30. Juan Yepez – 1B, Age: 20, Level: Palm Beach, Previous Rank: Not Ranked
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Juan Yepez vs. Stefan Trosclair is such a hard comparison because the only thing they have in common is that they both bat right-handed. I went with Yepez because he is younger, but it’s close. If you remember way back to May 2017, Matt Adams was used sparingly by former manager Mike Matheny (wow that felt good to type), and when he was used it was in left field. Ultimately, Mo stepped in and traded Adams to Atlanta to prune the MLB roster and acquired Juan Yepez, who was essentially a lottery-ticket prospect.
Yepez’s 2018 has been as up-and-down as they come. He opened the season in Peoria where he finished 2017. Over his first 106 plate appearances, he was one of the best hitters in the minor leagues. He was nearly twice as good and a year younger than the average Midwest League player.
He was promoted to Palm Beach on May 7, and between DL stints has struggled. His OPS is just over half of what it was in Peoria, and he’s drawn just four walks to go with 31 strikeouts. When you start off as hot as Yepez did, regression is to be expected, but what we’ve seen is severe.
Yepez is an imposing man but hasn’t produced much in the way of power. In my opinion, that’s because his hips drift forward as his front foot lands instead of turning violently. Such an action can allow a hitter to find the barrel (especially on offspeed pitches that may have fooled them) by sacrificing power. Obviously, Yepez can find the barrel, as evidenced by his start in Peoria. A couple of mechanical tweaks that could unlock his power are the next step in his development.
29. Jonatan Machado – OF, Age: 19, Level: Johnson City, Previous Rank: Not Ranked
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It’s easy to see Jonatan Machado simply as Magneuris Sierra 2.0. After all, he’s a centerfielder that can absolutely fly in the outfield and on the bases but doesn’t have much power. I don’t want to hold the Sierra comparison against him because I think the Cardinals rushed Sierra to the majors and probably compromised his development in the process, but it’s hard to ignore Machado’s production in Johnson City.
Machado actually opened the season in Peoria and was overmatched. Not only was Peoria a higher level than he’d ever seen before, he was there during one of the coldest Aprils on record. The circumstances for a Midwest League debut weren’t exactly friendly to someone who I doubt had ever played north of Florida. He was demoted after about a month, which was the best decision for his development.
After spending some time in Extended Spring Training, he reappeared when the short season clubs opened a little over a month ago. His numbers (.329/.406/.412) speak for themselves. Machado spent 2017 in the GCL, so the Appalachian League is a step up, but it obviously isn’t advanced. Like Sierra, his future will be tied to his hit tool, and unfortunately, Johnson City simply isn’t an advanced enough level to draw any definitive conclusions. With the number of graduations this year Machado lands a spot on the list.
28. Dennis Ortega – C, Age: 21, Level: Peoria, Previous Rank: Not Ranked
I don’t get the impression that Dennis Ortega is an extremely polished defender like Carson Kelly. He doesn’t have Andrew Knizner’s hit tool, either. He does have an extremely good arm. It’s so good, Mike Matheny described him as “eager to throw” this Spring Training. He’s been an above-average hitter in the Midwest League, too. I haven’t watched a ton of Ortega this year but that needs to change. Carson Kelly’s development has been mangled by the front office, and Andrew Knizner is too good a hitter to wait until Molina’s contract expires. After them, Ortega is the next best option to succeed Molina, so we should start paying more attention to his development.
27. Bryce Denton – OF, Age: 20, Level: Peoria, Previous Rank: Not Ranked
It’s hard to believe, but at 20 years old, prospect fatigue has set in with Bryce Denton. I completely forgot about him and had to tear up my list and start over when I realized my mistake.
If you remember way back to the 2015 Draft, Denton was taken in the second round (right after Nick Plummer) out of high school and was described as having one of the quickest bats in the draft class. To say he was inconsistent in his first two pro seasons would be putting it mildly: his OPS rarely cleared .700.
His overall numbers don’t necessarily do him justice. He had an awful April (the aforementioned Peoria, Illinois cold was probably a factor), but he bounced back in May with the best month of his career (.306/.340/.408). He’s increased his home run totals each of the last three months, but he’s struggled to consistently reach base when he’s not getting hits.
All in all, Denton is still younger than his competition and getting better. His swing looks more controlled than it ever has and production has come with it.
26. Johan Oviedo – RHP, Age: 20, Level: Peoria, Previous Rank: 22
Johan Oviedo and Alvaro Seijas have been a package deal in my head for a while now. However, Alvaro Seijas fell off the list while Oviedo stayed on, despite the fact that they’ve both struggled.
It came down to the fact that Oviedo is at least managing to strike out a batter an inning and has only given up a handful of homers. He’s a physically imposing presence on the mound, and his changeup is downright nasty (it’s the last pitch in the video below). Unlike Seijas, he has a go-to offspeed pitch that is quality, even if he’s been hit around a bit.
Four of the five prospects this time are below the age of 21 and the High-A level, the only exception being Conner Greene. It’s also worth noting that Oviedo was the only one who was ranked coming into the season. The Cardinals system is in flux right now. There are at least a dozen players who are super young and athletic, but still incredibly raw. Until you get to the Top 5, there are no sure major leaguers. That means the Cardinals are going to need least a couple of these young, high upside guys to maximize their potential and eventually help the big league club.