With the season rapidly approaching, the majority of the attention is with the Big League Cardinals. Especially with the excessive buzz of Spring Training and all of its unknown characteristics , it can be easy to lose site of the organization in its entirety. As such, let us take a look at 9 minor leaguers who have a chance to make headlines in 2017.
As an introductory note, I would like to comment on the structure of this three-part series. The Cardinals are stacked with pitching in their Minor League system. From Luke Weaver to Austin Gomber to Jack Flaherty, it seems that the Cards have stockpiled solid arms at every level of their system.
For this reason, a traditional list of the Cardinals top 30 prospects would be, for the most part, crowded with pitchers. While this is not necessarily bad, I figured a three-part, positional series would give a more diverse, unique look into the Cardinals farm system.
There will be no rankings, but rather 9 players in each area of the field (outfield, infield, pitcher) that I believe have a chance to make a difference this year and moving forward.
With the rationale out of the way, let us get going with the outfield.
No surprises to start the list. Harrison Bader is the best of the bunch, and perhaps the best position player in the entire farm system. After a breakout 2016 campaign in which crushed AA ball, AAA presented a little more of a challenge. Above a little transitional hiccup, though, Bader’s talent looms large.
An unusual combination of speed and power, Bader mashed 19 doubles and 19 home runs in 2016. Personally, I expect Bader’s explosiveness and versatility to place him in the Majors in early to mid-2017. No matter when the time comes, it seems that Bader will be here to stay.
Cardinals prospect Harrison Bader. SLO-MO sluggin'! pic.twitter.com/U8niKtsGcq
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) February 17, 2017
Although a younger, less experienced case when compared to Bader, Magneuris Sierra has perhaps the highest overall ceiling in the system. A magnificent mix of speed and skill, Sierra has excellent plate discipline and an extremely quick bat. At just 20 years of age, the Dominican outfielder will have high expectations for 2017.
For me, the main question resides in consistency. Sierra breezed through the Gulf Coast League in 2014, winning the MVP award. 2015, though was not so kind, as single A Peoria gave the youngster worlds of trouble. Showing solid resolve, however, Sierra bounced back, posting solid numbers last year in his return to class A ball.
Hopefully, with sharpened skills and more experience, Sierra will be able to put together two great years consecutively. If all goes well, Sierra could really expedite his development process.
For a former first round draft pick, Nick Plummer is relatively unknown. After what some could call an underwhelming debut year in the Gulf Coast League, Plummer sat out the entirety of 2016 with a wrist injury. In this way, it is difficult to pinpoint an area for improvement or any glaring holes in his game. With that being said, though, I expect Plummer to make himself known in 2017.
A left-handed, moderately powerful hitter, Plummer is known to be incredibly disciplined offensively. Most likely a left-fielder at the MLB level, he is nonetheless a solid athlete, with deceptive speed considering a filled-out frame. While it is truly difficult to make predictions for Plummer, expect him to be full of energy and hungry to climb the ladder.
Signed in July of 2016, Randy Arozarena is a Cuban utility player. Although he is able to play a couple infield positions, it seems that, due to insane top-end speed, that center field is his true calling. A former member of the Cuban and Mexican leagues, Arozarena’s track record is minimal, to say the least. In this way, it is difficult to predict his offensive impact moving forward to 2017. In other areas of his game, though, this is not the case.
Namely, I believe it is safe to say that, assuming he gets on base, that Arozarena will be electric on the basepaths. Furthermore, his plus speed and lean frame suggests that he will cover tons of ground in the middle of the outfield. With decent pop, let us hope that he can hold his own offensively. If that is the case, it seems like the rest of his game will simply take care of itself.
The 33rd overall pick in the 2016 draft, Dylan Carlson is far different than the 4 players that precede him on this list. Hailing from Elk Grove, California, Carlson is by no means the plus athlete that this list seems to invite. Instead, Carlson is taller, standing at 6’3″, 205 pounds. Most likely projecting as a corner outfielder, most scouts know Carlson for his bat. A switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate, he has an opportunity to be a force moving forward.
In terms of improvement for 2017, look for Carlson to try to keep the ball in play at a higher rate, as he struck out 52 times in 183 rookie ball at-bats. On a more positive note, he mashed 13 doubles along with 3 home runs, numbers that should only improve with more experience. In closing, it is worth noting that Carlson is extremely young, still only at 18 years of age.
Like Arozarena, Jonathan Machado was a teenage signing out of Cuba last summer. Described as a “prototypical leadoff hitter,” Machado is, as you would expect, known for his speed. With below-average power, Machado makes up for this lapse with phenomenal contact numbers. Furthermore, it is worth including that his power and gap-to-gap power will only improve as he matures physically.
After all, he is only 18 years of age. Defensively and on the basepaths, it is safe to assume that Machado will be electric, just like his Cuban counterpart Arozarena. On a slightly negative note, Machado is said to have a below-average throwing arm in the field. Hopefully, either through tremendous range or increased strength through development, Machado can make up for it.
A 5th round pick out of George County High School, Walker Robbins is very similar in profile to the aforementioned Dylan Carlson. A below-average athlete, Robbins makes up for it with a mature, balanced approach at the plate. With a HUGE frame with plenty of room to fill out, look for Robbins power numbers to increase as he puts on weight throughout his development.
Obviously pegged currently as a corner outfielder of some sort, it will be interesting to see if the organization decides to keep Robbins where he is, or move him to the less physically demanding first base. Between Robbins and Carlson, it seems unlikely that both players will remain in the outfield, especially considering the youthful, electric athletes also littering the system.
As I see it, personally, it seems more likely that Robbins will remain in right field, as he has a plus arm in the field. On somewhat of a side note, I would not be surprised to see Robbins on the hill during some point in his development, especially if he disappoints at the plate.
Unlike many players on this list, Fielder is included not solely for his upside, but mainly for his 2016 performance. A 9th round pick out of the University of Minnesota, Fielder is relatively unassuming as an athlete, with average size and speed. Surprisingly, however, Fielder crushed rookie ball, slashing .325/.386/.487 in rookie ball last season. Along with that line, the left-fielder drove in 31 runs in 197 at-bats, hitting 4 home runs along the way.
While Fielder will not make any headlines for outrageous physical upside, he may just hit his way into the spotlight. Also, Fielder pitched during his time at Minnesota, boasting a low-90s fastball and an a solid, slow breaking ball. Do not be surprised if we see Fielder experimenting at both positions during his development.
The oldest player on the list (25), Anthony Garcia is down, but not out. Plagued by inconsistencies in his tenure in the Cardinals farm system, this may be one of his last shots to make things right. With that being said, however, I believe there to be a solid chance he breaks through this season.
Despite slashing .238/.308/.388 in 2016, there is hope for Garcia. For example, going back just one year from the previously mentioned statistics, Garcia slashed .285/.400/.476 in 288 AA at-bats.
While Garcia may not reach the headlines due to age and talents like Bader, it will be interesting to see if Garcia will finally be able to break through, performing consistently at the AAA level. If that should happen, the Cardinals will have a powerful right-handed bat just one step from the majors. While I do not anticipate to see Garcia in the Majors, his journey and resilience is nonetheless an intriguing storyline.
Photo captured by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports