There are players that everyone is looking at to perform in 2018. However, as the season nears, there are some players that people are ignoring. This is making some players fly under the radar as the most underrated St. Louis Cardinals players.
Normally there aren’t a lot of expectations heaped on a guy drafted in the ninth round like Tyler Lyons was in 2010. In this case, much was thought of the big, 6’4″ lefty. He has been a well-seasoned member of the Cardinals’ top prospects lists as a starter.
He made his debut in that role on May 13, 2013. It was a 5-3 Cardinals win over the Padres. The only run Lyons gave up that day was a home run to now-teammate Jedd Gyorko. Now, he’s one of the most underrated St. Louis Cardinals players this season.
It was a great taste of what Tyler Lyons was expected to be after rising quickly through the minors. However, Lyons has failed to establish himself as a starter at the big league level. It’s hard to live up to the hype when you can’t even get on the mound. High hopes began to fade.
We must have gotten Tyler all wrong because then 2017 happened. Joe Trezza highlights that here. In short, Lyons found inspiration after watching Andrew Miller mow down the competition in the 2016 postseason. So what did Tyler do? He started throwing his slider more. In fact, 2017 saw him throw his slider 52% of the time.
The results were astounding. Tyler Lyons limped into 2017 following surgery with a 4.35 ERA and 1.38 WHIP prior to the All-Star break. He looked much more like the player he was trying to emulate during the second half. Lyons finished the year with an 11.33 K/9, 2.83 ERA (2.86 FIP), and 1.09 WHIP. Not to mention his 30.9 K%.
To put that in context, Miller pitched to a 1.44 ERA (1.99 FIP), 13.64 K/9, and 38.9 K%. Those are better numbers than Lyons for sure, but Tyler looks every bit the part of a dominating late-inning guy.
Like Miller, Lyons also has the ability to pitch multiple innings on the back end of games. So if you’ve been wondering why the Cardinals didn’t drop a ton of money on a closer this offseason then Tyler Lyons might be the answer. The only real question is, “Why isn’t Tyler Lyons the closer now?”
Few prospects come into a farm system with as much hype as Kolten Wong did after being taken 22nd overall in the 2011 draft. He was viewed as an advanced college bat with the ability to be an elite defender at second base. Right now he’s remembered for getting picked off to end game four of the 2103 World Series more than anything else. His ceiling is still up there though.
Wong may get a bad rap for a good reason, but there is still a lot to like here. Defensively, Wong can hang with the best of them. It’s more the offense that has kept him from reaching great heights. The bat has been so inconsistent that it has resulted in trips to the minors in every year except 2015 since his rookie season. To be fair, some of that was due to injuries.
Wong made some strides offensively last season. He raised his OBP to .376 and his walk rate to 10%. His BABIP may have been high at .311, but it resulted in a career-high .285 batting average. These aren’t All-Star numbers, but nobody is asking Wong to be the face of the franchise.
We need to keep in mind that Kolten is still only 27. If the skills growth he showed in 2017 is for real, then Wong is exactly who the Cardinals need him to be. He’s an elite defender with great instincts on the bases (with the exception of the aforementioned gaffe in the WS).
Wong’s bat plays well enough that he’s better than what most teams will trot out there as their eighth hitter. There’s also a speed aspect to Wong’s game that hasn’t really been tapped into yet. Derrick Goold covers Wong’s “will to steal” for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It is a great read if you have time.
While he hasn’t lived up to the hype of a first round pick, we need to give Wong a little more credit. He’s a solid, everyday second baseman with speed whose bat just may be catching up with his already stellar glove work. So he’s not the Second Coming of Jose Oquendo. I still think it’s time we cut Kolten a little slack. He’s better than we give him credit for and could be a breakout candidate for the Cardinals in 2018.
Jedd Gyorko came to the Cardinals without much fanfare. Traded before the 2016 season for Jon Jay, not much was expected. Unless you were a fantasy baseball super geek like my buddy Keith, you probably didn’t like this signing. With Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong at Gyorko’s two best positions, this seemed like a trade for a very expensive super utility player.
As it turns out, my buddy Keith was right. What Gyorko has done in his two seasons as a Cardinal is very impressive. Here are his counting stats from the last two seasons:
2016: .243/.306/.495 slash line with 30 HR, 58 R, and 59 RBI
2017: .272/.341/472 slash line with 20 HR, 52 R, and 67 RBI
Last year even saw Gyorko nab six steals. You may look at the stats and think that the average was fueled by an unsustainable .312 BABIP. That’s quite possible, but Gyorko was always a high BABIP hitter in the minors. In fact, he never failed to have a BABIP below .340 over a full season at any point in the minors. This guy can rake.
Why Gyorko hasn’t hit for a better average in the majors is a mystery. Maybe he sacrificed contact for power. Maybe the allure of hitting one over the fence was too tempting. Who can blame him? I’ll say this though. Last year Gyorko looked like a complete hitter. Even if he did only hit 20 homers, he increased his walk rate and put up a 2.5 WAR.
Say what you want about Jedd, but the stats back him up. He’s a complete player and well deserving of an everyday role. Whatever doubts I ever had about him before are gone. And I can say this as well. Whatever Keith bids on Gyorko in our fantasy auction this year, I’m going one dollar more.
Who do you think is underrated? Do you agree with our assessment? Leave a comment or send us a tweet and let us know what you think!