Updated: Jul 29, 2019
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 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 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 any given start.
The stats in this particular article are current as of 7/7/2019.
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 35-29
Prospect #35: 1B/OF-ish John Nogowski
Signed as a minor league free agent in June of 2017
Much like with the 35th spot on the preseason list, a spot that was occupied by Rangel Ravelo, Nogowski finds his way on to the D35 as a sign of solidarity for years of hard work. That, and an advanced feel for the strike zone and how he operates within-and-around it.
Over the last couple of seasons, "Nogo" has undergone a bit of a swing adjustment with an emphasis on introducing a little more power into his game. Last season, when he wasn't out with a broken hand/wrist issue, he really seemed to take well to the power adjustment. While that hasn't translate as well this season, Nogowski still has the quick swing and barrel-ability to put the ball in the air and between the outfielders.
Where Nogowski cashes his check is in his advanced feel for the strike zone. His strikeout rate is great at 10.3%, but it's made even stronger and more impressive when coupled with a walk rate that's right around 13.4%. His at-bats are often long and boring, but equally as productive.
Here's a small sample of a prototypical Nogo at-bat. It's only two pitches, but it demonstrates what he does very well. He lays off of the first pitch, which is clearly designed to get the double play via chase. Then, on a hanger, Nogowski takes the pitch to the opposite field for a double. By the way, Andrew Knizner scores from first on this play.
The other spot that Nogowski really excels is on the defensive side. Nogo is a very solid defensive first baseman. He's how my dad use to describe me as a point guard; "heady". That's to say, he's never out of position, and he's a huge asset at first base. Sure, my dad was just looking for some random nice thing to say about me so that my mom didn't lose her mind, but I mean it in total sincerity with Nogowski.
Like with Ravelo, the issue with Nogowski is opportunity. He's already 26, and he's at least a couple of spots down on the depth chart at first base. He can play left field, but you'd prefer that he doesn't.
There's no telling if the opportunity will ever present itself for Nogowski. I really hope that it does. His contact-oriented approach with grinding at-bats would be an interesting addition, and experiment, in the current Cardinals' lineup. Either way, I hope that Nogowski eventually gets his shot with a major league team. He'll never be anything more than standard James Loney, but he's deserving of a shot.
(Quick shout out to SS Mateo Gil, who originally occupied the 35th spot on the countdown)
Prospect #34: RHP Tommy Parsons
Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent in 2018
Over the last couple of years, I don't think an organization has drafted or signed more players that go by the name of "Tommy" than the Cardinals. If I thought that the Baseball Reference Play Index provided that info, I'd buy it right now. That's the kind of pathetic life that I live.
I really don't know what the future holds for Parsons. He's struggled so far at Springfield, but his stuff seems better than the person that occupies the 29th spot on this version of the D35, even though that pitcher has had more success than Parsons. Both are very early into their tenure with Springfield, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's eventual balance between those two. You'll get to know prospect #29 soon enough. TAKE A BREATH.
I really like Parsons breaking pitch. He gets in trouble because he often slows down his mechanics and his arm to throw it, but it's a big breaking pitch. It pairs very well with his fastball when he's locating his fastball in the upper-half of the strike zone. His fastball, by the way, can reach the mid-90's and stay that way for a great deal of his start. I will say that I feel like he's over-throwing it since getting the promotion to AA. Maybe he's trying too hard to blow it by hitters. Maybe that's causing some of the command and success issues that he's had. I'll dig more into that over his coming starts.
In the past, the best part of Parsons has been his command of three pitches. Again, that command seems to be somewhat fringe-y so far for Springfield. What hasn't been on the fringes is his change-up. It's a plus offering, and you couldn't even debate that fact. Here's two of them to Pirates stud prospect Travis Swaggerty:
While he's been beat around at Springfield so far, he's still fun to watch pitch. Here's a five pitch-mix that gives you an idea of his repertoire:
Parsons is a smart pitcher with a strong understand of the craft. He's the prototypical "coaches favorite player", and I'm asked about him as often as I'm asked about any of the pitchers in the organization that haven't made a major league debut. As an undrafted player from a Division III baseball program, he's the Jason Simontacchi-type pitcher that you just have to root for.
Prospect #33: 1B/OF Leandro Cedeno
Signed as an International Free Agent in August of 2014
Entering the 2019 season, I had Cedeno as the 21st prospect in the organization. This was because of the tape measure-type power that he possesses and has displayed. I thought that he'd struggle to hit for average, and that he'd strikeout a little too much, but there wasn't a world in which I could imagine Cedeno's power evaporating. It was raw and loud and boisterous, and it was in the top-tier of the organization.
SO, of course, here we are four months later, and Cedeno has struggled to hit for power. The Midwest League assignment with Peoria is always a tough one for this type of player, but Cedeno's four home runs over 228 plate appearances is a huge let down. Even more of a let down, his walk rate has been cut in half as compared to 2018, from 8.5% to 4.8%. His strikeout rate in 2019 is 28.5%, which isn't too far off from what we expected. And, truthfully, it'd be a "fine" total if it was coming with matching power production.
