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GUYS YOU KNOW
Carson Kelly: Age 23, MLB - 69 AB, 12 H, 3 Doubles, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB/0 CS, 11 SO, 5 BB, 174/240/217/457
PROSPECT GRADE: A-
There are some rules in major league baseball that are hilariously poor. Take, for instance, the rookie eligibility rule. The rule states that a hitter is eligible until he gets exceeded 130 major league at-bats or has been on the active roster for 45 days. Of course, that comes with the caveat that any time on the active roster after September 1st, when rosters expand, doesn't count against the 45 days. Thus, Carson Kelly will still be rookie eligible come the start of the 2018 season.
We've all seem to have forgotten just how bright his future prospects are. He only started 14 games after he was promoted on July 23rd and six of those starts came after Yadier Molina was under concussion protocol to end the season. There is no possible way to gauge his time in the major leagues yet.
My only concern now is what kind of damage the Cardinals have done to his development by keeping him in the majors and not getting him reps. Unfortunately, I am left to only speculate and wait on time to show us how detrimental ridding the pine was for Kelly. What I know for sure is, it definitely wouldn't have hurt him to continue to get the reps in Triple-A.
Keep your head up with Kelly. He's as good defensively as you'll see behind the plate from a prospect.
*Kelly's major league stats are only included above*
1. Andrew Knizner: Age 22, Double-A - 361 AB, 109 H, 23 Doubles, 1 Triple, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 1 SB/2 CS, 49 SO, 23 BB, 302/349/471/820
PROSPECT GRADE: B+
It appears that Knizner has become a white-hot name among Cardinals fans. The Major League club needs a huge offensive upgrade and many think that Carson Kelly will be one of the players that the Cardinals will ship to another team in a trade for that power bat. Most people think that because of the meteoric rise that Knizner has made through the minors.
Just one full season after being drafted, Knizner was playing in the AFL. I call that the "Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong Train" because that's the exact same route that those two gentleman took during the 2016 season. It isn't a coincidence that both were in the majors by the end of the 2017 and I believe that Knizner is plotting along a similar course for the 2018 season.
At one point there were some valid concerns about Knizner's ability behind the plate, but right now it looks like most of those concerns were for naught. By the time that the fall league was over, even though he was splitting time between catching and playing first, most scouts now agree that he is an impressive and capable backstop. He still makes a few mistakes, but they are the mistakes that you'd expect from a player that has only played the position for three seasons. He'll get that cleaned up, I believe.
Knizner dealt with an illness towards the end of his turn at Peoria that really brought down his stat line, but he still had a tremendous season. I read some nonsense the other day where someone said that Jonathan Machado had the best chance to hit for a high average and that Zach Kirtley has the best plate presence in the organization. I would politely like to enter Mr. Knizner's name into that fray. I mean, just look at this swing!
2. Dennis Ortega: Age 20, Single-A - 145 AB, 34 H, 6 Doubles, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB/ 0 CS, 30 SO, 17 BB, 234/321/276/597
PROSPECT GRADE: C
At this point, most of you that have heard of Ortega probably identify him as "that catching prospect that doesn't really hit". Well, yeah... but... deal with it?
OK, that's pretty true so far, but the kid can definitely catch. He checks all of the boxes behind the plate. Ortega's hitting issues and the absolute absence of power in his bat have really caused his stock to tumble in the time span of one year. And that's how it should be. 18 extra base hits over 542 minor league at-bats isn't going to cut it. With another sub-par year of hitting and continued progression of the guys below him in the organization, I could easily see Ortega falling off of the list.
However, I'm not ready to give up on Ortega. He is too good and prototypical of a catcher to ignore. He makes plays like this regularly behind the plate(he was called safe but the runner was clearly out here):
*video courtesy of Alex Cawley
His main issue at the plate is his bat speed. I believe that to be a pitch recognition issue and confidence issue, but if he starts to commit to swinging for a little bit of power I could easily see it manifesting. He has a strong feel for the strike zone and I am also encouraged by that.
3. Jeremy Martinez: Age 22, Triple-A - 206 AB, 39 H, 3 Doubles, 0 HR, 15 RBI, 1 SB/o CS, 26 SO, 24 BB, 189/281/204/485
PROSPECT GRADE: C-
I HATE THE FLORIDA STATE LEAGUE.
OK, now that we have the bold faced aggression out of the way, I need to tell you how that applies to Martinez.
The Florida State League is where hitters go to die. Any hitter with a penchant for putting the ball in the air is going to be disappointed because the fields are cavernous and the swirling winds keep the ball up and in the park. You will never see that much power out of any prospect playing for Palm Beach. And, if you do, take note. That's REAL power.
Anyway that you look at it, Martinez had a terrible 2017, His stats were bad. He was held out of games for a little bit to work on somethings (which isn't uncommon and shouldn't be a knock on him) and he wallowed away while Andrew Knizner jumped over him from Peoria to Springfield.
The good news is that Martinez, once viewed as a fringe catcher that was probably going to have to move to first, was able to work on a daily basis with Cardinals instructors to tighten up his game behind the plate. The guy that I watched catch at the end of 2016 wasn't nearly the same guy that I watched catch for Memphis after his late and surprising promotion there. He doesn't have the arm of Knizner, but there's an awful lot to like about Martinez. He'll start the season in Springfield, more than likely, and we should have a better feel for what he's capable of by the midpoint of the 2018 season.
4. Brian 0'Keefe: Age 24, Double-A - 390 AB, 102 H, 22 Doubles, 15 HR, 48 RBI, 7 SB/ 3 CS, 94 SO, 34 BB, 262/320/433/753
PROSPECT GRADE: D+
First and foremost, I am a big fan of O'Keefe. I am often on the search for organizational depth pieces and that's exactly what he is. He's a very good one, as well, and if it wasn't for his advanced age at a low level, he'd be further up the list and we'd be talking about him a lot more.
One thing that is intriguing about O'Keefe is his power. He has an absolutely beautiful and compact swing that reminds me a lot of Paul DeJong's and he has good power to all fields, as the gif below shows:
It's rare that I say this about a guy who profiles as an organizational depth piece, but O'Keefe has the rarest chance to be a backup on a short term basis in the major leagues, ala Keith McDonald. He's a fine defender and a solid minor league hitter and while he isn't exactly worth getting excited, he is a great piece to have in your organization.
5. Julio Rodriguez: Age 20, A+ Palm Beach - 185 AB, 51 H, 14 Doubles, 1 Triple, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 0 SB/0 CS, 31 SO, 17 BB, 276/338/443/781
PROSPECT GRADE: C-
In the interest of full disclosure, I don't know a ton about Rodriguez. I know that I saw him play twice and I listened to a few broadcasts of his Johnson City games and I came away impressed with what I saw and what the broadcast was saying about him.
He's on this list mostly as a stat play and because, other than O'Keefe, I didn't want to highlight any of the other minor league depth guys.
There will be plenty more to come from this young man, including a more age-appropriate test at Peoria next season, I believe. As the stat line above points out, he has a very live bat but his catching has been reported to be shaky. We'll know more in the very near future.
NEXT MAN UP
Ivan Herrera: Age 17, DSL - 170 AB, 57 H, 15 Doubles, 1 HR, 27 RBI, 2 SB/ 2 CS, 36 SO, 18 BB, 335/425/441/866
PROSPECT GRADE: C+
First off, shout out to Ryan McCarvel. I was trying to find a loophole to include him in the weak group of first basemen but,unfortunately, he ends up grouped with this impressive group of prospects.
While Jonatan Machado is the prospect name in the lowest levels of the minor leagues that you hear the most, Herrera is, perhaps, the name most worth getting to know.
Herrera led the organization in hitting with a .335 batting average in 2017. He was an all-star in his league and he was also selected to the same all-star team by Baseball America. He did this all while being 17 years old. Realistically, he could be in the top 3 on the list, but as I often mentioned I like to practice caution with players that are still so far away from the majors.
There is still a long way for him to go and there needs to be practiced restraint in hyping him, but if you had to pick a prospect that played in the DSL during 2017 to follow it's gotta be Herrera.
Thanks For Reading!
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