Prospect Preacher

Setting the Table – Peoria

Most of the attention of Minor League Opening Day surrounds those that have a shot at impacting St. Louis this summer. And while that is a completely normal reaction, don’t overlook the youngest affiliate that also kicks off tonight. Peoria, after all, was home to Jordan Hicks just last season and sports a pair of must watch prospects making their full-season debuts.

Jonathan Machado and Alvaro Seijas both cracked the Top 20 for the Cardinals and will lead the Chiefs as teenagers, something Dylan Carlson can relate to after spending all of last year doing the same thing in the Midwest League. The trio plus Elehuris Montero make for an exciting time in Cardinals’ baseball, as we get to watch them grow and potentially move up together.

Some of these players will look over-matched early and could end up in Johnson City or State College when their seasons open in June. The organization may look at how Carlson fared, however, and decide the best route allows the group to work out issues relying on each other. Nick Plummer and Bryce Denton again add to the intrigue, as they both want to put their names back in the conversation with impressive starts.

Much as with Palm Beach, Peoria’s rotation will be a work in progress early on especially if the weather stays considerably colder than normal. That may also have had something to do with one name that is missing from any of the full-season rosters. Shortstop Delvin Perez was not included which was a bit of a shock as he got plenty of press this Spring.

Perez could very well join the rest of the teenagers once the temperature gets warmer, but that is just one more story to watch as everything kicks off tonight!

 

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While everyone patiently waits for the future St. Louis closer, the main event from Palm Beach isn’t who throws the 9th but the one who takes the mound hopefully every fifth day. Junior Fernandez ranks 15th on the initial MLB prospect list, but it is the names ahead of him who should be noted. As many as six ahead of Fernandez could lose their prospect status this summer, bumping the RHP into the Top 10.

It is also an important campaign for Fernandez, who had 16 starts for Palm Beach last year before getting shut down in July. He has been passed by a few arms now in Springfield, but his stuff is just as good as any starter in the Florida State League. A strong opening also leads right to AA or potentially a new home as plenty of scouts will also be monitoring his progress.

A couple of high profile draft picks from last year’s class get a promotion as well to the notoriously tough FSL. Kramer Robertson and Evan Mendoza will anchor the left side of the infield and have their own sights on cracking the Top 30 prospect list. They are joined by power-hitting infielder Andy Young to form a potent core that will aid a young pitching staff.

Behind Fernandez and returning starter Mike O’Reilly, Palm Beach could employ either a trio of southpaws or rely on a different format that includes many strong bullpen options. Ronnie Williams has struggled after being a high draft pick in 2014 but has a chance to throw close to home again and find his footing.

In order for Palm Beach to make another run at the title, they will need a little help along the way, something Springfield and Peoria both can assist with as well as the draft. The Florida State League can stunt the growth of many prospects, so expect plenty of roster moves early in order to sort out the right fit.

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If you have never been to a Texas League game, this summer provides the best possible chance to see a roster stick together in Springfield. The SCards can’t help but notice that both of the teams immediately around them last year won titles, and promotions could be hard to come by in order to crack even the Memphis roster.

That doesn’t mean the opening day roster will have no movement, just that Palm Beach sounds much nicer this time of year than Missouri. Jack Flaherty already showed how it will work from the Memphis side, as Connor Jones became the first pitcher to swap between both clubs. That means a relocation back to Florida, something everyone should get used to by June.

An entirely new outfield also gets top billing, although Randy Arozarena recently went to AAA and could be the piece that needs to keep a bag packed. Lane Thomas joined the organization last summer via trade, and he is joined by fellow newcomers Granden Goetzman and Victor Roache. They are important cogs on the offensive side that will be anchored by Andrew Knizner, Edmundo Sosa, and a cast wanting to take the next step.

In order to keep the games close, an imposing rotation will do just the trick. Jake Woodford joins Ryan Helsley and fellow top prospect Conner Greene, who was an All-Star for Toronto at the AA level. Greene joined the organization in the Randal Grichuk deal and also holds a coveted 40-man spot so is one to watch early this campaign.

Hector Mendoza and Sam Tewes both are on the radar as possible early adds to Memphis, but they will need to earn it as St. Louis makes bullpen moves this month. In adding a couple of veteran arms to the pen, the Cardinals will need to demote a pair to the Redbirds.

And in turn that only makes Springfield the beneficiary of stronger arms, a must in the lethal Texas League where attrition rules. I can’t wait to get down to Hammons Field and see how all the new pieces fit the puzzle.

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Setting the Table – Memphis

How do you possibly improve on a historic season? That’s going to be the question all summer long in Memphis, where the reigning Pacific Coast League champs have arguably an even stronger roster. The Redbirds will have to navigate the hitter friendly confines with a revolving door of pitchers, with as many as seven this month ready for the call to St. Louis.

It has never been harder to pinpoint the strength of a team, however, since at seemingly every position there is big league talent. Carson Kelly, Tyler O’Neill, and very recently demoted Jack Flaherty are simply an injury away from joining the Cardinals. That takes nothing away from the likes of Luke Voit, Oscar Mercado, or Austin Gomber who shouldn’t have to wait long to make their own impact.

Patrick Wisdom and Adolis Garcia basically have nothing left to prove at the AAA level but must navigate the tougher road to a promotion given that the 40-man roster is well, congested. Newcomer Max Schrock won’t have to wait long in order to put himself on the map either, but still faces the same obstacles in order to see the Arch this year.

For the safe money, though, keep your eyes on a pair of big league hurlers currently stuck in limbo. John Gant takes over the Opening Day start honors and will look to keep the momentum going after an impressive March. He still won’t be the first in-season promotion as that distinction should go to John Brebbia, the bad-luck reliever who was set to be in St. Louis before losing out to a 102 MPH option.

No matter where you look, the talent just keeps showing up on a Memphis roster that can’t help but make opponents shake their heads. And that is before phenom Alex Reyes makes his rehab appearances and possibly the last of his minor league stints. The only remaining questions will be around the trade deadline, where the front office has to decide a few things moving forward.

Now is the time to enjoy the best a AAA club can offer. There won’t be another roster quite like it, as Memphis will be rocking all summer no matter who comes and goes.

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Minor League Eve

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and no, that has nothing to do with the below freezing temps in much of the Cardinals’ listening area today. Four more St. Louis baseball teams are prepped and ready for the run to the postseason as the Prospect Preacher has you covered from Opening Day across each level.

The Birds on the Bat enjoyed a very successful 2017 campaign, but turnover was inevitable given the high profile trades made over the winter and carrying over into last weekend. The 40-man roster has been filled once again so now is the time to analyze where each of the clubs has both strengths as well as weaknesses before the games officially kick off tomorrow.

Before the attention can be turned to any of the Top 30 prospects or diamonds in the rough, however, all eyes will be on Palm Beach for a very different start to the organization for one prized late addition. Greg Holland was signed to throw the 9th inning under the Arch, but he first has to show readiness against Jupiter in what is sure to be a highly covered event.

Memphis smoked the Pacific Coast League a summer ago and returns a stacked roster in hopes of securing back-to-back titles for Stubby Clapp. The Redbirds will rely on many contributors from the big league club as well, something that surely will be fun to watch unfold. Springfield and Peoria are also both in enviable positions, given that the leagues they play in always boast some of the top talent in the Minors.

One nice schedule quirk that helps both of the top affiliates also should keep the two teams away from potential weather issues. Memphis and Springfield are on the road to begin their seasons, both in Texas should a roster move or three be needed to accommodate a certain long-time Cardinal starter or possibly a fresh reliever.

