Updated: May 1, 2019
THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of a quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Dylan Carlson - Outfielder
Drafted in the 1st Round of the 2016 Draft
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
Everything about Dylan Carlson is great with the exception of his stats - which have been fine - and that's really the story here. You might look at his stats and underwhelmed by them, but those stats comes with a bunch of asterisks that we’ll get into.
This story? It's the kind of story that isn't for people that invest heavily into batting average, either.
The first asterisk that I would like to bring up (and the one that you probably know by now), is that the Cardinals have been incredibly aggressive with Carlson. This is because of his physical maturity, his mental maturity, his coachability, and his baseball IQ. Carlson is a 20-year-old that doesn't make mistakes.
Carlson was aggressively promoted to Peoria and spent all of his age 18 season there. He wasn't great offensively, but he showed that he could more-than handle a corner spot in the outfield (he's very good out there now), while displaying a very good arm.
Even though he wasn't great in Midwest League as an 18-year-old, he certainly didn't look bad. His strikeout rate was high, and he didn't hit for power, but his walk rate was an impressive 11.5%. He never seemed to level-off during that first full season, but there were times that he demonstrated the ability to breakout. Again, it wasn't the most impressive season, but I'll take a near league-average wRC+ from an 18-year-old in the Midwest League any year of the... whatever.
During the offseason between 2017 and 2018, Carlson's 6'3" frame really started to fill out, and in a "stronger and leaner" way. So, when Carlson went back to Peoria to start the 2018 season, he was the perfectly developed version of the hitter that showed signs of breaking out, at times, during the prior season. You can look at the production that Carlson put up over 13 games at Peoria in 2018 to see this. His K rate and his walk rate were twins at 17.5%. His batting average was his batting average, but everything else looked good. At this point, even early in the season, you could see that Carlson's arm had developed a reputation around the Midwest League, and virtually no one was running on him.
So, wouldn't you know it, Carlson received a promotion to the pitcher’s paradise Florida State League. By all accounts, as a 19-year-old, Carlson should have struggled greatly. Instead, he did nearly exactly what he did in 2017.
It was really encouraging to see him repeat what he did in 2017, while playing in an advanced league that he was too young for. Except, this time, Carlson did everything better. He hit for more power, he struck out less, and he walked more.
His directional rates stayed about the same, as did the type of contact he was making. This comes with the note that he was hitting more line drives, and he was hitting the ball harder. The only major change was that he went from being better as a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching, to being better as a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching. This is probably a product of investing too much into small sample sizes, but I still wanted to bring it up.
Either way, he was better in the offense-suppressing Florida State League than he was in the hitter-leaning-but-basically-neutral Midwest League, while playing against equally seasoned talent for the level. That's a very good sign.
This brings us to 2019. More than likely, if he stays on his current course, Carlson will be ticked for yet another advanced promotion to AA Springfield. There, his power will go up and he'll start to get the national attention that he deserves, even if his overall stats won't blow you away. He has a quick swing and he's extremely quiet with his hands, while getting terrific torque with his hips. There are times when it has that "Chipper Jones rhythm" to it (LET THE RECORD STATE THAT I AM NOT, IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM COMPARING CARLSON TO JONES. NUH-UH. NO WAY).
The only thing that stops Carlson from working his way further up the list is that he just hasn't put up ideal power. YET. It's there in his body and his swing, though, and that's a great sign. If he ever gets the chance to play in a league that isn't the equivalent of a freshman in high school playing against an all-senior-league, then he's going to show it in 20+ home run numbers.
Also, as someone who trashed every evaluator and list-maker for including Amed Rosario on their lists a few years back when Rosario couldn't hit to save his life, it'd be hypocritical of my to include a player higher on my list that just hasn't produced gaudy numbers yet. I firmly believe that they'll come, but they aren't here yet.
Now, I'm not one to talk about intangibles as much as other evaluators, but I want to spend extra time (again) talking about how mature and special this young man is. He's a "baseball/gym rat" that every coach would kill to have on their team. If I were a father, this is the young man that I would aspire to raise. That speaks a great deal to his actual father, Jeff Carlson. Mr. Carlson is a highly thought of coach at Elk Grove High School in California. This is the same school, and he is the same coach, that has produced Nick Madrigal and many other prospects and Major League players throughout the years. But before we get too deep into the sappy stuff, here's Dylan hitting an inside the park home run because two outfielders ran into each other:
I have to tell you, aside from how amazing and highly-regarded of a coach Mr. Carlson is, it pales in comparison to how amazing of a human being he is.
This is a family that has been through a lot. It isn't my story to tell, and I could never tell it as well as Jose de Jesus Ortiz did in this article for the St. Louis Post Dispatch HERE, so I won't even attempt it. But I will tell you that you should definitely follow that link and read the story because this family, and this young man, are "extra" in every way.
This is a young man with a foundation that all parents dream of having a kid built upon. He's smarter than your average 20-something-year-old. More mature, as well. He is dedicated and aware of what he is doing. He is committed to his craft, as well as being the best baseball player and person that he can be. On top of all of that, he's immensely talented. That's why I expect him to break out in 2019. If it doesn't happen at the onset of the season - while he gets acclimated to the rigors of the Texas League - then it will come by the end of the season. Everything about this young man is too good for it to shake out any other way.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While the stats aren't bombastic, everything, AND I MEAN EVERYTHING, else about this young man is. The stats that you look for ARE going to come, and I'm willing to bet that they come sooner rather than later. He isn't further up the list because it hasn't happened yet, but don't be surprised if Carlson ends the season as a top 5 prospect in the organization, a potential top 100-150 prospect in baseball, and a player knocking on the door of the Major Leagues. And all before he turns 21!!
**SPRING TRAINING UPDATE**
So, I'm not going to deep into the details because you already know by now, but Dylan Carlson has become the official prospect of Cardinals' camp 2019. He's still with the big club's main camp. He's appeared in the fifth most games in camp (14), and he's received the fourth most at-bats (31), entering game day on 3/14/2019. He hit a big home run against Mets' closer Edwin Diaz, too. He's diving around in the outfield and throwing the ball as well as I talked about above. I'll stop there because everyone under the sun has written about him this spring. Mine's the best, so suck it.
Also, Mike Shannon pronounces his name “Dye-lan”. So, he’s basically made it.
MAY 1st UPDATE
Everything really has come together for Carlson so far in 2019, and he does appear to be the breakout prospect that everyone with an opinion thought that he would be. He's leGit, and he's going to make it to the majors by the end of next season at the latest. HOWEVER, as the month progressed, opposing teams have started to adjust to him. He's still been very good, but he isn't getting nearly as much to hit, especially on the inner-half while swinging left-handed. The Texas League is so tough because you are seeing the save handful of teams over and over again, and I can't wait to see Carlson battle for months to come!
Thank you to FanGraphs for the stats!
Thanks For Reading!!