This is a completely half-assed list!!!!
OK, so hear me out: I'm breaking the Dirty Thirty-Five into five subsets of seven players for our mid-season report. Why am I doing this? Because that's literally all of the free time that I have. I TRULY, TRULY apologize for not having more time. I swear, I'll do everything that I can to make up for this moving forward.
Anyway, before we get started, remember to check out the article that highlights the Five Players From The 2019 Draft that I'm keeping the closest eye on. That should come out right after we finish with the countdown. The depth of info, or lack-thereof, is because of the lack of free time I have. I promise that I've peered over countless hours of video and reports to give you my humble and honest opinions, albeit quick, on each and every player that I comment on. Besides, in this world of "TL;DR", my long and drawn out nonsense is probably best consumed three or four paragraphs at a time.
So, the system isn't in great shape right now. I'm just being honest. I hope that I have more time in the future to write about that. As of right now, I believe this to be the most concise list of top prospects in the organization. TRUTH BE TOLD, outside of the top 20 prospects, things aren't exactly rosy right now within the organization. Only time will tell, of course.
Over this five day countdown, I hope to give you more context in regards to that topic.
This also comes with one final warning: while I have watched hundreds of hours of video, and read countless reports on these players, this is the least amount of research that I have ever done for a countdown. While I have people I trust at nearly every affiliate in the organization, I usually use MiLB. TV as my primary method of investigation and cross-checking. However, MiLB update their service and it's terrible, and that has really ruined the experience for me. On top of that, the system has been terribly boring, for the most part. And with the pitching in the organization taking such a large step backwards as compared to past seasons, it's less and less interesting to watch a start.
STATS IN THIS POST ARE CURRENT AT START TIME ON 7-10-2019.
I've rambled on long enough. It's countdown time!!! So, without Freddy Adu, Birds On The Black and Prospects after Dark presents....
THE DIRTY THIRTY-FIVE: PROSPECTS 14-8
Prospect #14: UTIL Edmundo Sosa
Signed as an International Free Agent in 1884 (July of 2012)
So, here is Edmundo Sosa dancing. The 40-grade hip sway is a little alarming, but he's got the energy:
Anyway, during this valley-filled minor league season within the Cardinals organization, Edmundo Sosa remains a vital resource for evaluating. That's to say, he is what he is, and I am so grateful for that.
Sosa is a .260 hitter. He's probably always going to be a hitter that hits between .235 and .265. He's probably not going to get on base much. Unless things get weird, you can count on an OBP ceiling of right around .315. Even better, he's going to do this while supplying surprise slugging. He svelte but strong and quick with his hands, and he's probably going to supply a slugging percentage in the .380 to .420 range, depending on how he's deployed. Even better, most of that slugging is going to happen when he's being attacked lower in the zone. An impressive aspect to his power is that a lot of it ends up towards the opposite field:
Sosa is quick enough to to turn a single into a double, and he has good instincts on the base-paths. On top of that, he's a reliable defender at three infield spots: third, short, and second. He can be flashy, and he has an arm to complete the flashy play.
And that, my friends, is the beauty of Edmundo Sosa, and why he is occupying the 14th spot on our countdown. He's a rare known commodity. You'll be able to bank on him being a taxi-squad-type utility infielder for a couple of years. He's not going to do too much. He doesn't have the offensive capabilities of Yairo Munoz or Tommy Edman. He doesn't even have the offensive upside of Prospect #22 Ramon Urias. But what he does have is a more defined skill-set, and that's so valuable.
Sosa has more pop that Greg Garcia, without the selective approach that Garcia showed. For someone like me, someone that has to try to evaluate roughly 250 players within the organization, Edmundo Sosa is a jackpot of reliability.
Prospect #13: Catcher Ivan Herrera
Signed as an International Free Agent in July of 2016
I'm just gonna go ahead and try to get in front of this one: I do not have a feel, at all, for what kind of a catcher Herrera is. It seems like he has a very strong arm, and it seems like his pop-time is right where it needs to be; at the two second-ish mark. It seems like he does a good job of blocking behind the plate, even though that clearly needs works. I have no feel for what kind of framer he is, but he seems below average there. He also seems kind of slow moving side to side.
