*Welcome to the Organizational position rankings!! This is the preface. What I aim to do with this list is to show you what the organization looks like beyond the obvious names at the top. As a result, aside from a brief mention at the beginning, players like Patrick Wisdom, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and Giovanni Gallegos will not show up on the list. As a matter of fact, any player that has made a major league debut will not show up on the organizational position rankings. This is purposefully designed to be a quick glance of what's going on, so it might seem light on details as compared to what you'll find on the Dirty 35. You'll get more in-depth analysis on these players come February when we do the preseason Dirty 35 rerankings.
You might being asking "how did you get to these rankings?" Well, THAT'S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS JUST ENJOY THE RIDE. The truth is that I tend to put an emphasis on proximity to the majors for the organization rankings.
So, without further ado, Birds On The Black Presents...
THE TOP 5 THIRD BASEMEN
Editors Note: Kyle dives DEEP into the Top 3B in the St. Louis Cardinals organization with this podcast. Read the article, watch the gifs, and give it a listen for the full Reis effect. It's beautiful. And we are not worthy, sorry Kyle but seriously this is great stuff. I know you had recorded all these podcasts and then re recorded them to make it even better, you're the best. Thank you for doing these article and gifs and podcasts and also doing the intro song, it is an honor and a privilege to work beside you.
SIDENOTE: I don't feel like I need to say this but I'm going to say it anyway; Patrick Wisdom is not on this list because he's already made a major league debut and blah blah blah. Also, I haven't really said anything about Yairo Munoz so far in these rankings. I've gone over him a bit in the podcast, but not on the written list. Anyway, Yairo is best suited for third if he's playing in the infield, and it isn't close. He's also no longer a rookie so he's not on the list.
#1: Elehuris Montero - 20 Years Old - Full Season-A & A-Advanced
This is more of a "1-A" situation than anything else, but since we are doing this fancy ranking and numbering thing, you go with the player that is further along in his development as compared to the prospect that just busted on the scene at a younger age.
Montero won the Midwest League MVP in 2018 and I'm not sure that there was a second place finisher. Doing this at the age of 19 is extremely impressive, too. What I liked most about his season is that his K-rate and BB-rate both went in the direction that you'd want them to from month to month. So, not only was he producing month-in and month-out, but he was actually refining at the same time. That's tough enough to do for an older prospect, but for a 19 year old to do that while playing against older players at a full season affiliate is more than impressive. I don't know what the word for it is, but it exist, I'm sure. On Prospects after Dark we call him "Mandigo Montero." This is why, basically:
Montero also made solid steps in the field as a 3B. He was prone to some bad habits during the 2017 season, but he cleaned it up a great deal by the start of 2018. By the end of 2018, he had done the same thing with his fielding that he did at the plate: got better and better while refining as the season went on. Montero has the potential to play third at the major league level. I'm not sure for how long, but he'll be "capable." It'll take a ton of work to keep him at that level, but I fully expect him to be the Albert Pujols-type third baseman for a couple of years.
Montero can hit everything. Fastballs in. Breaking pitches away. He's capable of slugging all of it. His hands explode through the zone and his hips explode with his hands. Watching him turn on an inside pitch renders the kind of majestic swing that we haven't seen since Pujols. As a matter of fact, just as I said while doing this list one year ago, mechanically, there are a lot of similarities between the two. NOW, Mr. Montero will never be Albert Pujols. It just isn't going to happen. But he can be a perennial 120-130 wRC+ player with 20 home runs, 25 doubles, and a Marcell Ozuna-type impact on the middle of a lineup.
It's all about work ethic and refining from here on out for Montero and he has yet to exhibit any signs of concern about those abilities. Montero is exciting, and he's continuing to get better and better.
#2: Nolan Gorman - 18 Years Old - Rookie-A & Full Season-A
This is more of a "1-B" situation. Realistically, Gorman is probably the top prospect in the organization. Not only from the Cardinals perspective, but from the perspective of the 29 other organizations in Major League Baseball. Still, the rules outlined above still apply and since Mr. Montero had such an amazing year at a level that Mr. Gorman struggled a bit at, Montero gets the "1-A" designation.
Here are the facts: Gorman never should have fallen to the Cardinals at 19 during the 2018 draft but he did and we as fans of the organization are damn lucky for it. He has the best raw power in the organization, about the same level as 2016 15th round pick Terry Fuller. Gorman is the most raw-talented player to enter the organization via draft since.... Hell..... JD Drew, maybe? Rick Ankiel, maybe? Players like Brett Wallace and Kolten Wong were more advanced and polished, but few players have entered the organization via draft with the potential that he possesses. This isn't a "hindsight 20/20" thing, but Gorman's abilities at draft-time make Delvin Perez's abilities during the 2015 draft look like a 2nd-3rd round-type selection.
