St. Louis Cardinals 2021 Top MLB Prospects Chat

Image credit: Nolan Gorman (Paul Gierhart)

Sean (Santo Domingo):

     While you have Herrera as the catcher of the future and Knizer the catcher of right now, the Cards have an interesting third C prospect in the hit-first Edgardo Rodriguez. What are your thoughts on him today, and where does he fit in the team’s plans, especially if the NL can’t count on the DH going forward?

J.J. Cooper: If I’m talking about a third catching prospect for the Cardinals I would start with Julio Rodriguez who is a solid all-around catcher who isn’t that far away and is playing right now in the Dominican League. Edgardo Rodriguez was part of the trade package the Cards got in the Randy Arrozarena trade (I know you know that, but for those reading who do not). He’s quite a ways away–not his fault but thanks to the coronavirus-cancelled season he’s heading into the season before his Rule 5 protection decision with a few games in the U.S. and 215 total pro ABs. The bat is intriguing. His glove will need to improve if he is to stay at catcher and he’s so far away that it’s hard to project out where he fits in the team’s plans. He’s likely 3-4 years away from St. Louis if it all goes well.

Chamaco (Mexico):

     The Cardinals have traded away young players (Arozarena, Gallen, Voit) who I think you can argue have exceeded their internal expectations for them, yet they still have holes on their roster (which they have tried to fill with trades, free agent signings, and player development). They have also kept players at similar positions who haven’t developed as hoped (especially OFs like O’Neill, Bader). Do you think this reflects something amiss with their player development or internal evaluations? Or is it just the nature of the business to hit on some prospects and miss on others?

J.J. Cooper: This is absolutely something the Cardinals have to get on top off. The Cardinals have had a lot of things they do very well in player development–they develop prep pitchers better than almost anyone. They are basically the gold standard when it comes to taking a tweener and improving his defense to the point where it becomes playable at a tougher position. But when it comes to evaluating their own prospects, the Cardinals have had some very notable misses in recent years. You hit on three very notable ones. The Cardinals had an over-abundance of close to the majors outfielders a couple of years ago. That surplus has now either reach the majors or has been traded away and the players the Cardinals kept did not perform all that well in the majors in 2020. It was a short season and there’s reason still for hope with many of those same Cardinals outfielder, but it’s utterly fair to wonder what St. Louis season would have looked like with Arozarena and Voit in the lineup.

Andrew Knizner (C):

     How hard is it to fight prospect fatigue with a guy like Knizner and how do you approach a guy like him when it comes to evaluation?

J.J. Cooper: It’s a useful item to consider, but the biggest question with Knizner is how good is the glove going to be. My personal viewpoints when it comes to catchers over the years is it’s the hardest position to evaluate when it comes to prospects. But more and more it is apparent that how good your bat is is not nearly important as how good your glove is. Team after team acquire and play catchers who have very minimal offensive tools, but receive well, frame well and handle a pitching staff. Very few teams play catchers who are excellent offensively and face questions about their defense. It’s still possible that Yadi Molina will end up back in St. Louis, but let’s say he doesn’t. How hard is it going to be for Knizner to handle the job defensively everyday when the pitchers he throws to were throwing to a gold-standard game-caller, pitch handler like Molina for years. My concerns about Knizner have more to do about whether he can be a 50-55 defender at catcher than prospect fatigue. With catchers, I think it is fair to have an expectation that their development often takes longer. It’s a very tough job.

Joe (Wisconsin):

     E Montero, a few years ago, was looked upon very positively…..Major league ready body, fantastic bat speed, etc. The world was his oyster – now I don’t see him in your top ten. Have injuries decimated his prospect shine, or is there still hope he can become a regular at the major league level, albeit an OF and maybe not a 3B??

J.J. Cooper: Part of the problem for Montero is this Cardinals’ list is pretty impressive. They graduated almost no one from last year’s list and added five Top 100 picks in the 2020 draft. The Cardinals had five picks in this year’s draft that were before their first pick in their awful 2017 draft (the one where they had draft penalties because of the Chris Correa hacking scandal). Along those lines I really would love to have Masyn Winn and Tink Hence in the Top 10, and they didn’t fit. Montero just needs a chance to bounce back in actual games. Like many players he was done no favors by 2020’s MiLB cancellation. He can really hit, he has strength. But he’s now 2 years removed from his last run of consistent success.

Matt (MO):

     Thanks tor the chat JJ. I’m a little surprised Walker’s hit tool got only a 45 grade. I have heard he’s more of an average to even above average hit with plus power. Is the main concern the level of competition he played against in HD and that he has really long levers?

J.J. Cooper: He could get to a 50-55, but the long levers are a concern. More often long-levered tall players understandably trade some contact and average for big power production. If you told me Walker ended up hitting for massive power with a slightly below-average hit tool that’s an excellent outcome in my book.

Mr. NitPicker (STL):

     Are you aware that none of Kwang-Hyun Kim, Andrew Knizer, and Lane Thomas retain rookie eligibility? Do you use different standards than the MLB or just an error on your part?

J.J. Cooper: We have never used service time as a prospect eligibility differentiator. We may tweak that some day, but we have consistently from 1981 used ABs/innings as what determines prospect eligibility. Days of service on an MLB roster has not been something we have ever used.

Bill B (Glen Allen, VA):

     Thanks for taking our questions. Delvin Perez… someone who appeared to have so much promise when the Cardinals drafted him #1 a few years ago… any possible place for him in STL in the next few years or just a player whose stats were due exclusively to artificial enhancements?

J.J. Cooper: There’s basically no real shot of him living up to the expectations that come with being a first-round pick. The Cardinals had an excellent 2016 draft because they landed Dylan Carlson, Dakota Hudson, Zac Gallen and Tommy Edman that year, which makes up for the miss on Perez. But Perez is still a very solid infielder defensively which gives him a shot at an eventual MLB role. Just don’t expect the offensive impact he was projected to produce coming out of high school.

David (St Louis):

     I’m sure to be the only one asking this question…where would Arozarena rank on this list?

J.J. Cooper: Would be hard to have him worse than three on this list and you could make the case at No. 1. If healthy, I would hope he would no longer qualify as with the Cardinals OF production issues in 2020 you could have seen him playing enough to graduate.

Aaron (IL):

     The cardinals have a plethora of outfielders going into 2021 with Fowler, Bader and O’Neil being the starting 3. My question is where do you see Carlson starting in 2021 once the season gets underway?

J.J. Cooper: I expect to see him in the Opening Day lineup. None of the trio you mentioned batted cleanup for the Cardinals during the 2020 postseason. In the most important games of the year, Carlson was the one asked to do the most. Bader and Fowler batted eighth and ninth. Tyler O’Neill spent that series largely as a pinch runner/defensive replacement. St. Louis showed how they lined them up right there in my opinion. I still think there will be a DH in the NL in 2020, so this problem will largely be alleviated I would expect, but Carlson is the cornerstone guy of these four. You hope if you are St. Louis that his strong finish to the season is a harbinger of many better things to come. I don’t see why you would hold off on giving him the opportunity to do so from Game 1 in 2021.

Karl of Delaware (Geprgetown, Delaware):

     So the catcher Knizner is not the best at framing pitches – if the big leagues go to the electronic strike zone will this give him a boost as a prospect, or would the effect be so small that it would be without consequence?

J.J. Cooper: I think it could be a big help. There is more to being a good defensive catcher than just framing–Molina’s pitch calling is pretty legendary and being able to handle pitchers in a way where you as a catcher are an asset rather than a distraction is huge, but throwing pitch framing out would logically help catchers who aren’t great framers but can hit.

Indiana Cardinal (Lowell Indiana):

     Both Liberatore and Arozarena are ranked by BA as the second best prospect for the Cards and Rays respectively. You did the chat for both teams. Where would each of them rank if still with their original team? Does Liberatore as a left handed starting pitcher have more value to the Cards than Aroz would have as a corner OF? In reverse (discounting the playoff performance) does Aroz have more future value to the Rays as a corner OF than Liberatore would have as a starting left hander?

J.J. Cooper: We don’t know much yet about what is going on with Arozarena’s domestic incident in Mexico, but as of yet he has not be charged, so let’s assume that is not an issue. On purely baseball terms, I would rather have Arozarena. Both have a chance to be impact players, but in Liberatore’s case, it’s the chance that he will be an impact player. Arozarena has shown he’s an impact player. Yes, it was 2 months (September and October), but in the most pressure-packed, most highly scrutinized part of the year, Arozarena performed day after day. If Arozarena had put together a good ALWC round or a good ALDS or a good ALCS and struggled at other times, you could say he got hot at the right time. But he showed big tools and he showed that he could adjust when teams tried to attack him differently. Against sliders in the postseason–8 hits including a double and 2 HRs Against 4-seam fastballs in the postseason–7 hits including 4 HRs and a triple Against curveballs in the postseason–6 hits including 2 doubles and 2 HRs. Against 2-seam sinkers in the postseason–5 hits including 2 HRs Against changeups he wasn’t as good, but he did have 2 singles and a 105 mph lineout No hits against cutters but he hit 3 of then 100-MPH + He hit everything. Yes he was locked in, but that seems to be the foundation of a long and very successful MLB career.

Mike (Honolulu):

     Can you go over the catching depth in the system? Is there another Yadier?

J.J. Cooper: No. There’s not. There likely won’t be for a very long time. That’s nothing against Ivan Herrera, who is very, very interesting, but Yadier Molina is the best catcher the Cardinals have ever had. Yes, the Yankees watched Joe DiMaggio roam CF and then watched Mickey Mantle take over. The Red Sox went from Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski, but that doesn’t normally happen. You’re more likely to watch Ozzie Smith and realize you’ll never watch any other SS like Ozzie Smith play for your team in your lifetime and that’s just the reality of life and mortality. As far as the catching depth, I do think it’s one of the club’s stronger positions. Herrera is very promising. Knizner is MLB ready. Julio Rodriguez is well-rounded and should be ready for Triple-A. There’s talent far away as well (Edgardo Rodriguez). But there is no Yadier Molina coming around the corner.

Joe (Mi):

     Awesome list JJ! I am excited what Dylan Carlson can do this year at the big league level. Would you say at the Cardinals have three top 100 prospects? Do you think Ivan Herrera or Zack Thompson would be in the conversation?

J.J. Cooper: I would say three for now. There’s a lot to like about Ivan Herrera and I could see him moving into the Top 100 during the season with a strong year, but not yet.

Jeff Luhnow (MIA):

     Your draft coverage is excellent! That said, I was bummed to not see Masyn Winn on the list. Does he have a shot at sticking as a two-way guy and what have you heard so far?

J.J. Cooper: He’s No. 11 in the Prospect Handbook we are finishing up this week. I LOVE Winn as a prospect ever since first seeing him as a rising junior at the Texas Scout’s Association All-Star Game in 2018. Sticking as a two-way guy as a SS/RHSP is pretty much impossible until arms are made out of titanium. The Cardinals will let him try to develop at both, but at some point in the future, he’ll have to decide on SS or pitching if he wants to be a starting pitcher. The demands on the arm simply are too great to do both for the long-term. In 2019 it was fun to watch Jacob Cronenworth try to be a SS and a reliever at Triple-A Durham, but note that when the reached the majors, the Padres shut that down as they decided he was too valuable as an infielder.

Alan (NC):

     Ivan Herrera’s ETA? Thanks!

J.J. Cooper: Whatever I want to project when it comes to catchers I add a year because catching is really, really hard. So I’ll say 2023.

Dave (Grayson, ga):

     Any update on the possibility of teams loaning players to indy teams? Do you expect many organizations to have multiple domestic complex teams?

J.J. Cooper: As of right now, loaning is not allowed, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen before the 2021 season. We’ll see. I do expect some teams will have two complex teams. Others will bulk up full season rosters. Others may try to get creative with developing players in special camps at their complexes. We’ll see what springs from this.

Karl of Delaware (Geprgetown, Delaware):

     Korean pitcher Kwang Hyun Kim seems to have an interesting variety of pitches – is there any major league hurler that pops into your mind as a comparable?

J.J. Cooper: I hate to do a comp since one doesn’t immediately jump out, but I love watching him pitch. He has such a feel for what he is doing. It was fun watching him in the 2009 WBC many years ago and to see how he has developed into a artist on the mound. That gives me an excuse to link to what is best ranking I think I’ll ever be a part of.

Bob (Florida):

     I have seen Malcom Nunez ranked as high as #10 in a recent ranking. What do you see from him going forward? Huge numbers at DSL, but a drop off after that.

J.J. Cooper: Can hit. I don’t see him that high in a system that is really one of the deeper ones in potential impact talent around.

J.J. Cooper: Thank you everyone for coming out and for subscribing. I have to get back to proofing the Prospect Handbook which is heading to the printer in the very near future.

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