2018-19 International Reviews: St. Louis Cardinals
This is part of Ben Badler's 2018-19 International Reviews series chronicling all the moves made by teams on the international market over the prior year. To see all 30 teams, click here.
Total 2018 (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2018) signings: 32
Despite being unable to sign players for more than $300,000 last year, the Cardinals came away with a player who has quickly developed into one of their most promising prospects. They gave one bonus of $300,000 last year, signing Cuban third baseman Malcom Nuñez for that amount on July 2. Despite a relatively lower bonus compared to the top prospects—there are around 100 players who signed for more money last year—Nuñez was one of the top players in the class, ranking as the No. 26 prospect for July 2 in our rankings. His stock has climbed since then.
Nuñez may have been the best hitter in his age group in Cuba when he left the country. He played in the Cuban 15U national league in 2016 and hit .412/.592/.578 with 46 walks and nine strikeouts in 152 plate appearances, ranking first in the league in walks, third in on-base percentage and seventh in slugging. He went to Japan after the season to play in the U-15 World Cup and made the all-star team at third base by leading the tournament in batting average, OBP and stolen bases (7-for-7), batting .667/.750/.741 while going 18-for-27 with nine walks and one strikeout. Nuñez spent a long time in the Dominican Republic, with the Cardinals able to sign him on July 2, and since he was 17, he was able to play right away in the Dominican Summer League. He demolished the DSL, producing a .415/.497/.774 slash line with 13 home runs in 44 games to finish first in the league in batting average, OBP, slugging and homers.
Nuñez, who turned 18 this week, is a strong, physically mature player for his age at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds. His strength and bat speed produce plus raw power. While Nuñez wasn't facing great pitching in the DSL, he showed more than just a one-dimensional offensive game there. At times his hands shoot away from his body and add some length to his swing, but in the DSL he showed a mature hitting approach with a good sense of which pitches to swing at. Nuñez has exciting offensive upside, but he will have to improve his defense to stay at third base. He has a strong arm for the position and can make the backhand play, but his footwork and agility need to get better to avoid a move to either first base or an outfield corner.
After Nunez, the top position player the Cardinals added last year was Diego Velasquez, a 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher who signed in July. Velasquez is a righthanded hitter who performed well in games as an amateur. Velasquez has an advanced approach for his age and good bat-to-ball skills with gap power from his 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame. He's an offensive-minded catcher whose defense will need to catch up, but he has a chance to develop into a playable defender. He trained with Francisco Ortiz.
In July, the Cardinals signed another Venezuelan prospect, 17-year-old righthander Henry Gomez. He has a lean, projectable frame (6-foot-2, 165 pounds) and stood out for his ability to spin a tight curveball with good depth and the ability to land it for strikes. His fastball has reached 90 mph and should climb once he gains weight.
Dominican righthander Victor Herrera, 17, signed with the Cardinals for $150,000 in September. He's a harder thrower, reaching 94 mph already with a chance to throw in the mid- to upper 90s once he fills out his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. Herrera already has a power arm for his age but is also a solid strike thrower who shows feel for locating his fastball. His breaking ball is inconsistent, but he flashes feel to spin that pitch as well.
Brandon Hernandez is a third baseman the Cardinals signed for $55,000 in October with an interesting background. He grew up in Canada, but he has residency in the Dominican Republic and moved back there a few years ago. The Cardinals knew him well—he's the brother of Francisco Hernandez, another Canadian-born third baseman the Cardinals signed out of the Dominican Republic and has spent the last two years playing in the Dominican Summer League. Brandon was one of the youngest players in the 2018 class, turning 16 on Aug. 21, but he's shown signs of being an advanced hitter from the left side. He's 6 feet, 190 pounds with a mature hitting approach, going with where the ball is pitched and using the whole field with gap power and an offensive-minded profile.
Juan Yepez's Age And Production Stand Out
While Yepez doesn't have a clear position for 2022, the 23-year-old Venezuelan will get a chance to prove himself capable on the infield corners or left field.
See also: 2017-18 Cardinals International Review
See also: 2016-17 Cardinals International Review (Notable prospects Randy Arozarena, Johan Oviedo)
See also: 2015-16 Cardinals International Review
See also: 2014-15 Cardinals International Review (Notable prospect Elehuris Montero)
See also: 2013-14 Cardinals International Review (Notable prospect Sandy Alcantara)
See also: 2012-13 Cardinals International Review (Notable prospect Alex Reyes, Magneuris Sierra)
See also: 2011-12 NL Central International Review