We are finally to the end! Thank you to everyone that has stuck around for our little re-ranking!
The prospect list has changed quite a bit with Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty, Carson Kelly, Harrison Bader, Yairo Munoz, Jordan Hicks, and Austin Gomber (who I decided to graduate off of the list even though he's rookie eligible, still) graduating off of the top prospects list.
That leaves an interesting group of five prospects to call our best five in the organization. Like I mentioned in the write up of prospects 6-10, Nolan Gorman will be in this group when we do the re-rankings at the start of the 2019 season. There's a chance that Griffin Roberts or Elehuris Montero or Evan Mendoza might be, as well.
But, right now, these five prospects are to be applauded and recognized as the five best in the organization.
As always, these are the quick write-ups/impressions for each prospect. Within the next couple days, as we roll out our Dirty 35 page and tab, we will have in depth write ups on each player on an individual level. There, you'll find this write up. In addition, you'll find out what they do well, what they need to improve on, and who they might compare to if everything in their development falls exactly correct.
LET'S DO ITTTTTT
Prospect #5: OF, Oscar Mercado
Previously Ranked 13th
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft.
By now you know the story; Mercado is drafted at the age of 18-years-old as a short stop. For three and a half seasons he toils away at the plate and in the field. Mid way though his fourth season he moves to the outfield; Center field, to be specific. At that point, his prospect status was on life support. However, he takes extremely well to center. He also finds his groove at the plate.
And, now, he's a top five prospect in the organization.
The first thing about Mercado is that we should learn from his assent. Remember his name every time that you are ready to write off a kid that's barely old enough to vote.
Also, we should learn from Mercado's experience that you can accomplish anything when you work your tail off.
The big change for Mercado has been in his approach. He's become a more patient hitter and he understands how hitter's and pitcher's counts work better than ever. It's why his walk rate is at a career high and his strike out rate is modest. It's impressive to watch one of his at-bats, and I'm sure that it's exhausting for a pitcher.
The true value of Mercado is in his speed. Mercado flies around in the outfield. I believe that he's as good of an outfielder as Harrison Bader is. Mercado has a very good arm, but it might be the only part of his defensive game that is just a kick below Bader's.
Speaking of speed, Mercado is probably the only prospect in the organization with legitimate 25 stolen base potential at the major league level. It's been great to watch him get better at that this season. Mercado has put up some big stolen base numbers in years past, but he's also put up some big caught stealing numbers at the same time. He's been successful stealing over 75% of the time and that's more important to me than the actual amount of stolen bases.
Over the years, Mercado has shown the ability to hit for modest power. I think there's a chance that he might, eventually, have a 15-20 home run season, but it's not something that is going to happen regularly.
Mercado is already on the 40-man roster. We will being seeing him in September, if not before then. He's an exciting young man with a good story and he's the type of player that Cardinals' Nation will love. Mercado appears to be getting better and better, too.
Prospect #4: RHP, Ryan Helsley
Previously ranked 10th
Drafted in the 5th round of the 2015 draft
Everyone knows that Ryan Helsley is my favorite pitching prospect in the organization. His big fastball, big curve ball, big cutter, and good change up make him the best pitching prospect in the organization.
However, he's been on the Memphis disabled list since June 10th with shoulder fatigue. Any time that a pitcher goes on the DL for about two months with anything shoulder related, well, that is a major concern. He's still the best pitching prospect in the organization in my book, but the shoulder issue is enough to warrant putting Dakota Hudson ahead of him on the list.
Helsley is a fun pitcher to watch. He has a bit of an unorthodox motion and set up and it helps him create deception and repeat his delivery. I'd be anxious to see the stat cast data on his release point because, when watching at home on a crappy MiLB. TV feed, it appears that everything is coming out of the same release point just like it does with Jack Flaherty. That fact alone helps his "big" stuff play-up.
If you look at the stats, you might think "why was he so average while at Springfield this season but so good at Memphis? That doesn't make any sense!" That's a fair question, but the truth is that Helsley never should have been at Springfield this season. He should have started the year at Memphis and, if he had stayed healthy, he should have already been in the majors. His time at Springfield was about cleaning up and toying with some things. His time at Memphis was about owning hitters.
Whether he eventually pitches out of the bullpen or the rotation, Helsley will be a major league player and contributor. Now we just wait and see what happens with that shoulder. If he was healthy he'd be the #2 prospect in the organization, in my book.
Prospect #3: Catcher, Andrew Knizner
Previously Ranked 5th
Drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 draft
Lately, it seems like one of the organization mandates has been to draft really smart players. Not just "baseball smart" but "class room" smart. Other than Paul DeJong, there isn't a player in the organization that exemplifies this on the same level as Andrew Knizner.
Another prospect with a baseball-journey-story that you know but I have to recap because blah blah blah, Knizner was a third baseman that was turned into a catcher. This is only his fourth season behind the plate and he's made tremendous gains during the process. He still gets a little stabby with his glove and he's had a little trouble throwing out base runners because all of the pitchers in the organization are relatively slow to the plate, but everything else about his game as a catcher is good. He calls a very good game. He does well with pitches in the dirt more often than not. He does, again, get a little stabby. He has a good arm. Knizner is a solid-developing catcher and he is showing signs of getting better. That's gotta keep up.
At the plate is where Knizner really shines. He has a beautiful swing with beautiful mechanics. He has a perfect timing mechanic and a perfect "all-fields" approach that really helps his advanced hit tool shine. Sometimes, Knizner gets a little jumpy and excited at the plate, but those moments are few and far between.
"Kiz" does have power in the tank, even if it hasn't manifested yet, fully. He's a stout and strong kid and I see easy 15-20 home run power if he ever decides to go in that direction. He's had a weird season in which he's buoyed back and forth between Memphis and Springfield and that hasn't helped him, either. I do know that he'd do well to increase his power at Springfield because that's the only part of his game lacking. Kiz is "Memphis-ready" and I'm bullish on his future, even if a move to first base ends up being his ultimate future.
Prospect #2: RHP, Dakota Hudson
Previously ranked 8th
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2016 draft
The fevered clamouring for Hudson to join the major league staff has been the most vocal that the fan base has been about a prospect joining the major league club since last season when the "Whitey-Ball" era fans yelled and yelled for Magneuris Sierra to start everyday because of his speed.
The good news is, Hudson is a real prospect with a real chance to be a real major league contributor as opposed to Sierra who is more a spectacle. Hudson has really worked on cutting down his walk rate, which was problematic at times last year. He does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground, too. Maybe more importantly than anything else, he's increased his strike out rate to a respectable 7+ per nine innings. He appears to be at the same point in his development as Jack Flaherty was in 2017 and Luke Weaver was in 2016, statistically. That's to say, he seems ready for the next step: The Major Leagues.
Hudson throws a cutter (once labeled a slider) that he grips with different finger pressures to throw it different ways. He now throws an official slider to go along with the cutter and that's been a big reason why his K rate has gone up. His curve ball can be big and over-powering at times, but it's often not the pitch it's capable of being. The same thing can be said about his change up.
My concern with Hudson is that he works behind in counts too often to maximize his repertoire. The fact that he's been as good as he has been while working from behind so frequently is a testament to how good he can be. Often, what you see from Hudson is a pitch-to-contact approach because he's pitching from behind. For a lesser pitcher, this would be dangerous. Hudson, however, gets away with it because of the heavy sink on his fastball and the good downward action on his breaking pitches. That Hudson gets so many ground balls saves his bacon.
Dakota Hudson is yet another outstanding Cardinals' pitching prospect on the cusp of a major league debut. I'm anxious to see what a fully developed and aggressive Hudson looks like.
Prospect #1: OF, Tyler O'Neill
Previously ranked 4th
Acquired for the Seattle Mariners for Marco Gonzales
The home of Tyler O'Neill
True baseball masher
In every park, demand
With long flyballs, he makes us rise
The true son of the North is he
From far and wide,
We stand and cheer for theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"
Tyler O'Neill, at this point, is basically a major leaguer. He's the one "basically major leguer" that I've left on the list. I did that because of the logjam of outfielders ahead of him...
"The logjam of outfielders ahead of him..." hmm...
What a shame, really.
The Cardinals' season has been weird. They've had three outfielders that have disappointed. As a matter of fact, those three outfielders have disappointed so bad that Harrison Bader, the world's most perfect fourth outfielder, has become the fan-bases sworn savior.
What we should be doing is asking for more Tyler O'Neill. I'd kill to see what a month's worth of starts for O'Neill would yield. Not just a weekend's worth of starts, or a weeks worth of starts, but an entire month. GIie him a chance to get comfortable. Give him a chance to rake.
O'Neill solicits a lazy Randal Grichuk comparison more than he should. I get why most fans go to Grichuk for an O'Neill comp: they're both athletic and strong with big home run power and way too many strike outs. That's fine. What gets lost is that O'Neill is a former MVP in the minor leagues. He's always had a higher walk rate, too. O'Neill is a way more developed hitter with a way better approach and understanding of the strike zone than anything that we ever saw out of Grichuk while he was with the Cardinals.
Tyler O'Neill is as exciting and dynamic of a power threat that the Cardinals have had in the system for as long as I can remember. Will his strikeout total eventually cause him to have a short career? Will his power catapult him to a All-Star level success? I don't know, but I think that it's time that we find out.
Thanks to Fangraphs for the stats. I used them on each and everyone of these lists.
Thanks For Reading!