There are plenty of new faces to learn as well, so that will be the main goal here as the games progress this month. Talent from top to bottom makes some aggressive promotions something to track as well as how much the front office utilizes the options on the 40-man.

Alex Reyes also will be added to the mix later than originally scheduled, but his stay in Memphis would be considered a shock if the calendar hits June without a promotion. Plenty of other story lines have already raised a few eyebrows by glancing at the just-released rosters, and there are four more posts to come before the first Play Ball of 2018 is heard.

Thanks for stopping by and hoping you are just as excited as I am to see how the Cardinals utilize all the depth that has been building over the last few years!

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Today marks the beginning of a sprint three months in the making. All of the rookie league squads are in full swing looking to repeat with this afternoon the deadline to sign draft picks from last month. Different reports have one possible name in play, but Seton Hall RHP Shane McCarthy may just go down as one to watch instead of being a future St. Louis farm hand.

By far the more important story for 7/7 is how the Cardinals finish the first half and what that means the next three weeks. Look, it is forever saved for future reference that trading prospects has never been an idea this scribe supports. Dating back nearly a decade now, pick any trade from Matt Holliday to Zach Duke with the price of admission seemingly on trial.

Whether or not you believe in market size, St. Louis arguably has not fared well lately in the Free Agent game. Dexter Fowler plays the game better than most but was overpaid. Same story for Brett Cecil and Mike Leake but honestly, that just might have to be the way to get talent to sign without missing out. The days of selling the Arch and history and Red Jackets left when Albert skated out the door.

That leaves drafting and promoting which will always be the more difficult path when the Cardinals are never going to be picking in the top 10, at least without a rebuild which appears unlikely. Delvin Perez could be the SS for the decade starting in 2020, but he is currently experiencing struggles in Johnson City which probably caused a drop in the most recent prospect lists.

Baseball America has jumped the gun and released the updated look with recent picks adding to the fun. While not a shock, it appears losing a season for surgery has not cooled the appeal for Alex Reyes. He still tops all pitchers on the list and unfortunately will be at the center of all trade discussions leading up to the deadline. If there were ever a place for an untouchable list, my hope is Reyes stays there.

On the positive side of things, three teammates from Memphis are right in the thick of things as well, with trade talk surrounding the trio more and more every day. Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver basically traded spots on the BA list but are front and center for a possible blockbuster deal. And to be honest, this is a crucial time for the organization with likely franchise pieces in play around the league.

With Kelly and Weaver both already on the 40-man roster, that will factor into any discussions with Jack Flaherty the wild card in the entire mix. Flaherty smashed the Texas League and is headed for the Futures Game in Miami for even more publicity. As crazy as it sounds, Flaherty still is only 21 years old and will never have higher value than now.

Who your pick is for a power bat to lengthen the order depends on who you ask. And buckle up for a crazy ride leading up to the deadline as no one knows what the new GM will do!

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Happy to report Father’s Day was very relaxing, even if the Cardinals were on TV when we got to the restaurant. As most of you already know, focus going to be on new players to the organization at least until the trade deadline passes. Randy Flores has restocked via the draft and thankfully there are about to be three other teams to follow outside of St. Louis.

State College kicks off the rookie league schedule tonight as defending champs, something Johnson City and the GCL Cards know quite a bit about. That success becomes vital moving up the ranks, but there will be plenty more time in the upcoming months for a hopeful postseason outlook. In order to finish off our Conclave draft coverage, one last area needs some more attention.

Now that the Spikes have an initial roster, the shuffling will not stop until everyone has signed. Johnson City will get the younger players from the draft as well as the GCL, but State College has a couple of exciting players right out of the gate. Keep your eyes on Evan Mendoza, who might just be my favorite pick of the entire draft. There are multiple reasons for this, with the main one being his past success in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Mendoza fits the mold perfectly as an athlete first, someone who could move to the mound if things don’t work out in the field (mainly with the bat). One thing that did catch my attention is that the Cape had his position as IF/C which brings to mind Carson Kelly from a few years ago. Of course it is entirely too early to know what the Cardinals have planned, but it is a great pick in the 11th round who will not turn 21 until later this month.

One curious name missing from the recent signings as well as the Spikes’ roster was Shane McCarthy. He also excelled on the Cape before returning to Seton Hall and was taken in the 18th round. There could be multiple reasons for this so will withhold judgment until we actually see how things turn out. In the absence of that RHP, there is one who was taken last year that has started to make Flores look very smart already.

The draft-and-follow model hasn’t existed for more than a few years now, but St. Louis has found another way to use the current draft rules to their advantage. When Sam Tewes was drafted out of Wichita State, it was already known that surgery would push back the hurler to the 2017 season. Tewes had a great start to his pro career out of the Palm Beach bullpen and then was sent to State College with a purpose. He will be the Opening Day starter for the Spikes, who will be a fun crew to follow in the NYPL all summer.

In case you were wondering, the Birds on the Bat may have to make a roster move sooner than at least the player would like. Scott Hurst and his CSU Fullerton squad just went behind again in an elimination game in Omaha. There were rumblings of a deal already in place, so if the Titans are not able to complete a comeback expect an announcement possibly even before the Cardinals return home.

Get your MILB app updated and ready for the excitement that is about to be seven teams all fighting to still be playing into September! To me there is no greater part of the schedule, and I’m glad you are along for the ride.

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Welcome to your Saturday afternoon pregame reading! With the Cardinals on the road and storms all over the Midwest, it feels good to get back in the rhythm that is baseball. I have The Rookie on as a soundtrack to the second part of our look at the recently completed MLB Draft, as both State College and Johnson City kick into high gear next week.

The finale will go up just in time for the Spikes’ Opener on Monday, since only one pick has ‘officially‘ signed as of this posting. That isn’t unusual for St. Louis, however, given a press release is sure to come out just as soon as I hit send. Most likely they have the rosters in place for all three of the rookie league teams, with the GCL Cards kind of a catch-all at least to start.

Most of the talk after the draft was completed centered on the few High School players likely to sign and with good reason. There will be plenty of time for those picks to bear fruit so to speak and that leaves me to hit my favorite two parts of every draft. Both are equally important and show Randy Flores learned some solid drafting traits from those still in the organization.

The Triple-S

While the Cards are not alone in finding special players who excelled below D1 baseball, there are always a couple of selections that jump off the page. There were two especially in this draft that count as Small School Sleepers to watch, one pitcher and one hitter. If the name Jake Walsh doesn’t jump off the page you are not alone, but how about Brett Tomko?

St. Louis snagged Walsh in the 16th round out of Florida Southern College, and more than a few had this to say. The Mocassin RHP was a finalist for the Tomko DII Pitcher of the Year and dominated to say the least his junior season. Walsh finished 12-1 on the year with a sub 1.00 WHIP and K/9 of 9.39 to show that starters can be found at every level.

On the hitting side of the ledger, one of those ‘unofficial‘ signings turned heads all the way to All-American honors. Brandon Benson, to put it plain and simple, could not have had a better senior campaign for Georgia College. Not to say he ever struggled in college, but Benson tallied 21 HR and 110 RBI combined his first three years as a Bobcat.

The 20th round pick then knocked 22 over the fence just in 2017 alone, driving in 79 RBI while scoring 74 times. Benson also just celebrated a birthday on the 13th, making it a week he will never forget. I expect him to start on the SC roster as one of the older selections of the St. Louis class but was drafted as an outfielder which means the bat will dictate where he ends up this summer.

If the Cards are able to add even a couple from this draft, it will be a success for years to come. Monday will be all about the Cape Cod impact, as those wood bats never lie! Enjoy the games this weekend with a big round of applause to all fathers who hopefully get an extra nap in along the way.

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Breaking down the draft takes years to fully decide if it was productive or not as a whole. While the first few rounds get most of the attention, it takes the grinders moving up one rung of the ladder each year that establish an organization. The Cardinals have been blessed with success from the top down, but that begins with the teams where everyone starts on the same level.

Days one and two of the draft typically involve the big money decisions, just because you are handling nearly all of the players who hold the leverage. High School and Junior College athletes 99% of the time have D1 offers in hand well before getting drafted with new rules cutting down on the negotiation period.

This makes having a solid strategy even greater, something St. Louis scouting directors have seemingly perfected. Randy Flores took over just last year and couldn’t possibly have had a harder situation to walk into not only from the team but baseball operations altogether. Once Flores stopped playing, he went back to school at USC and started a successful business before things turned upside down under the Arch.

And what does Flores do with his very first pick running the show? He takes a potential franchise altering shortstop who had flunked a drug test for performance-enhancing drugs right before the draft. So yes, Flores proved he was up to the challenge right away but last year was nothing compared to 2017.

The only thing that needs to be said now about the hacking scandal thankfully is that everyone can put it to bed. Draft picks exchanged hands, the Cardinals paid the price and then some, and baseball will continue as it should. Flores wasn’t even part of the front office then, so in some way that gives him a pass even with a full year to navigate the deep waters.

What I am going to do now that the draft is over and before the signings begin will be broken down over the next few days right up until Johnson City and State College take the field. No one has applauded St. Louis or Flores for a job well done, and surely that goes without saying. All parties knew how difficult playing on an uneven field would be and truthfully, I really didn’t expect to be blown away this much.

The Cardinals had 38 picks and selected only eight from the High School ranks. I looked at each of the past five drafts, and that number is the lowest. They also passed up every JUCO player available, instead looking for a specific type that fills a need now. Given the bonus pool constraints, there shouldn’t be many issues getting them signed and on the field where the real fun begins.

And to be honest, it has been a real tough calendar year for St. Louis fans when you think about it. We all could use some positive motivation, and the 2017 draft will certainly go down as a historic one for the Birds on the Bat. Enjoy your Thursday everyone and stop back by Saturday for Part 2!

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As much fun as yesterday was to see new faces become future Cardinals, the real challenge now starts with finding the hidden gems in Rounds 11-40 of the MLB Draft. The usual strategy for St. Louis and other teams in the recent past has been trying to entice some of the tougher signs with strong offers to see what amount may make the difference. It would be a surprise, however, to see too much of that from the Birds on the Bat this time out.

The bonus pool has to be considered as does filling out the rookie league rosters, especially on the pitching side of the ledger. Scouting Director Randy Flores has not been able to dodge many potholes in his little over a year on the job but the high character picks already in the books tell a bigger story. It would do no one justice to say the type of player in the organization needed to change, so let’s just go with selections that have more than physical skills fit the criteria.

Two-way players are all the rage right now, but the Cardinals have always drafted the athletes that could eventually switch job titles. Expect more of the same, as the early Day 3 picks are bound to be multi-faceted before transitioning into what sets St. Louis apart from nearly everyone else in the game. The small school picks like Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, and Kevin Siegrist no doubt are the stories scouts love to tell, all of which leads to another intriguing day of selections.

Enjoy the ride and will be back tomorrow with reactions to the overall depth that is added to an already strong system!

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In what can only be described as a wild ride, the Cardinals navigated their Day 1 of the 2017 Draft in admirable fashion. With a tiny budget and zero room for error, St. Louis added another LHP to the mix with Brett Seeburger from San Diego State.

The former All-State performer in California adds even more depth to the mix as State College and Johnson City need full rosters within a week to get the summer truly kicked off as the Prospect Preacher only wakes up when every team is fighting for a championship.

Thanks for stopping by and come back for recaps of tomorrow’s picks as long as I don’t need sleep!

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Brett Seeburger, LHP San Diego State

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