2023 International Reviews: St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals have operated with a patient approach to some of their recent signing classes. They were aggressive in signing Dominican shortstop Jonathan Mejia last year for $2 million and he quickly became one of the better prospects in the organization after a strong debut in the Dominican Summer League. 

This year, the Cardinals didn’t sign anyone for a seven-figure bonus. They spread their bonus pool space around to more players, though with a little under $1 million left in their pool, the Cardinals still have room to add more players who pop up later in the process before the signing period closes on Dec. 15. Below are scouting reports on 16 players to watch from this year’s class. 

Top Of The Class

The largest bonus for the Cardinals class this year went to Venezuelan righthander Reiner Lopez, who signed for $500,000. Around a year ago, Lopez was 6-foot-8, 170 pounds, with added weight since then to get up to 202 pounds. He’s an extremely tall, still-lean pitcher at 17 and still screams projection. For such a young, lanky pitcher, Lopez is able to throw strikes well from a simple delivery with good arm action. There isn’t much effort to his operation, so the ball comes out cleanly with a fastball that has been up to 93 mph. Given his arm speed and how much space Lopez still has to fill out, there should be mid-to-upper 90s-velocity in his future, especially once he learns to incorporate his lower half more into his mechanics. His best offspeed pitch is a changeup that he sells well to already get empty swings and could develop into a plus pitch. His changeup is more advanced than his breaking stuff, with his slider ahead of his curveball. 

Names To Know

Bracewell Taveras, SS, Dominican Republic: Taveras is an offensive-oriented shortstop the Cardinals signed for $450,000. He’s still 16 with a well-built frame (6 feet, 180 pounds) and good contact skills from both sides of the plate. Taveras has a good approach for his age, managing his at-bats well with gap power and a little more juice from the right side. He’s an average runner with a clean, explosive stride and the athleticism for the middle infield. He has a chance to stay at shortstop, though his arm might lead him to the other side of the diamond to become an offensive second baseman.

Ruben Menes, RHP, Cuba: Menes turned 21 in April, so he’s older than most international signings, landing a $400,000 bonus. He had pitched in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2020, when he posted a 2.86 ERA in 34.2 innings with 35 walks and 17 strikeouts for Matanzas. The year before, Menes led the league with a 0.00 ERA, allowing only one unearned run over 36.1 innings with a 38-9 K-BB mark. Since then, Menes hasn’t pitched much, but at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he has more strength projection remaining than most 21-year-olds. He pitches off a fastball that has touched 93 mph and could tick up more once he fills out, with a curveball and changeup rounding out his repertoire.

Angel Gil, OF, Dominican Republic: Gil offers an intriguing mix of present hitting ability with significant physical upside at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds. He’s a 17-year-old, lefthanded outfielder signed for $375,000, an advanced hitter for his age with good pitch recognition and bat-to-ball skills. Gil’s swing is loose and whippy with good bat speed. It’s a contact-oriented approach against live pitching with gap power, but with the leverage in his swing and a ton of space left to pack on weight, Gil has a chance to combine his pure hitting ability with more extra-base thunder once he gets into his prime. He’s a below-average runner whose defensive instincts are good enough that he could see time in center field at the lower levels, though long term he projects best in a corner. 

Hancel Almonte, OF, Dominican Republic: Almonte signed with the Cardinals at 17 for $270,000. He has a strong, physically mature frame for his age at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, with the strength and bat speed to produce some of the better present raw power among this year’s Cardinals signings. There’s still some crudeness to his righthanded swing and pure hitting ability, with a power-over hit offensive game. Almonte signed as a center fielder, though long term he most likely will settle in a corner. 

Yadiel Batista, LHP, Cuba: Signed for $255,000, Batista is 19 with an extremely skinny frame (6-foot-3, 170 pounds) that he will need to add weight to for him to grow a fastball that tops out at 90 mph now. If he can, there’s promise with his athleticism, ability to throw strikes and fool hitters with a plus changeup that has good sink and fade to mirror his fastball. He’s mostly fastball/changeup with an occasional breaking ball.

Facundo Velasquez, OF, Venezuela: Velasquez offers a mix of tools, athleticism and switch-hitting ability in a player who can play a premium position. A former shortstop moved to center field, Velasquez has a lean 6-foot-2, 180-pound build with plus speed. At the plate, he shows feel for hitting from both sides with a balanced, line-drive, slight uppercut stroke. It’s mostly gap power now with more extra-base impact from the right side. He signed for $250,000. 

Jarol Baez, RHP, Dominican Republic: At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Baez pitches off a fastball that parks in the upper 80s and touches 90 mph. Signed at 17 for $225,0000, Baez shows feel to manipulate two secondary pitches. His best offspeed pitch could be his changeup, a pitch he sells well with his arm speed to look like a fastball out of his hand and flashes as a plus pitch. He already has good control of his changeup for his age, something that’s still developing for his curveball, but he does have feel to spin his curve, giving him a potential three-pitch starter mix. 

Andru Arthur, OF, Bahamas: A lefthanded outfielder signed for $220,000, Arthur showed a knack for putting the ball in play in games as an amateur. He’s a lanky 6-foot-1, 170 pounds at 17, and while it isn’t the most aesthetic swing, he stays balanced and tracks pitches well to make contact and get on base with doubles power. An offensive-oriented player, Arthur is a good athlete, though he likely fits best long term in an outfield corner.

Giovanni Vargas, RHP, Mexico: Vargas made a splash early in the scouting process when he pitched in an international tournament in Mexico in 2021 and reached 93 mph. Arm issues since then have kept his fastball more in the 87-90 mph range, but he’s an athletic strike-thrower with a polished changeup for 17. Signed for $210,000, Vargas is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with a fast arm and he maintains his arm speed on his changeup, flashing plus already with a chance to grade out even higher. His changeup is well ahead of his breaking ball, but his ability to throw strikes and fool hitters with his changeup should lead to success early in pro ball. 

Daniel Rojas, SS, Dominican Republic: At 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, Rojas has a shorter frame but brings a lot of quick-twitch athleticism and an intriguing tool set for his size. A $200,000 signing at 17, Rojas is a high-energy player with a lean, lively frame that’s wiry strong, squaring up the ball well from the right side against live pitching and driving the ball well for his size. He’s an above-average runner who has good quickness and hands in the infield, potentially fitting at shortstop, second base or moving around in a utility role.

Xavier Cruz, RHP, Dominican Republic: A former shortstop who moved to the mound and signed for $200,000, Cruz has a skinny, gangly frame (6-foot-2, 155 pounds) with long arms and a fastball up to 89 mph at 17. He will need to get stronger to add more power to his stuff, but he’s a solid strike-thrower given his lack of pitching experience and shows feel for a low-70s curveball with good rotation. 

Brailyn Paulino, RHP, Dominican Republic: The Cardinals signed Paulino for $165,000 in February, a relatively late signing in the process, but he’s one of the more promising pitchers in their class. He’s 6 feet, 185 pounds at 17 with a good mix of stuff and pitchability. He has a sound delivery, good arm action and operates off a low-90s fastball that has touched 94 mph. He complements it with a hard curveball at 78-80 mph with three-quarter action and can be a swing-and-miss pitch for him, while his changeup is another pitch he shows feel for with fading life. Paulino doesn’t have a ton of physical projection, but it’s a starter look between his feel for three pitches, ability to throw strikes and mix his pitches effectively. 

Fernando Roquez, OF, Dominican Republic: Signed at 17 for $160,000, Roquez is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with a strong lower half and stood out for his bat as an amateur. He’s a lefthanded hitter with a level swing, good rhythm and a mature offensive approach to work the count and put together quality at-bats. Roquez has gap power, something that will need to grow in time since he fits best defensively in left field. 

Stiveen Rojas, LHP, Dominican Republic: Rojas turns 17 on Aug. 29, meaning had he been born a couple days later, he wouldn’t have been eligible to sign until Jan. 15, 2024. He’s one of the youngest players in the class and looks like it physically at just 5-foot-9, 135 pounds, but despite his stature he signed for $125,000. He’s extremely competitive, has a loose arm and attacks hitters with a mid-to-upper-80s fastball with lively arm-side run. Rojas shows some feel for a 71-74 mph curveball with late action that’s still inconsistent but ahead of his changeup. 

Sleeper Watch

Venezuelan righthander Keiverson Ramirez hits a lot of delivery checkpoints and projection indicators scouts look for in a young pitcher. Signed for $75,000, Ramirez is 6-foot-1, 155 pounds at 17, a skinny build with a lot more physical upside to add weight. His athleticism and body control are evident on the mound, where he has a simple, low-effort delivery that’s calm and under control. That helps him throw strikes with a fastball that has touched 90 mph and has the projection for more velocity in the tank, along with his slider and changeup.

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