As I sat watched the second game of the St. Louis Cardinals series in Minnesota, I couldn’t help but think of my favorite player currently in the system, Palm Beach infielder, Juan Yepez. He is the Cardinals’ future at the corner.
The more the big club struggles at first base, the more I catch myself looking to the future. Most look at the system and see that the Cardinals’ future at the corner is bleak. However, with all of the power, speed, and great pitching the Cardinals‘ farm system has had to offer, no player has been more exciting for me than this budding corner infielder.
Juan Yepez came to our organization in the Matt Adams trade. Sort of an afterthought last season. Well, so far this season, he has changed all of that. Yepez came out of the gates in Peoria red hot, so hot in fact, that he has already been promoted to Palm Beach in this young season. Personally, I thought he could’ve even made a jump to Springfield, but I will leave those decisions to people who know more about the game than I.
I recently wrote about Yepez in my weekly Three Up, Three Down series’ first installment. I could have easily written the entire piece about him, so let’s shine the spotlight in his direction. After all that he has already done this season, it is beyond necessary.
The 20-year-old started in the Braves system when only 17 out of Venezuela. He came out on the upswing with the Braves, sustaining an OPS of over .800 during the 2015 season across two levels. Juan lost most of 2016 due to injury, and when he was healthy, he never really found his rhythm in that season.
Famine then Feast
Early last season, the Cardinals’ front office decided it was time to move Matt Adams, Juan was a nice piece in that deal, coming back to the club. Juan’s 2016 struggles carried over into 2017, though on a smaller scale, in both the Braves and the Cards organizations. At the conclusion of the season, Kyle Reis, from Birds on the Black, had Yepez ranked as the organizations 2nd best first baseman behind Stefan Trosclair.
Well, it looks like Juan took those struggles to heart, and decided to become the great young hitter he was just a few seasons ago. He started the season at (A) Peoria where he slashed .415/.462/.596 with an OPS of 1.058 through 106 plate appearances. Yeah, you read that right. He didn’t hit for much power, but he did put 20 RBIs on the board while playing for the Chiefs.
So, what adjustments did Juan make for such an offseason improvement? As recently reported by Dave Eminian of the Peoria Journal Star, “It’s not that he’s doing anything much different than he did last summer,” Chiefs manager Chris Swauger said. “The adjustments are more subtle. We told him to go home over the offseason and work on his athleticism. He needed to be able to move around better defensively, and get stronger and more agile at bat so he could repeat those good swings that he showed last season.”
Early Season Promotion
Since being promoted, though only for a handful of games, he has struggled a bit at (A+) Palm Beach, last night, he went 2-4 with a double and a home run, his second of the week and third of the season. I think it could be the spark that ignites the fire for Juan. And if it does ignite, look out Florida State League, because that team was hitting well before his arrival.
The Cardinals’ Minor League player of the month for April started 16 games at first base and 8 as a DH while playing (A) ball. Throughout his career, he has seen a solid amount of play time at both corners of the infield, but I believe his range and ability will put him at first once he reaches the majors. He has only one error on the season and should be a defensive improvement over what we have seen in recent years.
If Juan hopes to continue to make leaps through the system and become the eventual first basemen of the big club, he must keep his offense rolling. As recently noted in Viva El Birdos daily farm report, the bar for a righty-righty first basemen can be extremely high, and a move back to third could spell trouble for Juan as he was not as good defensively at the hot corner.
Chiefs manager Chris Swauger seems to agree about the defensive move as he was recently quoted as saying, “He’s a first baseman,” Swauger said. “That’s where he’s going to play. He could still play third base in a pinch, but we consider him a first baseman.”
I would like to give you some more of what the young prospect could improve on, but this season, it isn’t much. There is always room for improvement on his defense, and I suppose he could improve a bit against lefties as he is only slashing .250/.333./.500. I know, that is pretty good, but his line versus righties is .449/.489/.615, so this is my attempt at sarcasm or splitting hairs. Whichever you prefer.
What comes next for young Yepez is hard to tell and will be up to him. Predicting the level he ends up at this season will be determined by how he handles pitching at the (A+) level. I am of the belief that he finishes the season at a level higher than he is at now, but I don’t want to put any unwarranted pressure on the 20-year-old.
He should just go out there every day and continue to play the game he loves the way he enjoys playing it. Whatever magic he found in Peoria this season, I am sure will follow him down to Palm Beach. Yepez still needs some seasoning before facing major league pitching, but I believe he was traded to just the right organization to sprinkle it on.