Updated: Mar 2
I present to you my list of the top 35 prospects within the Cardinals organization!! The list is both exhausting and ever-evolving.
I am aggressive with who I deem to be a "Graduate." You can read the post that I wrote on The Graduates by following this link. As a heads up, you won't find Lane Thomas, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Andrew Knizner, Rangel Ravelo, or Edmundo Sosa on The Dirty Thirty-Five (R.I.Cardinals Prospect.P to Tampa Bay Ray Randy Arozarena and Texas Ranger Adolis "JAG" Garcia).
There is also another group of about 15 prospects that I could have written about. They are on the outside looking in, currently. I did write in-depth about five of them, and I presented those fellas in this article. I also briefly touch on a bunch of other prospects in that article.
Finally, I totally cheated and basically just copied and pasted the individual write-ups from the "Position Rankings" articles that I wrote after Black Friday. I hadn't realized how thorough those write-ups were until I started to redoing the D35. I have added additional gifs and thoughts to each post, and I've done some HEAVY editing within each write-up, as well.
Please enjoy! Please have fun! Please tell me what you think!
First Baseman Luken Baker
Age 23 (On March 10th)
2nd Round Comp, 2018
Apparently I've done a poor job of articulating the first thing worth mentioning about Baker. When he first made an appearance in spring training, I was blown away by how many of my followers were surprised by this. I've brought it up every time that I've written or talked about him. So, as loudly as I can:
LUKEN BAKER IS A MONSTER-SIZED HUMAN BEING. HE'S THE SIZE OF A BIG HUMAN BEING, BUT SOMEHOW BIGGER.
Baker is listed at 6'4" and 265 pounds, but I'll take the over. He doesn't eve seem real when you see him in person. He's kind of like a folk hero around TCU, from what I understand. Simply put, he's massive.
His middle name is "Grosvenor." That has nothing to do with anything, but I know that if I don't include that here then I'll inevitably have people sliding on into my mentions to say "I didn't know that was his middle name! Why didn't you write that?"
You might then ask "what in the hell kinda name is Grosvenor?" Well, straight from Wikipedia, "Grosvenor (/ˈɡroʊvənər/) is a surname derived from Hugh Le Grand Veneur, a member of a Norman French family that aided William the Conqueror in 1066. "Le Grand Veneur" literally means "the Master Huntsman" in French, an elevated title in William's 11th-century French court."
"The Master Huntsman."
So, I guess that's cool. I don't know. I guess that's what you're coming here for. I really don't have any idea. Humans are perplexing to me. I understand very little about them.
OK, now that the fun stuff is out of the way, let's get to the grind.
It was kind of a dizzying season for Baker, if you were following him from beginning to end. I know that his slash line of 244/327/390 with a K rate of 22.6% won't exactly "wow" you. It's also a concern that Baker was hitting 221/307/330 with six home runs and 21 doubles in 358 at-bats entering August. There are some worrisome traits in regards to Baker, no doubt. You'll probably see that this monster of a human being only hit ten home runs on the season and be very unimpressed.
On top of all of this, the minor league season is only five months long. It's generally a bad sign when a hitter hits 212/273/322 with a 22.7% strikeout rate and a wRC+ of 77 for three of those five months combined. There are definitely challenges ahead of Baker. We need to be mindful of this struggle, the polarity of it, when evaluating his season.
At the same time, we can't be beholden to those struggles, and for multiple reasons. First and foremost, Baker drew the short straw, as he was relegated to a full-season assignment in the Florida State League. You know it better as the league that minor league hitters go to die in. I'll take those ten home runs with a smile on my face, especially because of the 32 doubles that accompany that stat. In addition to that, there was a large emphasis put on Baker to improve defensively at first, and he put a ton of work into that throughout the season.
It's our goal to take the good with the bad as often as possible, and Baker had two incredible months of offensive production worth highlighting. In April, Baker hit 253/417/360 with a 20.8% walk rate. His strikeout rate was about 24%, but his wRC+ was 143 in 96 plate appearances. You could almost say that Baker was being too patient at the plate. Personally, I think that he was just trying to get a feel for the league. He was hunting a little too much, and pitchers were staying away from him because of his size and his reputation. That's why he ended up doing very little slugging while getting on base an elite 41.7% of the time.
