MLB 2020 Farm System Overview: St.Louis Cardinals

While we wait for the 2020 MLB season to get underway, it’s time to take a closer look at players who could one day be on opening day rosters. For the next month or two, we’ll be examining each team’s farm system, which will contain several prospects that will either one day be contributors for them, or could be used to acquire impact major leaguers. 

Since we’ll be going in alphabetical order by city, our 26th farm system overview will be of the St.Louis Cardinals. We’ll rank their top ten prospects, discuss some of their other notable minor leaguers, and then analyze the overall state of the farm system.

Click here for more information on my grading process: Altering The Process Of Evaluating MLB Prospects

#1: LHP Matthew Liberatore

Photo Cred: St.Louis Post-Dispatch

Age: 20

Height: 6’5″ Weight: 200 lbs

Drafted: 16th Overall- TB 2018

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 65 Third Pitch: 55 Command: 55

Overall Grade: 56.5

The Cardinals had a quiet offseason, but although they didn’t add any impact major leaguers to their roster, they may have made one of the better trades of the offseason. In exchange for defensive liability Jose Martinez and outfielder Randy Arozarena, they acquired intriguing left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore. In Liberatore, St.Louis is getting a pitcher that was expected to be a top-ten pick in 2018, as his talent is off the charts. He needs to work on working his fastball up in the zone, and it’s not a terrific pitch, but besides that, there are no concerns with his pitching arsenal. Simply put, his power curveball is insanely efficient, and to complement it, he also has a changeup that can get both lefties and righties out. Specifically, that breaking ball is going to allow him to have a lot of success striking batters out, and with his advanced feel for pitching, he’s someone who can move through the farm system quickly. I don’t know why St.Louis was able to get Liberatore for so little, but no matter what, it’s clear they have a future frontline starter. I’m excited to see how he continues to refine his abilities with a new organization; the Rays are the pipeline of young pitching, but the Cardinals have also done a nice job producing pitchers as well.

#2: OF Dylan Carlson

Photo Cred: KMOX Radio

Age: 21

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 205 lbs

Drafted: 33rd Overall- 2016

Hit: 53.9 Power: 55 Field: 52.14 Arm: 47.5 Speed: 50

Overall Grade: 53.9308

The Cardinals are very adamant about keeping their preferred prospects no matter what, which is why Dylan Carlson is still a member of the organization, even after they’ve gone through a massive exodus of young outfielders. On paper, it’s easy to see why- he fits their mold of the “Cardinal Way”. He’s not a flashy player, but he doesn’t have a clear weakness, which may be his greatest strength. The 21-year-old’s combination of plate discipline and power is very intriguing, but that isn’t mean to discount his pure hitting ability, which is also impressive. Defensively, he’ll be stuck to the corner outfield, which is far less valuable, but at least he should be above-average there, assuming he doesn’t lose his long-term athleticism. Without a clear standout tool, I don’t see Carlson being a star, which isn’t ideal at a non-valuable position. Yet, he definitely projects to be an above-average everyday player, and if the season gets underway, he may play a big role for a Cardinals team that is thin on offense, especially from their outfield.

#3: 3B Nolan Gorman

Photo Cred:

Age: 19

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 210 lbs

Drafted: 19th Overall- 2018

Hit: 50.5 Power: 61.8 Field: 47.88475 Arm: 52.5 Speed: 40

Overall Grade: 53.4454075

The Cardinals weren’t able to select Liberatore in the 2018 draft, but just three picks after he went off the board, they drafted his best friend- Nolan Gorman – with the 19th overall pick. Cited for having perhaps the most raw power in his draft, the 19-year-old has wasted no time displaying it in professional ball. Unfortunately for him, that’s about his only intriguing skill at the moment. His strikeout rates have been way too high so far in the minors, and for the most part, I question his ability to consistently get on base. Plus, he’s not going to provide much defensively, and if that’s the case now, I’m concerned he’ll be stuck as a first baseman. There’s a lot to like with Gorman’s upside, but considering how much athleticism and on-base ability is starting to be valued at third base, his profile may not fit. He’s a boom-or-bust type of player, though on the bright sides, he’s just 19-years-old and already reached High-A.

