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2023 D50: The Shrine Pt 2: More Hitters

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

The countdown is complete!! YOU ARE WELCOME!!


Today, we will be trying our hardest to quickly go over some additional pitchers in the organization that you should be paying attention to.


Each profile is a quick little rundown of each player. If you click on their name, you will be taken to either their FanGraphs page or their Baseball Reference page. Both of these websites are the best and we should all be thankful that they exist.


I have decided to title these post this way, and arrange these post in this way, as an ode to one of my favorite songs of all time, “The Shrine/An Argument” by one of my favorite bands of all time, Fleet Foxes. Click the link and watch the live version because it has an extra verse-ish. Personally, I prefer their studio stuff, but you can't go wrong really. There's never been an album that captures my inner monologue and the existential dread that I truly and constantly feel the way that Helplessness Blues does.


AND FOR REAL, did @CARDINALSGIFS outdo himself with this picture that's an homage to one of my favorite Lord Huron album covers. Gifs really outdid himself with all of the pictures for this stupid countdown. The only reason that I am still doing any of this is because of Gifs. If not for him, I'd be gone forever.


I have surely left off some that are very deserving, and for that I apologize.


THE SHRINE PT 2


THE HITTERS


I find myself conflicted on where to start with the hitters. I think I'm going to start with some of the older players that I haven't highlighted yet. So, I guess we'll start by getting into Irving Lopez and Justin Toerner.


First, 27-year-old Irving Lopez is a former 27th round pick and the pride of Hermosillo, Mexico. Since his draft season of 2017, Lopez has been a first class organizational soldier for the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Coming out of the lost 2020 MiLB season, the left-handed swinging Lopez has gone back and forth between Springfield and Memphis while having various levels of success and failure at both levels. An above-average second baseman that can also play all over the diamond at about an average level, Lopez is a very smart and reliable player that will always give a team a good at-bat. Our good friend Blake Newberry has done a terrific job of chronicling the success that Lopez has had both on Twitter and over at The Cardinal Nation in the Mexican Winter League. Here's to hoping that Lopez can roll some of that Winter success into a Major League debut at some point during the 2023 season.


Next, we'll discuss another organizational soldier in outfielder Justin Toerner. The 26-year-old former 28th round draft pick out of Cal Northridge is a fearless outfielder with surprise speed and pop who just never seemed to put it fully back together after his 2019 season ended early following a collision with the outfield wall. There was a time when it looked like Toerner would be able to ride an all-fields contact tool all of the way to a potential ML debut, but he struggled greatly upon his first taste of AA. Ever since, he's felt somewhat trapped in his approach. Toerner displays good patience at the plate and the ability to hit lefties as a left-handed swinger, but there's just something lacking in his consistency at the plate that has held him back. Like with Scott Hurst, there's little fear in the way that Toerner plays the game and I'm rooting for him to get a chance at a Major League debut.


The next group of older prospects did not start their careers in the Cardinals' organization, but they have turned themselves into interesting players now that they are in the Cardinals' organization. 28-year-old infielder Errol Robinson has spent time in the Reds and Dodgers systems, and the Cardinals brought him in from the Frontier League about mid-way through the 2022 season. Robinson got off to a rough start at the plate, but his abilities in the field were never in doubt. Errol brought some surprise pop to the lineup once he settled in a bit, and you can never rule a defensive-first shortstop/infielder out of a potential Major League debut at some point.


In the Minor League phase of the 2021-22 Rule Five draft, the Cardinals selected left-handed swinging outfielder Jonah Davis. I think that the best way to describe the 25-year-old Davis is that he's feast or famine at the plate. He's either going to crush a pitch or swing wildly through it. His raw power is probably the most unsung raw power in the organization. He's also a very good defensive outfielder at all three positions, and he probably made the best defensive play in the minors last season. It really is a lot of fun to watch him crush balls. I'd also like to apologize to Jonah because I sometimes type his name as "Johan" instead of "Jonah" because I'm a fucking moron and I'm usually rushing while tweeting and watching three minor league games.


Now that we have some of the older players out of the way, let's talk about some of the bats that the Cardinals' drafted in 2022. The earliest drafted of these bats is outfielder Alex Iadisernia. Iadisernia is fascinating to me. The Cardinals' 7th round, left-handed swinger had a good final collegiate season at Elon, but it was still considered a "down" season for him because of some of the promise that he showed in prior years as well as during the Northwoods League. His relatively "average" collegiate season probably cost him some cash, but that only makes him that much more intriguing as a later-rounds pick for the Cardinals. You'll be able to tell that Iadisernia has a very measured and compact swing that probably limits some of the damage that he can do. This is, in part, because there's a lot of hands in that swing. He's a very solid corner outfielder with some deceptive speed, and if he and the Cardinals can unlock some of his entire body in his swing then there's reason to believe he'll be able to get into more power and slug. I'll go ahead and bet on that. There's a lot of baseball smarts between this young man's ears.


