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 be released right after we conclude our little countdown here. Again, 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 in three or four paragraph form.
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 20-21 prospects, things don't look so rosy within the organization. Only time will tell, of course.
Over the next five days, 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 updated 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.
THE STATS IN THIS POST ARE CURRENT AS OF GAME TIME ON 7-9-2019
But 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 21-15
Prospect #21: 1B Luken Baker
Palm Beach Cardinals
Drafted 75th overall in the 2018 draft
I feel for Luken Baker. I really do. He was really good at Peoria last year during an advanced assignment following the draft. He's then "rewarded" with a tough assignment to the Florida State League to start 2019. I'm joke around, but being assigned to Palm Beach, while a mental grind, isn't the prison that it used to be. With technology that allows for players and organizations to track success of players beyond the box score, and countless instructors stationed out of Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter is a different world than it used to be.
Still, I hate the league.
But I give Baker credit; he didn't let it break him early in the season. I like to break Baker's offensive statistics down into three brackets. Those brackets are actually months, and you can actually use his stats to illustrate what he was doing in each month.
First came April, as April comes first on the calendar, duh. During April, Baker wasn't hitting for power, but he was displaying an advanced approach that allowed him to get on base plenty. Over 94 April plate appearances, Baker slashed 253/417/360, but with only five doubles and one home run to show for it. His K% was over 23%, but his BB% was an incredible 20%+. Baker understood that he was in the Pitcher-friendly Florida State League, and he was adjusting his approach accordingly.
Then came May. During May, Baker became aggressive. No longer was he taking walks. In 99 plate appearances during the month, Baker only waked THREE times. When you listened to the Palm Beach games on the radio, the broadcasters would often talk about how Baker seemed to be swinging for the fences. While this approach increased his monthly home run total to three during the month of May, it did nothing for any of his other stats. His BB% obviously cratered, but his K% stayed the same. He went from hunting for his pitch, to trying to hit what was fed to him.
Then, since June 1st, it's been a balancing act for Baker. I've been told that there are a lot of hesitant swings out of him lately. His power and slug is basically nonexistent, posting a .255 slugging percentage over 108 plate appearances since June 1st. He's more selective than he was in May at least, and he's posted a BB% of 12% over that time. He's done this while striking out less, as well, to the tune of 18.5% of the time.
In the gif below, you'll notice why I like Baker's swing. There's a lot of balance in his swing for a big man. One thing that we have talked about a bunch with Baker, is that he doesn't have a prototypical home run swing. It's designed more for contact, and is flatter than your average power swing. Instead, Baker's power is supplied from his big-body and his raw strength. LOTTA leverage in this swing:
Moving on to our next point: Since the beginning of May, Baker's wRC+ has been 84, meaning it's been 16% worse than league average for the Florida State League. However, his season wRC+ is 99, meaning that he's still been league average on the season. That's how shitty the Florida State League can be on a hitter. Baker has been borderline terrible, and he's been basically league average. THAT LEAGUE IS A GRIND, and Baker is all the better for working through it.
This is the part where I tell you that Baker is a bad fielder at first. The gif above is a great play by his standards. It's a good play by average standards. I've been told that he's better now than he was at the beginning of the season, but he's a bad fielder right now. SO, there's that.
I'm anxious to see what the rest of the season has in store for the big-bodied Baker. He is clearly doing some adjusting and course correcting, and a strong finish to the 2019 season will easily propel him back into the top 10 in the organization. Truth be told, the large drop on the list really wasn't fair of me. But I made a choice that the three big-upside teenagers deserved a little extra credit and attention. Let's talk later, when Baker is in the Texas League.
Prospect #20: RHP Johan Oviedo
Signed as an International Free Agent in July of 2016
It took Oviedo a little time to get going during the 2018 season, but there weren't too many pitchers in the organization that were as effective as he was in the second-half of that season.
So, it wasn't that big of a surprise when Oviedo came out guns-a-blazing in the pitching-friendly Florida State League to start the 2019 season. Over 33.2 innings at Palm Beach, Oviedo held hitters to a batting average against of .230 while only allowing two extra-base hits: one home run and one double. That's a lot of soft contact.
It seemed a little early for a promotion, but injuries at Memphis and Springfield allowed for Oviedo's promotion to Springfield just six appearances into the 2019 season. Since arriving at AA, it's been a rocky-go for him. Where Oviedo was having success at Palm Beach and Peoria in 2018, was in getting hitter's to chase his fastball up in the zone, and the breaking pitch in the lower-half of the zone. As you might expect from Double-A hitters, there isn't much in the way of the chasing of those pitches early in counts, and that's hurting Oviedo..