During the preseason rankings, we also expressed our hope that Cedeno would play first base as often as possible. Because of his lack of range, speed, and reads, he's not ever going to stick in the outfield. Of course, Cedeno has primarily played in the outfield for Peoria in 2019. Personally, while he isn't a great first baseman either, I think that his offense would come a long way if he stayed at first, primarily. What I know for sure is, he's not going to stick in the outfield long term, and every rep out there is a virtual waste.
You'll also notice in the gif above that Cedeno uses a lot of his forearms to sort of "flick" the ball. He has somewhat of an unconventional bat-path because of this mechanic. Moving forward, I 'd love to see Cedeno incorporate more of his arms and upper-body into his swing.
With a big second half, Cedeno could easily creep back into the top 25. However, on his current track, even with the tough and aggressive promotion to Peoria to start the season, and with his power profile, 2019 is definitely a setback in the progression of Leandro Cedeno. Even with the offensive struggles, he's still a slightly above average run producer for Peoria. That should give you some indication of how good Cedeno can be when he's on.
Prospect #32: OF Scott Hurst
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft
Another prospect, another down 2019 season.
Hurst started the 2019 with an aggressive, but deserved and earned in spring training, promotion to Springfield. It didn't go well for Hurst, and he was often over-matched in the box. He was doing well to get on base via walk, but he was also striking out 26+% of the time. Two of the things that make Hurst such an intriguing prospect have always been his ability to make contact, and his ability to hit to all fields. So, when Hurst began striking out more, while getting a little more pull-happy, things didn't seem to work out well for him.
While 2019 has been a disappointing year at the plate for Hurst, he's still doing very well in the outfield. Between his ability to draw a walk and his capabilities in center field, Hurst still profiles as a very good 4th outfielder-type if a little course-correcting happens in 2019.
Other than that, there isn't much to say in regards to Hurst. It's been a disappointing season, and I'm sure that no one is taking it harder than he is. There's still plenty of time for him to turn it around. At least his ability to draw a walk hasn't tanked. He's still the most like Jon Jay in the organization, and I fully expect him to figure it out moving forward. He's a smart kid with a natural ability to play the sport. I believe that he just needs to get back to playing "his" game instead of trying to out-think "the" game. He's too natural of a hitter to continue to struggle like he has in 2019.
Ultimately, I had a decision to make on this countdown. I could either add the hot-hitting Justin Toerner to it, or continue to ride with Hurst. While Toerner has become a prospect of the moment, or a player that everyone wants to know more about, I decided to stick with Hurst because I view his skill-set as more translate-able as he continues to climb the ladder.
Prospect #31: Catcher Julio Rodriguez
Palm Beach Cardinals
Signed as an International Free Agent in January of 2016
If we were framing these articles like we did in the preseason, Rodriguez's write-up, underneath the header "STORY TIME", would read: "This is the story of what happens when two prospects, close to each other in talent, end up getting separated by effectiveness and success."
Entering the season, I had Dennis Ortega, Rodriguez's catching partner, as the 25th best prospect in the organization. I did not have Rodriguez on the final list, although I did have him on every iteration leading up to the final list. This was because Ortega got the majority of the important reps for Peoria down the stretch in 2018, he showed solid gains offensively, and he always had the pedigree of a potential major league catcher.
Both Ortega and Rodriguez started the 2019 season in Palm Beach, and it didn't take Rodriguez long to display himself as the better of the two. While Ortega struggled and dealt with some nagging injuries, Rodriguez continued to hit and hit and hit, and he did this while impressing behind the plate.
While things have really cooled off for Rodriguez at the plate over the last month or so, his work behind the plate remains impressive. This is the most work he's received this early in the season, and I'm not surprised at all that he's starting to show signs of fatigue.
Rodriguez possesses a short and powerful little stroke at the plate, and he isn't afraid to use all fields. So far this season, the right-handed swinger has hit the ball to the pull side 37.6% of the time, up the middle 23.6% of the time, and to the opposite field 38.8% of the time. His quick, but often too defensive, swing really allows for him to go with the ball. You'll notice below that Rodriguez would do well to incorporate his lower-half in a weight-transferring capacity a little more in his swing.
The best way to describe Rodriguez behind the plate is "quick". While he isn't the quickest base-runner, he possesses the type of quick reaction that you'd want out of a catcher. He's quick to get out of his crouch, and he's quick while getting the ball out of his glove. He's quick to understand a hitter's weakness, and he's quick to pounce on a breaking pitch in the dirt. NOW, I AM AT MY WORST WHEN EVALUATING CATCHERS SO KEEP THAT IN MIND, but it really seems like he'd do well to continue to work on the pitch in the dirt, as well as framing breaking pitches on the outside corner to lefties. His arm-strength and reactions to base-robbers is above average, as well.
