Hello #STLCards fans! Welcome back for the third part of our 2023 projections series, the catchers and the outfielders - honestly, the more exciting portion of the position players, to me. Again this year, I will be looking to give you the Good, the Bad, and The Cerutti projections. The Cerutti is what my system projects for players this year. While the Good and the Bad aren’t necessarily the 90th and 10th percentile projections, respectively, or anything that mathematical. They are kind of the range I see these guys falling into with anything higher than THE GOOD or lower than THE BAD being completely destroying my projection system. So to speak.
This year during my projections, like last year's, I will not be predicting playing time for each individual. Instead, this is what my system spits out for plate appearances or innings pitched, so when you see a guy in the minors (like a Masyn Winn) who could likely not even sniff a major league debut in 2022, take it as just what this guy could do given the opportunity in 2023 alone, not that he will get (checks notes) 447 plate appearances in 2023 with the MLB club. Please don't take this as his ceiling either. Literally only what my system spits out for this year prior to him playing any games in the minors at all.
If you want to read more about my process than that, please refer back to the projections primer from 2021 for more details.
Now, let's jump straight in to what my system says about newcomer Willson Contreras, first. I used to start with Yadi, now let's start with the guy who is playing in Yadi's former position on the field.
Willson Contreras is the St. Louis Cardinals big free agent acquisition of the offseason. The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Contreras largely due to his bat. I wrote in that linked piece this offseason that he will likely be a 4th to 10th best hitting catcher in baseball this season. He could very well be a 50 wRC+ upgrade over what the Cardinals have gotten out of their catching position in the last few seasons.
So let's look at the projection for this season for Contreras. My projections. They give Contreras 525 plate appearances for this season and him having a line of 241/344/445/789. If that isn't a breath of fresh air compared to what the Cardinals catchers have done lately then I don't know what is.
Getting 22 homers and 46 extra base hits from our catcher who is getting ~65%-75% of the plate appearances by a catcher this year would be absolutely fantastic. Getting a near .350 OBP out of a catcher this year would be absolutely fantastic. Having an isolated slugging percentage (ISO, slugging minus average - basically a player's power with .200 being quite good) of .204 would be absolutely fantastic. I can't wait to see how much this deepens our lineup.
Andrew Knizner has yet to live up to his hype as a prospect, in my mind. Our resident prospect expert Kyle would probably strangle me for that statement. However, from what was told to us by him and others was that he had an advanced bat for the position. Knizner has not shown to have an advanced bat for a catcher at the major league level as of yet and is entering his age 28 season. Last year was his "put up or shut up" type season with how much Yadier Molina was away from the team (injured or otherwise). His bat shut up a bit, unfortunately. That led the team to believe they needed Willson Contreras moving forward.
So what does our projection system think of Knizner this season? It foretells of the same reasoning the Cardinals likely used to determine that we need Contreras instead, with Knizner projected for an OPS around .600 and an ISO under .100. Even if Knizner were to get enough time and have the ability to reach his "THE GOOD" projections, we're probably looking at around league average production for a catcher and below league average for a big leaguer.
Ivan Herrera was the other internal option at the time of Yadier Molina's retirement. He had much less of a tryout than Andrew Knizner, who barely had one himself. Herrera did not hit at the major league level last year at all and his projection might be another reason why the Cardinals may have had the want of a catcher as their top priority this offseason.
Herrera, also seen as an advanced bat for his age (for a catcher) while in the minors, has a projection that is rosier than Knizner's above. His "THE CERUTTI" projection has him as about an average catcher offensively. While Contreras is a bit better than that, my wonder is that if the Cardinals didn't think that Herrera was up to snuff defensively for what they want at catcher. And if that's the case, why not sign a guy who is also not going to be able to carry the slack of having no Molina, at least in that regard in that regard, but that can flat out hit compared to other catchers' production.
It seems absolutely crazy to me that this is Dylan Carlson's 4th year in the majors and the 4th year where he will be given every chance to succeed, thus potentially making this a "put up or shut up" year for DC3 - even at the age of 24 (he won't turn 25 until the playoffs).
Having a season like "THE GOOD" to the right would be such a welcome addition to lengthening this lineup even more. Dylan Carlson hitting 272/356/557/803 would be wonderful, in fact. That would really be a step in the direction the team would like. However, even one like "THE CERUTTI" is just showing that he can be consistent with his career numbers and get slightly better - especially if he can do that while playing a good center field as well. However, the 55 XBH of "THE GOOD" would, I think, assuage some fears of the fan base (and likely the front office).
First, let's congratulate Nick Childress for NOT using the pepper grinder picture here of Lars Nootbaar. The sensation of the 2023 WBC is our next subject here today, however. Lars Nootbaar is allegedly bringing Shohei Ohtani and Roki Sasaki with him to the Cardinals in the next few years so I guess he's the sole person to thank for the next several World Series titles here in St. Louis.
Now that we have the hyperbole aside, Lars Nootbaar seemed to also be the talk of the offseason as his second half was quite good. Post- All-Star Break, Nootbaar hit 240/366/480/846 for the Cardinals and basically that's getting close to what Matt Carpenter was for them from 2015-2018 except that the Cardinals surrounded him with better hitters instead of letting him try to stand on his head.
Granted, this was greater than 2,500 PA for Carpenter and <250 for Nootbaar in the samples we're talking here...but Carpenter was also in his prime aged 29-32 seasons whereas Nootbaar is supposed to still be growing into the player he wants to be at just 25 until the last month of the season.
My projections fall shy on that mark he attained at the end of last year, but still believe he can really become a bat that is quite important for this club at an OPS of around 800. Having 240/350/450 guys up and down the lineup would do a lot for most teams.
