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'll come after we wrap-up this countdown. Again, the depth of info, or lack-thereof, is because of the lack of free time that 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 paragraphs, anyway.
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 particularly rosy right now 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 7-8-2019.
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 28-22
Prospect #28: UTIL Kramer Robertson
Drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 draft
There might not be a prospect in the organization that does more with less than Kramer Robertson. That's not to take away from how athletic Robertson is, but rather to complement him for being as hard of a worker and as talented of an athlete as he is. I'd also like to compliment Robertson on making such huge strides in one offseason. We did start to see Robertson taking better at-bats while driving the ball more in August of 2018, but he's a different player now than he was even then.
Truth be told, I don't think I understand how Robertson hits home runs. He reminds me, physically, of David Eckstein. More than likely, that will be his power-profile at the next level, too. While he doesn't do it with strength exactly, he creates slug through an understand of the strike zone and selectivity at the plate. Robertson has the uncanny ability of never chasing a bad breaking pitch. He works counts and gets himself into a position to hunt for a fastball. This has been his hitting anchor this season, and it's the reason why he has had the success that he has had at the highest levels of the minors. That, and there is no wasted movement in his swing. His hands are quick and direct, constantly finding the barrel. He does dip his head a bit, although that's gotten a lot less frequent since this time last year. Actually, the more that I think about it, there really is a lot in his offensive profile that reminds me of a poor man's David Eckstein.
Robertson is a good base runner with ample speed to steal a base or two, but where his speed and athleticism really shine is in the field. Robertson can get to everything that he needs to. He gets good reads and great jumps, and he's instinctual on the infield. I haven't seen him much at second, but there isn't a ball that a short stop should get to that Robertson can't get too. He has some flash in his game, as well, and he'll lay out to make the catch or to prevent extra bases. The issue with Robertson is his arm. It appears to be MUCH stronger than it was on draft night/day, but it still isn't strong enough to make all of the throws at the next level. If he can't plant and throw then he's not going to be able to get outs on the closer plays. Again, Eckstein-esque.
The first two prospects on this list are shining beacons of prospect-progression-light as compared to some of the other stuff that has happened within the organization this year. They both have taken a step forward in their development while others have faltered. It's been great to see Robertson take advantage of some injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. While I don't see much more than a league average utility-infielder type player in his future, and as a ceiling, I do know that he's the type of player and kid that will do everything possible to maximize his talents, skill-set, and effectiveness.
Prospect #27: RHP Alvaro Seijas
Palm Beach Cardinals
Signed as an International Free Agent in July of 2015
After a disappointing 2018 season, Seijas was sent back to Peoria to correct the ship. He came into the season stronger and more focused, and it's really showing so far in 2019.
I planned on keeping a very close eye on Seijas all year, but I abandoned that early on because I don't really enjoy watching Peoria's live feed from behind the plate when keeping an eye on pitchers. Still, I've watched plenty of Seijas, and I can tell you definitively that fastball command, and consistency throwing his breaking pitch, are the two things that have allowed him to regain his prospects standing. Seijas' struggles in 2018 were also a product of the fact that he was 19 year's old while playing in the tough Midwest League. He has some pretty good raw stuff, but he hadn't demonstrated the ability to command. That ate him alive last season. This season, he's doing more in the way of what every little league coach in the world calls "pitching instead of throwing".
It also seems like Seijas has his mechanics and emotions under control. Often times last season, when he didn't have command, and hitters weren't chasing early, you'd see a visibly frustrated Seijas stomp around the mound a little bit. It was like he was defeated before he was "beat", if that makes sense. This season, for the most part, Seijas has demonstrated a great amount of poise on the mound. The poise is aided by the fact that he's doing a substantially better job of working ahead of hitters than he did last season. It's funny how baseball never really changes. Just like it was 100 years ago, pitcher's have more success when working ahead as compared to when they are working behind.
I like the gif below a lot. It'll show you just how good Seijas' breaking pitch can be. It'll show you how he can command it and now he over-throws it. It'll also show you how good it is against right-handed swingers. It'll also show you how Seijas has a small tendency to want to throw the fastball as hard as he can when working with two strikes. It'll also show you how he struggles to command it in those situations. It should also show you that Seijas is working with a couple of different breaking pitches these days. Enjoy:
There are some that are worried about Seijas' mechanics. That'll be something worth keeping an eye on moving forward. It can be violent at times. It's definitely high-effort, and that usually means that the bullpen is in his long-term future, if healthy. However, that's another aspect that has matured in his season and a half in the Midwest League. The other thing worth keeping an eye on, is his increased use and command of the change. That pitching is going to need to get better. Seijas was just promoted to Palm Beach, and he's going to need that pitch, even in the pitching friendly confines of the Florida State League.
In a season that has seen many prospects take a step back, Seijas is one of the few that has taken a step forward in an effort to regain his prospect standing. Seijas is going to be a valuable arm that's worth keeping an extra eye on moving forward.
Prospect #26: LHP Evan Kruczynski
Drafted in the 9th round of the 2017 draft
By the end of the 2018 season, it really looked like Kruczynski was ready to take the next step in his development. A deceptive lefty that commanded three average-to-above pitches, Kruczynski seemed like he was destined to fill some valuable innings for the big club, and in the near future. He had some struggles in the Arizona Fall League early in appearances, but he really seemed to have straightened out those issues by the end of his time there.
It'd be fair to call 2019 a near-complete disaster for Kruczynski. His velocity has maintained through starts, but his command hasn't been the positive that it showed to be last season. We are seeing him miss high, and outside to right-handers, with the fastball, while spiking the breaking ball in the dirt with it. His changeup seems to be the one pitch that he can rely on consistently. The problem is, he's relying on it early on in starts, and by the third time around the lineup that pitch is getting hit. He doesn't throw a lot of bad pitches during his starts, it's just that he isn't fooling anyone. Because of this, he isn't getting away with the few bad pitches that he's throwing.
This is a four-pitch mix of what it looks like when Kruczynski is looking bad. He hangs a breaking pitch, gets away with a fastball, misses with the fastball and is lucky that it isn't destroyed, then allows a long fly ball over the head of the center fielder on a pitch in the middle of the plate:
This is a three-pitch mix of what it looks like when Kruczynski is looking good. This lefty doesn't stand a chance. That's a great breaking ball to start a left-hander off with. Fastball on the outside corner then sets up the chase on the slider that's well outside:
Now, this is usually where I start to problem solve for the player. I put my little league coaching hat on, and I pretend like I know what I'm talking about (Narrator: He doesn't). I honestly don't know what to say or think in regards to Kruczynski. Like, I just don't get it, really. He's throwing too many pitches, and he's working behind in counts too often, for sure. I just don't buy that he's as bad as he's been in 2019. His stuff is too good for that. I can't help but think that his issues all stem from the fastball, which appears to have really flattened out.
One thing that I feel like I'm noticing in regards to the fastball is, he works quicker when he gets the signal to throw the fastball. It takes him an extra tenth of a second to throw the change or breaking pitch, but he's quick in his delivery with the fastball. This is especially true after the first inning. I'd really like to see him be more consistent in his timing. He doesn't always do it, but it's not a surprise that his fastball is getting hit as hard as it is when he is doing this. Maybe I'm trying too hard to look for things because, again, Kruczynski is too good of a pitcher to be pitching this poorly. There has to be something there that's tipping hitters off to the fastball. This is a hill that I'll die on.
Whatever the reason for his lack of success in 2019, it's time for Kruczynski to turn it around. Right now, 2019 seems like another set-back season for a promising prospect.
Prospect #25: OF Adolis Garcia (JAG)
Signed as an International Free Agent in February of 2017
Part of the reason that I view 2019 as such a down year for the system, is that the power (slugging power, not necessarily home run power) seems to have disappeared, in general, from the system. Some hitters are getting on base a wee bit more, some are hitting a wee bit more, but few are hitting for real power.
