Some lists are easier to make than others. This iteration of the Dirty Thirty-Five was a tough one.
As I prepared to hone in on the top thirty-five prospects in the Cardinals organization, I worked on nearly fifteen different variations of the list. To compare with past years, it's never taken me more than four or five drafts to come up with a list that I felt comfortable with. I know that seems a bit excessive, but it's this whole "thing" and I just can't help myself.
You see, there are a lot of redundancies and few differences between basically 20 and 45, especially when you take out the four "Graduates." Because of that, it took me many more tries to finalize a list that I felt comfortable providing to you for consumption. Even then, I took some liberties (as you'll find out with Prospect #35). I apologize for those in advance.
So, because there are so many players worth mentioning and so many players that were close to being on the list, I wanted to take a little extra time to go over the ten (...million, it'll seem like by the end of this) prospects that were on the list at one point, but weren't when I finally settled.
These are the ten (lol) prospects that very easily could have, and probably even should have, a spot on the list. They are all very talented, and it wouldn't surprise me if all ten (lol) find their way onto the midseason Dirty Thirty-Five.
Other than the first prospect that I mention, the first ten will appear in alphabetical order.
So, without further ado....
THE MARCH OF THE PROSPECTS
Steven Gingery - Left-Handed pitcher
Drafted in the 4th round of the 2018 draft
I wanted to write about Mr. Gingery first because he really really really should be on The Dirty Thirty-Five (D35). A more intelligent evaluator than myself would have put him on the list, and potentially in the top 20.
But I've decided to keep him off of the list until I see him throw a pitch in-game for the Cardinals' system.
You see, in late-February/early-March, Gingery underwent Tommy John surgery. Because of that, I cannot, in good faith, put a player that is coming off of a major injury that involved reconstructing his arm without having an idea of how he is going to come back from it. Now, this is where the hypocrisy of ME comes in. Had he been drafted in 2017 and pitched in the minors for the Cardinals before having Tommy John then he definitely would be on the list.
So, what I'm saying more than anything is, timing is everything.
The Pre-Tommy John version of Gingery was really really good. There are a large group of evaluators smarter than myself that would tell you that he had one of the best (if not the best) changeup in all of the collegiate ranks. His fastball isn't awe-inspiring, but he throws it extremely well with his changeup. It's from the same arm-slot, without slowing down his arm, and it has similar action but with GREAT movement.
There are conflicting reports about his third offering, but it looks more like a "slurve" to me than it does anything else. Of course, I should probably mention that this is often the appearance of this type of pitch from the center-field camera angle and it's usually a sign that the pitch is actually a slider instead of a curve. Anyway, he reminds me of Marco Gonzales.
If you go off of the timeline for other players that have undergone TJ surgery, then he should be pitching competitively by the end of spring training, at the very latest. If he looks good and healthy, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he finds his way into the Peoria rotation. It could even be Palm Beach if the Cardinals want to keep him close to their home base at Roger Dean Stadium in Palm Beach/Jupiter.
Alex Fagalde - Right-Handed Pitcher
Drafted in the 30th round of the 2017 draft
Full Season-A Peoria and A+ Palm Beach
**In the interest of transparency, this is what I wrote word for word about Fagalde when I ranked the top 10 starting pitchers in the organization. You can find that article HERE. It just seems pointless and time consuming to write much more. Love you**
"The second pitcher that I omitted from the list unfairly is Alex Fagalde. Fagalde had an incredible 2018 season and he probably deserves to be on the list ahead of both Warner and Walsh. Fagalde also throws a two seam fastball that is very very good with good movement. He also throws a curve ball that gets flat sometimes, but can be mean when he's commanding it low in the zone. This is a four pitch mix. Two sinkers, two curves (and I love it because I think it shows a great example of just how good he can be, but also how his command get get wacky):
The reason that I decided to go with Walsh and Warner instead of Fagalde (other than personal preference) is command. In nearly every start that I watched he had the catcher chasing his pitches, with the exception of high-cheese. He goes through phases where he is pinpoint or close enough to pinpoint, but he's getting away with his stuff and I worry about that moving forward. Command, bias, and personal preference is all that kept him of of the top 10. Don't be surprised if he finds his way onto the Dirty 35, though."
I really did go back and forth with Fagalde and Walsh, but it was Fagalde's advanced age at the lower levels of the full-season affiliates that ended up being the deal breaker for me. He'll be 25 by the end of April and the Cardinals would do well to push him in 2019. I can't help but think that Fagalde eventually ends up as an interesting bullpen piece, even with his lack of velocity.
Junior Fernandez - Right-Handed-Relief-Pitcher-ish
Signed as an International free agent in 2014
A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield
Age 22 (At the start of the 2019 season)
The write-up for Fernandez is just too easy. He's talented. REALLY talented. He was the only pitcher in the minor leagues for the Cardinals that hit 100 MPH on the radar gun during the season. He has an amazing change up and curve that can be good.
He has serious command issues and trouble repeating his high-effort delivery. That, and he lost almost an entire calendar-year because of injury (shoulder fatigue), from July 27, 2017 to June 9th, 2018. In the interim, he did have a spring training, but that was where he re-aggravated that right shoulder. So, the Cardinals decided to take a different approach with this extremely talented young man. They moved him to the bullpen to take some of the stress off of his arm in the hope that he'd be able to put it all together.
While Mr. Fernandez showed signs of putting it all together, it just never seemed to fully click. However, he did have a nice run during his last eight relief appearances with Springfield in which he touched 100 MPH, threw ten innings, and struck out nine while allowing three earned runs and a batting average against of .242. The issue, as you might suspect, was that he also walked seven batters over those ten innings. The three earned runs that he allowed all came in one appearance, so seven of his last eight relief appearances were spotless.
the Cardinals left Junior exposed to the Rule Five draft in December, and he went unselected. The Cardinals should thank their lucky stars that it didn't happen. This supremely-tooled-righty has a chance to be a vicious arm out of the bullpen.
Yariel Gonzalez - First base, but also super-utility
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Indy ball in 2016
Full Season-A Peoria
Mr. Gonzalez is just another example of what the Cardinals do better than any other organization in baseball: get value off of the scrapheap.
I didn't realize until recently that Yariel was a former second baseman, primarily. I guess that's why he's such a damn athletic first baseman. Even more, I guess that's why he took so well to the super-utility role for Peoria in the second half of the season. It's fun to watch a guy do well while playing every position but catcher and center field. Sure, he isn't a very good short stop or third baseman. And, yeah, you wouldn't want him spending too much time in the outfield if you didn't have to, but he's a very very good defender on the right-side of the infield and that counts for something.
What I really like about Gonzalez is his approach. He has a swing that is tailored for line drives (especially to the gaps) and he uses all parts of the field. He's posted an acceptable walk rate that has been replicated from level-to-level and a more-than-acceptable strikeout rate that, too, has been replicated from level-to-level. He might not be the sexiest prospect on this list, but he's certainly one of the most polished.
Gonzalez, along with our #35 prospect on the Dirty Thirty Five, and the next player up on this list form a group of three first base-types that are old for their levels. All three possess advanced approaches that don't necessarily profile as anything more than organizational depth. However, if things go exactly right (for Gonzalez in particular), all three could end up making a major league debut within the next couple of years.
John Nogowski - First base, but maybe the outfield
Signed as a minor league free agent out of Indy Ball in 2017
It just wouldn't be fair to not mention John Nogowski. He isn't exactly a prospect, but to rule him out of the list would also be poor form.
The former Oakland A's draft pick had to take the Indy ball route, as well, to find his way back to the minors, and I appreciate that so much. He's a very good defensive first baseman and team leader, and he has all of the intangibles that you'd want out of a professional. He's also been instrumental in helping others in the organization grow and develop. He's an amazing young man that should probably be revered.
Now, entering the 2018 season, it just didn't seem like there was going to be much from Nogowski. He was a first baseman that you wouldn't want playing a corner outfield position that couldn't hit for power. That's why it was so good to hear that he worked on his swing during the offseason with the hope to put more balls into the air. Nogowski has always displayed an advanced approach at the plate and feel for hitting, and I had a pretty good feeling that he'd produce modest power numbers at Springfield, a level that he was repeating.
But the right-handed swinging Nogowski suffered a broken hand in the beginning of May that cost him almost two months of the season. At this point, you had to be concerned about his ability to regain traction within the organization. Players like Nogowski are usually the first casualties of roster crunch. Nogowski never let that conversation happen though, as he hit from almost the minute he returned to Springfield following a short rehab stint. Over his last 234 plate appearances to end the season, Nogowski hit 281/372/422 with eight home runs and four doubles. He did this while walking 30 times and striking out.... 14 TIMES. HE ONLY STRUCK OUT 14 TIMES IN 234 PLATE APPEARANCES AND HE WALKED TWICE AS MUCH AS THAT! That's amazing, truly. It's not as much of an accomplishment as it would be if Nogowski was going up against a similar talent/experience-level, but it's still impressive.
The power that he displayed isn't fake, either. It's very real, and I'm anxious to see just how sustainable it is. What I know is, he hit one of the longest home runs that I saw hit for Springfield at the end of the season, and that doesn't happen on accident (somewhere, Greg Garcia is laughing at the inaccuracy of that last statement). Here it is:
Personally, I don't view Nogowski as much of a "prospect" but he definitely deserves a mention. He's a smart and talented young man that might just be a power-surge away from knocking on the ML door.
Julio Rodriguez - Catcher
Signed as an International free agent in 2016
Full Season-A Peoria
Initially, I was not planning on talking about Mr. Rodriguez. However, he forced my hand as I watched more and more video of Peoria. The thing about Rodriguez is, he's a really good defensive catcher. Downright impressive, as a matter of fact.
At first, the reason that I was watching Peoria was because I wanted to get a better feel for his catching battery-mate Dennis Ortega (who is on the D35). But the more of Julio that I watched the more I wanted to watch. He's just so damn solid behind the plate. Ortega is impressive, too, but Rodriguez does it more consistently that Ortega. It could even be argued that there was a portion of the season in which Rodriguez was the better hitter, and tougher out, than Ortega was. Rodriguez really fatigued in the second half of the season (and so did Ortega), and had it not been for that fatigue then I just might have found a spot for him on the Dirty Thirty-Five.
While his offensive stats aren't impressive, there is more pop in that bat then the stats will tell you. Rodriguez is a gap hitter, but with a quick swing and an ability to barrel the ball that indicates that there is more power to be had. His swing is a little flat, however, and he throws his hands at the ball more than anything and that's why the power isn't there yet.
Rodriguez is worth the mention for his defense, alone. While his bat is a question mark, there is reason to be optimistic. I'm expecting a modest increase in both power and walk rate with just a little additional preparation and seasoning. Rodriguez could very well be the next Travis Tartamella.
Alvaro Seijas - Right-Handed pitcher
Signed as an International free agent in 2015
Full Season-A Peoria
The 2018 season was brutal to Seijas. Once considered to be the best pitching prospect in his International class, Seijas appeared to hit a wall in the 2018 season. His velocity dipped, his stuff betrayed him, you could see him getting frustrated with his command often, and almost completely lost faith in himself and his pitches. The K/9 of 5.85 and BB/9 of 4.24 should illustrate that to you, statistically. He saw his hard hit rate increase, his flyballs allowed go up by 10%+, and his home run rate almost triple.
It's worth repeating to summarize: The 2018 season was brutal to Seijas.
The thing about Seijas though, is that he isn't the pitcher that pitched for Peoria in 2018. HE IS SUBSTANTIALLY BETTER THAN THAT. Sure, things didn't go right for him last season, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he returns to his old-self this coming season in the Florida State League. I believe that with a little extra preparation and work in the weight room, Seijas could easily find his way back onto the D35. He's too good and too talented to fizzle out so early on in his career.
It should also be noted that being a 20-year-old in the Midwest League isn't an easy assignment. Not to coddle him, but there is reason to believe that spending time in the Florida climate will be enough to get his mind and movements right. Of course, we are just going to have to wait and see. I like Seijas a lot, and I'm definitely rooting for a rebound.
Justin Toerner - Outfielder
Drafted in the 28th round of the 2018 draft
Short Season-A State College, Full Season-A Peoria, A+ Palm Beach
Justin Toerner (pronounced like "Turner") is the type of hitter that pisses pitchers off. He's hard to get out, he hits the ball where you throw it, and he wears you down. He's the perfect example of a hitter that never "tries to do too much."
