2020 Preseason Dirty Thirty-Five: Prospect #31

PROSPECT PREFACE

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 a 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.

To prepare you for the first part of this countdown, the back seventh of these rankings are comprised of what I'm going to call "Misfits." Think of this group of players as being on the fringes of prospect status for one reason or the other, yet still needing a little shout out or love.

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, BUT NOT WITH THIS ARTICLE. THIS ONE IS PRETTY WELL DONE FROM SCRATCH. 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 light to medium editing within each write-up, as well.

Please enjoy! Please have fun! Please let me know what you think!


3B/SS/1B Evan Mendoza

Age 23

Springfield and Memphis

11th Round, 2017


As I've said many times before, I'm a big fan of Mendoza. 2019 was a down year for him, and it was also plagued with injuries. Prior to being shut down in June, It seemed like many of the concerns that evaluators had with his bat really came to fruition.


For the D35, I was torn on how to handle Mendoza. The loyalist in me wanted to keep him in top 30 or so. The scared evaluator in me wanted to put him outside of the D35. Ultimately, I felt like it was the right thing to keep him on the list, but with less optimism than the loyalist in me wanted.


Before we get too deep into this, I need to address the thing about Mendoza's 2019 season that drove me nuts. I am hoping that I can just put it here, leave it here, and move on.


It baffles me that the Cardinals put him at first base so frequently when it's the one spot that automatically drops his value to the team, as well as his chances of making the majors. Mendoza is the best defensive 3B in the system and one of the three to five best defensive infielders in the entire system. Moving him to first base where his defense is suppressed, and his contact-first bat doesn't profile, was just dumb. That's it. That's all I wanted to say. I'm going to try and move on.


ANYWAY, the good news is that Mendoza is currently in line to get a ton of reps at shortstop during the 2020 season. With a lesser amount of starts at first and an equal amount of starts between third and short, Mendoza is due to see his value and worth increase. He's going to have to be able to play short at an average level, at least, but I believe that he has it in him. He struggled there a bit in 2018 for Springfield during a limited sample of 72 innings, but he was learning the position on the fly. As I mentioned, between his arm and his ability to react to the baseball, Mendoza is the best defensive third baseman in the organization. I'm willing to wager that he'll make, at least, a rookie-season-level-Paul-DeJong-like transition to the position if given enough time to acclimate to it. I'd go so far as to suggest that he profiles delightfully for a "super-utility" role defensively, with what I'm sure would be adequate abilities out in the outfield with enough reps.



In regards to hitting, Mendoza is kind of like Tommy Edman in that he doesn't walk a lot, but he also has an above-average feel for the strike zone. That feel for the strike zone allows him to work counts, but he was too defensive late in counts for his own good. Sometimes this happens with hitters that are as good with two-strikes like Mendoza is.


Even with a contact-first profile, Mendoza is a bit of an oddity. Between AA and AAA, Mendoza hit 252/303 in 242 plate appearances. Those stats alone aren't encouraging, and I've intentionally omitted the slugging percentage from it because I don't want to get into it yet (we'll get there). Mendoza doesn't exactly "sting" everything, and he isn't exactly a slap hitter. He's basically his own-type of hitter. This aspect of his game is what makes him a bit of an anomaly. Mendoza recorded hits in 45 of the 60 games that he played in before an injury ended his season in mid-June. He was also on base in 51 of the 60 games that he appeared in. It's a uniquely particular skill set that Mendoza displayed during the 2019 season. He was on base in 85% of the games that he played in, but only on base for barely over 30% of his plate appearances.


Over the last couple of seasons, Mendoza has incorporated a heavier leg-kick for timing earlier in counts. This gets toned down a bit with two strikes, and it's part of the reason why he shows the capabilities to be a good situational hitter. He needs to be more consistent of course, but the abilities are there. He has a quick (albeit not elite-level bat), but where he really excels is with the control that he has of that bat. I know that I'm beating this to death, but this is another reason why he is so good with two strikes.


Yes, the 19%+ strikeout rate is high for a player that I keep telling you is "so good with two strikes," but I'm going to need you to trust me on this. If he is healthy and zoned in, and if he isn't making serious changes to his mechanics and approach, then Mendoza is one of the best two strike hitters on the farm. Another mechanical thing, Mendoza had more of an open stance in past seasons as compared to the 2019 season. I'd like to see Mendoza open his stance back up moving forward.


Speaking of swing and approach change, it's safe to assume that Mendoza is never going to hit for enticing power. He's a hitter that's best suited to hunt for the gaps. He doesn't have elite speed, although he is a good runner. He just doesn't have the raw power to do much over-the-fence damage to pitches on the outer half of the plate. He'll turn on an inside pitch (or a pitch over the middle) in a hitter's count, but he's often more of a defensive hitter with his approach. His swing allows him to take pitches on the inner half to the opposite field when he's behind on the ball because of his bat-path, and I do think that there is 35 double potential to all fields at the minor league level (in part) because of this.


THE DEAL

After watching him thoroughly during the 2018 season, I believe that there is way more to Mendoza than his below-expectation 2019 season. He's a defensive hitter that can do damage in hitter's counts. He hasn't hit for much in the way of power, but there is definitely more in there. Displaying a short swing and tremendous baseball IQ both offensively and defensively, Mendoza has the brain and the talent to be a utility player at the next level if he can handle shortstop. Make no mistake, Mendoza provides the best defense at third on the farm for a player that might be able to make a major league debut.


Pictures floated around that indicated Mendoza underwent some type of surgery this offseason. I'm not 100% sure what the operation was, so I'm not going to speculate. What I know for sure is that Mendoza is ticketed for a healthy 2020 season, and hopefully he'll be playing positions that he is best suited for. He's a tremendously likeable kid, and I am rooting for him to rediscover his higher place on the D35.




The biggest of shout outs should be given to @Cardinalsgifs, FanGraphs, Twitter, and MiLB. TV for all of the work that they do that eventually gets put into these articles.

Look at that beautiful pic by @Cardinalsgifs. What a mensch.


Thanks For Reading!!

Kyle Reis