At the end of the Minor League season, it is time to look forward, projecting developments of prospects across all levels. Obviously, such conversations prioritize players closest to the Major League level. As such, it is worth considering closely which top prospects are most likely to debut for the Cardinals in the 2017 season.
Before diving into possible 2017 additions, we must consider some general information regarding Major League promotions. Specifically, it is important to recognize that promotions happen for a multitude of reasons, as well as at different times throughout the season.
In a plain sense, a promotion can occur when a player is simply ready to take the next step. After sustained success at the highest levels of Minor League ball, such cases are fairly obvious. In 2016, for example, both Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver would fall into this category. With immense talent and demonstrated preparedness, both right-handed prospects were inevitably going to crack the majors at some point during 2016. It became not a matter of if, but when.
In a different sense, promotions often times occur due to injuries or poor performance at the Major League level. In this case, a prospect may not be completely developed. As we all know, however, the Big League club takes priority, thus trumping any concerns regarding maturity. With such cases, players are “thrown in the fire,” forced to learn quickly on a day-to-day basis. While this obviously is not the optimal situation for a prospect, it does in fact pay off in some cases.
Before I move forward into my three predictions, it is worth noting that my opinions are based mainly on talent and development. While holes in the project MLB roster may also come into play, talent and one’s stage in their Minor League development are in the driver’s seat. With that being said, it should be obvious that I cannot predict nor account for injury with my predictions. Put simply, injury is not being taken into account in any way moving forward.
Harrison Bader is perhaps the most obvious choice of the the three covered in this article. After breaking onto the scene in 2016, Bader performed extremely well for the Springfield Cardinals (AA), hitting .283 with an impressive 16 home runs. As a result, Bader was promoted to AAA Memphis, where he faced some adversity. Specifically, Bader ended his AAA stint with a .231 average, having only hit 3 home runs in 147 at-bats. For obvious reasons, Bader closed out the season back in Springfield.
Understandably, Bader’s struggles at the AAA level seem concerning. However, it is important to recognize that Bader’s MLB debut would most likely not come until later in the 2017 season. He will (in all likelihood), begin the 2017 season in AAA, having had a full off-season to develop his weaknesses as a player. If all goes as one would expect, Bader should be poised for a solid showing in Memphis, proving to executives that he can contribute as a pinch-hitter and defensive catalyst in St. Louis.
In St. Louis, Bader’s versatility and power are perhaps his most intriguing strengths as a player. Capable of playing any outfield position, Bader will bring a speed/power combination that any club would love to have. With a .292 average against right-handed pitching, Bader could be a match-up tool for the Cards, putting pressure on opposing pitchers with his well-rounded skill set. Lastly, Bader could spark a sense of competition in the Cardinals outfield, putting pressure on current starters to up their game in order keep their spots. All in all, Bader should have a positive presence in St. Louis late in 2017.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) September 1, 2016
Perhaps a surprising choice, expect Austin Gomber to make some MLB starts in 2017. While he will not “wow” fans like Alex Reyes or Luke Weaver, Gomber is incredibly a solid, polished pitcher. Statistically, he had a solid stint in AA to end the season, posting a 1.40 ERA in 4 starts. After further development this fall with the Glendale Desert Dogs, expect Gomber to come back even better come Spring Training.
Physically, Gomber has two advantages that could help expedite his Minor League development. First of all, Gomber is left-handed. With Jaime Garcia’s contract ending at the end of this season, the Cardinals project (as of now), to have zero left-handed pitchers in the rotation. Obviously, then, it is in the organization’s best interest for Gomber to debut in 2017, helping to fill the void and mix up a completely right-handed staff.
Secondly, Gomber has the potential to be a work horse, eating innings to take stress off the premier guys. At 6’5″, 240 pounds, there is no concern for fatigue with Gomber, yet again increasing his chances to debut next year. In a personal sense, such stature will help him to get the innings he needs, polishing his repertoire in his climb to the show. For the Cardinals, as previously stated, a left-handed, crafty starter is just what they need.
In 2017, expect Gomber to take a track similar to that of Luke Weaver. Starting in AA, he should (if all goes according to plan) advance to AAA, priming himself for a debut later in the season.
To put it in simple forms, Luke Voit can flat out hit. Perhaps the MVP of the Texas League, Voit led the league in average at .297, while hitting 19 home runs and knocking in 74 RBIs. To be honest, my argument with Voit is not terribly complex. He is the best overall hitter left in the farm system, and deserves a chance to shine at the highest level.
With the state of first base relatively inconsistent due to both poor performance and injury, 2017 could provide an opportunity for Voit. In a negative sense, though, Voit has little versatility as a defender, therefore limiting his chances to get on the field. In his case, it will take a little luck and complete seizure of the opportunity to stake his claim as a true Major League talent. A former 22nd round draft selection, Voit’s debut in the big leagues will be a testament to his work ethic as well as to the incredible scouting of the organization in general.
— Brian Walton (@B_Walton) September 10, 2016
2017 could be a huge year for the Cardinals. While I understand it is MUCH too early for such speculation, constantly thinking about the future is what has kept our beloved organization at an elite level for so long. With Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Harrison Bader, Austin Gomber, and Luke Voit, the Cardinals have a lot to be excited about moving forward.
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