I've gone out of my way to compare Toerner to former Cardinals farm hand Michael O'Neill and I wanted to do that here, again. Both are small, with adequate minor league quickness, and enough questions about their ability to play the outfield (stay in center for Toerner) without a power profile. They were both small white people and feisty hitters and competitors, as well!!
As I just stated, it's all going to be about Mr. Toerner's ability to play center field and hit for some type of power moving forward. What I know is, I can't remember the last time that the Cardinals pushed a hitter to the A+ level so quickly after their draft. Moreover, I can't remember the last time that a hitter excelled as well as Toerner did at that level after being aggressively pushed.
I have no doubt that Toerner has a contact tool that will continue to impress at the minor league level. He's even good as a left-handed hitter against weird-throwing left-handed pitchers. Now we just hope and pray for amazing center field defense or power!
Austin Warner - Left-Handed Pitcher
Minor League free agent signing out of Indy Ball in 2017
A+ Palm Beach, AA Springfield, and AAA Memphis
I wanted to make a point to include Warner on this list for a couple of reasons. First and most important, the Cardinals appear to be in a position where they are going to need every left-handed option possible for a pen role. As a left-handed thrower with great poise, a solid secondary offering, and a step away from the majors, it's stands to reason that this young man might just be in a position to make a major league debut in 2019.
The next reason that I wanted to include him is because he used to play for the River City Rascals, a near-St. Louis Independent league team. Once again, Warner is yet another name on this list to give us an example of how the Cardinals get the most out of their resources. He's another one of those "root for this guy, his story is amazing" players.
Other than that, there isn't a lot to say. It was great to see him climb three organizational rungs during the 2018 season. While he doesn't do anything that will "wow" you, he does just enough with major league proximity to warrant extra attention. With a little extra use of his curve in a relief role, he just might have a Tyler Johnson-like impact in his future.
Brady Whalen - First Base
Drafted in the 12th round of the 2016 draft
Short Season-A State College
At this point, it's pretty well documented that Brady Whalen is one of my personal favorite prospects in the organization. I love his power/patience profile and I love the athleticism that he's shown at first. After all, he is a former short stop, then former third baseman before becoming a first baseman.
The first thing that I want to mention is that Whalen looks like a natural over at first. He scoops the ball well and he has the footwork both around the bag and off of the bag figured out. This should come as no surprise for a former fielder on the left-side of the infield. I think there's a chance that he's the best defensive first baseman in the organization. If not, he and Mr. Nogowski are as close to that title as you'll come, with Mr. Gonzalez not too far behind.
While you might not be impressed with a hitter that slashed 209/341/359 during the season, I am. That walk rate of 14+% in each of the last two season, with near identical power numbers, is a big positive. I hate that his strike out rate increased by roughly 4%, but 20% is still acceptable if he finds his way down the path of 20+ home runs. Especially with his defensive abilities.
Another thing to keep an eye on is his wRC+, which helps paint a clearer picture of the hitter that he's capable of being. It also gives you an idea of just how much more of a pitchers league they New York/Penn league is as compared to the Appalachian League.
If you are the type of fan that invests heavily into batting average then Whalen will never be the prospect for you. But if you are a smarter fan than that, you are going to want to keep an eye on Whalen during his first turn at a full season affiliate in 2019.
A FEW MORE NAMES (SO MANY MORE)
OK, strap on in for the lightning round. This actually got out of hand. Initially, I just wanted to take a few extra minutes to write about some players within the organization that I liked. Of course, 20 prospects later and I'm trying to figure out where in the hell this all went so wrong. There is no order, rhyme, or reason in regards to what follows.
We'll start off with a shout out to left-handed reliever Jacob Patterson. His funky delivery is a lot of fun, as you'll see below. I don't know who taught him to completely turn his body to the hitter, but that guy was surely drunk. He also displays a good slider to lefties that just might make him a LOOGY option by the end of the 2020 season if MLB doesn't bastardize the bullpen usage rules by then. It'll be fun to watch how his motion evolves over time.