In the 11th round of the 2022 draft, the Cardinals selected left-handed swinging Nathan Church. It's a natural progression to go from talking about one left-handed swinging outfielder that struggles to get to his power potential to another lefty that has the same issue. In the past, Church has been able to get to that power, but it's just been a minute or two since it's been practical for him. The 22-year-old UC Irvine product has the feel of a team leader, and while he's an average fielder and an average runner he's still the type of player that teammates rally around. Church is the exact kid and player that the Cardinals always seem to get the most of. I have a kid at work named Connor Church who I think the world of, but I hate both of them for having the last name "Church" because it's something that I do not respect. Except for the chicken, naturally.


21-year-old shortstop/infielder Michael Curialle out of UCLA has been described to me by three different evaluators as the wild card of the Cardinals 2022 draft. The 12th round pick was considered to be an elite athlete and a potential first round pick as a prep athlete before the game started to get the better of him. Curialle never seemed to tap into his amazing athleticism at the plate and his approach was vulnerable, and because of that he was never the top draft prospect that he was capable of being. Because of this, you can see the potential in ever single movement that Curialle makes on the diamond. It's the easiest thing to dream on. Curialle has the chance to be a well-above average shortstop and bat, but he's going to need to find consistency with both to get there. I'd suggest that he starts by saying "fuck it" to worrying about striking out and just swing like an asshole for awhile. I'd like to echo this sentiment with how he plays the field. It seems to me like he just needs to stop carrying and being so measured and just let the his natural instincts take over.


Where it gets fun with a draft is that the Cardinals 17th round pick Brody Moore feels like the polar opposite of Curialle. There's a limited ceiling and potential here with Moore, but there's a real chance that Moore is still in the organization by the time that Curialle finds his way out of the organization in the coming years. I cannot stress loudly enough how pedestrian Brody Moore is. The right-handed swinging 22-year-old second base/infield product from Auburn is just a solid and reliable baseball player. Moore is very aware of who he is and what he does well, and he's all-in with those skills. Now, this means that he probably has a ceiling of something like Irving Lopez or Nick Dunn because of how steady his is, but he's also a baseball rat with a big drive towards success and big-time baseball I.Q., so there might just be more to... fuck me with this... Moore than meets the eye.


NOW, I have INCREDIBLY high hopes for Gordon Graceffo's former teammate on Villanova, 19th round outfielder Chris Rotondo. I'm not fucking around at all when I say that I came VERY close to adding Rotondo to The Dirty50-proper because I think that he has a real chance to mash. He's my favorite of the 2022 drafted bats that I left off of The Dirty50 because he's one of the less "plotting" hitters of the group, and he seems focused on putting up hard contact and big exit velocities from the right side. I don't have a feel for the type of runner or outfielder that he is, but I also just don't care about that at all right now. Give me the 19th rounder that has the chance to slug and I'll take it all day. I was told by someone close to the Villanova program that Rotondo is a difference-making fielder and base runner, and I can't wait to see that with my own eyes. Rotondo is a smart kid in the class room and on the diamond, and there are some team leader skills ever-present. I'll be anxious to see if Rotondo and the Cardinals tweak his front-foot timing mechanism at all.




Now that we've covered all of the bats from the 2022 draft, let's move on to some of the bats from the 2021 class. Left-handed swinging 23-year-old Osvaldo Tovalin feels a lot like how I felt about 19-21-year-old Juan Yepez all of those years ago. Tovalin torched the Florida State League but REALLY struggled once he got promoted to Peoria. Like with Yepez back then, there were times when Tovalin has REAL power and a REAL professional approach, it's just that it doesn't happen enough as he pushes aggressively through an at-bat too often. Tovalin is also a player caught between positions all around the diamond, without a home that he looks too comfortable at. It took a somewhat "come to jesus" moment for Yepez to begin to put in the "next level" work needed to tap into his actualized potential, and I'm hopeful that we see the same thing out of Tovalin. All of his underlying skills are real and point to a player capable of a Major League debut, there's just a lot of work needed to get there. I can't help but think that we see Tovalin make a big jump up the rankings in the next two years.


