2019-20 MLB International Reviews: St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals added a high volume of international players in 2019, including from countries where they haven't historically had a presence. They didn't have a million-dollar signing in the class, but they spread their bonus pool money around to a high quantity of players, with more than 20 signings who got six figures during the 2019 calendar year.
The top position player signing for the Cardinals in 2019 was Jeremy Rivas, a 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop who trained with Andres Veliz. He has international tournament experience, playing for Venezuela at the 2017 COPABE U-14 Pan American Championship in Chihuahua, Mexico, and his instincts for the game stand out at the plate and in the field. He's 6 feet, 175 pounds and makes frequent contact from the right side of the plate, with a line-drive approach and doubles power that should turn into more over-the-fence juice as he gets stronger. Rivas is a fringe-average runner who doesn't have the range or flash of some other shortstops, so there's some possibility he could end up at second or third base, but he's a steady, fundamentally sound defender with secure hands who plays under control and has an average arm.
On the pitching side, the top arm the Cardinals added this year was Jose Davila, a 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander. He's tall and lean (6-foot-3, 177 pounds) with fast arm speed and was scraping the low-90s when he signed. Since then, he's gotten stronger and reached 94 mph during Dominican instructional league, with the arm speed and physical projection that suggests more velocity is in the tank. His control comes and goes, but he has the athleticism to make adjustments that should help his future command, along with feel for spinning a curveball that's ahead of his changeup. Davila trained with Guido Mendez.
The top bonus for an Australian player so far in the 2019-20 signing period went to 16-year-old catcher Jake Burns, who got $400,000 from the Cardinals in September. It's an unusual signing for the Cardinals, who don't have a scout in Australia, but Burns represented his country at the U-15 World Cup in Panama last year, homering twice in 23 plate appearances. The Cardinals stayed in touch with him, then scouted him when he came to the United States in May for Perfect Game events and followed up by bringing him in to their Dominican academy for further evaluation before signing him. Burns also played in the U-18 World Cup in September in Korea, where he was the second-youngest player on Australia's team. Burns, who played in the 2015 Little League World Series, is a bat-first catcher who has shown good feel for hitting from the left side. A strong, flexible 6 feet, 200 pounds, Burns is a high baseball IQ player with a solid-average arm, though his receiving and blocking skills will need work, and he got extra development in by joining the Cardinals for Dominican instructional league last month.
Dominican righthander Antoni Cuello is a tall, physical pitcher (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) who signed for $275,000. At 17, Cuello stands out for his size and arm strength, reaching 93 mph now with a chance to throw in the mid-90s or better eventually. His control and secondaries (a curveball and changeup) need work, but he has a chance to develop into a power arm. Cuello trained with Nolan Peña.
Venezuelan shortstop Javier Bolivar, 16, signed with the Cardinals on July 2 after training with Dennis Suarez. He's a skinny 6-foot-3, 175 pounds and moves well for his size, with a chance to stay at shortstop because of his athleticism, though at his size he could end up at third base. Bolivar stands out mostly because of his physical projection and athleticism, with inconsistent performance from the right side but a chance for more offensive impact from the right side once he packs on more strength.
Maycol Justo is a 16-year-old Dominican shortstop the Cardinals signed for $245,000. Justo (5-foot-10, 145 pounds) is a switch-hitter with a sweet swing, particularly from the left side, with a knack for hitting in games. He has shown a high-contact bat with a smooth, easy stroke and sharp hand-eye coordination with a good approach for his age, spraying line drives around the field with doubles pop and a hit-over-power profile. Justo projects to stay in the middle infield, where he can make flashy plays at times with soft hands. His speed and arm are slightly below-average but have a chance to tick up, which would help his chance to stay at shortstop, otherwise he could fit at second base.
When the Yankees and Red Sox player a series in London in June, Major League Baseball had an event there for amateur players. That's where the Cardinals scouted 16-year-old Ettore Giulianelli, a righthander from Italy, and they later signed him for $200,000 in September. Giulianelli also played first base as an amateur, including this summer at the Senior League World Series in South Carolina, but he has more upside on the mound. He has a big, projectable frame (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) with a wide back and a fastball up to 90 mph, along with feel to spin a breaking ball. Giulianelli will likely begin his career this year in the United States in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Austin Gomber Earns Role With Versatility, New Pitch
The 26-year-old lefthander caught the Cardinals' attention with his versatility and earned a bullpen role as a result.
The Cardinals paid $200,000 for another righthander, Darlin Saladin out of the Dominican Republic. Saladin, 16, has a smaller, thin frame (5-foot-11, 150 pounds), but he's an excellent athlete and great arm speed. His fastball reaches 91 mph now, but even though he's not that big, his arm speed suggests he could eventually be throwing in the mid-90s. The late, explosive life on his fastball helps that pitch play up further, and he shows feel for spinning a curveball that he has the confidence to throw whether he's ahead or behind in the count. Saladin trained with Fernando Tatis.
One of the top 2019 players from Aruba, outfielder Keshawn Rombley, signed with the Cardinals for $200,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 11. Rombley was one of the youngest players in the 2019 class—he will play nearly all of 2020 as a 16-year-old—and he enhanced his profile by training in the Dominican Republic with Banana. Rombley is a 6-foot, 175-pound lefty who has flashed promising offensive upside and solid athleticism. Rombley has shown swing-and-miss tendencies at times, but at other times he has performed well and made hard contact, driving the ball out of the park already in games. A fringe-average runner, Rombley's value would go up if he gets faster, which could happen given his youth and athleticism, though he might end up in a corner.
The Cardinals signed 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Jeremy Ramos for $190,000, betting on his youth and physical upside. He's long and lean at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, with a ton of space to fill out and add strength. Ramos showed flashes of over-the-fence power from the right side now that should grow as he packs on weight, and additional strength could help him be more consistent at the plate. Ramos has long strides in center field, though as he gets bigger, he might fit better in a corner. He trained with Nolan Peña.
Another 16-year-old Dominican outfielder, Felix Taveras, signed with the Cardinals for $185,000. A lefthanded hitter, Taveras is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds and makes hard contact when he connects, with a power-over-hit profile in a corner.
Venezuelan center fielder Jose Cordoba wasn't a big dollar signing, but he's an intriguing player who boosted his stock with strong game performance during Dominican instructs. Cordoba, 16, is 5-foot-11, 165 pounds and doesn't have one loud tool, but he's an instinctive player who is better in games than he is in a workout, with a hit-over power profile from the right side. Cordoba is a tick below-average runner, but he's a fluid mover with a chance to play center field because his defensive instincts are so advanced.
One sleeper to watch who the Cardinals signed in 2019 in March during the end of the 2018-19 signing period is second baseman Albert Inoa, who got $70,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Inoa played in the DSL as a 17-year-old and batted .305/.455/.384 in 59 games with 52 walks and 47 strikeouts. Inoa's best tool is his bat. He's 5-foot-11, 170 pounds with a simple, direct swing from the right side without much movement in his hands. He's a patient, disciplined hitter who controls the strike zone, ranking fifth in the DSL in OBP and tied for fourth in walks. Inoa doesn't project to have much power, focusing more on line drives with doubles power. He's a below-average runner who needs to bring up the defensive side of his game.
Aside from Inoa, the Cardinals signed a couple other notable players in 2019 in the beginning of the year during the 2018-19 period. One of those players, 17-year-old Fernando Diaz, signed for $300,000 from the Tijuana Toros in Mexico in March. Diaz is a first baseman who got off to a slow start in the DSL—he hit .192/.328/.242 with no home runs in his first 27 games—but he hit .347/.429/.594 with six home runs in his final 27 games, leading to a .270/.378/.420 overall slash line with 23 walks and 72 strikeouts. Diaz has a big frame (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) and plus raw power. That's his best tool, and while Diaz made adjustments in the second half, his power does come with a higher swing-and-miss rate. Diaz was a catcher with Tijuana, so he's still learning the defensive side at first base.
The Cardinals also added Hansel Otamendi, a 17-year-old Cuban outfielder, for $170,000 in April. Otamendi and Cardinals third baseman Malcom Nuñez were teammates in 2016 when they played in the U-15 World Cup in Japan, where Otamendi was the youngest player on the Cuban team. After signing with the Cardinals, Otamendi started strong in the DSL, batting .330/.438/.392 in his first 27 games, but he wore down at the end of the year and dropped his overall slash line to .237/.386/.294. Otamendi (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) needs to get stronger, but he performed at a high level in Cuba's junior leagues and sticks out more in games than he does for his raw tools. He's a high-contact hitter from the right side with a disciplined eye for the strike zone, walking nearly twice as often (43) as he struck out (23) in his pro debut, though his power is limited. He's an average runner who has a chance to stay in center field because his jumps off the bat and routes are advanced.