It's been awhile since we've done this. I just wanted to remind you that I am very bad at this. I'm trying my hardest (lie), but I am very bad at this.
This is the listing of players that would have been on the Dirty Flirty had I decided to release a list of top 46 prospects instead of my top 40 prospects. That is, as the list is currently composed. If I had put some of the other players from the Dirty Annexes on the list then they would not have been the last six off.
I would also like to add that the reason that I ultimately settled on these six is because these are the guys that I have had ranked highest throughout the entire process before ultimately deciding to keep them off. Most of these guys deserve top 25 consideration, at least. Please allow this to inform you as to how talented these kids are. Also, let it be an indication as to how tightly bunched the talent and potential of the Cardinals' top 20-60-ish prospects is, currently. I view this little bit as important context for what you are about to experience.
Do you understand what I'm doing here? Could you please explain it to me, because I don't have the slightest fucking idea of what I'm doing here. What a fucking mess I am. I cannot begin to apologize enough.
Editor's Note: About the midpoint of this article I realize that I can just embed tweets instead of adding gif's to these posts, so I do that instead. The thing about gifs is, they are usually huge files. That slows down the loading time of the post/website. So, here we are.
Catcher Zade Richardson
Entering his age 22 season
Drafted in the 22nd round of the 2019 draft
I can’t tell you how back and forth I’ve been with Richardson’s position on this list.
As everyone knows by now, I am at my absolute worst when evaluating catchers. I just don’t understand the position, being left-handed and all. Also, I am very dumb and that doesn’t help. The one thing that I feel comfortable committing to is that there aren’t many players in the organization that are as tough as Richardson. He just gets beat up and beat up behind the plate with foul tips and balls in the dirt. It seemed like he was getting hammered every game. For almost all season, Richardson led the entire organization, including the big club, in HBP. That didn't stop Zade. He just kept getting up and getting up, without a sign that it was getting the better of him. He’s a gritty catcher, no doubt.
Boy, do I love that swing. It’s short, direct, compact, and powerful. There are times that he reminds me of a right-handed Ray Lankford, mechanically. And when you combine his raw power potential with his ability to work a walk, you can see a potential top 20 prospect in the organization. The issue with Richardson is that he doesn’t make enough contact. I can tell you that I had Richardson in the top 30 of The Dirty at various times during the season. I think that I had him 25th at one point. Until finalizing the list, he was in the top 40. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that I wanted to keep him for this list, just outside of the top 40. I just kept thinking about that roughly 32% strikeout rate that Richardson displayed in his first full season in the org, and the 32%-ish rate that he displayed in his first small taste of affiliated baseball in 2019. Chandler Redmond is on The Dirty and he has a similar strikeout percentage, but with more line drive power and more contact within an at-bat. That should also give you some idea how close the talent level is between prospects 20 and 60 in the organization.
When the Cardinals demoted Aaron Antonini from Springfield about midway through the season, Richardson took on more of a DH/3rd catcher role for Peoria. I truly hated that. While I really like Antonini, Richardson has more tools and potential than Antonini. I don't think that I would have been so quick to cut his time behind the plate like the organization did. That is also part of the reason why he is one of the guys off of the list. I haven't been able to get a solid answer on the organization's view on Richardson, and if the firing of Mike Shildt has taught us anything it's that we probably don't know what to expect from the organization right now.
The bottom line with Richardson is that he’s a top 25 prospect if he can clean up his whiff rate. Just that simple. He's a smart, tough, gritty, and committed young man that I believe is just starting to scratch the surface of his skillset. Even if he somehow can't stick behind the plate, there's a future for him somewhere else around the diamond.
LHP Levi Prater
22 Years Old
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft
I didn’t get much exposure to Prater this year, but I have to think that he has one of the best breaking pitches in the organization. He was too advanced to spend the entire season in Palm Beach, but he carved those poor kids up regularly. Prater really understands how to pitch and how to use his arsenal, and that bodes well for his future. The issue is that Prater doesn’t throw enough strikes. It’s like the issue that I have with Richardson, but in reverse. Prater’s stuff was so damn advanced for Palm Beach, and he should have just been pumping in strike after strike. It worries me that he didn’t do that. That’s an entirely different level of command issue, in my opinion. Especially for a kid drafted out of college. I just couldn’t put a player with his pedigree on the list without seeing an increase in strikes. He's a weird anomaly to me, in that you can tell that he knows how to pitch but that he just can't land the ball exactly where he wants. It is even more concerning when you remember that the automated strike zone was in play at that level this season. He's not going to be able to live on the fringes and get an umpire to expand his zone. With that being said, I'm anxious to see what kind of success he can have if he pitches somewhere next year where the automated zone isn't implemented.
When Prater is "on," he is pumping in a lively fastball in the 92 MPH range that he can use up in the zone to righties. He's capable of sneaking that pitch into that spot against righties because he tunnels it well with a slider that is on the fringes of "plus", from a movement profile standpoint. His mechanics are simple and smooth, and his rhythm is almost always on. I do worry that his changeup isn't going to be good enough as he works through the system, but I'm not so committed to that standpoint that I'm going to live or die by it. Time will tell with that pitch.
Prater is a tenacious competitor and he's fiery on the mound, and I love that about him. He's overcome so much in his life, and he carries that poise and demeaner on to the mound with him. It's one of the things that I really love about him, and I think will serve him well as he works his way up the system.
And that’s the bottom line for Prater. He’s a smart baseball player with a huge amount of tenacity and a really good two-pitch arsenal with a third pitch in the works. It's worrisome to see his command seemingly to take a step back from his college days. With an offseason to get things right, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Prater work his way into The Dirty. I definitely love that he strikes out 31% of hitters, but I hate the 20% walk rate enough to keep him off of the list, for now. I'll end this by point out how hypocritical I am to leave him off of The Dirty but keep Edwin Nunez on.
RHP Alec Willis
19 Years Old on Opening Day
Drafted in the 7th round of the 2021 draft
Florida Complex League
Just like with the last two gents, Willis has been on and off this list at various times since the Cardinals drafted him. Ultimately, I decided to keep Willis off of the list for now. Let it be known that I personally like Willis more than a lot of the pitchers that I do have on the list. This is the price of trying to be objective and responsible, I guess.
Willis is going to be a lot of fun to follow during the 2022 season. He’s already undergone one arm surgery, albeit relatively minor. This is a large part of the reason why I have decided to keep Willis off of The Dirty for now. I am trying to be responsible. I am trying to temper expectations. Maybe my own, more than anything. I'm trying to steer yours, too, no doubt. I know how rabid of a fanbase we can get. I know that we are quick to call everything that doesn't pan out right away a "miss" or "bust" or whatever catch word makes you happy. It took $1 million to sign Willis away from college, and there is so much to get excited. There is so much about him that is worthy of a mid-range spot on The Dirty.
He doesn’t have the big-time, in-game velocity that some of his prep-peers have, but he has a great frame to add more. Or, rather, to tap into some of the velocity that he has shown in controlled environments but not in a game setting just yet.
As I mentioned, one thing that I really love about Willis is his frame and his pitching mechanics. The kid just throws the ball. There isn’t anything fancy in his mechanics. He just gets it and throws it. I hate to belabor a point, but I love that. And when you see his frame you can definitely project a starting pitcher in the long term. Some scouting services have him in the 6-foot-tall range, but I think he’s a little bigger than that. Either way, that frame is meant for the mound.
Willis also has a relatively advanced arsenal for a prep arm. His fastball is lively with flashes of plus command and flashes of above average movement and spin. His secondary offerings of a slider and curve are average, at least, right now, with his slider getting the advantage as a better pitch. Whereas most seem to love and gush over prep-drafted pitchers with big arms and loud tools, Willis is a pitcher that is clearly getting away with his natural abilities and baseball IQ. In short, Willis is more of a pitcher than some of his 2021 drafted prep-counterparts, and I am VERY here for that. Let him grow into the velocity. I'd like close this write-up by restating that there is a legitimate case to be made that Willis is at worst a top 20 arm and at best a top 15 prospect in the organization. With some innings and some success in 2022, I could easily seem myself caving to my biases and making that leap with him on The Dirty.
OF Trejyn Fletcher
Entering his age 21 season
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2019 draft
Florida Complex League
Oh boy, let the controversy begin.
You see, I have a confession to make. I have always been the low man on the Tre Fletcher hype train. So, in a way, keeping him off of The Dirty is a bit of confirmation bias in action. To be clear, I never said that I was any good at this (that’s a lie, of course. I tell everyone that I am amazing at this). Way back in 2019 when he was drafted by the Cardinals, I told the Prospects after Dark group chat that I did not like this pick for the Cardinals. Fletcher was coming from a cold weather state and a lot of personal adversity, and he also reclassified to enter the draft a year earlier than he was initially eligible for. There were many that said that he would be in the conversation for the first overall selection in the 2020 draft had he stayed in that draft. That was something that I did not see. My issue with Fletcher all along was that he just seemed like he was all tools and no feel. Before we get into the weeds here, I can't stress loudly enough how LOUD his tools are. He's such a tremendous athlete, and he is a competitor that arises in the big situation. He has plus speed, as you'll see in the embedded tweet below. He has plus bat speed and plus arm. All of these "plus" tools were prevalent at draft time, and he was only 18. There are few types of clay that are more of a precious commodity in the sport than the many things that Fletcher was capable of doing.
To me, Fletcher has always seemed like a more serious project than others seemed to think, even with all of that supreme athleticism that Fletcher possesses. Under most circumstances, there is nothing wrong with taking a flyer on this type of player in the draft. However, the Cardinals were just two years removed from forfeiting their first three selections. Entering that draft, I talked a lot on PaD and on Twitter about a coming gap in the organization, and internally I thought that the pick would be better suited for someone that could make a quicker impact. That, and there were a couple of other players on the board that I really liked.
To boil my concerns down from that rant, I hated that Fletcher was an athlete and not a "baseball player," even if he was the best baseball player from his area. A year later the Cardinals selected Masyn Winn with their 2nd round selection. Winn was (and is) a baseball player with huge baseball I.Q, instincts, and feel. He also possesses many of the same supremely athletic qualities that Fletcher does/did. As compared to someone like Winn, Fletcher just wasn't on the "feel" level for the sport. I just wanted the Cardinals to draft more of a baseball player at that pick, really.
It was fun to watch him come out of the gate in 2019 in the GCL (now the Florida Complex League) and go all power happy. Even then, in limited at-bats, Fletcher was striking out about 40% of the time. That tells us more about the league than it does about Fletcher at that point, in my opinion. That thought is backed up by the lack of success that he had in the Appy League after being promoted in 2019. Away went the success of batted ball luck, replaced by an unseemly rise in his already high strikeout rate - from 40-ish% to 45-ish%.
Now, at the time, none of this was much of a worry. There were a lot of obstacles in Fletcher’s way, and all the kid really needed was time and reps.
But then the 2020 minor league season was wiped out by COVID, and I believe that Fletcher is one of the players that was really hurt by this. There are only so many simulated reps that a kid can get, and even fewer of those reps have the desired way of simulating in-game at-bats. Even with the education that the Cardinals gave him during the off-time, it was just too damn much to ask for this kid to try and gain footing in 2021.
Now, I can’t say for certain why Tre Fletcher hardly played during the 2021 season. I’ve asked, and I haven’t gotten much in the way of an answer from enough sources that I feel comfortable putting it down on his profile. What the stats tell me is that he has only received 29 plate appearances in live, in-game action since the end of the 2019 season. Even if he did get some great experience at extended spring training or on the back fields, that’s just not enough at-bats for such a raw player, especially a player so raw entering his age 21 season.
Fletcher still needs time. Like with acclaimed prospects that have come before him such as Nick Plummer and Delvin Perez, things look bleak right now. Really bleak. Part of the reason that I’m taking him off of the list is because I want you to forget about him for a little bit. I think that is best for him. Just let him focus on baseball away from the spotlight of big-time potential. While he is still so far away from it, Fletcher possesses every tool – speed, power, arm-strength, etc. – that you could ever want out of a prospect. He just needs the reps. Fletcher is a good kid. A smart kid. Like with Plummer before him - a big-time prospect from a cold weather climate that missed his entire second season in the minor leagues - Fletcher just needs work and time. He already has a foot up because he's really embraced the modern side of swing analysis.
Catcher Nick Raposo
23 Years Old
Undrafted Free Agent following the 2020 draft
Hooray! A short write-up!!
So, the deal here is that Raposo has a really slick and tight swing, and he was incredible at Springfield in limited action, specifically as a pinch hitter/non-regular. Keep in mind that Raposo was an undrafted free agent from the shortened 2020 draft, and it’s damn tough to make your organization debut at AA. To do it so successfully as a part-time player is impressive on so many levels. It was awesome to see Raposo handle the offensive side of that level of competition admirably.
What’s keeping him off of the list is that I really do not have any feel for the type of catcher he is. He hardly received consecutive starts behind the dish, and he never really seemed that comfortable when he was starting. Although, to go against that point, he never embarrassed himself, either. He seemed to do a decent job of blocking pitches in the dirt. A decent job of framing. A decent job of calling a game. He did look suspect going side-to-side, but there just isn’t any real way to evaluate what he is capable of in the limited exposure that he received, innings-wise. When you pair that with the fact that it was his first season in the minors with the less-than-part-time assignment at the toughest position in professional sports, I just don’t know how to evaluate that.
The Cardinals have a stable of catchers, and the best catching depth that I have ever seen in this organization. I don’t know what that means for Raposo on the depth chart, but I sure would like to see him get more reps behind the plate. Until then, as a player who mostly just DH’ed, I have to keep him off of the list. I still really like this young man, particularly his compact swing, strong arm, and heady approach.
RHP Zane Mills
21 Years Old
Drafted in the 4th round of the 2021 draft
Florida Complex League
WILD CARD ALERT
I LOVE ZANE MILLS.
It’s those pitching mechanics. He looks like he doesn’t really want to be there, but in the best kind of way. It’s just this super free and easy throwing motion. It’s incredibly repeatable, easy/oddly rhythmic, and downright deceptive. I just love it so much, specifically how the ball just kind of explodes out of his hand.
Mills is another command over stuff pitcher that the Cardinals drafted in 2021, but I think that there is enough deception and command to get him by as more than just minor league depth. There is potential for Mills to stay as a starting pitcher as he works his way up the minor league food chain, and maybe even at the major league level. What stopped Mills from being drafted earlier than he was is a fastball that doesn’t get much above the 92 MPH level without a ton of life (personally, I think it's livelier than it's given credit for by the scouting community, but I digress). I think that this is more a product of his arm angle and motion, and I’d guess that there is some hope that he can get into a little bit more velocity with some tweaking. Personally, I don’t want him to adjust or change much. I just want him to keep pitching the way that he is pitching. When you look at his 2021 college stats (which I have not