Earlier today, The Cardinals' A-Level affiliate Peoria Chiefs released their opening day roster for 2018. Here's what it looks like:
There are some interesting and exciting roster decisions here. First, 19-year-old outfielder Jonathan Machado and 19-year-old third baseman Elehuris Montero are the two names that stick out as the biggest surprised to make the roster. Following a stellar season in the GCL, Machado is a top 30 prospect via MLB Pipeline. The jump from the GCL to Peoria is an aggressive promotion, but it's become more common for the Cardinals over the last few years. Both Montero and Machado will follow in the footsteps of Magneuris Sierra, Edmundo Sosa, and Dylan Carlson as they attempt to jump from rookie level ball to a full season league. I'm a bigger fan of Montero than I am Machado (who is a carbon copy of Magneuris Sierra but with a better contact tool), so have a look at him:
Speaking of Carlson, both he and former first-round pick (and receiver of much vitriol from the fan base) Nick Plummer will repeat the season at Peoria. I believe that this is the best thing for both of them. Plummer missed the better part of two seasons and needs at-bats. He's still only 21, so time is on his side. With Carlson, I believe that this is just a temporary stop for him. He'll get a quick promotion once his bat gets going. Carlson is the 18th ranked player in our Dirty 30.
Rounding out the outfield is another once-heralded prospect, Bryce Denton. Denton started the 2017 season in Peoria but quickly had his season derailed following a vicious case of appendicitis that took him right before opening day. He never fully recovered from that.
Much like with Plummer, Denton is in store for a make or break season. On a personal note, I'm a big fan of Denton.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the outfield is the lack of 2017 draft picks and standouts. It appeared that both Scott Hurst and Chase Pinder would start at Peoria. Hurst was a 3rd round pick, and Pinder was a 7th round pick in 2017. Hurst ended the season at State College, and Pinder finished in Johnson City, but both are ready for a full season affiliate. Both gentlemen have the ability to stay in center, but I'm a big fan of Pinder. See why:
I'll be anxious to see where they start. I wouldn't put it past the organization to start one of the two at Springfield. Along those lines, 2017 standout and #26 on our Dirty 30 list, outfielder Wadye Ynfante isn't on this roster, either. His season was cut short in August of 2017, and there's a chance that the Cardinals are bringing him along slowly. He also had a drastic change in his approach during the 2017 season, increasing his slug and his strikeouts, and this might be a response to that. Ynfante could use some instruction, as well, so maybe he ends up at Palm Beach where the Cardinals spring training facility is.
The two big names on the infield for Peoria are Montero and 1B/3B Juan Yepez. You'll remember Yepez because he was the Cardinals return in the Matt Adams trade last season. The Cardinals got beat up for their return in that trade at the time, but Yepez is a developing prospect that settled in with Peoria last season. He also underwent a position change, moving from 1st to 3rd. The Cardinals will continue this experiment in 2018, but the numbers do not lie. He slashed 310/357/444/801 with 14 extra base hits in 142 at-bats after he started playing first base regularly.
Montero will man 3B nearly every day for Peoria, and he's a complete hitter with a good approach that has real power potential. Montero is my personal #35 prospect because of his bat. He can be spectacular at third base, but he also struggles over there. That's to be expected out of any 19 years old. He'll need to find consistency on the hot corner to solidify himself as a fast riser in the organization.
Rounding out the infield is 1B/Util Yariel Gonzalez, SS Rayder Ascenio, Util Irving Lopez, and SS Taylor Bryant. Ascenio was the return from Seattle for Mike Leake, and he's a defense-first shortstop. Gonzalez, Bryant, and Lopez all had success in 2017, but at levels they were all too old or talented for. All three of these gentlemen will face a test this season. Of the three, I'm biggest on Irving Lopez. I like his versatility and approach. Most scouts like Yariel Gonzalez. Taylor Bryant is the wild card, for me. I don't know much about the Cal Fullerton alum other than that he's a 1/1 strikeout to walk hitter with doubles pop. The infield as currently constructed is a fantastic balance of depth and potential.
Catcher Dennis Ortega might be the most exciting player on a roster full of intrigue. The 6'2 Ortega is an advanced defensive catcher that has struggled to generate a profile for himself offensively.
When I watched him on the backfields during spring training, you could tell that there was something different about him. He has a personality that seems in control. It's apparent that he has the trust of the coaches and he comes across as the typical "team-leader" that you'd hope for out of a catcher. In this gif, see how quick he gets back to the plate after having to go up line for the throw. This runner is certainly out:
If he had formulated any offensive profile, then he could easily find his way on to the Dirty 30. It's easy to say, and kind of lazy on my part, but Ortega is right where Carson Kelly was before Kelly started to hit. Ortega's back up will be Julio Rodriguez. The 20-year-old Rodriguez is an intriguing prospect, but profiles as nothing more than organizational depth at this juncture. FUN FACT: Both of the catchers on the roster were born on the same day, June 11th, 1997.