#4: LHP Zack Thompson

Photo Cred: The Cardinal Nation

Age: 22

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 225 lbs

Drafted: 19th Overall- 2019

Fastball: 55 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 52.5 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 53

Strangely enough, the Cardinals have had the 19th overall pick in back-to-back drafts. They didn’t get their left-handed pitcher when Tampa Bay selected Liberatore, but a year after, they drafted a polished college lefty in Zack Thompson. Coming out of Duke, the 22-year-old is a unique prospect, as he won’t blow you away with his fastball, yet will strike out a lot of hitters. That’s due to his power breaking ball, which will be his must used pitched- it’s a dynamic pitch that can get both righties and lefties out. In that way, he’s very similar to Patrick Corbin, and if Thompson career goes like the current National, St.Louis will gladly take that. Expect him to be a fixture in their rotation in a year or two.

#5: CF Lane Thomas

Photo Cred: STLSportsPage

Age: 24

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 210 lbs

Drafted: 5th Round- TOR 2014

Hit: 50 Power: 52 Field: 60.93 Arm: 55 Speed: 55

Overall Grade: 52.4581

A lot of interesting prospects compile MLB Pipeline’s top-30 ranking of the Cardinals’ prospects, but there’s one interesting omission- Lane Thomas. The 24-year-old has yet to establish himself as a starting outfielder for St.Louis, but soon enough, I’m not sure how much longer that can be the case. He’s very athletic, and thus will play an effective center field, and as we’ve discussed in the past, teams should be looking to fill out an outfield of three players athletic enough to play center field. Furthermore, he’s shown the ability to draw enough walks and hit for enough power; sure, he strikeout a bit too much, but I’ll trade that for his solid on-base abilities, athleticism, and serviceable power.  In my opinion, Thomas is the most underrated player in the entire Cardinals farm system. If he can’t find a role with St.Louis, I’m sure there are plenty of other organizations that would love to slot him in at any outfield spot.

#6: C Ivan Herrera

Photo Cred: Viva El Birdos

Age: 19

Height: 6’0″ Weight: 180 lbs

Signed: July 7, 2016

Hit: 52 Power: 49.9 Field: 56.8575 Arm: 50 Speed: 30

Overall Grade: 52.075775

The Cardinals thought they had their successor for Yadier Molina with Carson Kelly, but as Molina continued to be their everyday catcher, they finally had to move on from Kelly- they traded him to Arizona in the Paul Goldschmidt trade. It’s unclear when Molina will relinquish his starting job, but now, it looks like Ivan Herrera may be his eventual replacement. Signed out of Panama for $200,000 in 2016, the 19-year-old has already reached High-A, which is very encouraging. He’s cited as being mature and advanced for his age, and it shows with his solid approach- his overall pure hitting ability and power are concerns, however. Furthermore, he’s also really athletic, so when it’s all said and done, he should be an above-average defensive catcher. As long as you can not be a liability on either side of the ball, you’re going to provide value as a catcher. Herrera is an intriguing player both offensively and defensively, and it appears he has the profile to be a starting catcher one day.

#7: C Andrew Knizner

Photo Cred: The Athletic

Age: 25

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 200 lbs

Drafted: 7th Round- 2016

Hit: 54.6 Power: 46.75 Field: 48.735 Arm: 50 Speed: 30

Overall Grade: 51.24795

If Molina relinquishes his starting job sooner rather than later, Andrew Knizner would likely get the first crack to replace him. I’m worried about his offensive profile, as he doesn’t hit for much power and is far too aggressive, which is compounded by some of his defensive question marks. Yet, he’s a catcher, and with his contact skills, probably can be at least a high-end backup; simply being close to average across the board gives him a chance to contribute in the big leagues for a long time, whether as a low-end starter or solid backup. Now 25-years-old, it’ll be interesting to see if he ever gets a chance to start for St.Louis, or if he’ll undergo the same fate as Kelly.

#8: OF Jhon Torres

Photo Cred: Did The Tribe Win Last Night?

Age: 20

Height: 6’4″ Weight: 199 lbs

Signed: July 24, 2016- CLE

Hit: 46.55 Power: 55 Field: 47.4 Arm: 60 Speed: 50

Overall Grade: 49.2295

As mentioned, the Cardinals have traded a lot of their young outfielders in recent years, for various reasons. One example of this is young center fielder Oscar Mercado, who was traded to the Indians at the 2018 trade deadline for multiple younger outfielders. According to MLB Pipeline, St.Louis was interested in Columbian outfielder Jhon Torres when he signed with Cleveland in 2016, and he was their main motivation for trading Mercado. His power is his calling card, but outside of that, he’s still refining his skill set. With a very high leg kick and aggressive swing, his approach at the plate leads to a lot of strikeouts, which is far from ideal. Plus, he’ll be stuck as a corner outfielder, and will struggle there as well. Torres clearly has some upside, but was he worth trading Mercado for? Most likely not, as even if he maximizes his power potential, it’s unclear he’ll get on base or be adequate enough defensively to be a valuable contributor.

#9: 3B Elehuris Montero

Photo Cred: Viva El Birdos

Age: 21

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 215 lbs

Signed: August 29th, 2014

Hit: 47.975 Power: 51.5 Field: 45.3645 Arm: 57.5 Speed: 40

Overall Grade: 48.588715

Miguel Sano remains a very intriguing big-league corner infielder based on his power and strong frame, which is what prospect Elehuris Montero provides. However, Sano also has improved his plate discipline, which Montero has yet to do. In 59 games, he had a walk rate of just 5.9% and a strikeout rate of 31.1%, while his raw power has yet to translate as well. Then, there’s his defense, which is also below-average, and one can only wonder how much more athleticism he’ll lose over time. A couple years ago, Montero looked to be a prospect on the rise. Now, between his on-field struggles and injuries, his progression has stagnated, and as a result, it’s clear he’s running out of time.

#10: CF Trejyn Fletcher

Photo Cred: Baseball America

Age: 18

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 200 lbs

Drafted: 2nd Round- 2019

Hit: 40 Power: 52 Field: 53.31375 Arm: 57.5 Speed: 60

Overall Grade: 45.8633375

After reclassifying as a senior for the 2019 draft, outfielder Trejyn Fletcher seemed like a sure bet to go to the University of Vanderbilt. However, with an over-slot bonus in the second round, St.Louis was able to pry him away from that commitment, as they were intrigued by his upside. With raw power and athleticism, it’s easy to see why- he has a very high ceiling. Yet, with massive approach issues and unrefined defensive skills, he also has as low of a floor as you can imagine. In his early debut in professional baseball, Fletcher wasn’t able to overcome his massive strikeout concerns. Hopefully, that can change over time, but for now, the Cardinals will have to be extremely patient with his development.

Best of the Rest

  • Left hander Genesis Cabrera was a major piece of the of the Tommy Pham trade to the Rays, but his struggles in Triple-A and in the majors were enormous.
  • Junior Fernandez made his big-league debut, and although he wasn’t great in Triple-A, was super effective as a reliever in Double-A, as well as in the majors.

Farm System Overview

The Cardinals haven’t made many blockbuster trades, but yet, their farm system clearly ranks near the bottom in the MLB. The trade of Liberatore gives them the high-end pitching prospect they needed, while they’re counting on Carlson, Gorman, Thompson, and Thomas to live up to their potential. Between Jack Flaherty, Paul DeJong, and Harrison Bader, they have some young contributors, but not enough to withstand a lack of talent influx from the minors. I’ve liked their past two drafts, but they’ve also seen a lot of their prospects struggle with their development, while the returns from their international signings and outfield trades haven’t been promising. It’ll be very fascinating to see how they go about building the farm system, as they’re a creative organization, but they definitely should not trade any more young players for impact veterans.

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