Speaking of a potential bullpen arm, RHRP Will Latcham's 2018 season stands out because of the rungs that he climbed in the organization on his way to the Arizona Fall League. That's not too bad at all for the feisty righty and former 17th round draft selection. I honestly can't tell if he throws more of a flat curve or a loopy slider, but he made it to Memphis for the playoffs just one and a half years after his draft. That's pretty rare and impressive, and I think that gives us an idea of how the organization views him. I really love the energy that he pitches with and you'll see a little of that here:
Let's stick with potential relief pitchers, because RHRP Derian Gonzalez is the next pitcher that comes to mind. He is really good when he is healthy, but he wasn't healthy for very long during his 2018 campaign. We are just going to have to wait and see if the arm injuries linger into 2019. If he comes back healthy, it won't take him long to be an option for the big club even after losing his spot on the 40-man roster this offseason. That's how good his sinker/curve/changeup combo can be out of the pen.
Hector Mendoza is yet another right-handed relief pitcher with an interesting repertoire that just hasn't done/doesn't do enough with what he has. A former Mexican League standout, The real issue is that Mendoza lacks the pure velocity that you'd want out of a bullpen stopper and, on top of that, he doesn't command his secondary offering well enough to get the more advanced hitters out. It was a pretty long and extended season for Mendoza and I am hoping that a little bit of rest helps him regain his command.
I'm proud to say that it's still rare that I give a player in the GCL or DSL space on the D35. That's part of the reason why highly thought of teenager outfielder Joerlin De Los Santos isn't on the list. We've been fooled time and time again by players that do well at the DSL level. This goes double for older players at the level. De Los Santos is a little different than Jonathan Machado or Magneuris Sierra in that he is just bigger and more polished with desirable offensive upside. While it hasn't manifested yet, you could easily see it happening in the near future. He could be a break out prospect in 2019. However, I'm not ready to bet on it just yet.
Speaking of players that looked like they were poised to break out after an eye-opening season, outfielder Wadye Ynfante just never managed to take that step in 2018. Ynfante is an incredibly gifted athlete that reminds me a lot of Oscar Mercado in both the field and at the plate. Just like with Mercado at the same stage/age, Ynfante is going to have to find a way to control himself in the batter's box. It's tough to watch him hit and he doesn't have much in the way of an approach that'll carry him at the plate. His standout 2017 season was shortened by a season-ending injury and you just have to hope that it didn't set him too far back. It sure seemed to be an issue for him at State College in 2018.
At this point, you probably know 21-year-old outfielder Conner Capel as either the other prospect acquired for Oscar Mercado along with Jhon Torres or as the prospect that got man-handed by a bouncer at a bar along with one of Roger Clemens' kids this offseason. Well, I know him as a toolsy outfielder with a terrible swing in which his hips open about a day and a half too early that works poorly with his short swing that lacks extension. He had a breakout 2017 season that saw him hit for a good amount of power, but that was all gone during the 2018 season. You can see the physical foundation of a potential major league prospect, but the mechanics are going to have to change.
For a couple of years now, there have been a trio of young outfielders that I've been keeping an eye. None of the three have taken off yet, but all three have the potential to find their way onto the Dirty Thirty-Five in the near future. Carlos Soler, Terry Fuller, and Victor Garcia are their names, and all three have dealt with health issues that have slowed their minor league ascent. Soler is the most offensively-developed from an "understanding the strike zone and his own swing" perspective, and the most athletic of the three. Scouts really seem to love this left-handed swinger. Fuller, my favorite of the bunch, possess the most raw power of the three and that power has played the best in-game, so far. He is one of the prospects that I am asked about the most because of the Youtube highlight reel from various home run derby competitions as a high schooler that's readily available. Garcia is a bit of a wild card in all of this. His game just might be the most well-round of these three talented outfielders. He really started to hit the ball like he was supposed to towards the end of the GCL season. I'm anxious to see what a healthy 2019 season at Johnson City is going to look like for him. At 20-years-old, Fuller is the oldest of three and all three could easily breakout in 2019.
Often times in the minors, steady players go unnoticed. I firmly believe that utility player/1st baseman/2nd baseman Stefan Trosclair is one of those people. Sure, he isn't the sexiest player, but he is athletic enough to play a good second base even though he's a well above average first baseman. The Cardinals struggled to find a spot for him at Springfield during the 2018 season and that was detrimental to his development. With the log-jam of similar-type first basemen ahead of him in the organization, his walk-taking approach and surprise pop appears to be in line for another back seat season.
