We’ve all spent the entire offseason scouring trade possibilities, possible signings, and of course, all the top prospect lists that anyone has to offer. So, in a different light, let’s mention some underrated Cardinals’ prospects.
As one of the most boring offseasons that I can recall comes to a close, we’re all ready for real baseball. So, what is their left to talk about before meaningful baseball? Well, a few more St. Louis Cardinals‘ prospects will have to do.
Perhaps these names have previously flown under the radar for some. A few of the guys we will talk about are having incredible springs thus far and are just flying onto some people’s radars. Others you may hear about later in the season due to injury or, dare I say, we are out of a certain race and we have to bring up the kids.
Stepping Towards the Future
Taking the next step for some of these guys could likely mean another step up in the minors rather than being rostered by the big club. In order for the future to remain bright here in the midwest, these steps are a necessary action. Just look at how guys like Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham have developed over the years.
Many of you will not have the time to keep up with all levels of our minor league system and watch the Major leaguers as well, so to save you all some time and some googling. Here are a few guys that have either caught my eyes or ears over the last several months or seasons.
Jose Adolis Garcia
To get things going, we look no further than every fan’s favorite spring training outfielder, Adolis Garcia, or JAG as Cardinal nation has come to call him. As the spring comes to a close, JAG could almost be removed from any underrated list.
Garcia started the 2017 season in (AA) Springfield. It didn’t take long for fans and coaches alike to see what he could someday offer the majors. In 342 plate appearances at (AA), his OPS was .815 and for those of you metrics nerds out there, his wRC+ was 124. Small sample size, but nothing to shake a bat at.
When moved up to (AAA) Memphis, Garcia showed no signs of slowing down. His OPS in Memphis was .820 and his wRC+ was 110. Many thought Garcia was over aggressive at the plate in Springfield and Memphis, and his K and BB rate do reflect that, but I believe this spring you can already see improvement in this area.
As the 2017 Memphis Redbirds season neared its end, some already started to take notice. Memphis manager Stubby Clapp had this to say on Garcia, “He’s learning about his timing and his load and being able to get back and see the ball in order to make that contact. You’re starting to see him make some adjustments on off-speed pitches too.”
JAG can also get it done with his glove. His range is really good due to his speed and athleticism, and his arm is strong and accurate. His range can make hard line drives look like routine fly balls, and he rarely commits errors.
In order for Garcia to make the next step on his journey to the bigs, he must improve his discipline at the plate, he has to take more pitches, while at the same time remaining the aggressive hitter that got him to this level. With Garcia improving, and O’Neill a little beat up this spring, 2018 could be the year that JAG makes the leap to St. Louis.
Oscar Mercado is a name who has, for the most part, stayed off the radar since being drafted by the Cards in 2013. The 23-year-old can play anywhere you put him on the field, though he has been primarily an infielder. He was scouted as a plus defender with speed.
Mercado played himself into (AA) ball last year where he seemed to have found something at the plate. In 525 PA with Springfield, Oscar crossed the plate 76 times with an OBP of .341. He was able to raise his slugging % over .150 points in the jump to the next level.
A team need for this year’s big league club is speed, and this is one area that comes to Oscar naturally. In (A) ball, he slammed out 50 steals in 2015. When moved up to Advanced (A), he sniped another 38 bags, and during his 2017 tenure with the Springfield Cardinals at (AA), he grabbed another 38. Something I am sure the organization hopes will continue as he rises through the ranks.
His defense since being drafted has left much to be desired, especially for someone who was supposed to excel in this area, but as someone who was drafted due to their prowess with the glove, I fully anticipate that his defense will improve. His ability to play all over the diamond is also something to be desired.
He seemed to find confidence after his move to center field from shortstop. It was recently noted in an article by A.E. Shafer of Viva El Birdos that the confidence he found playing the outfield seemed to have inspired his bat as well. Shafer also adds that his ability to drive the ball increased after the shift, but came back down to earth as last season progressed.
Mercado is a player whom we could see this year, but it is more likely that his presence will be felt at the triple (A) level, rather than in the majors to begin 2018. Wherever he ends up, I look to see a vast improvement in the coming months.
Breyvic Valera has been in our beloved organization for many years. The now 26-year-old, I believe, is finally ready to step it up. His first few years in the minors, there seemed to be no doubt that he was destined for big things. His batting average and OBP through the roof and his defense, fantastic.
He struggled a bit in 2015 and 2016 in (AA), but since being promoted to (AAA) Memphis midseason in 2016, Valera has had a red-hot bat. His slash line in Memphis last year was .314/.368/.450 and his wRC+ 113. Vast improvements over his tenure in (AA) Springfield.
Valera has also shown great versatility with the glove. While he has played mostly second base, he also started 24 games in the OF last season. Regardless of position, he has been great with the glove. In 662.2 innings at second last year, he had 133 PO, 188 assists, and only 5 errors.
President of baseball operations, John Mozeliak, had this to say on Valera, “The one I wouldn’t lose sight of is Breyvic, from an offensive standpoint. He is a switch hitter. He really can play anywhere. I’m not saying he plays it well but he can stand there for a little bit. If you’re looking at a 25th man. . . if there’s a lefthanded bat, what could it be? Well, the one guy internally I feel like we overlook is Breyvic.”
Although he has been overlooked and his plate discipline and defense have been excellent, he will need to improve what has become nails on a chalkboard to Cardinal fans, his baserunning. Scouts have noted that he is occasionally too aggressive on the base paths and will run into outs. This reminds me of a few guys already in St. Louis. An area he will have to improve if he wants to be a mainstay on the big league roster.
After all of the chatter surrounding Helsley this offseason about becoming the possible future closer for the Cards, he had to be included in our evaluation. His meteoric rise through the ranks of the Cardinals minor league system has been well documented, and this offseason, a lot of fans seemed to find out who he was.
Although we have a small sample size with Helsley, the 23-year-old has lit up opponents everywhere he has gone. In 17 starts at (A), he was 10-2, holding his opponents to a batting average of .215. His K/9 was also a 10.33, while his HR/9 is a minuscule 0.28. After being promoted to (A+) in 2017, he went 8-2 and held his opponents to a .210 BA.
It was his time spent with the (AA) Springfield Cardinals 2017 that caught the eyes of most. Although he allowed a few more long balls and walked a few more, his K/9 was nearly an 11 and his ERA 2.67. His opponents BA was only .200 during his short time in Springfield.
Although Helsley has an excellent fastball, as recently noted in a Birds on the Black piece by Kyle Reis, he will still need to improve his newly acquired cutter, as well as his changeup and curveball. From what I have seen from Helsley, I do not believe it will take him long to put it all together.
Helsley only made one start at (AAA) last year, but many fans, scouts, and coaches alike think we may see him in the majors this year. This is certainly possible, but I look for Helsley to have a major and instant impact at (AAA) Memphis, possibly helping the Redbirds dominate the PCL once again, before making the leap to the majors.
We come to our final prospect, much as we did our first, with a guy who is stealing hearts this spring training, Randy Arozarena. He has sported a .898 OPS in 27 spring training at-bats, and a few throws from the outfield that are more than noteworthy.
Randy is still pretty fresh in the Cards system as well, the 23-year old started 2017 in (A+), but was moved up to (AA) by years end. His glove and arm are excelling at every level he plays in. There is no need to worry about the young outfielder’s defense, and with his arm, right field screams his name.
Arozarena must improve at the plate if he wants to make a major league impact in the near future. He has also got to show more discipline and show the ability to get on base this year. He hasn’t been able to get his BA up to the .300’s in the minors yet, but so far this spring we have seen improvement.
His wRC+ at (AA) last year was 115, a pretty good number. Not great, but coupled with his defense, keep an eye on this guy in the near future. With our OF depth, he could start at any level of our minor league system, but I look for him to be helping Memphis win games very soon.
Arozarena is a guy whose numbers don’t yet beg for a call-up, but just ask anyone who watches a lot of Cardinal minor league games. The talent is there, the improvement, obvious, and much like Garcia, he jumps off the screen while watching.
The Opportunity of a Lifetime
Having great prospects in a great system is nothing new for the Cardinal faithful. Having patience is something that is a little new for our fan base. We win right now. It is what this team does, but after the last few seasons, I think I am ready for a youth movement. Something to spark this team.
Internally, the Cards seem as optimistic as I am. In a recent article by Derrick Goold, manager Mike Matheny had this to say on the youth movement, “It’s nice to see what’s coming,” Matheny said. “We’ve seen Arozarena now, the way he covered ground, how he throws the ball. Watching Adolis come up and make this fantastic play. You’re watching Mercado go back like it was nothing. Two great jumps. He was all in there whenever he got on the bases. Live body. Just a lot to be excited about how that could come into play at some point.”
With the right combination of youth and veterans, I think we could return to prominence much sooner than most fans. I think we are pretty good right now, and where most fans see holes, I see opportunity. Opportunity for one of these young studs to become the next all-star, the next Cardinal legend. Who knows, maybe one of these guys might even don a Red Jacket someday.