Cardinals Minor League Rankings: Starting Pitchers

Updated: Feb 9, 2020

THE LEAD-IN


Welcome to the offseason!!


The offseason means that we have nothing better to do with our time than to make and read both dumb and subjective lists!! Hooray!


And who does dumb and subjective lists (with no bearing in reality) better than anyone? That's right, it's Bleacher Report!! I'm somewhere down on that list, but I'm going to do it anyway because I'm tired of letting Cardinalsgifs down, and I hate being the guy that isn't doing anything for Birds On The Black.


As you might have guessed, I'm going to be doing these rankings my way. There will be some rookie-eligible players that are omitted from the list. I'll talk about those "GRADUATES" before we get into each individual listing. With some of these rankings, I'll throw a couple of extra players into the fray just for the hell of it.


Also, the lists are going to be a little different. The Cardinals have gone out of their way to turn individualized infielders into utility fielders. SO, instead of ranking the second basemen and shortstops separately, I'm going to group that unit into one. There might be a 3B or two sprinkled into that mix, as well.


Also, I truthfully don't know what do with the 300 pitchers that the Cardinals drafted during the 2019 draft. So, instead of including them into the SP or RP pitching rankings, I'm going to break them off into their own category.


"It's my world, my world, and those ancient people are dead."


Remember, these rankings are mine and mine alone. They are very subjective, and they will be brief. The re-ranked Dirty Thirty-Five will be just a few months away. When we get to that, we'll go back to being as objective and in-depth as possible.


Until then, let's have some fun! Discourse is both welcomed and encouraged. And remember, just like with my own opinions, your opinions are worthless!!


LET'S GET TO THE LIST!!



TOP STARTING PITCHERS



A REMINDER: This list does not include the pitchers that were drafted during the 2019 season. Those bae's get their own list, and that comes out tomorrow.


GRADUATE: LHP Genesis Cabrera – Age 23 - Memphis and St. Louis



SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! What did I tell you?! Genesis Cabrera is a genuinely talented arm. When he gets comfortable and stops tipping his pitches, you can really see why the Cardinals would consider trading Tommy Pham for a package of prospects surrounding Genesis.


Genesis is always going to have command issues. That's just his reality. More than likely, he's always going to have moments where he struggles to repeat his delivery, as well. Even with these obstacles, Cabrera's arm is electric. This isn't only true of his fastball, either. It's his entire repertoire. The four-pitch mix of fastball, curve, slider, and change is as lively as any four-pitch mix possessed by someone within the Cardinals organization that is still rookie eligible. That's to say, and very crudely at that, that his shit is nasty.


The question then becomes what will Cabrera's future be with the Cardinals. Will he be a dominant left-handed reliever, or will he be a starter. More than likely, if I had to hedge my bets, I'd bet that he is in the pen long-term. It just seems like that's the most natural path for him. The other issue with Genesis as a starter is, his command will never be better than average. To call him the next Jaime Garcia (the next left-handed starter with fancy stuff but wishy-washy command) is a big ask, and probably inaccurate. I don't envision a scenario in which this happens. But I do believe that Cabrera can be just a kick below Jaime if he is given a chance to start.


This is all to say that I am EXTREMELY happy that the Cardinals have this dynamic arm in their system. It sucks that he's with St. Louis because he was traded for Tommy Pham, but we shouldn't hold that against him. It's evident that the Cardinals had other reasons for moving Mr. Pham, but at least they got someone with a high-ceiling and major league floor in the deal. Cabrera is a feisty competitor, too, and I'm anxious to see what an entire year at the major league level will look like


GRADUATE: RHP Ryan Helsley – Age 25 - Memphis and St. Louis



Everyone knows that I love Ryan Helsley.


He's better than Dakota Hudson. His stuff. His velocity. More specifically, his future, if health will allow for it. Now, the ball is in the Cardinals court to not mess it up. Helsley has always profiled as a major league starter, even if other, less dialed in, outlets said otherwise. I don't blame them. It's easy to fall victim to old scouting reports.


One way or the other, Ryan Helsley is an elite "prospect" arm. I doubt that he gets a fair shake to be a member of the rotation, which means that he's going to be the most crucial bullpen arm moving forward for the Cardinals. Including Gio Gallegos, but potentially excluding Carlos Martinez, there isn't a more dynamic arm this side of Jordan Hicks (when he returns) penciled to the 2020 bullpen. We saw it during the 2019 playoffs, and we now know this for sure: if Ryan Helsley isn't being put in during game-defining situations during the 2020 season, then the manager is doing it wrong.


Now, it's just up to the Cardinals' catcher to call on Helsley's entire arsenal. He's more than just a cutter/fastball pitcher, and both his changeup and his curveball are weapons. Of course, you wouldn't have any idea if you watched him at the major league level.


Take note, family. Ryan Helsley is as good of a draft pick as possible outside of the first 150 picks in any given draft.



NOW, WE LIST!!


#1: RHP Angel Rondon – Age 22 - Palm Beach and Springfield



I like Rondon better than Woodford. I like three pitchers better than I like Woodford right now, but I like Rondon the most.


When I do the re-rankings of the Dirty Thirty-Five at the beginning of 2020, I'll probably have Woodford higher because I try to be as objective as possible with that list.


But don't get it mixed up, Rondon had the best season of any of the starting pitchers that didn't make a major league debut within the organization.


His fastball/curve combo is the type that makes rehabbing MLB players look awful. His command is pretty damn good, too, and he's nearly impossible to square up when he's mixing his changeup in the way that he's capable of mixing his changeup in.


