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.
RHRP Guillermo Zuniga
Signed to a Major League deal in 2022
Listed at 6'5, 230.
If there is one thing that the Cardinals signing of Guillermo Zuniga this offseason shows up it's the expensive cost of high-velocity, highly-measurable relief arms. Off of the top of my head, I can't remember the last time that a Minor Leaguer without at least AAA experience signed a Major League deal. I'm probably missing some, but it seems like an incredibly rare circumstance.
We don't need to get carried away in evaluating Zuniga, either because he is two things. First, he's a highly measurable, big-bodies right-handed relief that has shown the ability to gas it up into the 100 MPH territory with a big slider and a promising changeup. Both of those off-speed offerings have the chance to be plus pitches from both a measurable and swing-and-miss profile standpoint. Watch the first clip in the tweet below from our good friend Kareem of the delightful Jake Walsh, but then focus on the second video of Guillermo Zuniga.
Second, Guillermo Zuniga is a pitcher with 30 to 40 grade at best command that has a lot of trouble repeating his delivery and commanding his body, and who often misses his spot by the entirety of the plate. This isn't side of the plate-specific, as Zuniga misses often on both side of the plate. The gif below is from 2021, and I wanted to make sure to incorporate it into this write-up for a couple of reasons. First, because of how shitty his command is. Second, because I wanted to show how his mechanics have changed and how much bigger he is than he was one year ago. You'll notice that he's put on some good bulk as compared to 2021. You'll also notice that his mechanics were much more deliberate and controlled during the 2021 season. I don't even know if I know what this means exactly, but it looks to me like Zuniga lost some athleticism in his delivery between the end of the 2021 and the beginning of the 2022 season.
I'm just going to throw it out there that I'm not as high on Zuniga as others are. Of course, you already knew that by the modest 37th overall ranking that I've attached to him. I think he's more Jose Quesada or Junior Fernandez than he is a player worthy of a 40-man spot. I say that, but I also think that both Quesada and Fernandez were worth the 40-man spot, relative to other options. So, clearly, I'm a hypocrite that is figuring out his stance as he types.
Another thing that I worry about, pettily, is that this isn't usually the type of arm that the Dodgers let walk, and it's certainly not the type of arm that they don't even give a try at AAA before letting walk. This might have been in hopes to keep him "hidden" from other organizations, but that seems like a stretch to me. The Dodgers are as good at developing arms as anyone, and I find it troubling that they couldn't get him "right". I hate to be that way, so it only seems fair to show you gifs of how good he can be when he is on as a way of making up for it. It would be one helluva victory to steal a player from the Dodgers.
I say that, but he was pretty freaking good against the Cardinals AA affiliate in Springfield during the 2022 season. Over 11.1 relief innings spanning 10 appearances, Zuniga struck out 17 Springfield hitters, and he allowed seven hits and four earned runs while walking five and hitting a batter (it was Moises Gomez). You'll notice right away that the command is an issue even in this small sample, but that he has big strikeout stuff. He allowed one homer over this time period. Chandler Redmond took Zuniga deep on May 27th. Here it is because that's how I role and I also think it's important to read the words in the tweet to get some idea of what it's like to watch a relief appearance by Zuniga:
I feel like this is a good spot to remind everyone that the Cardinals scouting staff knows wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more than I could ever imagine. I'm going to give the player development side the benefit of the doubt and hope that they can unlock the right mentality and mechanics for Zuniga to thrive.
They are VERY VERY good at this, after all. The scouting side, specifically.
As the stats in the gifs above and below highlight, there is additional reason to be bullish on Zuniga. He finished the year strong, and he appeared to throw the ball with more balance in his motion than he did for most of the season, if the gifs are any indication. If you want to break it down even deeper, Zuniga was better from the beginning of July until the end of the season, putting up a 3.09 ERA while striking out 27.2% over 23.1 IP. Of course, the issue is that he walked 15.5% over this period, which plays heavily into why his FIP from July 1st until the end of the season was 5.77. I didn't dive into it like I wanted to, but I noticed early on in the season that Zuniga was slow to the plate and that the pitch clock worked against him a lot. I wonder how much adjusting to the pace of the pitch clock helped him as the season went on. I'm sorry for not having that answer for you.
There's been a push lately of the belief that it's easier to teach command than it is to teach stuff. I find this to be factual, but I also believe that it's a lot more difficult to teach command than most other's believe it to be. I think the mentality that comes with command is an underrated aspect of that skill that hasn't been quantified yet. Zuniga ABSOLUTELY has the stuff to be a dominant big-league arm out of the bullpen. There's some Joe Kelly/Brusdar Graterol in there for Zuniga. But he's not going to get close until he sorts his attacking approach and mechanical shit out, and he wasn't close to being there during the 2022 season (or in the Winter League, for that matter).
But man-oh-man could he be a big free agent steal for the Cardinals and a big swing and miss at 37 on my part.
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis