St. Louis Cardinals 2024 International Review


Image credit: Branneli Franco

With one Dominican Summer League team, the Cardinals had a smaller, focused class of players this year. They spent more than most teams on pitching, headlined by one of the elite pitchers from Latin America.

Top Of The Class

The biggest bonus for the Cardinals this year went to 17-year-old Dominican righthander Branneli Franco, who got $800,000, the top deal for any international pitcher so far this year. He’s 6-foot-3, 190 pounds with the arm speed and physical projection in his lean, long-limbed frame for his velocity to continue growing. He has an easy delivery, good arm action and the ball comes out of his hand cleanly. Franco has gone from the mid-80s to the low-90s during the scouting process, touched 94 mph at the end of 2023 and has since inched up to scrape 95 mph with the look of a pitcher who could be reaching the upper-90s soon as he gets stronger and learns to get into his legs more in his delivery. He is a good strike-thrower for his age and has switched his breaking ball from a curveball to a low-80s slider with short, late tilt that he shows feel to spin. It’s ahead of his changeup, which comes out firm but with the same arm speed as his fastball and flashes good fading action. It’s a starter look with a good mix of present stuff and projection. 

Names To Know

Yairo Padilla, SS, Dominican Republic: The Cardinals signed Padilla, 16, for $760,000. He’s young for the class with lots of strength projection remaining in his lanky 6-foot-2, 170-pound build. He’s a switch hitter who has good balance at the plate with an easy, fluid swing and an accurate barrel. He recognizes pitches well and drives the ball well to the gaps without having to sell out his swing and has the physical upside for a lot more power to come once he packs on more weight. Where he plays in the future will depend somewhat on just how big he gets, but he has a good chance to stick at shortstop. He’s a plus runner with good hands and actions and a plus arm that could also continue to tick up with strength gains. 

Edward Guribe, OF/3B, Dominican Republic: Guribe has started to fill out to 6-foot-1, 195 pounds with more physical upside remaining to add to what’s already impressive raw power. Signed at 17 for $700,000, Guribe is a righthanded hitter who can put on a show with his power in batting practice and has the potential to hit 25-plus home runs. It’s not an all-or-nothing swing either, as he tracks pitches well for his age and has shown some ability to transfer his power to games, though with a flatter path that lends itself more to hard line drives than loft. Guribe was a third baseman who moved to the outfield before signing. He has still been getting some time at third base, but his value will come from what he does in the batter’s box, with defensive tools best suited for left field. 

Earle Zulueta, RHP, Cuba: Zulueta in Cuba spent time in the outfield and didn’t have a lot of time on the mound, but he has a tall, strong build (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and good mechanics for a 17-year-old without a ton of pitching experience. He has been slowed by a lower back issue that could delay his start to the season, but he has seen a significant spike in his stuff. Zulueta reached the low-90s as an amateur, but soon after signing he dialed it up to 96 mph. As an amateur, Zulueta was still learning to throw more consistent strikes, but he has a three-pitch mix with a low-80s slider that shows bat-missing potential and a changeup. Zulueta signed for $400,000.

Oliver Gonzalez, RHP, Panama: Gonzalez looked ticketed for the Padres until later in the process, instead signing with the Cardinals for $400,000. Gonzalez stood out because of his advanced pitchability for a 17-year-old, having success throwing strikes and navigating his way deep into games in Panama. Gonzalez is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds with a fastball that a year ago was cruising in the mid-80s and touching the upper-80s but now sits more in the upper-80s and reaches 92 mph with downhill plane. There looks like there’s more velocity on the way, but Gonzalez relies more on his touch and feel than power stuff. He has good control of his delivery for a young, tall pitcher to throw strikes at a high clip and hides the ball well to add deception. There’s advanced feel to spin a mid-70s curveball with good shape and depth from his high slot, with some feel to turn over a changeup as well, giving him a starter look. 

Rainiel Rodriguez, C, Dominican Republic: Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic, went to high school in Pennsylvania, but moved back to the Dominican Republic and signed as an international free agent for $300,000. He’s 5-foot-10, 197 pounds at 17, a compact, stocky strong build with an impressive offensive skill set. He’s a righthanded hitter who is short to the ball and has true all-fields power, already sending balls over the fence to the opposite field. Rodriguez is an aggressive hitter and innate feel for the barrel, helping him make a lot of contact and hammer the ball with impact. Rodriguez is an offensive-oriented catcher, with enough arm for the position, but work to do on defense to prove he can stay behind the plate.

Ryan Rodriguez, RHP, Mexico: Rodriguez is the youngest players signed in 2024. He was born on Aug. 31, the cutoff date to be eligible to sign in 2024, so had he been born 24 hours later, he would have had to wait until Jan. 15, 2025 to sign. Signed for $220,000, Rodriguez is 6 feet, 170 pounds, an athletic pitcher with good arm action, a sound delivery and a solid-strike thrower for his age. He mixes a fastball that has touched the low-90s and a slider that’s ahead of his changeup.

Cristofer Lebron, SS, Dominican Republic: The Cardinals signed Lebron for $175,000. He’s an athletic, 17-year-old shortstop with plus speed who has made strides making his defensive actions more crisp, with a chance to develop at shortstop, though he could end up at second base. His speed and athleticism are his biggest standout traits ahead of his righthanded bat, with a chance to grow into power as he fills out his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame.

Christian Saez, 1B, Cuba: Saez, 17, signed for $150,000. He’s 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, a lefthanded hitter with a simple swing and he drives the ball with impact from left-center field over to his pull side. He’s an aggressive hitter with what could end up a power-over-hit profile. Saez spent time as a corner outfielder before signing but has moved to first base, so his offensive game will drive his value. 

Sleeper Watch

Venezuelan outfielder Brayan Amoroso is a strongly built 6-foot-2, 200 pounds at 16 signed for $150,000. That strength allows him to drive the ball for a lot of damage, especially to his pull side, with a good mix of bat-to-ball skills and power for his age. It’s a level swing path with more in-game power that he could unlock if he’s able to generate more loft. He’s an offensive-minded player who will play an outfield corner, with enough arm strength for right or left field, though with some risk he could end up at first base depending how big he gets.

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