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!
Outfielder Justin Williams
Springfield & Memphis
Acquired From Tampa Bay In The Tommy Pham Trade, 2018
There might not be a prospect in the Cardinals' organization that did more for their value in the second half of the 2019 season than Justin Williams did.
Entering the 2018-2019 offseason, I was not high on Williams at all. His swing and mechanics were a mess, and he seemed to have lost a step in the outfield. For the life of me, I just couldn't understand the appeal, especially considering that the Cardinals were an organization loaded with outfielders. For years, the Cardinals worked both the trade hotline and the waiver wires to acquire left-handed hitting depth, and I just chalked the acquisition of Williams to the never-ending and pointless pursuit of that commodity.
Then, as the calendar turned to 2019, Williams showed up at Winter Warmup with a broken hand. Truth be told, I didn't care at all why it was broken ( and I still don't because I don't view breaking his hand punching something as a sign of immaturity that can't be overcome easily), but I did care that it would cost Williams vital time at spring training. He needed those reps. He needed the time and the work. The injury meant that Williams wouldn't make his minor league debut until the beginning of May, thus missing the first month of the season.
Then, in that first month back, Williams hits 196/255/275 in 55 plate appearances back at Double-A Springfield. It's nasty and awful and bad, and he capped the month of May off with another injury.
But I'm not here to talk about the past, I'm here to talk about the future.
From there, something magical happened to Williams. He REALLY recovered when he came off of the IL on June 26th after missing a month following his May 23 IL designation. It was a sight to behold.
You know what else is a sight to behold? THE SWING AND MECHANICAL CHANGES. I mean, wow wow wow wow wow wow wow. Just take a look at the next two gifs'. The first gif is of Williams' first home run as a member of the Cardinals organization. Look at how ugly and awful and slow it is. It's actually impressive that he was able to pull that pitch on the outside half for a home run. It should give you some idea of how naturally strong he is, because he shouldn't be able to do any damage at all with any pitch while employing those terrible hitting mechanics.
Then, look at the next gif. That gif is of Williams at the end of the 2019 season. That swing is fast. The hands are more compact. He stays back on the ball longer, while keeping the barrel in the zone longer. His hips, which once opened as wide as Debbie in Dallas, are now closed and his timing is balanced. He's got a little cut in there instead of a flat swing, and a new plan of attack at the plate to meld it all together:
Just look at how much quicker those hands are!!! This is a good swing for him. While I'd still like for him to tinker with it, I'm also completely fine if this is what he sticks with. Williams' intent at the plate was much different and evolved from 2018, as well, and it was clear that he was out to do damage and not just tread water.
The change in mechanics and intent were the biggest fuel on the fire that led to his amazing AAA stat-line of 356/441/614 with seven home runs and five doubles in 118 plate appearances starting on July 1st. From that point until the end of the season (and Williams missed the majority of July with another injury), Williams was one of the - if not THE - most dangerous hitter in the minors for the Cardinals. He's still striking out too much, at a 25.2% AAA clip, but he's doing a better job while working the strike zone. This can be seen in his AAA walk rate of 13.4%. From July 1st until the end of the season in the hitter friendly environment that both the major league baseball and the Pacific Coast League provided, Williams had a wRC+ of 154. At a time when everyone was hitting the hell out of the ball and producing runs, Williams' was doing it 54% better than league average.
There are still somethings that Williams is going to need to work on before I feel comfortable declaring him a viable major league option on an everyday basis. He has a hole in his swing against right-handers that throw sweeping breaking pitches low and inside on him. He's also a strikeout threat facing lefties that can locate their curve and/or changeup on the lower-outside half of the plate. High heat inside from pitchers of all handidness...es give him fits, as well. But one thing worth really loving about the left-handed swinging Williams is how well he hits lefties in general. He's done it well every season that he's been in the minors, and in 2019 he hit 308/341/385 in a very small sample size of 41 plate appearances against them.
There is one thing about Williams' game that is absolutely worth gushing over, and it's his throwing arm. It is both accurate and strong, it's a plus tool everyday. I'll say nothing more about it, but I will provide you with two gifs for visual evidence:
I know that part of Williams' struggles in past season were in his head is because of how he played the outfield once he came off of his second IL stint in 2019. Prior to that, Williams was a tentative corner outfielder. He didn't trust himself (other than his arm), and you could easily tell it by how he chased fly balls into the gap and grounders into the corner. To be frank, he looked slow and anticipatory instead of aggressive. That wasn't the case during the second half of the 2019 season. For the last two-ish months, Williams was all over the place. He isn't an elite runner, but he had never shown me anything that made me believe that he was more or less than an average runner. In the second half, it became clear that Williams can motor a little bit.
What I am trying to say in all of this is that Williams was a different player over the last two months of the minor league season than he was at any point during the prior season and a half. Williams looked like he was going to be a nice little corner outfield prospect while in the Rays organization, and it's nice to see him play with the type of confidence that brings out the best in his talents. The Cardinals have a crowd of outfielders still, and I don't know what that means for Williams in the long run. What I do know is that the left-handed hitter that I saw at the end of the 2019 season definitely has a place on a major league roster. Especially because he's always been the type of left-handed hitter to do well against left-handed pitching. Now, he just needs to do it for more than 120-ish plate appearances.
It seems pretty obvious that confidence is what will carry thins young man, who I kind of view (and have stated in the past) is like Jason Heyward-lite at the plate. He's a good outfielder with a great arm, but he's not nearly the fielder of Mr. Heyward. If I am being honest, I still feel like I'm being overly aggressive with making him the #16 prospect on the list, but that second half was just too good to be ignored.
Look at that beautiful pic by @Cardinalsgifs. What a mensch.
Thanks For Reading!!