Aside from this, command is the big issue with Oviedo. It has been since he found his way out of the rookie leagues. He's walked 30 in 54+ innings at the AA level. He's often working from behind, and that's really worked against him. It's hard to get a hitter to chase when they are often ahead in the count. Oviedo has also worked mostly in the mid-to-low 90's from what I understand, and maintained velocity has always been one of the concerns with him.
The other thing that I've seen a lot out of Oviedo is a curveball that doesn't do what he wants it to do all of the time. Often times, it goes flat and doesn't break. It's a pitch that has the ability to be a well above-average pitch with consistency, but it's inconsistent more often than not.
I do really like Oviedo's change-up. It's a bit of an unheralded pitch, but it, too, needs more consistency. Obviously, "consistency" is going to be the magic word moving forward in regards to Oviedo and potential success. Here's what happens when he's using it well with the fastball. Th gif below is a three-pitch mix. The first pitch is a fastball that he blows by the hitter. He was really dealing this day, and his fastball stayed in the mid-90's throughout the entire start. He follows that up with a fastball that the hitter fouls off because it gets too much of the plate. On the next pitch, with the runner going, Oviedo drops the change on the outside corner:
With all of that in mind, sometimes Johan looks DYNAMIC. When it's clicking, and he's throwing everything from the same slot without slowing down his arm, and it's doing what he wants, he profiles as a mid-rotation arm. More often than not, without more consistency, this is a pipe dream. He is only 21, so there's plenty of time for him to find it.
If I had to hedge my bets, Oviedo probably profiles as more of a dynamic bullpen arm in the future, based on what he's shown - more often than not - thus far in his career. But if he takes that next step in his development, then he's going to be a very good starting pitcher.
Oviedo is coming off of his best start, in my opinion, since receiving the promotion to Springfield. And here I am, wondering if he's about to repeat his second-half performance in 2018.
Prospect #19: RHRP Junior Fernandez
Signed as an International Free Agent forever ago (July of 2014)
Sometimes, it takes a pitcher a little longer to develop. Sometimes, a pitcher comes along and reminds us why we shouldn't over-hype a teenager, even if he is a dynamic player. Sometimes, there's just no predicting how someone is going to rebound from injury, or how they're going to take to a change in role, or how their path will manifest.
Just two off-season's ago, Junior appeared to be on the fast track to the majors, similar to the track that Jordan Hicks and Sandy Alcantara were on. He had displayed the stuff that you'd want to see out of a potential major league starter, but he was just starting to put it all together. Then, shoulder fatigue (and other arm issues) basically took an entire season away from Fernandez, from the mid-point of 2017 to the mid-point of 2018. When he returned to the mound in 2018, it was as a reliever. Truth be told, his stuff always profiled best out of the pen, but you never give up on a rotation arm until the very last minute.
Arm injuries changed his path, and it took him the rest of 2018 to figure out the role, but he's been a completely different pitcher in 2019. When I started to compile this list, I knew that I was going to take Seth Elledge off of the list and put Fernandez on it. Initially, I had Fernandez around the 30th spot on the list because I never give minor league relief pitchers the credit that they deserve. However, upon watching Junior pitch at both Memphis and Springfield, I am now 100% sure that this is the type of arm that has a chance to be dominant in the back-end of a bullpen.
As a matter of fact, and I'm going to put this is quotes to emphasize it, Fernandez should be in the major league bullpen. Not only is his stuff good enough, but his arm's history is volatile enough that every bullet that he shoots at the minor league level is a bullet that he can't shoot at the major league level.
Yes, Junior still struggles with command, and over-throws the baseball sometimes. Guess what? So does every pitcher in their early 20's that can throw the ball 100 MPH. We've seen this with Jordan Hicks. Now, imagine if Hicks had spent the last year and a half at Springfield and Memphis pitching out of their bullpen instead of pitching out of the Cardinals bullpen. You'd call that a waste of resources, right? I probably would, too.
Here is Fernandez's first AAA strikeout. Three pitches. It took the minimum to get the batter out. Three different pitches, at that! LOVED LOVED LOVED That he started him off with the change. Loved that he followed that up with breaking pitch, only to finish him off with a 99 MPH fastball. By the way, this is a bases loaded situation that he came into. IN HIS AAA DEBUT. ENJOY:
Fernandez's delivery can be violent at t