It dawns on me as I write this, and I type this, that I feel similarly about Rondon as I did about Ryan Helsley as he exited his first taste of AA baseball. Just as Helsley was, Rondon is being over-looked as a "leGit" prospect due mostly to old and outdated scouting reports, and the fact that he doesn't have the flashiest name.


No, instead, all Rondon has done is perform. As you can see thanks to the gifs, Rondon has a quirky little delivery, and that quirky little delivery allows him to hide the ball exceptionally well. When he starts to present the ball, it's accompanied by well-above-average arm speed. That also helps his stuff play-up.


I've watched Rondon really grow over the last season. When I watched him pitch in Peoria during the 2018 season, you could see the foundation for success, but the concrete hadn't cured just yet. When you watched him during the 2019 season, you could see a lot of his weaknesses start to fade.


Rondon is a smart pitcher with interesting stuff. He's also surprisingly efficient, and he was asked to work deep into games even when he didn't have his best stuff. These are the trappings of a pitcher that will stick as a starter. I do think that Rondon has an arm for late-inning work if that's where he eventually ends up. I'm super bullish on Rondon, and you should be, too.


#2: RHP Johan Oviedo – Age 21 - Springfield and Palm Beach



It was an excellent season for Oviedo, and the organization desperately needed that from him.


Oviedo started the season in Palm Beach, but it didn't take him long to earn his promotion to Springfield. There, it took the 21-year-old Cuban about nine starts to get his bearings about him.


Yes, that's a lot of starts.


Yes, the issue is his command.


We'll get there.


Once Oviedo settled in, we really started to see the type of pitcher that he was capable of being. Over his next 13 starts (13 of his last 14 starts on the season), Oviedo held hitters to a batting average against of .218 and a slugging percentage against of .328. During these 62 innings, Oviedo struck out 73 and only allowed 5 home runs.


The issue is, the on-base percentage against that he allowed was actually higher than the slugging percentage allowed, with an OBP of .332.


So, obviously, the issue with Oviedo is his command. Sometimes he's really sharp, but most of the time he's just kinda throwing the ball. It's been fun to watch his mid-90's fastball (which, fortunately, isn't having the same velocity issues that it once had) continue to progress, and it's been even more fun to watch Oviedo work his slider and changeup off of that pitch. His slider has a chance to be a true "plus" pitch. Again, he doesn't command that stuff at a level above "average" at best, but they are wicked pitches. Sometimes, it looks like his curveball is really working, too.


The easiest way to tell what kind of command Oviedo is going to have on any given night is to keep an eye on how he is finishing his motion. His command is generally betraying him when he is standing straight up and not burying his arm.


Truth be told, Oviedo is as close to a right-handed throwing version of Genesis Cabrera as the organization is capable of having. His arm is dynamic, but he still has a lot of work to do in his pursuit of commanding his arm. While 2019 was a bit of a breakout for this young man, he appears to be poised to have a real "coming out" in 2020, if his command will allow for it.



#3: RHP Griffin Roberts – Age 23 - Palm Beach



I'm not kidding or being dramatic when I say that I actually sighed out loud as I was typing Roberts' name.


You folks know about the weed thing, right? The suspension? We don't need to go over that, do we?


OK, thank goodness. Because of that "thing," Roberts didn't make his affiliated debut until the end of May. And, from there, it was ugly. I mean, REALLY ugly. That is if you are just looking at the stats.


But what his season stats won't tell you is that Roberts was hurt by two things in particular.


First, Roberts was prone to giving up one big inning per start. The second thing that is abundantly clear is that the one big inning usually came early on in a start.


Now, I can't speak to if this was a preparedness issue or something else, but what I know is that I watched Roberts last start of the 2019 season, and he seemed determined to make Bradenton look awful. He was mixing his sinker and his fastball exceptionally well, and he was making hitters look foolish with his slider, which I'm confident in calling the best pitch in the organization that has never made a major league debut.


Roberts' changeup is still a visible work in progress, but what separates him from other potential starting pitching options in the system is that the changeup isn't going to make or break him. Instead, it's fastball command and fastball command alone. The key for Roberts is the 4-seam/2-seam mix. His four-seam has decent spin, and it's tough on hitters when he's using it up and in on the arm-side. When he's commanding it there, that's when he's bastardizing hitters with his slider. He's at his best when he is using his sinker to the glove side. It's a thing of beauty when his slider and his sinker are on at the same time. Think about it this way: his slider is filthy. But when he's running his mid-90's fastball in on righties, and his mid-to-low 90's sinker outside on righties, that's when his frisbee slider truly reaches the pinnacle of its dominance.


Roberts had a successful turn in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, and I'm hoping that becomes the springboard for bigger and better things during the 2020 season. The best part of his AFL stint was that he struck out 18 batters in 14.2 innings while only walking two. That type of improvement following a season in which he walked 35 while striking out 36 should not be overlooked. Now you just hope that it's the trend and not the outlier.


#4: RHP Jake Woodford – Age 23 - Memphis




I don't have the slightest idea of what to make of Jake Woodford. Honestly. I see a pitcher that has gotten better year after year. Obviously, that's a plus. I've seen him become a pitcher that can get a timely double play or a timely strikeout. Again, "YUGE" pluses.


But I've also seen, more often than not, a pitcher that isn't aggressive enough with his arsenal. Woodford throws a heavy fastball and a solid secondary combo in a changeup and breaking pitch. The problem is, he screws around with both of those pitches too much. This means that Woodford is throwing too many balls too often in counts. I get frustrated watching Woodford because I can see how good he's capable of being. I can see the progress that he's made from year to year. I can see a clear and aggressive path to the majors for him if only he were willing to let the opposing hitters get him there.

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