Gorman is always going to strike out but he's also going to walk. I've been really impressed with his batting eye. You're going to hear me talk about him and Tyler O'Neill in comparisons a lot. That's because O'Neill was once Gorman: a teenager rising fast through the levels because of his power/patience profile. Remember, O'Neill was only 20/21-years-old when he won the Double-A Southern League MVP award. At that point he was a top 35-40 prospect in all of baseball.
Gorman (like O'Neill did in the minors) takes walks so frequently because MiLB pitchers don't want anything to do with him after they get behind him in a count. The .gif below is a five pitch at-bat. The first pitch is close on the outside corner, but Gorman lays off of it. The pitcher then throws a strike, but keeps the ball as far away from Gorman as humanly possible for the rest of the at-bat:
The sheer amount of walks that he was issued is the one aspect of his game that I didn't expect to manifest so quickly. That pitchers are already being careful with him is a fun sign.
Sure, he's going to strikeout, but he has a quick bat with his hands held close to the chest and I expect him to get that strikeout number to around the 22% or so that he exhibited at Johnson City before the aggressive promotion to Peoria. He'll adjust well as he gets more exposure against the type of pitchers that are capable of pitching at full-season affiliates. His swing and make-up are perfectly suited for it. My guess is, he'll have a similar profile to what the teenage and pre-drinking age Tyler O'Neill had on the prospect landscape.
There are some questions about his defense at third, but he's 18 years old so let's be smart and not emotional about this and give the kid time to develop. He's a special talent and he'll get better at the position. I guarantee that. If the worst happens over the next two years and he can't stick at third then the Cardinals have at least drafted a player smart enough, talented enough, and athletic enough to move to first base or a corner outfield position. Hell, if Cody Bellinger can play center for the NL Champions then there's no reason to think that Gorman couldn't do it to Bellinger's level, too.
Gorman is a gem that the Cardinals got lucky with. He is going to be an absolute joy to watch for years to come.
#3: Evan Mendoza - 22 Years Old - A-Advanced & AA
Evan Mendoza struggled at Springfield. But you know what never struggled? His defense. Mendoza is a major league caliber, above-average defensive third basemen. The arm is well-above-average. Range, too. Also, he possesses what people 60 and older refer to as "the want-to", which is just a way of saying that Mendoza will do anything that he can to make the defensive play. Go ahead and mark it down; unless things get extremely weird in his development, he's going to be a good defensive third baseman.
The bat is the question. You'll notice that he really struggled after being promoted to Springfield. There were times when it looked like he was going to break out of it, but he never did. So, the question becomes "am I concerned about his ability to hit at the higher levels?"
The answer to that question is "No, not yet." Mendoza was 21-years-old for the majority of the season. He was one year removed from his draft year. He hit extremely well in the pitcher's league known as the Florida State League before his promotion to AA. His strikeout percentage went up and his slug tanked, but his walk rate also went up and he was never embarrassed at a level that he just wasn't ready for. Make no mistake, he earned the promotion but he just wasn't ready for it. Some times, it just works that way. If anything, that should give you a good idea as to the talent difference between the A-Advanced level and AA.
I wanted to make sure to incorporate the .gif below to illustrate what kind of a hitter Mendoza can be. These two hits came during the end of his time in the FSL when he was just starting to find his slug and understand how he was being attacked in within the league. This .gif is important because it showcases the type of hitter with a great approach and plate coverage that he's capable of exhibiting when comfortable. Here, he takes a bigger leg-kick on the 1-0 pitch with a runner on to jolt the ball over the fence. Then, in a pitchers count, he shortens the leg-kick, chokes up a bit on the bat, and barrels the breaking pitch on the outside half to center/right-center field with an ugly but effectively-defensive swing. Take a look:
Mendoza is a "baseball player" in every sense of the word. He's smart with a high baseball IQ and he is dedicated to his craft. You'll notice in the above .gif that he has a very good two strike approach but that he can also turn on a ball in a pitchers count. These are two qualities that I'm looking for in a hitting prospect when I'm watching in-game. Consistency in these matters will be key to his development.
Don't forget, this is a young man who willed himself from pitching after his freshman year at NC State to the starting third baseman by the beginning of his sophomore year. Last year was only the third year that he wasn't both pitching and playing the field or just pitching. The future is bright for Mendoza.
Like Tommy Edman before him, as a player that had to fend off and play against more developed talent at the Double-A level before he was truly ready, Mendoza has all of the skills and intangibles needed to "right the ship" in no time.
#4: Malcom Nunez - 17 Years Old - DSL
OK, I'm going to keep this short. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Yes, Nunez has the ability (and the hype around him) to be the kind of prospect to get jolly over. BUT, remember, this is a 17 year old that hasn't made it stateside yet. We should always be reluctant to over-hype kids that haven't made it stateside yet.
