Updated: Mar 18
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.
... Hitter... L.J. Jones IV...
Age 23, Turns 24 At The End Of June
Drafted in the 5th Round of the 2020 Draft
Listed at 6'0, 225. Bats R/Throws R
Aside from Moisés Gómez and maybe Chandler Redmond, I'm not sure that there is a hitting prospect on the farm that does as much damage when they are on a heater the way that L.J. Jones IV does.
I also don't know what in the hell kinda fielder he is because I really don't think he's a first baseman and I really don't think he's an outfielder. In addition, Jones DH'ed in 63 of the 102 games that he appeared in during the 2022 season. His defensive deficiencies at both first base (220 innings) and a corner outfield spot (114.2 innings) were pretty evident when he was out there.
His usage during the 2022 season really has me wondering about the idea of just using him at DH and grooming him for that role. It would be an interesting technique that I'm not exactly sure I've seen play out in real-time. Being a DH is a skill that baseball fans do not appreciate, and I think it stands to reason that a player could be trained for that role instead of just, like, put in that role for at-bats at the next level.
Watching HOT L.J. Jones IV mash is a thing of beauty. I love that you won't sneak anything above the zone by him, regardless of the speed or shape of a pitch. when he's on, Jones IV recognizes that shit right away and oftentimes does some real damage against it. Oddly enough, the same can be said about breaking pitches below-to-well-below the zone. It's so fun to watch L.J. identify and rake both of these type of pitches that are usually at odds with each other. For the hell of it, I'll put a gif of each below this paragraph so that you, too, can enjoy it.
It's just that, at times, L.J. can really struggle with the pitches between these two spots. Also, I wanted to make a point to keep bringing up L.J.'s hot streak because his season can be divided into three... halves...
First, the absolutely poor start that he got off to while dealing with some "ouchies" that caused him to miss a lot of at-bats. Over 14 games and 58 plate appearances to start the season, Jones hit 216/293/314 with just five doubles while putting up a wRC+ of 67. His mechanics and timing at the plate seemed way off from the get-go, too.
This span of subpar hitting was followed by the dawn of L.J. of Castle RakesALot, Earl of Baseball Punishment, who took over between May 10 and July 30th. During this span, Jones hit 301/368/55Freaking5 over 232 plate appearances with ten homers, 21 doubles, and one hilarious triple, all while striking out 19% of the time and walking 8.2% of the time. I don't need to tell you that this is more than a difference maker. This is more than a team's 32nd best prospect. This is a prospect with leGit top 10 potential, organizationally (as you'll learn later, to a degree, with Moisés Gómez).
The problem is, from July 31st until the end of the season on September 11th - a span of 150 plate appearances - Jones IV then hit 216/280/336. Jones IV didn't see his strikeout rate increase over this period, but he did take fewer walks at about a 50% less clip as compared to during his hot streak. Also, Jones IV saw a .100-ish decrease in his batted ball luck because of it, as he was making more weak contact while being more aggressive with the bat. The juxtaposition of wRC+ over these two periods of time a the High-A level was 153 from May 10th through July 30th as compared to 72 from July 31st until the end of the season.
Now, there are reasons to think that this righty was dealing with some issues during the end of the season, but I believe that only helps to emphasize the point that Jones IV has to stay healthy. Jones also has to find his balance between being productively aggressive and being overly-aggressive. It's a slippery slope to climb, but this is the path that Jones IV is on and that he'll have to walk. To continue to state the obvious and the point that I keep going to, good health is going to have to play a large role in his future success.
You'll notice in all of the gifs that Jones IV sometimes has a big leg-kick in his swing and you can tell right away when he's not timed up properly because of it. Even early in the season, he had a weird slide-step-kinda with that leg that had his timing all fucked up. There is a mechanical adjustment with his timing that he is going to need to develop moving forward, as well. Another tough balancing act, because he'll have to make that adjustment without compromising the power that comes with a big leg-kick. In rewatching some of his at-bats during the season, it seemed like the leg-kick was something that he altered by trimming it down towards the cold part of the end of his season. So, this is something that we'll have to keep an extra close eye on in 2023.
I've seen Jones IV make some mental errors on the basepaths and in the field, and those will need to be cut down greatly moving forward. Jones IV's best chance of making a Major League debut will come via the direction that his potentially difference-making bat takes him. In some ways, his swing from the right side reminds me a little of Ray Lankford's, especially the way that he collapses his back-half after rotation. The way that he swings the bat reminds me of when Malcom Nunez was being too aggressive and pounding the ball into the ground too often without any interest in using any part of the field aside from his pull side.
If L.J. Jones IV can find that mid-season version of himself that is aggressive in hunting for his pitch within his plan then we are talking about a prospect capable of at least making a Major League Debut. If he's aggressive without a plan then we are talking about a player like Leandro Cedeno who just can't quite get to his potential but does a lot of damage at the Minor League level (to Cedeno's credit, he just signed a great contract to play professionally overseas. It's not MLB, but it's still elite and awesome!!),
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis