THIS IS THE PROSPECT PREAMBLE.
Each post will feature these words, so feel free to skip accordingly. I offer the same always-standing apologies for the lackluster quality of my writing, as well as the stream of consciousness nature that I write with. I sincerely wish that I was better at writing than I am but, alas, here we are. Also, I'm very good at this as compared to most, but I am still VERY bad at it. Just think about that for a second, for context purposes.
I want to start off by reminding everyone that these posts are aided and enhanced by the works of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Prospects Live. Each embedded link will take you to their subscription pages and you should absolutely do that. Shout out to Geoff Pontes and Matt Thompson from Baseball America and Prospects Live, respectfully, because they're awesome. FanGraphs stats are OBVIOUSLY clutch and awesome, and that's why they are used in nearly every "Dirty" post. LOVE that FanGraphs.
Accordingly, @Cardinalsgifs provides his artistic touch to the pictures in each article, and I wouldn't do this at all if he wasn't a part of it. Special shoutout to @KareemSSN who is a must follow for Cardinals prospects stuff. His partner in crime is @Cardinalsreek and they have their own prospect list coming out soon!! Shoutout to Blake Newberry (@BT_Newberry) and Mr. Brian Walton (@B_Walton) for their work on their list over at The Cardinal Nation, too.
I also want to remind everyone that my list is different in that I don't include players with rookie eligibility that have made a Major League debut. So, you'll have to look elsewhere for Matthew Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Jake Walsh, Andre Pallante, and ZacK Thompson. Some of these guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway. I'm just trying to get ahead of this because I will 100% be asked about each. I did almost add 32-year-old Rule 5 draft selection Wilking Rodriguez to the list, but decided against it because he's 32-years-old, entering his age 33 season, and the coverage of him will surely be overly saturated by the time that Spring Training gets going. Also, I didn't add recently acquired Jose Fermín because I just don't care at all. I'm sure he'll make a Major League debut at some point in 2023 which will be cool but I just can't find it in me to care about it at all.
The last thing that I'd like to do is remind everyone that this is just a snap shot of THIS moment. I'm not 100% sure what every player on the list has worked on or has been doing this offseason. So, when I'm a little more conservative with a player like, say, Michael McGreevy, it's without the knowledge of what he's worked on this offseason, along with the gains that he's made in the areas that I'm concerned about. You never know when/if things are going to click for a player, and there's more reason now than ever before - with the advancements in modern baseball technologies - for a prospect to catapult themselves from out of nowhere. Vice versa, it's easier than ever for a prospect to fall off into obscurity.
Finally, I'd like to provide links to other sites that rank Cardinals' prospects. The Cardinal Nation, Prospects Live, and Baseball America all have their 2023 lists published, and MLB and FanGraphs will link to their most recent rankings from 2022:
KAREEM AND CARDINALS REEKS TOP 12
THIS HAS GONE ON TOO LONG. LET'S. GO.
RHP Max Rajcic
Age 21, Turns 22 in August
Drafted in the 6th Round of the 2022 Draft
Listed at 6'1, 205
I'm probably more bullish on Max Rajcic than I should be. Every year, there seems to be one collegiate pitcher that the Cardinals draft that I overly "ship". As you'd suspect, that usually curses that player to a career that fizzles out with just a little taste of AAA, at best.
Then again, every great once in awhile, I hitch my wagon to a player like Gordon Graceffo and I look like a genius.
Without a big velocity spike, Max Rajcic won't ever be on the path that Graceffo is on. He's too... average, let's say... for that. But in his average...ness... comes a comfort that comes with consistency and steadiness that I admittingly overly-appreciate. As I strive to be as honest with the audience as I possibly can be, I would like to offer that I came very close to putting Rajcic ahead of both Michael McGreevy and Brycen Mautz, as well as some others. I let the fear of being wrong get the better of me, and so here he is at #19 on the list.
The first thing that really sticks out with Rajcic is that he throws everything out of the exact same spot. Go ahead and take a gander at the gif below to see it. You can tell that he shows the ball earlier than most effective pitchers do, but I guess that I'm not as worried about it because I believe that his ability to repeat both his mechanics and his release point will help to counteract the concerns that I have with his ball.... exposure... (smh, Kyle). Someone I trust greatly told me that I was over-valuing Rajcic because he doesn't fool enough people. I was told that he allows too much hard contact, as well. I watched about four and a half of his starts for UCLA during the 2022 season and I didn't feel that way at all. That's just how "scouting" goes sometimes, though. It's often all about WHEN you see a player.
The main issue with Rajcic, the biggest point of concern rather, is that he doesn't have the most lively or dominant fastball. This is something that he is going to have to work on because everything in his arsenal works off of that pitch. He's managed to get away with it because of his repeatability and, in large part, because his curveball is so damn good. More than likely, as he gets beyond the "A" level of the minors, this will come back to haunt him much like it has for Michael McGreevy. That's the danger of an average or below average pitch for a contact-oriented pitcher that throws a ton of strikes. Not all strikes are created equal.
The good news with Rajcic is that he has a pretty well-developed repertoire of various spectrum levels of average that compliments each other pretty well. His changeup is a relatively impressive pitch that's already well above average. The changeup might be why I'm overvaluing him, because I seem to be one of the only people that think that it's more than average. I guess we'll see hot it turns out, naturally. Regardless, it's amazing how good his entire arsenal gets when he's pairing the heater and change with a steady usage of his curveball and a pointed and specific usage of his slider.
Admittedly, part of the reason that I'm bullish on Rajcic is that I first came to know him while he was pitching for the 18U National Team. Rajcic was an anchor pitcher for that team that covered a lot of important innings and in whatever role he was asked to. One of the things that I've really come to appreciate while evaluating is a player that his been tested in national competition at a young age. Rajcic fits that mold. Not only is he tested, but he also pitches with an edge to him that greatly benefits him on the mound. He's fiery, and if you've been following along at all then you'll know right away that I love that. Rajcic loves getting the ball on the big stage, and he fires his teammates up when it's time to get fired up.
Much like with Ian Bedell, Rajcic is going to make or break based solely on his pitchablity, maturity, and nuanced understanding of attacking the zone. If he can toy with that fastball a little bit and add some velocity to it then he has the chance to be a Major League rotation staple for a couple of years. I say that, but he had already added some consistent velocity gains to the heater by the end of the 2022 collegiate season, so it stands to reason that what he really needs to do is just hold those gains.
Even if Rajcic doesn't do that, his understanding of his body, his understanding of pitching, and his drive to be the best will, at the very least, prove to provide a solid path through the lower level of the minors. I have a feeling that we'll be talking about how good he is against lefties at the lower levels of the minors because his stuff seems uniquely designed to eat those hitters alive. His fastball and change run away from them, and that curve of his can hammer them down. Rajcic just KNOWS how to pitch.
I'll conclude this by saying that you shouldn't be surprised if Max Rajcic is a flashier name within the organization than Michael McGreevy, Pete Hansen, or Brycen Mautz one year from now. He seems, to me, to have a little something that at least two of those other pitchers just don't have. Then again, don't be surprised if I've cursed poor Rajcic to a life of John Kilichowski or Sam Tewes or Evan Kruczynski before him as prospects that I overvalue because of feel and pitchability. Either way, I'm planning on keying in to every little bit of Rajcic that I get to watch during the 2023 season. What a great way to spend a little extra cash in the 6th round of the draft. Kid was paid like a third rounder (the 102nd selection in the draft was allocated a bonus spot of $600.70K and Rajcic signed for $600K, for reference), and he is certainly a third round talent. Boy, do I love when the Cardinals do this stuff.
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis