On Tuesday morning, the Cardinals made a surprising move by dealing Tommy Pham to the Rays in exchange for Justin Williams, Roel Ramirez, and Genesis Cabrera. The deal was more surprising than it should have, considering he’s been a league-average hitter this season. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that he was legitimately an MVP-caliber hitter in 2017, but that looks more and more like the outlier with each passing day. After all, he’s 30-years-old and has a degenerative eye condition. Keep that in mind when evaluating the return.
Justin Williams – OF, Age: 22, Level: Triple-A
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Justin Williams is a left-handed hitting outfielder (probably right-fielder) that made his major league debut just a couple of weeks ago. He’s been described by Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs as being a “swing changer”. Apparently, he’s bought into the flyball revolution and engineered his swing to produce more power.
When you search for Williams on YouTube, you’ll see several clips of him cranking homers to the opposite field. The thing is, the Durham Bulls’ home park is only 305 feet down the line. There’s a tall wall, but it’s still a hitters’ park. He added power in Double-A last season, but the 14 homers he hit were by far a career high, and I think it’s pretty indicative of his power ceiling.
If you haven’t been there, check out the site BaseballCensus.com. Not only do they have scouting reports on a ton of prospects, they have video of all of them. It allows you to become your own evaluator. Baseball Census mentioned that Williams showed an extremely good work-ethic in Montgomery. He would be flying around the outfield during BP, in 100 plus degree heat, working on his defensive game. Obviously, that’s a great thing to hear about any prospect.
Williams probably would slot into the 10-15 range of my rankings, but I’m not going to worry about that until the offseason. I doubt his ceiling is much more than a fourth outfielder. He fits into the current glut of outfielders the Cardinals have, even though they unloaded Pham and Oscar Mercado.
Roel Ramirez – RHP, Age: 23, Level: Double-A
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Roel Ramirez is interesting to me because he’s done well at Double-A (3.32 ERA, 3.79 FIP) but his stuff doesn’t particularly stand out. His fastball looks straight and lacks plus movement, yet he challenges hitters consistently. (That description is reminiscent of the description of Garret Stephenson in Three Nights in August). His splitter doesn’t have much action and he has a tendency to leave it up in the zone. His slider can be cutter-ish with 10-4 movement. It’s his best secondary pitch but is above-average at best.
In addition to his ERA, his peripherals are good. He’s struck out 26.9 percent of hitters and walked 9.9 in 40 2/3 Double-A innings. I think what makes him tick is a fastball that plays extremely well up in the zone. It lacks the sink necessary to generate ground balls and he doesn’t have the velocity to make up for mistakes left over the plate. But he short arms the ball which gives it the appearance of a rise-ball. As we know, Mike Maddux loves pitchers who can work up in the zone, and I have a hunch the Cardinals saw that in Ramirez.
Genesis Cabrera – LHP, Age: 21, Level: Double-A
Genesis Cabrera is the most exciting player in this trade, if only because he has the coolest name in the system.
He looks like a left-handed Yordano Ventura, in appearance and delivery. That means he’s not a big guy, just 6-1, 170 pounds. He’s got a violent, max-effort arm action and a fastball that sits 94-97.
Counterintuitively, he’s been extremely durable. He’s already topped 100 innings this year in Double-A, and he’s on pace to increase his number of innings pitched for the third consecutive season. As far as his repertoire goes, his fastball sits 94-97 which I already mentioned, and it’s got nice arm-side run. He doesn’t command it extremely well yet, but he can keep it in the zone.
He throws a cutter, changeup and a curveball in addition to his fastball. Reports on his curveball vary wildly. Eric Longenhagen says it’s above-average, but Baseball Census says he struggles to command it in the zone. To me, that indicates it’s an inconsistent pitch. One day it could be dominant and awful the next.
His changeup has the chance to be really good because his violent delivery creates deception. It moves like a typical changeup, but its the deception and the ability to throw it below the zone that makes a changeup effective. Cabrera will use his cutter to get in on right-handers, but other than that it’s not a pitch he goes to often.
The Cardinals were able to make a move that will allow Tyler O’Neill to get the playing time he deserves and might make the major league team better. At the very least, it allows the organization to see what he can do with two months of consistent at-bats. They also picked up a pair of pitchers who, while by no means sure things, fill the gap left by promotions. I’m not high on Williams, but he’s a toolsy player who could provide some value. When you consider Pham’s age, trajectory, and relationship with the front office that is reportedly less-than-ideal, it’s not the terrible swap some have described on Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to BaseballCensus, Fangraphs, and Baseball Reference for their contributions to this post.