Following April, as we mentioned, Baker seemed to be a different hitter from month to month. In May he hit for power, but didn't walk at all. In June and July, Baker went back to trying to work walks, but he couldn't find the consistency. Baker was often off-balance and guessing at the plate. He was taking too many early strikes.
But then August happened.
In August, Baker hit 346/413/654 with four home runs and eleven doubles in 81 at-bats. That was good for a wRC+ of an astounding 211 for the month. He also managed to lower his strikeout rate to 20.7% while raising his walk rate to 10.9% following three months in which his walk rate stayed about 7-8%. There isn't a better possible way to end the season. This is how you put an exclamation point on your first full season with a major league affiliate. As he transitions from the pitcher-friendly Florida State League to the hitter-friendly Texas League in 2020, August felt more like a warning shot to pending AA pitchers than anything else.
There are a couple of things that I'd like to see Baker adjust to maximize his damage at the plate. He's a big and strong young man, but his swing is too flat to do the damage that he should be doing on a consistent basis. I'd love to see him add just a little bit of cut to that swing. Not a lot, just, like, the least amount. I love that he generates a lot of his slugging ability from his hips. That'll play at any level. What I don't like is that his front foot timing mechanics seems to be the only thing that isn't synced up in his swing, at times. It's just enough to throw him off. I had every intention of complaining about the unneeded movement in his hands, but I realized upon watching him at the end of the season that much of that unneeded movement had gone away. This is obviously a GREAT sign, and I have no doubt that even this little bit of a mechanical adjustment helped him to produce better at the end of the season.
At times early in the season, Baker seemed like more than a defensive liability. Baker is a smart base runner, but there is nothing fast about his game (other than his bat when he's sitting on a pitch). This is reflected in his reaction while fielding first. The kid tries so hard over there. You can tell that he's worked hard to get as good at the position as he's capable of. He even worked hard enough to turn himself from a below-average fielder at the beginning of the 2019 season, into a flashing-average fielder by the end of the 2019 season. I love how committed he is to getting as good as he can be, but he will always be limited by his body type and agility defensively. He might benefit from slimming down a bit, but I'm not sure that, alone, will be enough to tip him favorably over the "average defender" edge. However, I did see enough progress in 2019 to believe that Baker does have the potential to be average over there for a handful of years if he continues to work the way that he's worked. It won't always be pretty, but you can bet that he is going to do everything that he can to be as good as he can be.
Even with the struggle in the FSL, Baker posted a wRC+ of 115 on the season. That's 15% better than the league average. He'll enter 2020 surely destined to be the 1st baseman for Springfield. I mentioned earlier that Baker isn't the fastest (he's actually slow lol), but he's a great base runner. I've never seen him run into an unnecessary out, and he smart with the "when" of being aggressive on the basepaths. It's well documented at this point that Baker missed large chunks of all three of his collegiate seasons due to various injuries. I can't help but think that seeing him bust out in the August of his first full season since high school is a sign of the success that is to come.
If you had to pick one hitter to break out in 2020 that didn't have the most eye-catching stat line in 2019, it's "The Master Huntsman." He produced at an uneven rate from month to month in 2019, but he made some key adjustments that will hopefully help him produce more like he did in August than in May through July. I'll gladly take the 20-25% strikeout rate with a 10% walk rate if 50+ extra base hits comes with in 550 plate appearances. It's more doubles power than homers power right now, but the move from the Florida State League to the Texas League should help balance those numbers out. Obviously, it's going to be consistency at the plate that will make or break his prospect status. God, I want (and somewhat expect) Baker to murder the Texas League.
While you won't be surprised to find out that this behemoth of a human being isn't the fastest runner or the best fielder at first, you will be happy to find out that Baker did a great job, in-season, to improve defensively at first. He still has a ton of work to do there to be considered a consistently average first baseman, but it was nice to see him start to flash the ability to be average at times, over there.
Look at that beautiful pic by @Cardinalsgifs. He's a hero.
Thanks For Reading!!