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2023 D50: Prospect #9

Updated: Feb 14, 2023


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 conscious 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:

THE CARDINAL NATION (Subscribe to the damn site, dummies) MLB


Catcher Leonardo Bernal

Age 19 (In February)

International Free Agent in 2021

Listed at 6'0, 200. Bats S/Throws R

It kinda feels like Leonardo Bernal just might have the potential to be a star.

In a lot of ways, this soon to be 19-year-old's prospects remind me a lot of Ivan Herrera's prospects at the same age. Of course, Herrera hasn't been the player - or been given the chance to be the player - that once showed signs of star potential that he did as a teenager at advanced leagues, but it doesn't change the fact that Herrera (and Bernal for proxy purposes) both still have a chance to be a top-half catcher in the Majors if he continues to develop.

It's not fair to spend a lot of time on Herrera when this write-up is about Leonardo Bernal, but I think it's important to continue to drive this context-driven perspective so that we can really understand what we are talking about and expecting with this incredibly talented catching prospect.

Still, I'm going to get into the perspective of it all. Ivan Herrera is still rookie eligible and he's still deserving of top 5-10 acclaim within the Cardinals organization for prospects (that is, on lists that he still appears on). Back in 2018, a then 18-year-old Herrera took rookie ball by storm and began to make a name for himself as a potential top prospect and "heir presumptive" to the Cardinals catching throne. Then, at 19 year's old in 2019, Herrera solidified his star prospect status and POTENTIAL as he raked at both Low and High-A levels while showing great athleticism and catching potential, albeit with plenty of question marks.

Now that we have a little context and a little perspective, let's talk about Leonardo Bernal's age 18 season at a level higher than Herrera's age 18 season (albeit after minor league contraction which does change the story a little bit, making the talent more volatile to appraise). As good as Herrera was as an 18-year-old, the switch-hitting Bernal was better as a more well-rounded prospect. We are certainly going off of a rather small sample as well, but every moment that I was able to watch of Bernal was impressive, and it doesn't matter if it was behind the plate or swinging from either side of it.

Let's start with his work at the plate. In 171 plate appearances in the tough hitting environment that is the Florida State League - a league that he was three years younger than on average - Bernal was 17% above league average at producing runs while hitting 256/316/455 while only striking out 18.7% of the time. When you break his splits up, Bernal hit lefties to the tune of 286/355/429 in a small sample of 31 plate appearances and 250/307/461 against righties in 140 plate appearances. Those slug numbers in that league are REAL and there is no way around it. Bernal walked only 7% of the time on the season, which might lead you to believe that he's a free swinger. Personally, I'd described him more as disciplined-aggressive. Bernal is good at making smart swing decisions while doing a good job of recognizing pitches out of the zone to lay off of.

From the left side, I view Bernal's swing as a thing of beauty. That's easy pop and power, and you could easily see him popping 20-ish balls over the fence at some point with another 20 doubles to follow in 500 plate appearances with continued development and without being weaker on one side of the plate than the other. As you can tell from the stat breakdown, the samples on both sides of the plate are incredibly small for the 2022 season, but the swing data shows that his success is real and sustainable even in that small sample. If you squint, you'll see some Jon Jay swing-path familiarities with Bernal, but with a clear bat speed advantage and more use of his lower half. These qualities lend themselves to more real in-game and raw power than Jay every showed. His swing from the right-side isn't as aesthetically pleasing, but he does a lot with it regardless. His average exit velocity during the 2022 season was 86.4 MPH with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 102.2 MPH and a max exit velo of 110.4 MPH. He doesn't hit the ball as hard as Jordan Walker does, but I think the two have similar approaches as aggressive swingers that chase a little bit more (32.9% chase rate) but make up for it with good contact (70.5% contact rate).

Now, even with this info and this data and this swing, it was Bernal's work behind the plate that pushed him into the top 10 and ahead of Jimmy Crooks iii (at his age, as well). As of right this moment, Crooks is the better of the two defensively, but both have the potential to be well above average defensive catchers. Bernal has a somewhat big body, but in the way that you'd want your catcher to have a big body. He's fit and strong, and his size doesn't hurt his agility or abilities behind the plate. I remember being pleasantly startled to watch him explode out of his crouch with a plus-potential arm and explosive motions to gun out a runner.

The other thing that really stood out about the Panama-born Bernal behind the plate is that he clearly carries himself in a way that a lot of 18-year-old's don't. There is a maturity and presence to his game that is undeniable, even in the few games that I was able to watch him on MiLB TV during the 2022 season. In talking with some of his teammates, I can tell you that they have a ton of respect for Bernal and echo the sentiments about his maturity. Beyond his teammates, the coaches and scouts rave about his work ethic and leadership abilities.

Bernal was one of the Cardinals prizes from the 2020-2021 International Free Agent class and it's a signing that is already paying off big time. While good players like Luis Pino and Adari Grant were getting more attention from that class, Bernal just put his head down, worked his ass off, and jumped over those players and many others within the organization.

So, what is a person to do when you are talking about an already acclaimed international prospect that over-performed in a league that he was way too young for, and who possesses all of the personal and professional characteristic that Bernal has?

You make him a top ten prospect in the organization because that player... Well, he's probably closer to the top 100-150 prospects in baseball than any of us know.

Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis


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