25. Ramon Urias – SS, Age: 24, Level: Springfield, Previous Rank: Not Ranked
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When Ramon Urias opened the season in Springfield, there was nothing he couldn’t do. He used the entire field: in one game, he singled through the right side, homered to right, and drove a double in the gap. His swing looked easy and effortless, yet he was still able to drive the ball to the opposite field. That’s because he does a tremendous job keeping his hands inside the baseball. In the video below, he gets a fastball up and in and is able to line it into center for a single.
He wasn’t good in his month in Memphis, but he was hitting .368 in July before being placed on the DL. It shows that he’s ready for the Triple-A challenge, even if the early returns weren’t good.
24. Conner Greene – RHP, Age: 23, Level: Memphis, Previous Rank: Not Ranked
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Conner Greene walks a lot of hitters. Honest to goodness, that’s the only thing holding him back. When he’s in the zone, he’s filthy. His curveball is at least major league average, and his fastball can reach triple digits at times.
Back in 2015, Greene looked like an absolute monster when he was in the Florida State League. He was three years younger than his peers and in 40 innings only walked eight and struck out 35, and finished the year with a 2.48 ERA. Since then, it’s been a struggle to regain control. Last season, Greene had issues with medication that caused him to lose focus on the mound. He thought the problem was solved coming into this season, but he’s continued to struggle with command.
I do think Greene fits much better out of the bullpen than in the rotation, where asking him to go six or seven innings was a tall order as walks lead to inefficiency. In his short time in the Double-A rotation, there were a handful of starts where he didn’t make it past three innings. His ERA is better out of the Memphis bullpen, but he’s walking over a batter per inning. He’s managed to make it to Triple-A with his control issues, but he won’t be a serious option to help the major league team until he can consistently pound the zone.
23. Patrick Wisdom – 3B, Age: 26, Level: Memphis: Previous Rank: 24
Coming into the season, the knock on Patrick Wisdom went something like this: “Sure, he hit 31 bombs but he struck out way too much and doesn’t draw walks. He’s too old, and he was barely above average based on wRC+.” Since then, Wisdom has improved in every area except his age. His walk rate has gone from 7.5 percent to 11.4 percent. His strikeout rate has gone from 29.4 percent to 26.6 percent. Even though he’s hitting for less power, his wRC+ is 128 compared to 105 last season. His defense is still the most consistent part of his game.
Wisdom looks like the type of guy who could help the major league team in some capacity. Every team had the opportunity to claim him this offseason, and nobody did. Granted, that was coming off a season in which he was pretty much average in the PCL and now he’s significantly above average. But it’s hard to get too excited about someone that 29 teams passed on.
22. Junior Fernandez – RHP, Age: 21, Level: Springfield, Previous Rank: 16
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Junior Fernandez simply hasn’t pitched enough to make a call one way or the other. He’s thrown just 14 innings, all of them out of the bullpen after missing the entire first half with a bicep injury. It wasn’t the same injury that cost him the second half of 2017, though. He was healthy in Spring Training. All of his innings have come out of the bullpen, and his numbers in Palm Beach are excellent and his Double-A ERA ballooned on the back of one bad inning.
With Jordan Hicks‘ graduation, Fernandez is a guy that could fill the hole in the Cardinals system that has only grown in the last three months. He has the potential to reach the mid to upper 90’s, and his changeup was rated the best in the Cardinals system by Baseball America coming into the season. It’s a dominating pitch. I’m not sure if he’s in the bullpen because the organization exercising caution or because they don’t believe he’s capable of being a starter. If Fernandez can’t start, his value will take a tremendous hit.
21. Daniel Poncedeleon – RHP, Age: 26, Level: Memphis, Previous Rank: Not Ranked
Poncedeleon’s story is well known now: after being struck in the head by a line drive and having emergency brain surgery last season, Poncedeleon returned this year and has had the best season of his career. His ERA is a 2.15, his lowest since a seven-game sting in Palm Beach in 2015, but virtually exactly where it was before his injury last year. His strikeout rate has jumped 6 percent. He’s not getting a ton of ground balls, but he isn’t giving up homers, either.
All of that is secondary to the fact that doctors questioned whether Poncedeleon would walk, talk or eat ever again, much less pitch at the highest level of professional baseball. As I’m writing this, the Cardinals announced that Ponce will start on Monday against the Reds. By the time this is published, that game will be in the books. But in a season that has been tumultuous and frustrating, when Ponce takes the ball in Cincinnati, it will cap off the best story in the Cardinals organization this year.