A Minor Review of 2018: St. Louis Cardinals

Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.

The St. Louis Cardinals

If you perused the series last year, this is what you read:

The Sleeper: Austin Gomber, LHP: Gomber isn’t flashy but he has a chance to be a very good arm for the Cardinals. A 2014 fourth rounder, this southpaw works in the low 90s but he commands it exceptionally well. Gomber, 23, has a chance to have three above-average offerings — including a plus breaking ball. He has a large frame and a good chance to develop into a No. 4 starter capable of hitting 200+ innings pitched. He’ll likely open 2018 in triple-A but could be one of the first arms called up to provide valuable innings.

Now onto the new stuff:

First Taste of The Show: Tyler O’Neill, OF: After parts of three years at the triple-A level, O’Neill finally made his big league debut but he took a step back in his development while doing so. With plus raw power, the young slugger nonetheless felt the need to sell out further to hit home runs. His strikeout rate rocketed to 40%. If he gets back to doing what he does well, O’Neill should be a very good player for the Cardinals with the ability to hit lots of homers and with a strong on-base presence — if he can find playing time. There is no need to send him back to the minors but he is blocked by Dexter Fowler and Marcell Ozuna.

The Draft Pick: Nolan Gorman, 3B: The 2018 first round draft pick likely excited a lot of Cardinals fans when he made his pro debut and hit 17 home runs in just over 60 games. On the downside, he struck out at an alarming rate and needs to significantly improve his approach at the plate. He doesn’t need to sell out his contact rate to hit homers. The raw power is there. Ideally, he’ll focus on the hit tool in 2019 and put the home run chasing in his back pocket for now, or the Cardinals will end up with the next Joey Gallo.

The Riser: Andrew Knizner, C: Knizner’s development allowed the Cardinals to trade fellow young backstop Carson Kelly to Arizona for Paul Goldschmidt (A deal that was a steal for St. Louis). Knizner projects to be a solid all-around catcher and probably has a little more offensive skill than Kelly did. He’ll likely open 2019 in triple-A but could taste The Show in the second half of the year.

The Fallen: Delvin Perez, SS: The Cardinals’ 2016 first rounder is probably a pick they’d like to take back. Nabbed for performance enhancing drugs prior to the draft, he slid to them and has rarely looked good as a pro. The 20-year-old shortstop has spent the last three years in short-season ball and has seen his OPS dip each year, bottoming out at .573 in 2018. This could very well be the make-or-break year for Perez.

The 2019 Contributor: Alex Reyes, RHP: Will 2019 finally be the year that Reyes is fully unleashed onto the unsuspecting NL Central to follow up on his outstanding 2016 debut? The outlook appears positive but the biggest question is “What role will he have?” If I’m the Cardinals, I’d consider a piggy-back approach with the young hurler, perhaps pairing him with Michael Wacha and having each pitcher look to provide 3-4 innings each time out. If Reyes stays healthy, he should be a stud.

The 2019 Sleeper: Lane Thomas, OF: Stolen out of the Jays system in a deal for international spending money, Thomas is a multi-tooled outfielder who is still working to improve his contact rate. He has an outside shot at a 20-20 season in his future with some further polish at the plate; if not, he may end up as an excellent fourth outfielder. Thomas will open 2019 in triple-A but should be ready to help contribute at the big league level if he can wade through the existing outfield depth to find adequate playing time.

The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Ivan Herrera, C: Herrera could be another reason that St. Louis was comfortable with parting ways on Carson Kelly. Just 18 and in rookie ball, this young catcher has done nothing but hit in his two-year career. He’s an aggressive hitter but has an innate ability to make contact. He’s also shown excellent defensive skills and should be an above-average fielder in time once he improves his receiving and blocking.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Thoughts on Malcom Nuñez & Luken Baker?

Hype is big among Cards’ fans after Nuñez’s mashing in the Dominican League, and Baker looks like a hoss.


I wouldn’t care if he hit .150 in the DSL, it’s all about the pretty swing for me.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson

Luken Baker is a large man or small mountain, depending on one’s point of view. I don’t have him in my top 40 St. Louis prospects, and don’t expect him to ever contribute to an MLB team — except maybe as a DH. But I wouldn’t count on that. When I watched him in Peoria, I didn’t see either the bat speed or balance at the plate that would lead to excellent hitting in the long run. But then, I saw him in August. Maybe he was just tuckered out.

Malcom Nunez however looks like his bat will resemble prime Allen Craig. Doesn’t have Craig’s signature front foot torque, but he does have the leverage, the easy line drive power. In fact, this summer Nunez laced several line drive homers. And 17-year-olds don’t do that too often, even in the bowels of the Dominican Summer League.

And remember, for you kids at home: line drives result in a higher slugging percentage than fly balls. Always have, always will. So don’t fret over launch angles. Just hit liners.