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 lists, I will 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 infielders. 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 didn'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 LISTS!!
THE THIRD BASEMEN
#1: Nolan Gorman – Age 19 – Peoria and Palm Beach
Yes, Nolan Gorman is probably the real deal.
No, Nolan Gorman is not Dylan Carlson.
No, Nolan Gorman isn't ready to be considered the same caliber as Dylan Carlson.
Yes, he is still the second-best prospect in the organization.
I find that, frequently, what I like to do with this list is absolutely crush the hopes and dreams of people who make outlandish claims about prospects, and teenage prospects at that.
Before I do that here, I want to say that I love the athleticism displayed, and in-game adjustments that Gorman makes. Gorman will stick at third, even if it's kinda weird sometimes right now. His arm is a plus tool, and he's athletic and smart/adaptive enough to stay at the position. He still has some ironing out to do at third, and I don't feel comfortable projecting what level of "average" it's going to be moving forward, but I know for sure that he'll stick over there.
I also know that Gorman has real, dynamic, in-game power. That power is only going to get louder and louder as he progresses in both age and experience. It's fun power, too. It's the kind of power that allows him to put a curveball that he was utterly fooled on over the fence. It's the kind of power that you get mad at Statcast for undervaluing the distance of his home runs when he's sitting on a fastball. It's a lot like Tyler O'Neill's power.
As a matter of fact, there are a lot of reasons to compare O'Neill and Gorman, from a hitting standpoint, minors-tenure-wise. I've said it a bunch, and I know that it's redundant by now, but the two are a lot alike. They both advanced quickly through the minors. They were both destined to be 20 years old's making waves in AA. They were both putting up unsustainable walk numbers because minor league pitchers were scared of their raw power and, for the most part, can't locate their breaking balls precisely where they want to. They are both tremendous athletes that only get better with more exposure. Both have been considered to be top 50 prospects in all of baseball at or around the age of 20.
After the first month of the season with Peoria, Gorman was not very good. He saw pitchers being more aggressive in all-counts with their breaking pitches, and they stopped feeding him those breaking pitches almost exclusively on the outside corner. It was when the breaking pitches started dropping both inside and low that Gorman went from slashing 325/389/650 with six home runs, seven additional XBH, and a 25.6% K Rate in his first 90 plate appearances with Peoria, to hitting 199/323/348 with four home runs, ten additional XBH, and a K rate of 29.2% over his next 192 plate appearances with Peoria.
While Gorman's K Rate ticked way up to 31.7% and his BB rate ticked all the way down to 5.7% in 230 plate appearances with Palm Beach, I have to admit that I was more impressed with his time at Palm Beach than I was at Peoria. He seemed more comfortable (and capable) playing against more advanced talent (even if the stats don't necessarily show it). That's a huge positive.
Nolan Gorman is the real deal, from a prospect standpoint. But don't let that distract you from the fact that he still has a lot of work to do to be ready for the major league level. Even with the struggles that I mentioned, 2019 was a more-than successful season for the teenage. At some point during the 2020 season, and maybe from the beginning, Gorman will be at AA. Just like with Tyler O'Neill, I expect Gorman to light that league up as a 20-year-old.
#2: Elehuris Montero – Age 22 – Springfield
The word that best describes Montero's 2019 season is "LOST."
First, after getting off to a rough start, just as he was starting to put it together a little bit, Montero suffered a strain in his wrist area that put him on the IL. Then, shortly after coming back from that IL stint, Montero was sent back to the IL with a broken hamate bone.
Then, two months later, when Montero finally made his way back to the Springfield lineup, he looked lost and over-aggressive at the plate more often than not. Even when he wasn't over-aggressive, he was clearly frustrated. The hitter that impressed me so much as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League was a complete shell of himself, even when he was healthy during the 2019 season.
There are a lot of things about Montero's 2019 that you could continue to highlight as bad. I mean, nearly all of it, really. However, his defense was one thing that definitely took a step forward. Entering the season, I felt confident that Montero could spend a couple of seasons as an OK defensive 3B before he'd have to switch positions eventually. As I've said many times, his third base defense reminds me of Albert Pujols' third base defense. I was surprised to see him take steps forward defensively over there. His arm is stronger than I give it credit for, and he never takes a play off. He's a big boy, and he might not have the athletic agility of Nolan Gorman, but he makes up for it by doing everything that he can to make a play on a ball hit in his direction. I was actually very impressed with Montero as a third baseman in 2019. More of that, please.