Speaking of first baseman, catcher Zach Jackson appears to have first baseman written all over him. He's big for a catcher (standing 6'3") and he has a slow lower-body, too. His bat and body profile best at first, but all of this is moot if he doesn't get his 33%+ strikeout rate down substantially. That, and he's going to need to hit for more power. Still, people love him so here we are.
Carlos Soto is a 19-year-old catching prospect that has already made a D35 debut. Early on in his 2018 season, it appear as if the big-bodied young man was poised to have an offensive "coming-out party" with adequate defense behind the plate. However, between some hustle and maturity issues, a step back offensively, as well as a couple of demotions, Soto's 2018 season is better off forgotten. Still, there's a lot of talent there.
Second baseman Nick Dunn was a 5th round pick out of Maryland during the 2018 draft and "polished" is the perfect word to describe him. He's as much of a miniature version of Max Schrock as you'll find in the minors. He was aggressively promoted by the Cardinals after being drafted and he handled himself well, but his potential ceiling is what keeps him off of the D35 and this list. He'll be on the list eventually, just not right now. He'll continue to move quickly through the system, as well. If I was more talented, I'd put this .gif next to a .gif of Schrock going oppo and you wouldn't be able to tell a difference.
One of my favorite prospects in the organization is power-hitting and right-handed swinging Kevin Woodall. While Woodall has the potential for "plus" power, he also has a developed swinging-strike issues. If he continues to work on his approach and cut down the strike outs then we are going to be in for a treat. That's a big "IF" though. He's played the outfield, but he's going to need to stick at first base for his prospect stock to continue to rise.
Short stop Mateo Gil might turn out to be better than I could have initially anticipated. Drafted as a two-way player with an intriguing pitching arsenal, Gil is the son of former major leaguer Bengi Gil and he possesses the necessary athleticism to play short stop. I'm impressed with his girth. He's not skinny like Delvin Perez is and that's a big plus. He's a patient hitter, as well, and I really like his swing. He's still so young and he hasn't made it out of the GCL level yet, but don't be surprised if blows up a little bit for Johnson City in 2019.
Speaking of one of the younger players drafted during the 2018 draft, 20-year-old 12th round selection RHP Francisco Justo possess both a potentially plus slider and a "65-grade" story. You see, Justo had to go the JuCo route because of a family issue that forced him to get a real job to help support his family. He's back to pitching now, and he has a long way to go, but he's worth keeping an eye on. That's because of that potentially plus slider and a fastball that lives in the low 90's with the potential to have substantially more velocity. He's another one of those kids that you root for.
I don't know much about third baseman Brendan Donovan except for that he mostly played the outfield at South Alabama and that the Cardinals were looking to transition him to the infield (third base specifically). He's been advertised as a potential steal in the 7th round of the draft and I'm anxious to see what a full season looks like. His time at State College was cut short in 2018 and it would have been nice to see him get more at-bats and reps. More than likely, this is a player that the Cardinals will be grooming for a utility role moving forward.
While there are plenty more names that I would like to mention and talk more about, I'm going to end this list with RHP Michael Baird. I've been saying it since he was drafted in the 23 round of the 2018 out of SIU-Carbondale, but this kid has a chance to be an impact pitcher in the organization. The 6'5" 210+ pound right-hander is better than his 23rd round selection, and he's more developed than I think most people realize. He has a very interesting story with local ties, too, that is better served to be told at a later date. His motion from the wind-up is part Jake Woodford and part Seth Elledge, and you'll notice right away the tremendous "sink" on this pitch:
If I had to pick one pitcher in the organization that'll rise similarly to how Jake Walsh, Mike O'Reilly, Alex Fagalde, Sam Tewes, or even as much as Evan Kruczynski has in the last two years, I'm picking Baird. Another pitcher worth just a wee bit less of a mention is RHP Chris Holba, who was another interesting late-rounds-selection for the Cardinals in 2018.
I'd also like to give one final shout out to Bryce Denton, Nick Plummer, Juan Yepez, Kramer Robertson, and Jonathan Machado. All of these gentlemen have plenty of time to "right the ship," it's just that it's going to take a lot of work to find their way back into the prospect landscape.
And to all of the other players in the system that I didn't mention: here's to a breakout 2019 season!!
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis