Updated: Feb 26, 2019
Kyle has been furiously spinning out 2019's Dirty 35 and the hyperventilating prospect geek in me is in full Spring Training form. I love prospect ranking season and then being able to follow the up-and-coming players as they try to make an impression in Jupiter.
First and foremost, let's get this out of the way: Kyle is the scouting expert. For you dinosaurs out there who remember me from my Future Redbirds days, just know those days are long gone. So what follows here is much smaller in scope. I'm just looking at the rookie-eligible players in the system who are the readiest to produce wins at the major league level. Major caveat alert: This is regardless if they get the opportunity to do so or not.
This is not a look at their overall or future value, only at what players could do in a fill-in situation. To make this list, I looked at the Steamer 600 projections on Fangraphs. I only included those who made the Cardinals' top 30 or 40 on MLB.com and Fangraphs.com. (Sorry Rangel Ravelo, I still think you're cool!)
The projections are set at 600 PAs for position players and 200 IP for starting pitchers. They also include defensive stats, so grain of salt warning ahead. Without further adieu, below are the top five prospects by projected WAR.
5. Randy Arozarena, OF (MLB #16, Fangraphs #20)
Some of us were really giddy about Randy's potential last year. This year, well...not so much. While his offensive numbers tanked upon his promotion to triple-A, one encouraging thing was that his walks went up while his strikeouts went down. If he could figure out a way to quit beating the ball into the ground, he might be useful. But for now, he looks like a late-innings pinch-runner/defensive replacement.
If you're sipping the Barry Bonds being Dex's Yoda Kool-Aid, then good for you. I'm optimistic too. But at least according to the cold-hard projections, Randy projects to be just a -.2 WAR difference less than Dex. He just edged Lane Thomas for the 5th spot here by .1 WAR, and I'm actually excited about Lane Thomas.
4. Tommy Edman, 2B/SS (MLB #13, Fangraphs #21)
Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs calls Edman a switch-hitting Joey Wendle. As someone who lives in the blackout hell that is Iowa, I follow the Rays as the team-I-can-actually-watch-on-TV. I really, really hope that Kiley proves to be a prophet. The projections like his glove, which is why he's projected to be worth a full win above replacement over a full season.
Edman quietly swiped 30 bags last year while getting caught just five times. He earned his spot on the AFL last season, and now he's an NRI. Call it a hunch, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Edman makes it as one of those late-round college players that surprises. That seems to be the Cardinals' superpower. But for now, at least according to the projections, he's worth 2+ wins less than KoWo or DeJong.
3. Evan Kruczynski, LHP (MLB #29, Fangraphs #29)
Kruczynski is another interesting depth guy. Unsexy but nice to have around, he has four average pitches and throws from the left side. The projections like him a good bit better than Poncedeleon and on par with Gant. So while he's not in the mix for the 5th starter's spot, the numbers say he at least could be. Which is interesting, I guess. (I'm with Bernie, sign Keuchel)
2. Andrew Knizner, C (MLB #3, Fangraphs #2)
Please don't call him Molina's heir, that's way too much to live up to. But this is one case in which the projections and the scouting reports match up perfectly: Knizner could be an average regular right now and is projected to be just .7 WAR less than Yadi over a full season. That's what we've been hearing already. He's great injury insurance if the Cardinals are smart enough to let him play over Pena. His presence is why the Cards had no problem including Kelly in the Goldschmidt trade.
We knew he can hit, but the projections love his defense too, which I found to be a little surprising. Of course, he has the chance to learn from the GOAT and he does have a good arm. Go ahead, get excited about his future.
1. Ramon Urias 2B/SS (MLB #27, Fangraphs #22)
Yep, this one surprised me too. Urias is viewed as a hustling, overachieving utility player. But he tore up the Mexican League, hitting .318/.402/.467 over five seasons before the Cardinals took a flier last spring. He made the Cardinals looks smart, hitting .300/.356/.516 in 90 games between double and triple-A.
The power was the most unexpected part of his game, given his approach. Not to mention he weighs just a buck-fitty. But what can you say? The man just hits, even displaying that power this past Saturday for a 3-run homer. Maybe he falls off the face of the earth, maybe he has some real helium. The projections see him being a win worse than KoWo and DeJong right now, which feels...weird yet kind of comforting.