This is not the case with JAG.
No, instead, JAG is in full sell-out mode for power. He leads the farm system with 16 home runs and he's in the top five in doubles. Trust me when I tell you that he has not been cheated out of one swing this season. It's actually a sight to behold. JAG is up there just straight hacking. Yeah, he looks really bad sometimes, and most off-speed pitches that are on the outside quarter of the strike zone from a right-handed pitcher is going to induce an awful swing by JAG, but I'm fine with it.
Sure, JAG is striking out 32% of the time. And, yeah, he's only walking about 3% of the time. And, oh well, he's gone from being a threat against left-handed pitchers to be vulnerable against them. Why yes, it's a disappointing year in general for this marble-built man. BUT AT LEAST IT'S COME WITH SLUG. If you're going to be sub-par, you might as well do damage when you can.
Anyway, this is me trying to cover for the fact that this is just another disappointing 2019 season from another prospect that seems to be struggling to reach the potential that he's shown in the past. At least JAG is still doing his thing in the outfield. And, if there's one positive to take from his 2019 that isn't power related, it's that he's looked really solid while covering ground in center field. And don't forget, JAG's arm is easily the best outfield arm in the organization.
Prospect #24: 1B/OF: Rangel Ravelo
Memphis Redbirds/St. Louis Cardinals
Signed as a minor league free agent in April of 2017
Well, that's certainly the longest list of stats that I've ever put into a D35 article.
As you know from the preseason rankings, when I had Ravelo as the 35th prospect on the list, it isn't easy for me to put a player as old and as minor league-tenured as Ravelo on the list. I just have my reservations about putting an older guy with multiple years at the highest levels on the list. It shouldn't be that way, and there really isn't much logic in my thought process, but it's what I do and I'm probably pretty dumb for being this way.
However, Ravelo is more than just an older and long-tenured minor leaguer. He's a very good contact hitter, with an intriguing amount of slug in his bat. He gets his hands out in front of his barrel a little too often, but that hasn't really hurt him in the minors in a very long time.He's a very good defensive first baseman, as well, even if you'd prefer that he doesn't play the outfield.
The beautiful thing about a player like Ravelo is the perseverance. After ten minor league seasons of battling, and being released and traded by other organizations, then getting off to the worst start of his minor league career, Ravelo finally earned the promotion to the major leagues.
Just think about it for one second: you're starting your tenth season in the minors. You just had a great spring camp, but you aren't on the 40-man, and you're blocked by both Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter in the event of a Goldy injury, more than likely. Then, you hit 173/253/307 over 83 plate appearances in April. That would probably get you down, right? Sure, you probably wouldn't stop fighting for your dream, but you and I both know that it's gotta be a hard crater to climb out of.
Well, you can't keep Ravelo down, and he responded by hitting 417/494/667 over his next 166 plate appearances, starting on May 1st and extending to the game before he joined the Cardinals. If ever there was a promotion that was "earned", in every sense of the word, it's Ravelo's promotion to the majors.
The next decision that I had to make was how far I should move Ravelo up the list. Because of those reservations that I mentioned earlier with this type of player, I was reluctant to move him that far up. He's on the 40-man now, and that changes the conversation a little, but moving him this high up on the list doesn't make much sense when looked at in a vacuum. No, the reason that Ravelo moves up so far on the list is, in part, to demonstrate just how tough the season has been for many minor leaguers in the system. Ravelo deserves the recognition, but the true message to take out of his placement on this list is that I had to go out of my personal comfort zone, and not in a positive way, to put a prospect this high on the list for the simple reason that the system is falling around him.
We've spent a lot of time talking about who Ravelo reminds us of. I've gone out of my way to say he's a Nick Martini or Jeremy Hazelbaker type, more than anything else. With that being said, his contact tool is a lot like Jose Martinez's, and I have reason to believe that the contact tool will propel him to success that exceeds both Hazelbaker and Martini, if given a longer opportunity.
Prospect #23: 1B/3B Evan Mendoza
Memphis Redbirds - On The IL
Drafted in the 11th round of the 2017 draft
If you want to follow a blue print for diminishing some of the value of a prospect quickly, look no further than what the Cardinals have done with Evan Mendoza.
We saw it first during spring training. For some reason, Mendoza, who is the best defensive third baseman in the organization (and just might be the best defensive infielder, in general) was moved to the one place where his value is mitigated: first base. Now, to the Cardinals' credit, they did try Mendoza a little at short during the 2018 season. Unfortunately, it just didn't click. That being said, putting him at first base, of all of the position on the diamond, is the thing that makes the least amount of sense. When you take a player who's value is so heavily tied to his defense, and you put him at potentially the least valuable defensive position on the diamond, well, you just aren't doing it right. This is one of my favorite collegiate highlights of his:
The good news is, as the season has progressed, Mendoza has played third base more often. That is, before he went on the IL on June 15th. You probably won't be surprised to find out that he started to hit more consistently with added third base reps, as well. From April 26th through his IL stint-start on June 15th, a span of 42 games, Mendoza went without a hit in only eight of those 42 games.
Mendoza is a consistent singles-hitter with line drive in his swing. He also has and a good understanding of the strike zone. Even though he's athletic and strong enough, with good barrel-ability, to hit home runs, it just hasn't manifested. As a matter of fact, his lack of slug is really what is going to halt his standing as a prospect in the long-term. This is even more reason to keep him off of first base. Mendoza is also a better at-bat than his .303 OBP indicates. Even during that stretch mentioned earlier, Mendoza still wasn't getting on base enough, even though he was getting hits. He's striking a very unusual balance right now at the plate, when healthy, and it's reasonable to expect it to balance back out once he returns to the lineup.
Other than that, Mendoza and his NC State baseball education is about as fundamentally sound as you'll find in the organization. He's just another player that "plays the game the right way". Now, let the kid play 3rd and hope for the best with the bat.
Prospect #22: UTIL Ramon Urias
Memphis Redbirds - On The IL
Signed out of Mexico in March of 2018
It's been a tumultuous year for the Memphis Redbirds, injury-wise. I don't have the exact number, but at one point, everyone on their roster was on the IL. Urias has been on the Memphis IL since June 9th.
You'll remember Urias from the impressive first impression that he made early on in spring training. He hit the first home run of spring for the Cardinals, and he continued to hit until he didn't anymore (Awful. I am awful at this). If I remember correctly, I think he had a nagging injury that derailed his spring. Don't quote me on that. This is the kind of fact checking that happens when I go full stream of conscience. Either way, he was slated to start the season at Memphis and, as a member of the 40-man roster, it seemed like he'd find his way to the majors sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, Urias got off to a brutal AAA start. Over 80 April plate appearances, Urias hit 209/329/373 with five doubles and two home runs. He was taking walks, and he wasn't striking out all that much, but he was often behind on pitches and swinging defensively from his heels. 103 plate appearances during May saw his power all but evaporate, as he only hit three doubles over those plate appearances. He was getting on base more, and working the count more effectively - to the tune of a .350 OBP - but it was at the expense of his pop. This trend continued until his IL stint, too.
So, with that drop in pop, how is he the #22 prospect in the organization? Well, partially because the organization is weaker than it's been in years. But it's also because the pop is still in there. His approach and understanding of the strike zone seems to have taken a strong step forward in 2019, and if he can combine that approach with the slug that he's shown in the past, then you really have an interesting utility option.
I've said it a ton, but Urias is best suited for second base. He's solid at third and fine at short, but he's best suited for second. I'd also go so far as to suggest as little time at short as possible, although he isn't Yairo Munoz level bad at short. It's just his weakest position of the three that he plays in the infield.
I'm anxious to see what the rest of the season looks like for Urias once he gets healthy. As a member of the 40-man, I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the Cardinals' September roster, if healthy.
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.
Thanks For Reading!!