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BA Grade: 60. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Hit: 55. Power: 60. Run: 55. Fielding: 55. Arm: 50. Track Record: The son of a famed high school coach, Carlson grew up playing older competition from a young age. His father Jeff built a renowned program as the head coach of Elk Grove (Calif.) High, where he won eight CIF section titles and produced a long list of future major leaguers. Carlson was a fixture at team practices from the time he could walk and began taking infield and batting practice with the team at age 11. He entered high school at 13 and made varsity as a freshman, the start of a decorated four-year career that culminated with the Cardinals selecting him 33rd overall in the 2016 draft. He signed for $1.35 million. After steady production as one of the youngest players at his level each year, Carlson broke out in 2019 as a 20-year-old. He opened at Double-A Springfield as the second-youngest position player in the Texas League and won the league MVP award, finishing second in the circuit in OPS (.882), home runs (21), runs scored (81) and extra-base hits (51). He made the Futures Game and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he delivered 11 extra-base hits in 18 games. He finished the year as one of just 10 players in the minors to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases. Scouting Report: : Carlson has long shown advanced instincts, controlled the strike zone and flashed the ingredients to hit with above-average bat speed and hand-eye coordination. An added 10 pounds of muscle allowed him to impact the ball more, and as a result he jumped from 11 home runs in 2018 to 26 in 2019. A switch-hitter, Carlson ironed out his once-loopy lefthanded swing and is now at least an above-average hitter from both sides. He studies pitchers’ tendencies, stays within the strike zone and doesn’t miss his pitch when he gets it. Carlson’s pure power is average, but his growing strength and sound swing mechanics give him a chance to exceed that projection and hit 20 or more home runs each year. Carlson has average speed, but he’s an above-average runner who steals bases efficiently. Those same instincts allow him to capably man center field, though he’s better as an above-average defender on the corners. His fringy to average arm fits best in left field. Long lauded for his plus-plus makeup, Carlson plays a mature game and knows how to handle adversity. His mother Caryn survived breast cancer and is confined to a wheelchair as a result of transverse myelitis, an inflammatory disease that affected her spinal cord and left her partially paralyzed. The Future: Carlson will be just 21 in 2020 and still has time to grow. With a well-rounded game with few weaknesses, he is a safe bet to be at least a solid everyday player and has a strong chance to be more. He should reach the majors in 2020.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: High Tool Grades: Fastball: 60. Curveball: 60. Slider: 45. Changeup: 55. Control: 55. Track Record: Liberatore was the ace of USA Baseball’s World Cup gold medal-winning 18U team in 2017, but he had to settle for a runner-up finish to friend Nolan Gorman’s team in the Arizona 6A state championship. He was expected to be one of the first prep players off the board but slid to the Rays at pick 16. He’s lived up to expectations so far, though his 2019 was briefly interrupted in August by back spasms. Liberatore was dealt to St. Louis in a trade that netted the Rays Jose Martinez in January 2020, reuniting him with Gorman. Scouting Report: Liberatore is notably polished for a young 6-foot-6 lefthander. He spots his 91-95 mph fastball well (he can touch 97) and he shuffles between a slider, changeup and curveball that all are at least average now with above-average or plus potential. Liberatore’s best curveballs are plus-plus, high-70s downers with power and depth. His 82-84 mph slider is usually a little slurvy, but he can induce chases when he gets more tilt. He shows feel for his average changeup but uses it less than his breaking stuff. The Future: Liberatore projects as a polished middle-of-the-rotation lefty. He thrives thanks to a wide assortment of pitches combined with excellent command. He’s about as safe a bet as a teen pitching prospect can be, and his size and smooth delivery give him a high upside as well. The excellent pitching environment of the Florida State League is the next test.
BA Grade: 60. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 50. Power: 70. Run: 40. Fielding: 50. Arm: 55. Track Record: Gorman emerged early as the top power prospect in the 2018 draft, winning the high school home run derby at Marlins Park and the Under Armour All-America home run derby at Wrigley Field. The Cardinals drafted him 19th overall and signed him for just over $3.2 million. Gorman got off to a scorching start with 24 home runs in his first 85 career games, but he cooled off and hit just eight home runs in his next 104 games. He still reached high Class A Palm Beach in his first full season. Scouting Report: : Muscular with a broad chest and strong hands, Gorman possesses the plus-plus raw power to make balls disappear. He flashes the approach to get to his power, but often gets too pull-oriented and uphill in his swing path, opening him up for strikeouts. He has the ingredients to be an average hitter as he improves his approach. Gorman makes the routine plays at third base with a quick exchange and an above-average arm, but he needs to improve his first-step quickness to become an average defender. He is somewhat stiff and a below-average runner. The Future: Gorman has the power to hit in the middle of the lineup. Improving his approach will be his main goal in 2020.
BA Grade: 50. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Fastball: 70. Slider: 55. Changeup: 50. Control: 40.v Track Record: Cabrera pitched for the Astros on a tryout basis in the Dominican Republic’s informal Tricky League in the summer of 2013. Rays international director Carlos Rodriguez liked what he saw when Cabrera threw against the Rays and signed him for $34,000. Cabrera rose swiftly through Tampa’s system, and the Cardinals acquired him as one of three prospects for Tommy Pham at the 2018 trade deadline. Cabrera made his major league debut with the Cardinals in May as a starter but later settled in the bullpen. Scouting Report: : Cabrera has long drawn comparisons to all-star closer Felipe Vazquez for his electric stuff, violent delivery and shoddy control. Cabrera’s fastball sits 94-97 mph as a starter and ticks up to 99 as a reliever. He hides the ball well and it explodes out of his hand, inducing swings and misses even when he leaves it over the plate. Cabrera’s power mid-80s breaking ball waffles between a curveball and slider, but it has the depth and snap to be an above-average, swing-and-miss pitch. His hard, upper-80s changeup plays up to average off his fastball. Cabrera is highly athletic, but his inconsistent delivery and violent arm action yield bouts of extreme wildness. The Future: The Cardinals intend to bring Cabrera to spring training as a starter. He has a promising fallback option as an impact, late-game reliever.
BA Grade: 50. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Fastball: 70. Curveball: 50. Changeup: 45. Control: 45 Track Record: Helsley grew up in rural Tahlequah, Okla., and received his only college scholarship offer from Division II Northeastern State. A star turn in the California Collegiate Summer League pulled scouts to Helsley’s games, and the Cardinals drafted him in the fifth round in 2015. Helsley raced up the system until shoulder fatigue sidetracked him in 2018, but he rebounded to make his major league debut in 2019 and became a key part of the Cardinals’ bullpen. Scouting Report: : With thick, sturdy legs and an explosive right arm, Helsley overpowers hitters with a fastball that sits 97-98 mph and touches 101 in relief. It features elite spin and is a potentially plus-plus pitch, though it presently plays down because he struggles to locate it. Helsley’s plus upper-80s cutter is a strikeout pitch that slides off of barrels with short, late movement. He can land it for strikes or induce chases below the zone. Helsley uses his average power curveball and fringy changeup as a starter, but rarely throws them in relief. The Future: Helsley has the stuff to start. If his health and command aren’t up for it, he has a future as an impact reliever.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: High Tool Grades: Hit: 55. Power: 45. Run: 30. Fielding: 55. Arm: 50. Track Record: A veteran of Panama’s junior national teams, Herrera signed with the Cardinals for $200,000 in 2016 and quickly established himself as one of the system’s top hitters. He hit .335 in the Dominican Summer League and .348 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to start his career, then jumped to full-season ball in 2019 and hit .286 with an .805 OPS as the third-youngest player in the low Class A Midwest League on Opening Day. He finished the year at high Class A Palm Beach. Scouting Report: : Herrera is an offensive catcher who makes frequent contact with a compact, righthanded swing. He is short to the ball, rarely swings and misses in the strike zone and lines the ball to all fields. He is a patient hitter who takes his walks, though he will chase and swing through upper-end velocity like many young hitters. Herrera continues to get stronger and has a chance to hit 12-15 home runs as he fills out. He has the strong, athletic frame to catch and is willing to learn, but his blocking and receiving are inconsistent and his above-average arm strength plays down with a slow release. He threw out 31 percent of basestealers in 2019. The Future: Herrera is just 19 and has time to polish his game. He has the upside of an everyday catcher who can provide impact on both sides of the ball.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: High Tool Grades: Fastball: 55. Curveball: 60. Slider: 55. Changeup: 50. Control: 50. Track Record: The Rays drafted Thompson in the 11th round out of high school and made him an over-slot bonus offer, but he attended Kentucky instead. Elbow soreness sidetracked Thompson’s sophomore season, but he returned to pitch 8.2 scoreless innings for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in the summer and rebounded with a strong junior season. He struck out 130 batters for the Wildcats, breaking James Paxton’s school record for a lefthander, and was a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist. The Cardinals drafted him 19th overall and signed him for $3 million. Scouting Report: : Thompson’s fastball sits 91-94 mph as a starter and touched 97 in relief at high Class A Palm Beach after he signed. His slider was better than his curveball in college, but his curveball showed better in pro ball as a plus 74-77 mph offering he could land in the strike zone or get batters to chase. His above-average mid-80s slider plays like a cutter at times, and his 83-85 mph changeup gives him an average fourth offering. Thompson mixes all his pitches and has a confident, aggressive demeanor. His control is average, but his command and consistency waver. The Future: Thompson has a chance to move quickly as a back-end starter candidate. His health and command will be key to watch in his first full season.
BA Grade: 45. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Hit: 55. Power: 45. Run: 30. Fielding: 45. Arm: 50. Track Record: Knizner converted from third base to catcher in college and regressed offensively as he focused on learning his new position. The Cardinals drafted him in the seventh round in 2016 and quickly realized they had a steal. With his bat rejuvenated in pro ball, Knizner hit his way to Double-A in his first full season, advanced to Triple-A in his second and made his big league debut in 2019. Scouting Report: : Knizner’s bat separates him from other catchers. He keeps his barrel in the zone, uses the whole field and has the hand-eye coordination to make frequent contact and limit his strikeouts despite an aggressive approach. Knizner’s line-drive stroke and average power limit his home run output, but he has the strength to elevate to his pull side and reach double-digit homers. Knizner is an adequate but fringe-average defensive catcher still working to improve. He moves well laterally, has an average arm and calls a good game, but his rough hands make him a well below-average receiver and pitch-framer. He is still working on controlling his blocks, as well. The Future: Knizner’s bat will earn him at least a part-time role in the majors. Whether he eventually replaces Yadier Molina as the Cardinals’ everyday starter will depend on his continued defensive growth.
BA Grade: 45. Risk: Medium Tool Grades: Hit: 45. Power: 50. Run: 60. Fielding: 60. Arm: 55. Track Record: Thomas failed to advance past high Class A in four seasons with the Blue Jays after they made him a fifth-round pick in 2014. The Cardinals acquired him for $500,000 in international bonus pool money in July 2017, and he promptly broke out with his new organization. Thomas led the Cardinals’ system with 27 home runs in 2018 and made his major league debut in 2019, homering in his first career at-bat. He spent most of August in the majors before suffering a season-ending right wrist fracture. Scouting Report: : Thomas has an intriguing blend of strength, speed and instincts. He takes a simple approach at the plate and stays within the strike zone. When he connects he makes consistent, hard contact, and he has learned to elevate to make the most of his average, line-drive power. He is prone to swinging and missing in the zone. Thomas is a plus runner who makes better use of his speed in center field than on the bases. He positions himself well, gets good jumps and runs down balls in every direction to be a borderline plus defender with an above-average arm. Staying healthy has been an issue for Thomas. He has played a full season just once in five years. The Future: Thomas is a major league-ready fourth outfielder. If stays healthy, he could be more.
BA Grade: 55. Risk: Extreme Tool Grades: Hit: 55. Power: 55. Run: 40. Fielding: 45. Arm: 60 Track Record: Montero raced up the Cardinals’ system after signing for $300,000. He won MVP of the low Class A Midwest League in 2018 and was pushed aggressively to Double-A in 2019, when he hit his first speed bump. Montero missed three weeks with a wrist injury and another two months with a broken hamate. The combination of injuries, interrupted playing time and older competition contributed to a .188 average in 59 Double-A games. Scouting Report: : Montero’s youth and tools hold promise despite his down year. He is a physical, strong hitter with excellent hand-eye coordination, bat speed and plus raw power. He does damage when he connects and uses the whole field. Montero got by on his natural gifts at lower levels and is still learning to develop a plan against upper-level pitchers. He has the physical skills to be an above-average hitter, though his pitch recognition and swing path regressed in 2019. Montero has the plus arm for third base, but his thick body limits his range and makes him a fringe-average defender likely to move to first base. The Future: Evaluators remain bullish on Montero’s bat and consider 2019 a lost year. Health and improvements to his approach will be key to watch in 2020.
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