Cardinals Minor League Rankings: The Utility Players

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 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 LIST!!



A REMINDER: One more time, I just wanted to say that I've decided to combine all of the infielders and utility players into this list. There will be players on here that are full-time shortstops or second basemen. I've decided to do this for a few reasons.

First (and maybe most important), the Cardinals have gone out of the way to make minor leaguers more versatile. Just because a player is a great shortstop that'll stick there if given a chance, it doesn't mean that they'll be given an opportunity.

Second, it gives me a real opportunity to write about more players.

Third, there are less viable candidates at just shortstop or second worth writing about than in recent years.

With all of this in mind, it just seemed to make a ton of sense to group them all into one grouping.


THE UTILITY... FIELDERS (?)


The Graduate: Edmundo Sosa – Age 23 - Memphis And St. Louis



It's Edmundo Sosa, ya know? I don't really know what I'm supposed to say anymore. He's been a prospect for longer than I've been a writer, and I'm not sure that there's anything else to say about him.


When I think of Edmundo Sosa, I think of Breyvic Valera. Not because they are alike, but because I have to believe that Sosa has a few years as a utility infielder in the major leagues in him if Valera has been able to stick around that long. Sosa has more pop, and he's a better fielder, and I foresee him being a very serviceable major league utility player for a couple of seasons if given a chance.


Sosa is carried by his surprise pop to all fields and his ability to do damage to pitches low in the zone. He's capable of doing this because of how quickly his hands get through the zone. Sosa can drive the ball, but he often produces a somewhat inside-out swing. He's aggressive at the plate, and that hurts him a lot, but it's something that I like to see. Mainly because it's something that the major league team doesn't do enough.


Defensively, Sosa is a flashy shortstop, but he's pretty sure-handed all around the infield. He has good speed, too, and while he's somewhat clunky around the bases, he's still a good baserunner.


Sosa is fine, ya know? He's the exact kind of infielder that teams have done well to have on their bench for years. I believe that he is better suited for the last infield bench spot than Yairo Muñoz because of his true defensive value. To tie this all back together, he's better than the Donovan Solano/Breyvic Valera types, at least.



ALRIGHT. LET'S LIST!!


#1: Ramon Urias – Age 25 - Memphis, Springfield, & Palm Beach - SS/2B/3B




As well as I feel like I know Edmundo Sosa, I still don't feel like I know Ramon Urias. It's so hard to evaluate prospects that are as old and as seasoned as he is. By all accounts, Urias should have performed as well as he did at the AA level. He was an accomplished hitter in the Mexican League, and the talent there is roughly the same as a league between AA and AAA.


What's been interesting to watch is the trouble that Urias seems to have adjusting to a league. For being as advanced and as seasoned as he is, it's crazy to watch him throw away at-bat after at-bat being overzealous with the bat. Urias is already prone to struggling with the high heat/low breaking combo, and he allows pitchers to take advantage of him when he's swinging at everything.


But this is only part of his story.


The other part of his story involves a severe amount of comfort and success when he does finally settle in at a level. You'll look at Urias' season totals and be less than impressed. He had an OK season, but it was definitely a step backward for a player with a major league debut in his future.


What you won't see, unless you break down the numbers, is just how good Urias was during the second half of the season. Urias missed nearly all of June because of injury. When he returned from the IL, he was placed on Palm Beach roster for a little five-game rehab. He only spent two games on Springfield's roster, and then finished the year on the Memphis roster. From July 13th (his first game back in AA) until the end of the season, Urias hit 310/391/532 with 7 home runs and 14 doubles in 184 plate appearances. You could tell he was feeling it because he was also walking 10.9% of the time during this period. His K rate was high (20.7%), but it was an acceptable number for the type of production that Urias was putting out.


Defensively, he's fine. He's fine in the way that Paul DeJong was fine before he made his major league debut. Now, DeJong worked tirelessly to become a Gold Glove contender at the most demanding defensive position this side of catcher. Urias has that capability because of his athleticism, but he isn't nearly good enough at reading the ball off of the bat, and he isn't quick enough getting to his spot. He has a good backhand and a strong arm, but Urias is best suited at second base because of how he uses his tools.


The second half production out of Urias, along with his track record in other leagues, is enough to dream on. As a second baseman, he could be an exciting player if given a chance. That's if he continues to demonstrate the type of hitter that he is capable of being. In my mind, Urias is a lot like the infielder version of Randy Arozarena: more than likely, a tooled-up and extremely useful bench bat that could really help a team.



#2: Brendan Donovan – Age 22 - Peoria and a taste of Memphis - 2B/3B



Brendan Donovan can flat out hit. If you had to pick a player from the 2018 draft that profiles as a major league bat in the same vein as Paul DeJong, Andy Young, Tommy Edman, or Andrew Knizner, it'd be Donovan and Donovan alone.


Maybe what I mean by that is, all four are players that were drafted beyond the top three rounds that are flying/flew below the radar until they were on the cusp of the majors. That's kind of what Donovan feels like, to me.


Donovan is an all-fields hitter, and he can use his modest power to all fields, as well. He hit 8 home runs, and 29 additional extra-base hits in 480 plate appearances during the 2019 season in the Midwest League. The eight home runs might seem like a modest amount, and it is, but there's substantially more raw power in both his frame and his swing.


In 482 plate appearances, Donovan hit 268/380/409. This was hurt greatly by a month of May in which he hit 182/270/293 in 111 plate appearances. I know it's very selective, but this only tells part of the story. Donovan suffered an awful three week stretch in which he hit 154/247/231 over an 18 game and 73 plate appearance stretch between May 1st and May 20th. This three week stretch absolutely killed his season averages, and his season averages weren't even bad!


Then, from May 21st until the end of the season, a span of 335 plate appearances, Donovan hit 299/412/460 with six home runs, 21 doubles, and three triples. In the prior three weeks, his strikeout rate was about 34%. From May 21st until the end of the season, it was 17.3%, and that goes along with a walk rate of 14.9%. His wRC+? That'd be 155. And this includes the month of August in which the Midwest League really adjusted to him, especially in regards to the shift. He remedied this by beating the shift and staying selective at the plate, but it did cost him some slug.


Speaking of Donovan's swing, I LOVE his swing. It's quick through the zone, and it stays in the zone for a long time. He tailors his approach to match the count, and he won't be beaten by breaking pitches from like-handed pitchers. Donovan also doesn't back down in an at-bat.


While Donovan played second base almost exclusively during the 2019 season, he's more than capable of playing third. Hell, I think that he's athletic enough to handle shortstop if given a chance. The only big knock I have in regards to Donovan is that he seems kinda slow. Not, like, Molina or Carpenter slow, but average-speed, at best.


Donovan has quickly become one of my favorite prospects in the organization. As most of you know, I had a love affair with former Cardinals' prospect Andy Young, along with the love affair that I still have with Randy Arozarena, Ryan Helsley, and Andrew Knizner. Brendan Donovan is the leader in the clubhouse for the next wave of my personal favorite prospects. All that he has to do is keep doing what he did at the end of 2019.



#3: Mateo Gil – Age 19 - Johnson City - Shortstop



(These gifs of Gil are old and I am sorry about that. I promise that I'll have better gifs when we get to The Dirty Thirty-Five. He's put on a great deal of muscle and cut that shag since)


There is a good chance that Gil might just be the player that we all wanted/hoped/thought that Delvin Perez would be. This is very good and very important for the organization.


Gil is bigger and stronger than Perez was/is. Because he's stouter, he's able to leverage his body and his swing into more extra-base hits than Perez could ever dream of. Gil is a pretty good hitter, too, but he is a super-pull hitter. This type of hitter usually has a tendency to fade as the rise through the ranks, but I believe that Gil has a strong enough understanding of hitting that he'll adjust as he rises. It is always tough with this kind of kid, ya know? You can see all of the raw talent and potential. You can see the tweaks that are needed to help them profile more positively at the next level. But you don't want to try to change that player too much. I'm guessing that Gil will always be a heavy pull hitter, and I think that's the best thing for him. I don't like the idea of changing his swing or his approach too much because I feel that both have a good enough foundation to build upon.


All indications are that Gil is also an outstanding defensive shortstop. When he was drafted, some wondered if he'd be a pitcher long term or an infielder. So, this should give you some indication of how good his arm is. As you'd suspect with an 18-year-old shortstop, Gil is still very raw. From what I've heard from the people that I've talked too, there's no reason to believe that Gil won't stick at short. He might eventually have to move to third, but I don't think that we are remotely near making that decision yet.


It's really great to see a shortstop prospect with a high ceiling perform well in the Cardinals system. The Appy League is good for hitters, and Gil took advantage of that. I'm anxious to get my own eyes on him at Peoria. Hopefully, that happens during the 2020 season.



*FROM HERE ON IT'S A CLUSTER*



#4: Yariel Gonzalez – Age 25 - Palm Beach, Springfield, & Memphis - EVERYWHERE BUT C & CF




Yariel Gonzalez is just a lot of fun. He's a fun player and a fun story, and his position versatility is a lot of fun, too.


Gonzalez has truly become the definition of super-utility within the organization. Over the last two seasons, Gonzalez has played every position on the diamond except for catcher, pitcher, and center field. What's even more impressive is that Gonzalez doesn't look out of place at any of these positions. Sure, he wasn't tested that much while playing short, but he didn't look awkward there. So, that's cool!


As an undrafted free agent, it's been fun to watch this former JuCo standout have a successful minor league career thus far. When Gonzalez was first promoted to Springfield, you couldn't get him out. He had a pleasant, five-game taste of AA before a brief promotion to AAA, but Yariel was a bit of a slugger from his return to AA on June 27th through July. Over those 31 games and 127 plate appearances, Gonzalez hit 325/380/564 with four doubles and eight home runs. The switch-hitting Gonzalez also only struck out 11.6% of the time over this period, while walking 7.8% of the time. All of this put his wRC+ at 160. While August was tough on Gonzalez, especially because his season was ended a week or so early, it should be noted that this was an impressive season from Gonzalez.


Most of Gonzalez's power comes from the right side of the plate, but that's also where he is more aggressive and to a fault. I'd like to see him continue to show signs of improvement there. He does a tremendous job of taking great at-bats as a left-handed swinger, and he just needs to keep that up.


Another good young man within the organization, it's going to be fun to watch this 25-year-old at Memphis next season. It'd be a lot of fun to see him play every position in a singular game. Other than that, there isn't much to say about Gonzalez!




#5: Irving Lopez - Age 24 - Springfield and Memphis - 2B/SS/OF