5. Carson Kelly – C, Age: 24, Level: Memphis, Previous Rank: 3
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The Carson Kelly Cardinals fans have seen in this three major league appearances isn’t the real Carson Kelly. Kelly’s development was severely damaged when he was called up on July 21, 2017. Over two and a half months, Kelly played in eight games in which he got more than one plate appearance before Yadier Molina went on the DL.
No, Kelly’s numbers weren’t good. But he had essentially taken a two-month hiatus from baseball. It’s not just the sample size, but context matters. Hitting is about timing, rhythm, and feel. It’s hard to do those three things well when you’re playing every day, let alone when you might play once a week.
I fear the end of last season made it impossible for Kelly to thrive in St. Louis. Yadier Molina is under contract through 2020. Kelly has been in Memphis since the beginning of 2017. The timelines simply don’t add up. Furthermore, baseball is about confidence. When we dig deep into the numbers, we tend to discount intangibles, but they matter. It’s not hard to imagine Kelly’s was destroyed by how the club handled him.
All that being said, Kelly is still the best defensive catcher in the system. His receiving is superior to Knziner’s. He blocks, throws, and handles a pitching staff exceptionally. Those were the parts of his game that made him an elite prospect, not his bat. I think Carson Kelly can be a successful major league player. I also think the organization made it nearly impossible for that to happen in St. Louis.
4. Austin Gomber – LHP, Age: 24, Level: St. Louis, Previous Rank: 9
I wasn’t sure what to write about Austin Gomber. He’s the only quality left-handed pitching prospect that’s remotely close to the majors. His curveball is really good (some say the best in the organization). He’s started to incorporate the slider, which is a wrinkle he hasn’t shown right-handed hitters in the past.
More than any other prospect in the organization, I think Gomber is a starting pitcher. That’s coming from a guy who thinks Hudson and Ryan Helsley are going to end up in the bullpen, and that’s fine because their strengths will play up. I just don’t get the same feeling with Gomber. He’s not a lefty-specialist (lefties hit .276 off him in Triple-A this season), but that’s how he’s been utilized out of the ‘pen by two different managers.
The bullpen was in tatters, so I understand why they put him there. It was something that had to be done, but Gomber’s future is in the rotation.
3. Dakota Hudson – RHP, Age: 23, Level: St. Louis, Previous Rank: 8
Dakota Hudson will pitch out of the bullpen now that he’s been called up. I’ve been banging the Dakota Hudson to the bullpen drum since the All-Star Break last season. In my mind, his stuff will play much, much better out of the bullpen than it will in a major league rotation. He’s got the turbo-sinker and a cutter to put hitters away. (When you think of Hudson, you probably think slider. That’s because his cutter was mischaracterized when he was drafted). He’s now added a slider, but I have my doubts it will be distinct enough from his cutter to be a true “third pitch” which is a necessity in the rotation, but not in the ‘pen.
His success as a starter can’t be dismissed, though. He came into the season needing to generate more strikeouts. Only three pitchers with lower strikeout rates threw more than 50 innings in the majors in 2017. It’s jumped from 11 percent to 18 percent, which doesn’t make him a “strikeout pitcher”, but it’s an improvement.
As I mentioned above, Hudson generates a ton of ground balls. It helps make up for the lack of swing and miss in his repertoire. He’s been lucky that under two percent of his fly balls allowed have left the ballpark, but we’re nitpicking now. The guy has a 2.50 ERA. He deserves to be in the majors.
2. Andrew Knizner – C, Age: 23, Level: Springfield, Previous Rank: 5
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Coming into the season, Andrew Knizner was my favorite prospect in the organization. He hasn’t had a bad year per se, but he hasn’t had the meteoric rise I expected.
He went to the Arizona Fall League last year and I wanted to see him build on his doubles power, specifically to the pull side. Knizner does a great job going the other way, even with power. At what is widely considered the “finishing school” for top prospects, Knizner hit ## homers in just ## plate appearances compared to twelve in 393 plate appearances in the regular season. All of them were to left or left-center, too. I thought he was going to build on that power this season, but that hasn’t been the case.
That’s not to say Knizner has been bad. He’s had OPS’s over .800 in Springfield and Memphis, but the power hasn’t been there like I expected; he’s hit six homers, all of them for Double-A Springfield.
Knizner’s defense still isn’t as polished as Carson Kelly’s. He struggled while he was in Memphis. Catching pitcher’s for the first time is always a challenge, but that wasn’t the case for Knizner because he had caught many of those pitchers last year in Springfield. The bottom line: we haven’t learned anything new about Knizner this year. We knew he could spray the ball and hit for a high average. We didn’t know if he had 20-homer power. That question is still unanswered.
1. Tyler O’Neill – RF/LF, Age: 23, Level: Memphis: Previous Rank: 4
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The contrast between the production that Marcell Ozuna has provided and what O’Neill has done for Memphis is astounding. O’Neill has slugged .721 and Ozuna has slugged .372. If you’re doing the math at home, O’Neill’s slugged nearly twice as much as Ozuna.
On the last episode of Prospect To Be Named Later, we discussed the best chance for a “franchise player” to emerge. I went with Nolan Gorman. Kyle went with O’Neill. His power is transformational. But so was Grichuk’s. Randal Grichuk‘s inability to be a lineup anchor in St. Louis have diminished my hopes for O’Neill. O’Neil’s raised his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate. That’s a step in the right direction. Defensively he needs to stay in the corners, but his value doesn’t come from his defense.
O’Neill hit a trio of homers last week, and the current major league outfield was supposed to be one of the best in baseball, their struggles are well-documented. O’Neill has done all he can in the minors. Even though I don’t think he’s the best chance to be the lineup centerpiece that Cardinals have sought for years, he’ll be the next player to get a shot.