As we continue on with the 2021 draft picks, switch-hitting 11th round pick Mack Chambers is a very interesting prospect. There are some show-stopping (albeit inconsistent) skills in this 23-year-old, 6'0", 180lb package. If Chambers can find consistency in the field then he's going to be a plus middle infielder. He's not there yet often enough, but you can see the that the potential is there. At the plate, Chambers is much more of a threat from the left side than he is the right, and it's the kind of difference that'll make you curious if he'd be better off never stepping in the right-handed hitting side of the batter's box ever again. However, if Chambers can continue on the path that he's on as a contact-first lefty bat with a little pop and a good approach while continuing to evolve as an infielder then he'll have a real chance at a Major League debut. There have been some quiet questions about his character in the past, and it's nice to see that he seems to have worked beyond those questions. Keep an eye on him.


Elijah Cabell... Eli Cabell... Well, Eli Cabell just hits the shit out of everything that he makes contact with. The right-handed swinging 23-year-old Florida State product that the Cardinals drafted in the 17th round of the 2021 draft has one *real* skill, and it's the ability to absolute crush and barrel anything that he makes contact with. Now, the issue is that he strikes out 45-ish% of the time, so the hard contact that he makes doesn't really matter enough. Contact for contact or pound for pound or whatever you want to say, there actually isn't a prospect on the farm that does more with the contact that he makes than Cabell does. If he can find some middle ground between crushing the shit out of the ball and striking out like he's blind then he might be able to work his way onto a top prospects list. Even if he can carry a near 20% walk rate (he won't be able to), there is going to need to be a cut down in strikeouts. Until then, just sit back and enjoy as Cabell crushes whatever he crushes when he crushes it. He seems like a terrible outfielder with a VERY strong arm to my eyes, but I gotta see more of him to feel comfortable with that appraisal.



There are few teams that had as successful of an undrafted free agent signing period after the shortened 2020 draft as the Cardinals' had. 25-year-old infielder Jacob Buchberger is one of those players that has been incredibly successful for the organization that came from that group. A strong and somewhat stocky right-handed bat, Buchberger just does anything and everything that you'd ask a young man to do. He's a role model and mentor for younger players. He's a student of the game. He's capable of playing multiple positions around the infield at a Minor League above-average level. He takes a GREAT at-bat. He's the hitter that you probably want in the box with the game on the line, too (Mack Chambers had some awesome moments in similar situations, for the record). If he wasn't 25 then he'd be on The Dirty50 proper, if I'm being honest. In a very limited sample during the 2022 season, Buchberger was very impressive for Springfield and I can't wait to see how well that success translates over a larger sample.


Speaking of the team leader type, first baseman Thomas Francisco is a prospect that is one year removed from being on the then Dirty Flirty. A year ago, I pointed to Francisco's ability to make meaningful contact consistently as one of the reason why I liked him for the list. I worried about his power potential and thought that he might have to move off of first even though he was an above average defender there, but I wasn't ready to commit to any thoughts on the matter at that point. While I'm still at that point, what we now Know about Francisco is that the 2022 season was a step backward for him. He seemed more tentative at the plate and less confident in himself/more defensive swinging, and that played heavily against him. It would do this 23-year-old left-handed swinger well to find some of that power while being more selective at the plate, because that's going to be the difference for him as he progresses. You won't catch me betting against any member of the ECU Jungle.


There are a couple of infielders that were on the 2022 Peoria Chiefs that I find myself very intrigued by. First, 23-year-old Francisco Hernandez is just such a steady player that flashes some really promising tools and potential, but he's mostly just "solid" all over the place. There are times when he flashes well above average as a defensive second baseman and he has an incredibly strong arm, so I can't wait to see how he adjusts with more exposure around the diamond. If I had to select one international infielder that would go the Moises Castillo route and find more success in another organization, I'd go with Hernandez.



22-year-old infielder Ramon Mendoza really feels like a sleeper in the organization, to me. Like with Jeremy Rivas, his issue at the plate seems to be more "intent" driven than anything else, and I'd love to see him commit to just swinging wildly and trying to crush everything for awhile. If he can get a little more aggressive at hunting his pitch early in counts instead of having an approach geared more towards long at-bats then he might be able to take the step that I believe he's capable of. Mendoza makes some mistakes in the field, but I'm not sure that there's a middle infielder other than Masyn Winn that has the displayed athleticism at short that Mendoza possesses. The work in the field needs cleaning up, but not a ton.


It's really been an odd and tough go of it for 25-year-old outfielder Tommy Jew. Jew was drafted above bonus allotment when the Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 2019 draft. His collegiate season ended early because of an injury, then COVID hit and the 2020 MiLB season was lost. His 2021 season was weird as he adjusted to part-time work in his first taste of competitive baseball since early 2019. Tommy really struggled again for the first four months of the 2022 season, but then the extremely smart and athletic right-handed swinger began to turn it on at the end of the 2022 season. Jew is one of those fast and fearless outfielders, and he's a joy to watch play the field with a potentially well above average arm. He's obviously old for the level that he finished 2022 at, and he hasn't had the success that you'd like to see him have yet, so hopefully the positive signs that he showed at the end of the 2022 season carry over into the 2023 season.


Speaking of outfielders that are very athletic but also too old for the High-A level, 24-year-old Tyler Reichenborn is a fascinating prospect. The relatively slap-hitting righty seemed to find himself a little more pull-power during the 2022 season, while really growing his approach at the plate. Reichenborn spent some time at Low-A, and it's always tough to appraise how someone does when they repeat a level like Reichenborn did at High-A, but I was actually very impressed with some of the strides that he made. Reichenborn doesn't have the most success stealing bases, but he's probably a 60 grade runner who goes balls to the walls in the outfield with a near average-ish arm in center. I've been oddly bullish on Reichenborn since the Cardinals singed him as an MiLB free agent in 2019, but I really don't know what stage of his career he's in.



ALRIGHT. WE ARE ABOUT TO GO ON A RUN OF CATCHERS. IT'S WILD. STRAP IN:


As we get into the 700 catchers worth talking about under the Cardinals' MiLB umbrella, I'm going to begin with my favorite of the group, 23-year-old, left-handed swinging Wade Stauss. The Southeast Missouri State product was one of the undrafted free agents that the Cardinals signed following the 2021 draft. Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you Stauss is a *real* prospect or anything like that. What I will tell you is that I am INCREDIBLY impressed with his work behind the plate as well as how he works with a pitching staff. His High-A strikeout rate of 33% is worth mentioning as one of the reasons why you worry about him at the plate, but it came with a 13.1% walk rate in a VERY small sample of 84 plate appearances. Personally, I think that there's a lot to get excited about with Wade Stauss even if he just ends up being organizational depth (which is most likely). There's a clear "feel" for the game that Stauss possesses that's seems next level, to me. A catcher can ride that, alone, to a Major League debut.


The catcher worth talking about the most is probably 23-year-old Aaron McKeithan. The right-handed swinging McKeithan has a somewhat better approach at the plate than Stauss has, and he has some clear and raw power that puts him on a level above Stauss at the plate. Behind the plate, McKeithan seems "fine" to me. A little clunky here and there, but also clearly stronger and quicker than I initially pegged him as being. To me, Stuass and McKeithan - a 16th round pick in 2021 - have a "Raposo and Antonini" feel about them, with Stauss more like Raposo and Mckeithan more like Antonini, from a prospect value standpoint. To be candid and aggressive, I actually think that Stauss is kind of the best parts of both Raposo and Antonini, but we'll just have to wait to find out.


speaking of Aaron Antonini, the left-handed swinging, 24-year-old catcher is a very steady backstop with some surprise and BIG pop from the left side when he gets ahold of one. He's a relatively disciplined and selective hitter at the plate with a swing designed for loft and an approach to hunt for fastballs and hangers. Behind the plate, Antonini is about as good as you could ask for at suppressing the running game with his quick pop and strong arm. He's a pretty fun backstop to watch and incredible organizational depth for the Cardinals (NOTE: Antonini is now a switch-hitter. This is apparently something that he has done in the past and that I was not aware of).


I leGit was going to do a ton of research on the Cardinals Rule Five MiLB phase selection, 22-year-old Jose Alvarez but I've since decided that I just want to learn about him as both spring training and the MiLB season develops. As a non-roster invitee to spring training, I'm hopeful that we get a decent amount of exposure to him as spring goes along. Until then, I'm not even going to pretend like I know anything or that I have any idea of who he is or what he does well. From a depth standpoint, it really sounds like the Cardinals got a very talented backstop that can't hit to save his life, but I guess we'll find out. Seems like he has a pretty quick swing at least, to me. Still, I feel like I had to mention him here. Can you tell that I'm getting tired of talking about the catchers? Now, here's a video:


One of the more interesting catchers that has flashed some signs of big-time promise over the last two years yet hasn't been able to put it together long enough to matter is 20-year-old Roblin Heredia. The left-handed swinging catcher has a beautiful swing that you can clearly tell has real potential to do damage, but with an unrefined approach and some odd and uncontrolled swings. Like with a lot of younger catchers, it was clear in limited exposure that Heredia needed quite a bit of work and refinement behind the plate, but with a decent amount of raw skill to work with. Statistically it hasn't been pretty for Heredia over the last two seasons, but there's a *fine* foundation to grow on top of. He could also fizzle out pretty quickly, as well.