But this is just how it "seems", to me. I really do not have a feel for it. He's definitely inconsistent. That much is certain. However, for a 19-year-old, I think that he's "fine" behind the plate. He needs to get better and more consistent, but I don't think that there's any indication, at this juncture, that he won't be able to stick as a catcher. BUT, AGAIN, EVALUATING CATCHERS IS WHAT I DO THE WORST, AND I DO A LOT OF STUFF POORLY.
Herrera makes a BIG jump up this list, from 22nd to 13th. This is, in large part, because Ivan Herrera is a very good and disciplined hitter with a quick swing, a solid approach, and terrific plate coverage. If I could guess at what a 19-year-old Andrew Knizner would have looked like if he had spent his upbringing as a catcher, I'd guess that it'd look a lot like Herrera.
Early in the season, Herrera was a force. Over his first 46 games, from the start of the season until June 23rd, Herrera hit 288/382/436 with six home runs and six doubles in 191 plate appearances. To demonstrate how good his approach has been, his walk rate over that time was 12%. At the same time, his strikeout rate was 19.4%. That's high, but not that high for a kid that was 18 year's old for the first two months of the season. To give you an idea as to just how productive Herrera has been for Peoria, his wRC+ after June 23rd was 139.
Truth be told, it really wasn't until the last week or so that he's started to show signs of fatigue. Often times, he's been in the middle of the Peoria lineup, too. That's a lot to ask from a kid that has only been 19 for a little over a month. Still, Herrera hasn't backed down. I feel like Herrera might be trying a little too hard to pull the ball right now, and one of the things that he was doing very well early in the season was going with the pitch to the opposite field. He's still doing that, just not as frequently. Again, this recent struggle feels more like fatigue, to me, than anything else.
You probably aren't over-whelmed by the 13 extra-base hits in 221 plate appearances. I get it. I don't blame you. But let me tell you that Herrera is slow. I mean, not Yadier Molina-level slow, but Carson Kelly-level slow. There aren't going to be many singles that he turns into doubles. Plus, you know.... HE'S FREAKING RECENTLY TURNED 19 YEARS OLD AND HE'S HITTING REALLY WELL AT A FULL-SEASON AFFILIATE! So, you know, calm your nerves!
Herrera has started and played the entire game in 53 of the teams 85 games at the time that this article was composed. There should be some signs of fatigue with that, from a player that has never caught this much, this early in the season. What I know for sure is, Herrera is the type of prospect that every organization would love to have. With continued development and hard work, Herrera's future appears to be as a backstop for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Prospect #12: RHP Griffin Roberts
Palm Beach Cardinals
Drafted 43rd Overall in the 2018 draft
Griffin Roberts was suspended for the first 50 games of the season for testing positive for, what he called, "cannabis".
If only the minor leaguers were treated the same way as the major leaguers. If only they had proper representation....
Anyway, Roberts broke the rules that he agreed to and he was punished for it. That's the lesson to be learned here.
Since coming off of the suspension, it's been a mixed bag for Roberts. There are times when he appears to be that dominant slider-thrower that we know he's capable of being. Those moments rarely come early in a start, though. Eleven of the twenty-seven runs that he's allowed have come in the first inning (as of 7-7-2019). He throws a lot of pitches in that first inning, too. He's not just throwing pitches right down the middle; he's also throwing a lot of pitches for balls. I can't speak to if this is a preparedness issue or something else, but I do know that it's strange to see a former college reliever-turned-starter struggle so badly to begin a game.
The other interesting trend in his game-by-game stat-line, is that every-other start appears to be an acceptable (not great, but acceptable) start. When you compose the stat "game score", you start with base of 50. So, basically, anything over 50 is above average and everything below 50 is below average (this isn't exactly correct, but I think it's a good baseline for the point I'm going to make, in a very primitive and simple way). This is what his game log looks like (game score is "GSc"):
Basically, every other start has been a productive start. That's probably the best way to put it. Even though he's allowed at least one first inning run in everyone of his starts, he manages to rebound every other start. In the other starts, he falls a part. What do all of these poor starts have in common? WALKS. And in this case, walks help to highlight the command issue that has plagued him so far this season. I obviously still believe in Griffin Roberts. Otherwise, I wouldn't have him as the 12th best prospect in the organization. However, his command is worse than I thought it was (or realized it was), and it needs a lot of work.
Usually after that first inning, Roberts settles in. That is, until about the fourth inning. That's when he starts to get hit hard again. Because of the amount of pitches he's thrown at this point, and the amount of hitters he's faced, the fourth and fifth inning usually represents his third time seeing a lineup. Which brings us to our next point; Roberts change-up has not found the consistency that it's going to need to have for him to last late into starts. His slider is still vicious. Often times, it'll leave the opposing radio broadcast's play-by-play guy scrambling for the words to describe it. His fastball, once he settles in, is usually a pitch that's commented on as some level of above-average by the broadcast, as well.
Much like with Evan Kruczynski, our #26 prospect on the D35, Griffin Roberts is too good of a pitcher, and his stuff is too lively, to be struggling the way he is. Kruczynski has dealt with some command issues, but not like Roberts has. The Cardinals need Roberts to clean it up. I believe that he will. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.
Prospect #11: RHP Jake Woodford
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 draft
First off, if the Cardinals need another starter, and if they decide to look outside of the 40-man roster, Jake Woodford should be the starter that gets the call. He's done enough this year to both deserve and warrant that promotion.
This is, in large part, because Woodford's breaking ball appears to have taken a huge step forward. It's a very good pitch. He doesn't always command it, but it's allowed him to throw his fastball up in the zone, while playing the breaking pitch off of it. Or, rather, the breaking pitch is allowing for the fastball to play off of it. I don't know. What I'm trying to say is, Woodford is using these pitches well with each other. He's also throwing a change-up infrequently that's doing a good job of keeping hitters off-balance. He manages to induce ground balls when needed, and there is a craftiness in the way that he pitches that helps to demonstrate an advanced understanding of pitching. One of the other things that I've always loved about Woodford is that you can tell that he throws with his entire body, and not just his arm.
Another one of the positive developments for Woodford during the 2019 season has been an increase in, and sustainability with, the fastball. Just last season, Woodford would live in the 90-92 range for the duration of a start, with the ability to pump it into the 95 MPH range early in a start. This season, he's lived between 92-95 MPH in nearly everyone of his starts, although he has shown signs of a little fatigue lately. Nothing worth worrying about, though.
Would you like to see a seven-pitch battle that displays Woodford's entire arsenal? Yeah, I thought so! I love this next gif because you get to see him battle back after going down 2-0. This is a great sequence of pitches, and it's really good execution, as well (and Andrew Knizner deserves credit for the pitch calling here):
A quick recap before moving on; all of Woodford's pitches are better than what they've been in the past, his velocity is better, and his command of those pitches is better. Because of these advancements in his development, Woodford has seen his K% rate increase from 15% in 2018 to 20% in 2019, his home runs allowed rate decline by about .1%, and his hits per nine innings decrease from around 11 per 9 innings in 2018, to right around 7.8 hits per nine innings in 2019. That's the kind of progress that should get your nipples hard.
The only concerning trend with Woodford is his walk rate, which has increased about 3% percent from last year, from 9.4% to 12.7%. So, Woodford is doing a better job of keeping the ball out of play, but he's doing it while throwing more pitches. The good news is, I don't view this as a command issue, per se. I think he's doing a good job of living on the edges of the strike zone while hoping that the opponent chases his trash. One stat that I find interesting, is that he's only hit two batters this year after hitting 12 a year ago. This doesn't necessarily mean that his command is better (although it clearly is), but I think it helps to illustrate that Woodford is being smart about how he's pitching. That being said, it could also mean, simply, that he's just not throwing inside as much. I feel like I've watched him pitch inside plenty, but it something that I'm going to have to keep a closer eye on.
Woodford has done some amazing work in his pursuit of a future rotation spot with the Cardinals. Nearly everything is trending in the right direction. There's still development to be had, and I'm anxious to see what his personal ceiling looks like.
Prospect #10: LHP Genesis Cabrera
Acquired as part of the trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Rays
OK, we get it: you hate Genesis Cabrera because he was traded for Tommy Pham. OK, we get it: regardless of how well Cabrera does, you're never going to accept him because he was traded for Tommy Pham.
Actually, you know what? That's fair. Feel that way. I get it. I really do! It sucks, but I get it. I, too, often pick the childish and emotional path over the more adult decision. DIDN'T YOU READ THAT MESS OF A WRITE-UP ON ANGEL RONDON?!?!
However, if I may, I'd ask that you view Mr. Cabrera as his own entity. Cabrera definitely has a lot of work to do in the command department, and we've learned that he has a tendency to tip his pitches.
But have you seen his junk? Wait, not his "junk". I mean, yeah, his junk, but what I mean is the life on his pitches?! He's as lively and as electric of an arm as the organization has.
And, you're right; that doesn't do anyone any good if he can't command it. Please trust me when I tell you that Cabrera has already made strides with his command since entering the organization. It's still below average, but not substantially below average like it was a year ago.
Here's a little @cardinalsgifs magic for ya:
The strides that he's made are small, but they're there. He's still only 22 year's old, and the only two mistakes that he's made are being traded for Tommy Pham and doing so well in The Mexican Winter League that we as fans, and the Cardinals as an organization, rushed our/their expectations and timeline of him.
As a member of the 40-man, who has already made a major league debut, I can promise you that St. Louis hasn't seen the last of Genesis in 2019. If not before September, then during the stretch run. It might not seem like it right now, but Cabrera is going to be a valuable major league asset for years to come. That it happened sooner than it should have should not be something to hold against him.
Now, that's not to cloud the truth: Cabrera will never possess anything more than average command as a starter. That's the ceiling for his command. As a reliever, he has the chance to be slightly above-average command-wise, but we now know with certainty that's what his ceiling is. Still, with the curve/change/fastball combo and a fastball that can get into the high 90's, average command will be enough to make him a major league contributor.
Prospect #9: LHP ZacK Thompson
Palm Beach Cardinals
Drafted 19th Overall in the 2019 draft
On draft night, I stated that my preference would have been for the Cardinals to select either George Kirby or Brennan Malone with the 19th overall pick instead of Thompson. Those two were my preference entering the draft, especially Kirby, and I was disappointed that the Cardinals passed over someone that seemed like a quick-ascender to the starting rotation. It's important that I say it again, right here. I decided very poorly on the wording of that tweet. That's because I'm a moron.
Truth is, the selection of Zack Thompson (who I will be replacing the lowercase "k" with an uppercase "K" from here until the end of time) was the correct decision to make, even if it wasn't the decision that I'd make. Truth is, Thompson's ceiling is higher than Kirby's is, even if Kirby's floor is easily that of a back-end starter. Also, I can now admit, after internalizing about it, that I was probably over-reacting to the reports of two separate concerns with ZacK Thompson's arm. Instead, I should have been focusing on just how well he recovered during his 2019 season at Kentucky. I focused on the wrong things, the concerns, instead of focusing on just how talented ZacK is.
You know all of those things that I just said about Genesis Cabrera? About how his stuff is some of the liveliest in the organization but his command is what needs to improve? Well, Thompson's command is already better than Cabrera's is, and his curve is, without a doubt, better than Cabrera's is. His fastball isn't as explosive or as high-velocity as Genesis' is, but it's lively and sneaky enough, and he commands it well enough, to be called above average. Take a look at this curve ball in the gif below. It's a really great pitch, and it might be just a kick below where Griffin Roberts slider is at now/was at during draft night. It's followed by a fastball in both of the gifs below, too.
I don't want to advance too far without doubling back around to the injury issues. There's one point that needs to be made, and it needs to be read loudly:
ZacK Thompson has already had arm issues. He's also pitched in the toughest division in college baseball. It's reasonable to think that Thompson only has so many bullets before things have the potential to get weird. THE CARDINALS WOULD BE WISE TO GET THOMPSON TO THE MAJORS AS QUICKLY AS HIS OWN PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT ALLOWS.
