Here we are, at part four of our countdown!
I do not know what to say about this group, in general. These five players are all over the board. They have nothing in common and they are all at different parts of their minor league careers. You're just going to have to read what's up.
As always, these are the condensed and quick versions of the player write-ups. We will have a more in-depth dive into each player once we complete the countdown. You'll be able to find that over on the Dirty 35 page after the countdown is finished. There you'll find what they do well, what they need to work on, and what they might look like as they progress through the system.
LET'S DO IT
Prospect #20: RHP, Daniel Ponce de Leon
Drafted in the 9th round of the 2014 draft
I didn't know what to do with Daniel Ponce de Leon (by the way, it's Ponce de Leon not Poncedeleon, as reported by the delightful Jeff Jones). He really isn't a prospect. I'm quick to call 26-year-old Patrick Wisdom a non-prospect because of his age and experience level, so it's a bit of a hypocrisy to include Ponce de Leon on the list and not Wisdom. But their circumstances are different and that is how I'm justifying PdL's inclusion on the list.
As you know, his season was cut short last year and his life was almost ended after he took a line drive to the head. That cost him his 2017 season. What I really like is that he's come back. He's pitching better than he ever has.
The main issue with PdL is that he walks too many batters. His strikeout rate is around 27% in the minors this season and that's very good, but his walk rate of about 13% is a bit of a concern. What I often see from him on the mound is a frequency of leaving his arm-side open as he finishes his motion and that causes him to leave the ball up in the zone. Usually, this also forces arm side tailing with all of his pitches. When his mechanics are smooth and he's finishing his motion properly, that is when he is at his best.
Daniel is on the 40 man, he's been called up to the majors, and he was deprived of a major league debut in his short stint. That breaks my heart. There isn't a player in the organization more worth rooting for than Daniel Ponce de Leon. I don't know if he has the long term sustainability to be a back-end of the rotation starter in the majors, but I like his chances out of the bullpen and as a swing man when needed.
Prospect #19: RHP, Conner Greene
Acquired as part of the trade that sent Randal Grichuk to Toronto
Conner Greene's control is bad. It's so bad that it isn't even "bad"; it's detrimental. That's a bummer because everything else about Greene is good.
He has a lively fastball that lives in the mid-upper 90's, although he went through a stretch earlier in the year in which he was throwing in the low 90's consistently. He has a very good and totally underrated curve ball. Sometimes he slows down his arm to throw it, but he's gotten better with that as the season has gone on. His change up is a work in progress, but it's a nice between-pitch for the curve and the fastball. He can strike hitters out with junk or the fastball. When he keeps the fastball low in the zone and for a strike, it gets on the hitter QUICK:
The problem is that he doesn't command any of it consistently enough. He also slows down his arm to throw his nasty curve, thus negating a good portion of the success that the breaking pitch is capable of having. He has walked more hitters than he's struck out since transitioning from the Springfield bullpen to the Memphis rotation. Before the transition, he was striking out nearly 20% of hitters while walking nearly 15% of hitters. The walk rate is dangerous and there's no way he'll ever be effective in the majors if he doesn't get the number down.
But the talent is there. The skill is there. The size is there. Especially now that it appears that his future is in the bullpen, Greene could very well be a beast at the back-end.
Prospect #18: RHP, Jake Woodford
Previously Ranked #15
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 draft
While doing the preseason rankings, I stated that my biggest concern with Woodford is that he allows way too much contact and way too many base runners. I thought that it might do both he and the Cardinals well to start the 2018 season with him back at Palm Beach. From there, they could promote him to Springfield when he showed signs of keeping hitters off of the base paths.
Instead, Woodford started the season at Springfield and he's been hit pretty hard. He allowed 12 home runs in 76 innings before receiving a promotion to Memphis. I do not blame the Cardinals for trying to get Woodford out of the Texas League and the promotion was just as much out of organizational necessity as anything, but it can't be good for his development to have spent any time in AAA this season. I don't think that it necessarily hurts his development, but I know for sure that it doesn't help.
With all of this in mind it is tough to justify ranking Woodford so high on the list. However, I'm not going to hold it against him that the Cardinals are being a little too aggressive with this young man. His breaking pitch has come a long way. While it isn't consistent enough yet, it's been highly impressive at times.
His command has gotten better, as well. He's 21, he was once considered to be the best high school pitcher in the state of Florida, and he has the size necessary to continue to progress. While that stats aren't there, we shouldn't be giving up on Woodford just yet.
Prospect #17: Junior Fernandez
Previously Ranked 16th
International Signing in 2014
Fernandez is yet another prospect on the list that I did not know exactly what to do about. He missed the first two months of the season because of an arm injury that he suffered during spring training. I'm always apprehensive about aggressively ranking prospects that are coming off of injuries, especially pitchers with arm injuries.
The other issue is, Fernandez is now exclusively a bullpen arm for the rest of the season. I hate putting minor league bullpen guys on these lists. As a matter of fact, he and Conner Greene are the only two that you'll find on this list and they have a good chance of being the only two that I ever rank. Most of the best relief pitchers in the majors were starters in the minors. There are exceptions, but this is true more often than not.
However, Fernandez stays relatively low on the list because he's been incredible since returning to action, his velocity is checking out, and his change up is still his change up; one of the best in the system. He also stays in the middle of the list because his fastball explodes out of his hand:
Aside from that, there isn't much else to say about Junior. The Cardinals were aggressive in assigning him to Springfield after quick-success at Palm Beach where he threw 9.2 innings and struck out 7 while walking two and allowing zero earned runs. That means that they're ready to push him. That's the correct developmental option for him if he is going to stay in the bullpen. I would very much like for Fernandez to return to a starting role next season, but we are still too far away from that to jump to any conclusions about what will be best for him moving forward.
Fernandez has all of the tools to make it to the major leagues within the next season and a half if he can put the health issues behind him.
Prospect #16: OF, Adolis Garcia (JAG)
Previously Ranked 12th
Signed as a free agent in February of 2017
It has been a rough first half for JAG. There might not have been a more impressive prospect in the system during spring training. Some people were surprised that he didn't break camp with the big club. I think most thought that we'd see JAG in the majors by now based solely on my love of him (sorry) coupled with the spring impressions that he left on the fan base.
The regular season for Memphis has been brutal to JAG as a whole. His slash line is horrendous, but most of that is a product of a miserable first two months of the season that saw him chase after every breaking pitch that he saw. He didn't always go down on one knee while swinging wildly at breaking pitches, but he did it more often than you'd think:
Made worse, JAG would take that struggle out to the outfield. He has the potential to be a very good or stand-out corner outfielder, but the Garcia of the first two months of the season looked like he was playing at a level in the minor leagues that was one level above where he should have been. It looked like a potential lost season and a huge set back for the age-advanced outfielder.
The good news is, JAG is starting to bust out of it a bit. He still struggled mightily to get on base, but he did hit 286/289/558/848 in 83 plate appearances during the month of June. He also hit four doubles, one triple, and five home runs while only striking out eleven times. It was easily the best month of his season. While July started off less kind to him than, I have noticed that he isn't chasing those breaking pitches outside of the zone like he did earlier in the year.
JAG is in danger of tumbling down the list and he is in dire need of more of that June magic. 25-years-old is an advanced age for a prospect and JAG's prior professional experience while playing in Cuba should be yielding better results than this.
Thanks to Fangraphs for their contribution to this article.
Thanks For Reading!