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.