Juan Yepez's Age And Production Stand Out
The Cardinals did not have a spot in the field, and the Braves had a sudden need for a first baseman. So it was just a matter of working out which minor leaguer from deep in Atlanta's system would complete the trade for Matt Adams in May 2017.
As the Cardinals scanned their options, one player stood out for one number. It wasn’t his OPS or strikeout rate or exit velocity.
It was Juan Yepez’s age.
In 2015 he competed in two domestic Rookie leagues as a 17-year-old, hitting .299/.364/.458 with four home runs in 59 games. If St. Louis was going to take a swing at a minor leaguer, it might as well go young.
“Young enough to get a lot of rolls of the dice,” one Cardinals official said.
Yepez is still just 23, but now he has augmented his résumé with production at the highest minor league level. The corner infielder leaped to Triple-A Memphis early in 2021 and hit .285/.375/.587 through 85 games. He had 21 homers and 43 extra-base hits, showing a gap-to-gap, level righthanded swing that the Cardinals have seen before from hitters who emerge at Memphis.
In previous Septembers, Yepez would have been called up as an option off the bench from an expanded roster. Instead, the Cardinals veered toward pitching and eyeballed Yepez for targeted use late in the month if needed.
Ultimately, Yepez will secure a spot on the 40-man roster by November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
Yepez, whom Atlanta signed out of Venezuela in 2014, came to the Cardinals as a third baseman, but he has spent most of this season at first base. He could see some cameo work in left field as St. Louis explores his versatility.
Yepez's first spring training will bring his time with the Cardinals to a familiar point. The player who was acquired for a bat without a position will now be that bat without a clear position. He still has age on his side.
And bigger numbers getting harder to ignore.
— Infielder Brendan Donovan made up for a lost season by starting 2021 strong at High-A and finishing stronger at Triple-A. The 2018 seventh-rounder hit .313/.414/.542 in 25 games late in the year for Triple-A Memphis, building his overall line to .311/.405/.463 with almost as many RBIs (65) as he had strikeouts (68) through 100 games. He started at least 10 games at each infield position and also left field.
— Righthander Johan Oviedo’s unexpected ejection and 10-game suspension for a crusty foreign substance found in his glove may give the Cardinals reason to let their prized righthander start to focus on 2022. Pressed into major league duty because of injuries, Oviedo eventually found some footing at Triple-A. He was 1-6, 6.77 overall, but had a 3.21 ERA and 20 strikeouts in his final 14 innings.