More than likely, Rodriguez is the Travis Tartamella-type; organizational depth with a major league debut in there, depending on how long Yadi plays 130+ games a year (hint: It's going to happen forever). What is absolutely for sure is, Rodriguez is an intriguing catcher with great skills that might just be more than organizational depth. Hopefully he can turn his recent stretch of turmoil at the plate around.
Prospect #30: 1B Brady Whalen
Drafted in the 12th round of the 2016 draft
At the beginning of the season, Peoria was the most fun affiliate to watch. Sure, their pitching really struggled, but that offense was alive! Anchored around stud prospect Nolan Gorman, one of the many hitters that excelled early was Brady Whalen. In the past, Whalen showed signs of being the hitter that we saw early in the 2019 season, but he had yet to fully put it together.
Over his first 36 games of the season (half of his total games on the night that I'm writing this), Whalen hit 300/358/508 with 12 doubles and five home runs in 148 plate appearances. His K% was 24.3% and his BB% was 6.8%. Both of those rates left something to be desired, but everything else was looking good, especially that wRC+ of 146. Whalen was becoming the hitter that we knew he could be, all while playing a very good and athletic first base. He was also developing great chemistry with Nolan Gorman.
However, it's been rough for both Whalen and the Peoria offense since. On May 16th, Whalen hit his 5th home run of the season. Since then, a span of 39 games and 158 plate appearances entering play on July 5th, Whalen hasn't hit one home run. He's slashing 230/310/317 with a wRC+ of 84 over that time period.
Now, here's where it gets fun. Over that time period, Whalen has also dropped his K% to right around 20%, while raising his BB% to just below 11%. The rates are doing what you'd hope, but nothing else is. It's a bit irregular to see that, and the hope is that it's just a blip of struggle while adjusting and working towards success. Of course, only time will tell.
The other concern with the switch-hitting Whalen is that he's really struggled over a small sample of 46 plate appearances while hitting left-handed. He hasn't hit a home run left-handed, and he's only produced five doubles while striking out 14 times and hitting 214/283/286 from the left side.
It's interesting that this seems to be the trend for Peoria as a team, and it's something that I hope to dig into. Mid-May was about when Nolan Gorman's bat started to go quiet, as well. So there might be more to it than just the surface struggles of prospects. What I know for sure is, I really like it when Brady Whalen is hitting, and he's an intriguing bat from both sides of the plate when he's slugging. Even with the struggles over his last 40 or so games, Whalen has been one of the bright spots at the plate for the lower levels of the full-season affiliates.
Prospect #29: RHP Alex Fagalde
Drafted in the 30th round of the 2017 draft
Look at this smirkin' S.O.B!! I LOVE IT!
I don't know, fam. Sometimes things just don't make sense. Look, I love that a 30th round selection has made a name for himself. I love that his breaking pitch is really good, and that it's even better when he's getting away with throwing his fastball up in the zone. I love that, at the older age of 25 as compared to other prospects, Fagalde appears to have a real chance to make a run at the majors.
However, even with his statistical success at the AA level, I find myself waiting for the other shoe or foot or whatever to drop. Fagalde has really solid command of his pitches, and that's the only thing that's stopped his low-90's and flat-ish fastball from being a constant home run pitch. There isn't a statistically successful starter at the higher levels of the minors that gets his fastball hit as hard as Fagalde does. However, his command of that pitch on the black, as well as his general command of an above average breaking pitch and average change, have afforded him the opportunity for success.
Truth be told, watching Alex Fagalde pitch is a lot like watching early 2018 Adam Wainwright pitch. His breaking pitch isn't as good as Waino's curve is obviously, but it's a lot of waiting for the fastball to get rocked while hoping for the best.
The other thing about Fagalde is, he's a bigger guy, stout-wise. I gotta believe that there's more velocity in there somewhere. A small velo bump would do him well. Either that, or he's going to need to incorporate additional arm-side run into his sinker. You'll see his entire repertoire on display in this gif. This is when his sinker is at it's most lively. If he can continue to show it this way, he'll be fine. However, he isn't displaying this type of liveliness in 2019.
Now that I've spent more time than I should have being overly-critical of a successful minor league pitcher, it's even more important that I highlight that Fagalde's command is good enough to take him to the AAA level, at least. His breaking pitch is really good, as well. When he's waiting to mix in his changeup until later in a start, he's really successful, too. With a little refining, I view Fagalde as a potential bullpen piece in the future. Besides, maybe a bullpen role would help him access some of that velocity that I believe is still in the tank. He throws exclusively out of the stretch, so he might as well just slide right into a pen role.
Either way, Fagalde is yet another late round draft pick that appears to be close to a major league debut. I'd bet that few 30th round picks in the last, oh, say, 20 years have carried an ERA of 0.71 through their first four starts or 25.1 innings of AA level baseball. It might sound crazy to the average person, but that's draft success. I'm really pulling for Fagalde. The Cardinals need a pitcher like him to break through.
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Thanks For Reading!!