The sample was small, but Montero was somewhat productive in limited duties during the Arizona Fall League. In 50 at-bats, Montero hit 200/333/300. He had three doubles and one triple. Montero did this while walking nine times. Worth alarm, he did strike out 17 times in those 50 at-bats.
There are so many reasons to be down on Montero, but I'm not going to fall into that line of thinking. The player that Montero was during the 2018 season was too good and too advanced to have regressed so far into the 2019 version. I truly believe that Montero will have a season closer to his 2018 season if he can come back healthy in 2020.
#3: Malcom Nunez – Age 19 – Johnson City and a wee bit of Peoria
Much like with Montero, when Nunez is healthy, he's hitting. However, Nunez dealt with a little neck and back-related health issue that compromised part of his season, and that somewhat skews how we should view his 2019 season.
Unlike with Montero, I worry about Nunez at third. He's definitely a wild card there. In the defensive pecking order of the three, It'd currently be Montero then Gorman then Nunez, and by a lot. He has the athleticism to stay there, and the arm to stay there, but he does not get good reads off of the bat, and he seems unsure of what his real range is. In short, he doesn't look as comfortable or as confident as he's going to need to be to stick there. Again, he's only 19 years old, so let's give him some time.
In my mind, Malcom Nunez is one part of two different three-part-monster that's brewing inside of the Cardinals' system.
The first three-part monster is the low-level, teenage combo of Nunez, Jhon Torres, and Trejyn Fletcher.
The second three-part monster is Nunez, Ivan Herrera, and Brendan Donovan as prospects who weren't getting national attention during the 2019 season that are going to get a bump during the 2020 season. This isn't to dismiss Torres in particular; it's just that I think that most people know that Torres is going to breakout. Most of these people probably weren't surprised by his success in 2019.
One thing that I absolutely love about Nunez is that he seems to have a flair for performing in the spotlight. When he was playing in the International Circuit before the Cardinals signed him, Malcom was always one of the players that would stand out in the crowd. During the Appy League playoffs, Nunez went 7 for 24 with four walks and six strikeouts, and all seven of his RBI (and his home run) came at critical times. His offensive and defensive performance is a sizeable part of the reason why Johnson City won the Appy League Championship.
Looking at the depth chart, I'd love to see Nunez start the season at Peoria. I also think that this is the most likely outcome. Of course, we'll just have to wait and see. He struggled there during a limited sample in 2019, but I believe that good offseason will put him on the cusp of stardom.
Evan Mendoza – Age 23 – Springfield and Memphis
I went back and forth here. I couldn't decide if I wanted to lump Mendoza in with the utility players or if I wanted to include him with the third basemen. Ultimately, I settled on adding him with the third baseman because I thought that it'd help get my point across that playing him at first was stupid. I'm obviously on the other side of this than the Cardinals, as 21 of the 52 games that he played in last season were at the keystone. There isn't a world where that's a smart decision.
As I've said before, I'm a big fan of Mendoza. It baffles me that the Cardinals put him at first base so frequently when it's the one spot that automatically drops his value to the team, as well as his chances of making the majors. Mendoza is the best defensive 3B in the system and one of the three best defensive infielders in the entire system. Moving him to first base where his defense is suppressed, and his contact-first bat doesn't profile, was just dumb.
Speaking of his contact-first profile, Mendoza is a bit of an oddity. Between AA and AAA, Mendoza hit 252/303 in 242 plate appearances. Those stats alone aren't encouraging. However, Mendoza is kind of like Tommy Edman in that he doesn't walk a lot, but he also has an above-average feel for the strike zone. That feel for the strike zone allows him to work counts, but he was too defensive late in counts for his own good. This aspect of his game is what makes him a bit of an anomaly. Mendoza recorded hits in 45 of the 60 games that he played in before an injury ended his season in mid-June. He was also on base in 51 of the 60 games that he appeared in. It's a uniquely particular skill set that Mendoza displayed during the 2019 season. He was on base in 85% of the games that he played in, but only on base for barely over 30% of his plate appearances.
After watching him thoroughly during the 2018 season, I believe that there is way more to Mendoza than his below-expectation 2019 season. Pictures are floating around Instagram that indicates he underwent some type of surgery this offseason. I'm not 100% sure what the operation was, so I'm not going to speculate. What I will say is, a healthy 2020 season playing at positions that benefit his value, both in and outside of the organization, is what I'm hoping to see.
Thanks For Reading!!