Mr. Nunez absolutely destroyed the DSL, but he was a little old for that league and he was way too pedigreed for the league. Prior to this year, Nunez had made one helluva name for himself in the tournament circuit before signing as an International free agent with the Cardinals during this past signing period. He SHOULD have hammered the DSL pitching. Just take a look at this kid. He's basically a man. His mechanics are beautiful and he's built like a monster. This was from two years ago and he's only gotten bigger/thicker since:
However, success of some type will be sustainable for him and I feel confident of that. There's just a long way to go before we get a chance to see at what degree it's sustainable. There's no denying that the swing mechanic for Nunez is about as beautiful as you'll find from a person who wouldn't even be eligible to graduate high school yet.
The most positive development for Nunez has been his defense. As a matter of fact, there's a lot about the way that Nunez plays third that reminds me of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers. First, he has an above average arm. It's more average when he fatigues during a game, but it's still good. Second, he's been know to be a highlight reel over there. But, like with all young players, there are some footwork issues, agility issues, and defensive consistency issues that need working out and addressing. Obviously, time is on his side. You'll notice the arm strength and the agility (clunkiness) issues right away here:
But, at the same time, he's also athletic enough to make plays like this (but keep in mind that this is a year earlier than the .gif above. He's put on some girth in a year):
Once again, let's pump the hype-breaks just a little bit on the supremely talented Nunez. Let's wait until he starts to produce stateside against equal-aged talent. All of the raw tools are there for Nunez to break the scene wide open, all that awaits is the opportunity.
#5: Stanley Espinal - 22 Years Old - Short Season-A
In early July of 2017, the Cardinals traded international signing bonus money to the Red Sox for for Stanley Espinal and short stop Imeldo Diaz. While Espinal really struggled, Diaz played great and found his way onto my radar. This season was a complete role reversal. Diaz ended up playing a limited utility role for State College while Espinal ended up being a lineup mainstay with short-season-power and drive in the middle of an order that struggled to produce offensively.
So what am I going to do here? I'm going to give you a .gif of him hitting the weakest little single that a player designed like he is designed can hit. Why? Because I'm dumb. But, also, because I wanted to find a behind-the-pitcher angle of his swing and those aren't easy to find in the New York/Penn League. So, instead, I ask you to focus on his mechanics. He's a little late getting through the zone with his hands here, and I appreciate that he can do something with a pitch that he wasn't looking for. That's because his hands stay in the zone for a long time. If he can work on getting shorter to the ball in it's entry path then he'll progress well. His swing and build kind of reminds me of Reggie Sanders:
Other than that, I don't have much to say about him. I'm really looking forward to watching him this coming season, that's for sure. I haven't seen enough of his defense to have formulated an opinion, so I'll hold off on saying too much about it until I see more.
As of right now, for an early appraisal, I'll say that he has adequate lateral movement, footwork, and athleticism for the position. I don't have much of a feel for his consistency at the position or how his arm works, but I've heard others say that it's average. That's as good as I can do right now. Stay tuned. Hopefully we'll see him in some capacity at Peoria during the 2019 season, and preferable at the beginning of it.
NEXT MAN UP
The organization has a pretty solid amount of potential high-end third basemen in the organization, as 1-4 on this list demonstrate. Espinal is a fun little lottery ticket, but after that it gets somewhat grim. So, I've decided to go with the player that put up the best stats. Now, I've over looked two players, both drafted in 2018, that could have breakout 2019 campaigns and find their way onto next years list in Zach Gahagan and Brendan Donovan. Gahagan was a leader on the field and at a couple of different positions for UNC. He's a patient hitter, too. Donovan in particular is pretty highly thought of, but what I've seen so far has yet to impress me. That means very little right now because it's very hard for a player to be productive in the year that they are drafted. "Mark it, dude": Those are words that I'll come to regret writing. So, we go in the direction of...
Liam Sabino - 22 Years Old - GCL & Rookie-A
Truthfully, there isn't much to say about Sabino. He's way too old for both Johnson City and the GCL. Too talented, as well. The reason that I've decided to write about him instead of the names that I mentioned above in the "Next Man Up" section is because he's the kind of player that'll start in State College in 2019 and do extremely well. It'll do enough that it'll have everyone asking about him because of his stat line.
Sabino is just a very solid organizational depth piece and I hope that he continues to provide the fruits of those labors in the minors for the Cardinals.
Also, I feel a certain responsibility to anyone named Liam to put them on the list. AND he went to Vandy (before going to Pitt)! How can you beat that?! I don't have the slightest idea of where that responsibility comes from or why I feel it, but it's there.
His swing looks different than this now, but the mechanics are pretty similar. He's put on a little bit of weight since then, as well.
So, to you Mr. Liam Sabino, I salute you.
Truthfully, these lists are just supposed to be fun and informative, the other five guys on the list are really really good, and this is the last list that is being published so let a brother just write some nonsense for crying out loud.
Thanks to Fangraphs for the stats.
Thanks For Reading!!