WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#29: Outfielder Matt Koperniak
24 Years Old On Opening Day
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020
Springfield, Peoria-ish, and Palm Beach
I labeled it "Peoria-ish" because Koperniak only spent one week in Peoria between the trip from Palm Beach to Springfield. That hardly counts as a "stop" in today's Minor League apparatus. It's really impressive.
I have Matt Koperniak, an undrafted free agent from the shortened 2020 draft, this high on The Dirty for one reason: Refinement. I'd argue that he should be higher on the list, as well. It's at this point that I'd like to sell myself out for being somewhat dismissive of Koperniak when I watched him as a member of the Palm Beach Cardinals vs Bradenton at the end of May. He looked hesitant at the plate and kind of sluggish, and I had so much to keep an eye on that I put him on the back burner. By the time he made it to Peoria, he looked completely different.
Koperniak has something similar to Hunter Pence's bat path and bat speed, but without all of the psychopathy that comes with the rest of what Pence did at the dish.
Maybe “polish” is the better way of putting it. When I watch Koperniak, it’s clear that this young man has a plan at the plat. He appears to be the very definition of “professional” at the Minor League level. Koperniak will use the entire field, and he'll also choke up on the bat with two strikes. Clearly prepared and unrattled, Koperniak possesses high baseball IQ and an understanding of his swing that is years of ahead of him.
Speaking of his swing, I love his swing. There’s no wasted motion. His head is always still. It’s short where it needs to be while still staying in the zone for a long time. Koperniak is more of a pull-middle hitter than some of the other hitters that are on the D40, but he has shown enough in his approach for me to know that he could work the opposite field if he needed to. Thinking back on it, and not too hard, I don’t think that I’ve seen him chase a pitch in the dirt ever. He’s a very disciplined hitter.
The area that he is going to need to work on is how he hits left-handed pitching. He’d be further up this list if he was just a little more successful in this area. He has a swing and an approach that shouldn’t produce the struggles that he’s had in limited at-bats against lefties. However, in a modest 75 plate appearances, Koperniak hit 227/320/318 while striking out 15 times and only producing 4 extra base hits. I think that this should give you some idea of how disciplined he is – that .320 OBP without hitting for average – but also how he is just kind of staying alive and hoping against lefties when he's not in a count that favors him.
One of the big changes that we saw organizational-wide in 2021 was a renewed commitment to using the entire field and driving the ball in the opposite direction against like-handed pitchers. This will have to be a philosophy that Koperniak takes to if additional success is in his future. If Koperniak can continue to put swings on lefties like he does in the gifs above and below this, then he should continue to find the success needed against southpaws.
I haven’t watched a ton of Koperniak in the outfield, but he seems like a perfectly fine corner outfielder. My opinion on his arm is still up in the air. I don’t think that I’ve seen him let one loose yet, and I don’t feel like I’ve seen enough of it at all to say what it is or isn’t capable of. There was a time or two at Springfield in which he missed the cutoff or threw it off mark while rushing himself a little bit, but I don’t think that is an indication exactly of what kind of fielder he is. He does seem to get a good read off the bat, specifically in right field. Koperniak also has good, but not great, speed that shows itself on the bases and in the field. Because of his instincts, I’m surprised that he doesn’t steal a few more bags, but I don’t know if I really care about that at all. Koperniak kind of feels like the next iteration of Justin Toerner, specifically in the field, because he is fearless and smart.
Double-A is a tough assignment, and you might look at his time there and be worried about his potential to have continued success as he moves up the ladder. What I am most encouraged by is how well Koperniak did after the first 11 games/two weeks at that level. Over his last 22 AA games, Koperniak hit 330/385/477 with 3 homers and 4 doubles in 96 plate appearances. Koperniak only struck out 8 times, while walking 6 times, over those last 22 games. His wRC+ over that span was 133, and that'll play juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust fine.
Basically what I'm saying is, it took Koperniak two weeks at Double-A to settle back into the hitter that he was at Palm Beach. It's so impressive that he was able to basically jump an entire level, and only take two weeks to rediscover himself at such a difficult level like AA. That he did it without striking out at a high clip is even more impressive. That’s where Koperniak’s refinement really showed itself the strongest. Sure, he got away with more than a handful of infield singles down the stretch. But, hey, that's baseball, ya know?
Down the stretch, Koperniak was helped by being used in handed matchups. As I have already stated, it’ll all come down to how he continues to grow against like-handed pitchers. The left-handed swinging Koperniak is brimming with skill and IQ, he just needs to be better against lefties and surer of himself in the field and on the base paths. At 24 years old and a little older for a budding prospect, Koperniak could be the guy that is in the majors lickety-split and seemingly out of nowhere like Lars Nootbaar did. There is a lot about Koperniak that reminds me of Nootbaar, now that I think about it. However, I've already typed more than I wanted to so I'll stop there. You are very welcome.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Thank For Reading!!