Updated: Feb 14
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 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 Gustavo J. Rodriguez
International Free Agent in 2018
Listed at 6'3, 160
I guess it's because of COVID and the lost 2020 MiLB season, but 2018 seems so damn long ago. It was a bit of a mindfuck, trying to remember when Gustavo was signed.
Candidly, while Gustavo J. Rodriguez was maybe one of the three most impressive pitchers in the organization statistically during the 2022 season, I didn't give him the attention that he deserved while gif'ing his few appearances that were made available during the season. This had a lot to do with my own scheduling and availability, but I don't remember being overly-impressed with what I did watch.
As sad as that is, that's a large part of the reason why he isn't higher on the list. I was definitely more impressed with him than I was with some of the other International pitchers that were a part of last year's Palm Beach roster like Dionys Rodriguez and Inohan Paniagua (who I was very high on in 2021), but I guess I was so zoned in on some of the 2022 draft picks that I didn't give Rodriguez the time or attention that he deserved. To his complement, he's just so steady for his age and his level that I was being dismissive of his talents.
The first part of Gustavo's game that I undervalued (and continue to undervalue) is his fastball. There are only a few pitchers on the farm that throw their fastball with a better average velocity than Rodriguez, who averages over 95 MPH with his fastball. It's shape isn't anything special exactly, but it's a comparatively "plus" pitch for both Low-A levels. Which is to say that I don't anticipate that pitch being a problem for at least as long as he is at Peoria during the 2023 season. When he gets beyond the "A" level of the minors and into the advanced levels, I'll be fascinated to see how it plays. He does command it extremely well as compared to the rest of his arsenal. The first three gifs of this post will give you an idea of how good of a baseline pitch it is.
Continue the train of under-appreciation for Rodriguez is how I valued both his curve and his changeup. It's easy to see that Rodriguez doesn't always bury the curve the way that he needs to, but it's a great breaking pitch with some serious hard dive late in it's trajectory when he is burying it. It's a good enough pitch at the lower levels that he can even get away with hanging it, especially because of the way that he plays it off of his mid-90's fastball up in the zone. He'll need to command it and finish it more consistently to have the success that he had during the 2022 season beyond the two "A" levels.
I think that part of the reason why I was a bit more dismissive of Gustavo upon first watching him had a lot to do with his third offering, a changeup that is a nice middle-paced pitch between his fastball and curve, but it isn't commanded particularly well and is often thrown with slowed mechanics. It's not just the arm that slows down, it's his entire body. I think that this pitch has a chance to be a serviceable offering moving forward, especially if he can continue to have the success that he's had with it against lefties. It shouldn't come as a surprise that I do worry about how these three pitches will work off of each other moving forward if the command of his off-speed offerings doesn't clean up a little, but that concern is mitigated because of how well Gustavo repeats the path of his delivery.
Which brings me to the one thing that really did stick out to me when watching him: aside from a little slow down when he throws the changeup, Gustavo Rodriguez does a very good job of staying in control and repeating his delivery. In the past, we've seen some of the more svelte pitchers like Rodriguez struggle to do this. Luckily, Rodriguez throws with a free, easy, and repeatable delivery that bodes well for maximizing the success that he's capable of having in the long-term.
More than anything, I'm just being cautious with another incredibly promising prospect. If you are looking for a prospect that could - nay, WILL - make an Inohan Paniagua-esque move up the prospect list, Gustavo J. Rodriguez is surely your man. He could certainly use a little extra weight on his slight frame, but this is the exact frame that every pitching coach and strength coach is looking for in a pitcher. As you'd suspect with most 22-year-old pitchers that have never pitched above the "A" level, there is still a lot of work to do, but Gustavo appears to be the pitcher that is capable of doing the work needed to propel himself to some monster success.
Think about Rodriguez potential this way: I have a lot of concerns, and those concerns are valid, but he still allowed basically matching and hilariously low OBP (.289) and slugging percentage against (.288), while striking out 28.3% of hitters that he faced. It's really something how close his numbers in 2022 at Palm Beach were to Dionys Rodriguez's 2021 at Palm Beach. I'm not going to yammer on with the numbers, but one thing I'll keeping a close eye on during the 2023 season is how Gustavo's 2023 numbers compare to Dionys's 2022 numbers at Peoria. It's comical how good Gustavo has the potential to be. I Love to see a pitcher in the organization that has success built more on skill and potential than luck the way that Gustavo is.
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis