Cards get interesting return from Rays for Pham


Cards’ fans became huge fans of Tommy Pham following his Pham-tastic 2017 season and this April he appeared to be following it up with another solid season in 2018. Unfortunately, Pham just hasn’t been that good since April and, in an attempt to get younger and see what Tyler O’Neill can do for the big club, was sent to Tampa in exchange for 3 minor leaguers.


If some Cards’ fans feel frustrated after last night’s big come-from-behind win and think that the team is giving up on the season or on Pham, I can understand that but this does give O’Neill and Harrison Bader consistent opportunities to play and gives the farm system some interesting prospects. Let’s take a look at what’s coming the Cards’ way.


The top prospect is a 22 year old outfielder currently in AAA named Justin Williams. There are 2 things that show pretty clearly what the Cardinals like about him. First, he is young for AAA. He actually began his pro career when he was 17 and has always been young for his level. The second word that comes to mind immediately with Williams is “power.” Everyone who’s ever scouted him talks about how strong Williams is and how much raw power he has. He is raw, however, and Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen noted this offseason that “Williams has had plus raw power for a while but hasn’t hit for in-game power due to a combination of swing plane and impatience.” John Sickels at minorleagueball.com agrees saying, “If you see him in person, his raw power, size, and general athletic strength are obvious and impressive. However, his style on the field doesn’t quite match the physical tools: he is still more of a line drive hitter who whacks the ball around the gaps rather than over the fences.”


Jonathan Mayo and Jim Capel at MLB.com agree that Williams could be a significant middle-of-the-order threat if he works on his swing some. Here’s what they had to say: “It's easy for scouts to forecast even more pop in his future because Williams still produces the majority of his contact on the ground, albeit while effectively using the entire field. With more lift to his swing and improved ability to turn on the ball, Williams could emerge as an annual 20-homer threat.” This year he’s spent the entire season at AAA and has put up a 95 wRC+ so it’s clear he’s got some work to do before he’s ready for the big club but Williams is potentially an exciting prospect. Everyone sees him as a corner outfielder who’s basically going to go as far as his bat takes him. He does put the bat on the ball, never having a K rate above 21.7% and improved his walk rate to 9% last year, though that has fallen to 6.5% so far in 2018.


Before the season MLB had Williams ranked #10 on the Rays prospect list and they’ve updated their list and have him at #9 on the Cards list, right ahead of Oscar Mercado (who I like a lot). At fangraphs, Williams was listed as #17 among Rays prospects pre-season and minorleagueball had him at #11.


The second guy acquired in the trade is a left-handed pitcher named Genesis Cabrera. Not only does he go into the all-name Hall of Fame, but he’s probably the guy of the 3 I like the best. Cabrera is a 21 year old lefty in AA and is 6’1”, 170. Minorleagueball calls him “wiry in stature but explosive in stuff.” Mayo and Capel say that “Cabrera has a live arm that produces easy velocity.” Longenhagen calls him “explosive.” His fastball is in the mid-90’s that Mayo and Capel say has reached 97. For his secondary stuff, Mayo and Capel say that his “slider registers in the mid- to high-80s, thrown with late, short slicing action that gives it a cutter-like feel, and he also has the makings of an advanced changeup.” Sickels says that his fastball-slider combo right now puts him as a guy who could contend for a bullpen role now but he and Mayo and Capel believe that he can be a starter due to the fact that he is able to continually repeat his mechanics.


Cabrera now leads the Southern League in strikeouts with 124 in 113.1 innings and has averaged more than 2 K’s for every walk throughout his minor league career. I would expect him to slot in at AA Springfield but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him promoted to Memphis before the year is out. MLB.com has put him in the Cards’ system at #14, right above Junior Fernandez. Before the season, Fangraphs had him at #27 (remember, the Rays system has tons of depth). Minorleagueball had him at #24 prior to the season.


The last newcomer to the Cards’ system is a right-handed reliever named Roel Ramirez. He’s clearly the #3 guy in the trade as he was unranked by all 3 prospect rankings prior to the season. Ramirez is a 6’1”, 210 lb. reliever who, according to minorleagueball “was untouchable in the Florida State League to start the season (no earned runs, four hits, 14 strikeouts and no walks over 12.2 innings of relief) before getting a bump to Montgomery where he has performed well in 40.2 innings out of the pen.” Ramirez has seen a noticeable uptick in his K rate since 2017 (averaging more than a K per inning both seasons) and averaging more than 3 K’s per walk throughout his minor league career. I haven’t been able to find much about Ramirez’s repertoire but given that minorleagueball sees his future as something of a “situational reliever” I would guess that he’s pretty much a fastball-slider guy.


To wrap up, it doesn’t seem to me that the Cardinals are getting table scraps from the Rays for Pham. First, it’s important to remember that the Rays system is really deep so we shouldn’t get too far down the rabbit hole of looking at those rankings. Second, all 3 of these guys are young and show some upside. With Williams, he’s toolsy with lots of raw power. It’s possible that he never taps into that power and ends up flaming out but it’s also possible that he does and becomes someone the Cards can patch into their lineup in the #4 or 5 hole. With Cabrera, this guy is projectable and has plus-stuff and projects as a starter. Both he and Williams could be in AAA or with the big club by the end of the season. Though Ramirez projects only as a reliever, he’s dominated A-ball and AA this season and who knows? One thing we’ve all learned this season is that when it comes to relievers, quantity and quality matter. Finally, everyone of these prospects is already at AA or higher. These guys aren’t years and years away.


Thanks to baseball-reference, minorleagueball, fangraphs, and mlb.com for all the great stats and scouting reports. Thanks to @nchill17 for the fantastic pic and thanks to you all for reading.