This pitching staff is going to be a beast. Headlined by RHP's Alvaro Seijas and Johan Oviedo. The 6'6 Oviedo just turned 20 years old, and he's worked to get himself into better shape following an up and down 2017 that saw him reach State College. Ovideo has all of the tools that you look for in a pitcher, but his velocity dropped big time in 2017, and he struggled with repeating his mechanics. He's prospect #22 on the Dirty 30.
Seijas is a 6'0-6'1 spitfire starting pitcher that just might light the organization on fire in 2018. He's uber talented, and he throws three pitches exceptionally well for a 19-year-old. Rumor out of Cardinals camp is that both of these two gentlemen are poised to break back out in 2018 following disappointing 2017 seasons.
The rest of the six-man rotation is going to be an interesting group to watch. Along with Seijas Oviedo will be Winston Nicasio, and 2017 draft picks Kodi Whitley, Jake Walsh, and Evan Guillory.
For most, Nicasio will be the big draw of those four. Nicasio is also making the jump from the GCL to Peoria, but he's just a little older than Montero and Machado. While not as physically developed as Jordan Hicks, Nicasio has a similar body-frame to Hicks. I've found a little video of Nicasio, but from what I've seen, he needs to add to his frame. I could easily see Nicasio filling the shoes of Derian Gonzalez and Ramon Santos before him: a solid swingman with intriguing upside.
My three favorite pitching prospects from the 2017 draft will all start the season in the Peoria rotation. Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch is 27th round pick, Kodi Whitley. Whitley fell to the 27th round as he recovered from Tommy John Surgery. The 23-year-old had a 2.45 ERA in 17.2 IP while striking out 22 and walking for Between Palm Beach and the GCL. He has a big arm, and he could be on the Sam Tewes train in no time.
Next on the list is my favorite pitcher from the 2017 draft, 16th round pick Jake Walsh. Walsh doesn't do much that will blow you away. That is, except for pitch well. He throws an average fastball with average secondary offerings, but he commands all of it. He was pure dominant in the Appalachian League, striking out 39 in 28.1 IP. However, the Appy League is a step and a half below what he was facing while pitching for Florida Southern, so his impressive 0.95 ERA means very little. If I'm betting, Jake Walsh will be this season Mike O'Reilly. He throws with smooth mechanics:
Finally, rounding out the rotation will be 2017's 23rd round pick, Evan Guillory. Guillory and Walsh have a similar story and profile, but Guillory was successful in the organization during 2017 starting while Walsh pitched exclusively out of the pen. The University of Louisianna Lafayette alum was a fan favorite for the Ragin' Cajuns, and I think he'll be a fan favorite in Peoria, as well.
I can't imagine a team in the organization having a bullpen more worth watching than Peoria's. The left-handed tandem of Fabian Blanco and John Kilichowski is going to be the best left-handed tandem in the Midwest League. Kilichowski is a converted starter from Vanderbilt. I was big on Kilichowski last season, but arm injuries have since snuffed out some of the brightness to his star. I expect him to excel in the pen. All Fabian Blanco did in 2017 was hold lefties to a .206 batting average against. He struggles against righties, but the 20-year-old Blanco has all of the trappings of a LOOGY.
The rest of the bullpen is rounded out by right-handers Bryan Dobzanski, Kevin Hamann, Cory Malcom, and two gentlemen with names that sound like soap opera characters; Thomas St. Clair and Levi MaVohris.
Dobzanski has been in the system the longest of the bunch and might be the most dynamic of them all. A former starter, Dobzanski seemed to come into his own when moved to the pen at the end of the 2017 season. Over 36.1 innings in the Peoria pen, he struck out 32, walked 11, and held hitters to a BA against of .254 with an ERA of 1.98. Malcom is an extreme control pitcher that hardly throws strikes, and we can only hope that he develops in the minor league version of Seth Maness. Hamann, St. Clair, and MaVohris aren't to be slept on, and most are high on MaVohris and Hamann, but I honestly don't know enough about any of them to make a reliable assessment. I look forward to watching them during the season.
This Peoria team is going to be a lot of fun to watch. It's probably the best team from top to bottom that I've seen start the season at Peoria in a few years. They are young, too, with many players 21 and under. Dylan Carlson, Jonathan Machado, Johan Oviedo, and Alvaro Seijas will undoubtedly be the headliners, but this roster is more than just that.
What will I be watching?
I'll be keeping a close eye on Dennis Ortega, the four starters that aren't named Seijas and Ovideo, how long Carlson will stay in Peoria, and how Plummer and Denton rebound.
I will also be keeping a close eye on the health of the one name that I didn't mention, RHP Zach Prendergast. Prendergast was an undrafted free agent that the Cardinals signed out of Seton Hall. He's super talented and the ultimate sleeper prospect. Now, you have to hope that he's healthy!
Thanks For Reading!