Let's get out of the way first that Tyler O'Neill (TON) is one of my favorite players for the Cardinals and someone that I root for incessantly. However, it's a put up or shut up season for him I think. He 1) needs to stay healthy and 2) needs to hit or he finds himself as the odd man out and gets shipped off for a few buckets of balls this season like a Lane Thomas or Randal Grichuk or Stephen Piscotty - just dumped to dump (yes, I understand the Piscotty situation just fine, the baseball aspect of the trade was as awful as the other two although they lucked out with Lester being not terrible on the Thomas trade).
If TON can be the 250/330/475/805 guy that my projections think he can be, that's good enough for me. However, it seems as though he never is that guy. TON is either an oft-injured 225/300/390/690 guy or a 285/350/550/900 guy. He's rarely inbetween so far in his short career. However, after coming back from his first injury last year, he was a 245/335/445/780 guy. Not quite what my projections say he could be this year but pretty close to them.
Jordan Walker could conceivably (at time of this writing) make the roster out of the Spring. Color me surprised a bit, considering Walker hasn't played a single inning above AA or AFL ball, but the guy has a career minor league line (including AFL) of 308/386/528/915 in 992 plate appearances in which he was between 2 and 4.5 years younger than his average competition. He's like a man playing among ... older men? What do kids say nowadays? He's just better.
In my experience doing these projections and write ups for over a decade, my system does NOT LIKE kids coming up from the lower minors skipping AAA altogether. My projections are throwing caution to the wind on Walker and calling for him to play just as much as the legions of fans asking if he'll be on the opening day roster. I mean, a 270/345/460/805 line is projected for a guy who hasn't played 1000 PA in the minors yet with zero above AA? Yes please!
Even his "THE BAD" projections have a guy who is playable with plus defense and super speed - things Walker could very well give you (we've seen 240/315/415/730 or worse from good defenders in the corner outfield before being completely passable). His THE GOOD are SUPER exciting with him potentially starting opening day at just 20 years old with the possibility of 295/375/505/880 staring me in the face there. That's rather exciting.
Moises Gomez is another rookie who completely took the minors by storm last year, leading all of minor leaguers (I believe I heard) with 39 home runs. He also scored 89 runs and drove in 94 in just 501 plate appearances over 120 games. That'll play, no? Well, I don't see his 294/371/624/996 line from 2022 in AA and AAA coming directly to the majors this year or anything, but what do my projections see?
Gomez is a guy who is going to be a major league DH somewhere if he does his recent thing at the plate. That said, if he's not doing his thing, he's not winning you a gold glove anywhere from any reports I've ever seen on the guy. In fact, I don't even know if he's playable in the field with THE CERUTTI projection or not, I'd have to go back and look at what Kyle said about the guy in his Dirty Five Thousand (or however many write ups he did this year). But with THE GOOD there, 54 xbh in 495 PA, that's a guy that you HAVE to play somewhere, no? Should be interesting in the OF, at DH, and potentially on the trade market come July for the Cardinals this year for sure.
We go from a guy in Gomez above to the opposite here. Oscar Mercado is quite possibly the guy you bring up if he's on a heater in the minors and you lose one or two of your potential CFers to injury. He's got the speed/defense combo out in the outfield, but you're pressing your luck if you want him in the top 6 of your lineup.
Mercado was a Cardinal prospect, was traded to Cleveland, and is now back as a Cardinal prospect. In his time away, he put up 941 plate appearances of 235/290/390/680 ball basically. Not a fantastic output, but close enough to league average that he's stuck around a bit and is only now just 28 years old - so he could be entering his prime. My projections, for now, see more of the same out of Mr. Mercado, however.
Oli Marmol seems to really like Cardinals rookie Alec Burleson. If 2022 shows us anything, it shows us why our trusty manager might like this big chap from the Carolinas. From 2018-2020 the guy hit 340/390/495/885 in college. He then jumped straight in and hit 300/350/490/840 in the minors for 2021 and 2022. In 2022 alone, he was 3.4 years younger than his competition in AAA and hit 331/372/532/905! In 470 PA he had 46 extra base hits, 68 runs scored, and 87 RBI.
Oli Marmol wasn't at the minor league level to see all that however, so what did he see when Burleson got to the majors? Well, we know Marmol is a process guy. While Burleson didn't get results, what he did do was hit the ball 91.7 mph off the bat on average (88.4 mph league average) in his first 39 batted ball events (BBE). He barreled the ball up 10.3% of the time (6.7% league average), and hit the ball hard (95+ mph) on 48.7% of his BBE (with league average at 35.8%). Burleson also had a BB rate above average and a K rate below average in his small sample size in the majors. What Burleson didn't have was a good BABIP (batting average on balls in play) being at .211 while league average is up at .290. Granted, a 10th percentile sprint speed won't help with his BABIP, but it shouldn't drop him to that far below league average with how hard he hits the ball. At his lowest in the minors he would sit in the .260s while regularly being at or well above .300.
My projections see Alec Burleson as a guy who will have a decent to good OBP with the potential of a bit of power to go along with it. They're not sure if he'll keep up that K% and BB% from last year but if he is hitting for a 780 OPS I don't think they'll care so much because the process will still look fairly decent striking out less than 19% of the time and still walking nearly 7% of the time. Burleson puts balls in play and puts them in play hard. That's his game. What would take Burleson to that next level and get him playing time is elevating on more of those pulled balls (while still going the other way for singles when necessary). That little more power output might just make him a starting DH or a great 1B option if Goldy goes down for an extended period of time.
Here are the projections all together for easy reference:
Next time, I'll be back with the infielders in Part IV of the projection series. But until then, have fun discussing any and all projections that you love, hate, or were waiting for with me on Twitter or Facebook!