Thompson isn't some kid in need of serious development. He's far away from his high-ceiling, but not in the way that he'll benefit from years in the minors. His slider and change need to get better, and he needs to stay healthy and in-shape, but I am certain that being cute with his timetable is the wrong thing to do here. As most of you know, I've never once supported the idea of rushing a player to the majors. NOT ONCE. I'm for it with Thompson, but only because I believe that he's close to being ready for it, and his health circumstances dictate the need for an accelerated timetable. That is, IF allowed by his own personal health and development.
Now, I already know where your mind went. Let me stop you right there. NO, THOMPSON SHOULD NOT BE AN OPTION FOR THE CARDINALS IN 2019. He's pitched a taxing amount of collegiate innings, many of which were high-stress at the end of the season. Couple that with the history of his arm concerns, and pitching out of various minor league bullpens until the minor league season ends at the end of August is the way to go.
I can promise you that you'll fall further and further in love with Thompson with the more you see of him. If I was forced to pick one pitcher that hasn't made a major league debut that will open eyes during spring training 2020, the easy and correct answer would be ZacK Thompson.
Prospect #8: OF Lane Thomas
Acquired from TOR for International signing bonus money
Let me start this by saying that I love Lane Thomas. If I was in the Cardinals front office, I'd be shopping the hell out of Harrison Bader, hoping that a team would over-spend for his defense, with the intent of using Thomas in CF regularly. That's because I believe that Lane Thomas is the better all-around baseball player, right now and moving forward, and if only by a little bit. COME GET CHU SOME.
Thomas remains the best use of International Bonus Pool funds that the Cardinals have spent since the most recent CBA. It'd be the second best use of money had they just spent the basically $60 million on Luis Robert, but that's a rabbit hole I'm backing out of today. Thomas is a valuable asset with pop, good fielding instincts, good base-running instincts, and speed to boot! He gets to the bag quicker than the infielder can get to the ball here:
It's been a down year for Thomas when he has been healthy, and that's a drag. If you've been following me for a while now, you know that I've often talked about how confidence is clearly his biggest issue. For him, confidence equals aggressiveness. Not in an over-aggressive way - a way that might get him in trouble - but in a way that allows for his skills and athleticism to play at the forefront. His approach is different when he's confident. The ground he covers in the outfield is different. The aggressiveness early in counts and the pitches that he's swinging at are different when he's playing with confidence. He does this without ever being showy about it. So, for those of you that hate Harrison Bader for having swagger, I present you with your alternative:
The major concern with Thomas is that, while he's done a good job of increasing his walk rate, most of his stats have regressed to his pre-Cardinals days, back when he was in the Toronto organization. He's back to striking out at a 27% rate. He's back to shortening his swing just shy of driving through the baseball, thus resulting in fly balls that are dying in the air instead of traveling over the fence. Speaking of traveling over the fence, here's Thomas literally traveling over the fence while making the best catch in all of the baseball world during the 2018 season:
The other noteworthy issue about Thomas' 2019 season, is that it's been interrupted by three stints with the Cardinals as a fifth outfielder, each time coming while he was putting it together a little bit at Memphis. My guess is, it won't take long for Thomas to get going this time around with Memphis. My hope is that he stays down there, unless he's given proper at-bats at the major league level. What I know for a fact, is that I hate it when a player is still developing and needs to play everyday but, instead, sits on the bench and doesn't receive reps for a week. This doesn't apply for the Rangel Ravelo or Patrick Wisdom or Jeremy Hazelbaker or Jose Martinez or the older-type career minor leaguers. It does apply for players that have recently seen a boom in their development like Thomas has since the beginning of the 2018 season.
Just another uncharacteristic misstep by this organization as of late.
FanGraphs is the hero that we both need and deserve, and their stats fuel these articles. Subscribe to their service, if you are able to. A special thank you to Baseball Reference for Griffin Roberts' game log. An extra special thank you to my boo @cardinalsgifs for providing the gif's of Genesis and Lane.
Thanks For Reading!!