is pretty close in my opinion.

2. Jack Flaherty, 21

I had a tough time deciding what order to place Kelly and Jack Flaherty as both appear to be on the way to solid MLB careers. In this instance, I went with ceilings as the tie breaker. I think Flaherty’s ceiling is slightly more than Kelly’s even though the pitcher may be slightly more risky. At just 21-years old, Flaherty is on the verge of making his major league debut. His repertoire consists of three above average pitches. I think what separates Flaherty from someone like Luke Weaver is his athleticism.

1. Alex Reyes, 22

Reyes still takes my top spot even though he has been sidelined all year after having Tommy John surgery early this season. Reyes’ ceiling is that of a true #1 ace, however it may take some time for him to get there. He had his surgery in February of this year and has just recently began a throwing program. I think it would be too optimistic to think Reyes will be fully ready for the 2018 season. In fact, I would not be surprised to see him begin the season in the minor leagues and when he does get called up to the major leagues, it would be for a bullpen spot. Late in 2018 or the beginning of 2019 would be when Reyes gets inserted into the starting rotation.

Like Carson Kelly, Alex Reyes is as “untouchable” as they get.

Ranking Tyler O’Neill

Since I had already released prospects 11-20, I left newly acquired Tyler O’Neill off of this list to keep things standardized. With that said, I did want to talk about him and where I would rank him. I would slot him in as the Cardinals 5th best prospect if I were to re-rank this list. I would rank O’Neill as the Cardinals best outfield prospect, which means he would be ahead of Harrison Bader who I ranked 6th. However, I don’t think I could rank him above Luke Weaver, who I have at #4.

O’Neill has absolutely crushed minor league pitching, but prospects with his offensive profile are more risky at the major league level, just look at Randal Grichuk. I do think O’Neill’s profile is different from Grichuk’s in that he strikes out a little less and walks a little more.

So, if we were to add O’Neill, these would be my 20 best prospects in the Cardinals organization:

1. Alex Reyes
2. Jack Flaherty
3. Carson Kelly
4. Luke Weaver
5. Tyler O’Neill
6. Delvin Perez
7. Harrison Bader
8. Magneuris Sierra
9. Dakota Hudson
10. Sandy Alcantara
11. Paul DeJong
12. Jordan Hicks
13. Randy Arozarena
14. Junior Fernandez
15. Oscar Mercado
16. Ryan Helsley
17. Dylan Carlson
18. Jake Woodford
19. Johan Oviedo
20. Austin Gomber

Jose Adolis Garcia was my #20 prospect and would get bumped with the addition of O’Neill.

I am going to update this list at season’s end but I wanted to make a couple of projections:

Rising Prospects

Adolis Garcia and Dakota Hudson could be two prospects who see their stock rise by the end of the season. Hudson could be in the major league bullpen by then and Garcia could also be a major league option.

Falling Prospects

Luke Weaver and Sandy Alcantara are two prospects who could find their names lower on the end of season list. Weaver could get passed by a couple of players who could see MLB time and Alcantara could slip if he continues to struggle in Springfield.

Thanks for reading!

John Nagel
@CardinalsFarm

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