The danger of signing so many of these mid-teenagers on the international market is that it feels like we've been talking about them for years before they even turn 20 or make it stateside. 20-year-old, left-handed swinging Jake Burns from Australia fits right into this category. A former Little League World Series darling, Burns is a very exciting player and young man. Now, it hasn't been pretty so far for Burns, but he has a very interesting patience/strikeout/drive the ball profile and a ton of athleticism behind the plate. I really like his quick swing, and I think he could be a *real* prospect with some education and application on how to hunt for his pitch and how to make more pitches *his* pitch than just the stuff low and inside.



THERE ARE STILL MORE CATCHERS TO TALK ABOUT BUT I'VE HAD ENOUGH.


There really are another, like, four catchers that I should probably talk about but I just can't get myself to do it.


To distract from the fact that I'm deciding to skip over some of the other catchers in the organization, I'm going to throw a shiny object at you in the form of 20-year-old infielder Lizandro Espinoza. There is a world in which Espinoza appeared on The Dirty50-proper, then on the "Five Hitters On The Outside", but he inevitably ended up on this list. I absolutely LOVE the cut that the right-handed swinging Espinoza takes. It's short and compact and quick and powerful, and it doesn't feel like it is going to take much work for him to tap into some of the potential that he showed in the DSL during the 2021 season. Maybe just a little work being more direct is all that it'll take. Lizandro has split time between short and second almost exclusively, and I think most would agree that he is better suited for second or maybe even third. While it wasn't pretty at Palm Beach, you could tell that he was an incredibly tooled-up athlete that truly possesses the raw talent to be a potential top 20 prospect in the organization. Baseball is really tough, though, so more work is needed to get there.


Tre Fletcher still exists. I really don't have anything else to say. It's easy to beat up on him and how terrible he's been so far in the organization, but baseball is really tough and you never give up on a player until you have to give up on a player. There's still time for the soon to be 22-year-old Fletcher to put it all together, even though it probably won't happen.


Speaking of 2nd round picks that aren't any good, what a bullshit first full season in the organization for outfielder Ryan Holgate. The 22-year-old Holgate was the 70th overall selection in the 2021 draft (technically not a 2nd round pick, but comp pick after the 2nd round, nonetheless). Holgate buoyed up and down between Palm Beach and the Complex League, and he never got anything going at either level. Like with Fletcher, there is still plenty of time for him to get his shit together, and his power is REAL when he gets into one, but it sounds like he needs to completely rework everything in his game to get there. Holgate should be a fun project to follow during the 2023 season (on a side note, over the last couple of years, the only early pick that I've been wrong about was Griffin Roberts, and I was even kinda right about that one. I also unfairly undersold how good of a draft pick Alec Burleson was).


If you are looking for a 22-year-old Daddy Hacker, right-handed swinging Adanson Cruz just might be the outfielder for you. Cruz swings and misses A SHIT TON, but he can really find the barrel when he does make contact. He's kinda like Elijah Cabell in that way, but less impressive and consistent. If Cruz can manage to convince himself that there are pitches that aren't worth swinging at then he might turn into something more than just a guy that strikes out 40-ish% while putting up some big exit velocities. The little that I saw of Adanson in the outfield seemed VERY clunky, but I might have been projecting a little bit. DADDY HACKS, I TELL YOU. A lot of the same things that can be said about Adanson Cruz can also be said about 23-year-old outfielder Darlin Moquete, as well.




I guess that I have to make a point to end this post with some thoughts on 19-year-old infielder Adari Grant. The right-handed bat that hails from the Bahama's is a terrific story as the perceived prize of the Cardinals 2021 international signing class. For being as small as he is (listed at 5'11", 163), there's a lot of quick action and underlying pop in his quick, direct, and easy swing. Unfortunately, Grant hasn't been able to put it all together just yet, and it actually sounds like he's taken some pretty substantial steps backwards regardless of what the organization is pedaling publicly. Like with Samil De La Rosa, there appears to be some serious questions about where Grant will eventually land in the field because he's had issues everywhere around the diamond so far. The bottom line with Grant is that he was worth all of his pre-signing hype but he's still incredibly raw and in need of work, preparation, and patience. Like with the pitchers on The Shire: Pt 1, I wanted to make a point to end this list with a prospect that deserves to be talked about or thought more about. I say that, but what I'd really like for you to do is completely forget that Adari Grant even exists until he starts to show signs that he's worth following.



Thanks For Reading!!

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