Cards prospects: Walton's Best of the Rest

Mason Katz played at State College in 2013

Brian Walton discusses his top St. Louis Cardinals prospects that missed our Top 40 list, led by fourth-rounder Mason Katz.

As those who have followed our St. Louis Cardinals Top 40 Prospects countdown over the last month and a half here at The Cardinal Nation know, the selection of the master list was a melding of multiple points of view.

As a result, a number of deserving players on each of our individual lists did not make the consolidated Top 40. In these articles, we highlight those prospects – our "Best of the Rest".

Following is the overall top 40, with my list through #46 next to it. Highlighted are the names from my list that missed the top 40 which I will cover here. Again, we originally included 46 names to increase the chances of getting 40 names for which there was a consensus.

  Group Top 40   Brian Walton
1 Oscar Taveras 1 Oscar Taveras
2 Carlos Martinez 2 Carlos Martinez
3 Kolten Wong 3 Kolten Wong
4 Stephen Piscotty 4 Stephen Piscotty
5 Rob Kaminsky 5 Rob Kaminsky
6 Marco Gonzales 6 Marco Gonzales
7 Alex Reyes 7 Alex Reyes
8 James Ramsey 8 James Ramsey
9 Carson Kelly 9 Tim Cooney
10 Randal Grichuk 10 Randal Grichuk
11 Tyrell Jenkins 11 Carson Kelly
12 Tim Cooney 12 Tyrell Jenkins
13 Charlie Tilson 13 Charlie Tilson
14 Cory Jones 14 Cory Jones
15 Patrick Wisdom 15 Zach Petrick
16 Zach Petrick 16 Sam Freeman
17 Sam Freeman 17 Patrick Wisdom
18 Lee Stoppelman 18 Mike Mayers
19 John Gast 19 Sam Gaviglio
20 Greg Garcia 20 Lee Stoppelman
21 Mike Mayers 21 John Gast
22 Oscar Mercado 22 Oscar Mercado
23 Tommy Pham 23 Greg Garcia
24 Mike O'Neill 24 Juan Herrera
25 Ian McKinney 25 Ian McKinney
26 Sam Gaviglio 26 Tommy Pham
27 Juan Herrera 27 Jacob Wilson
28 Jacob Wilson 28 Nick Petree
29 Jordan Swagerty 29 Boone Whiting
30 Boone Whiting 30 Mike O'Neill
31 Breyvic Valera 31 Seth Blair
32 Edmundo Sosa 32 Keith Butler
33 Kenny Peoples-Walls 33 Jordan Swagerty
34 Nick Petree 34 Fernando Baez
35 Keith Butler 35 Eric Fornataro
36 Sam Tuivailala 36 Audry Perez
37 Seth Blair 37 Breyvic Valera
38 Fernando Baez 38 Edmundo Sosa
39 Eric Fornataro 39 Kenny Peoples-Walls
40 Audry Perez 40 Mason Katz
    41 Sam Tuivailala
    42 Ronald Castillo
    43 Andrew Pierce
    44 Jimmy Reed
    45 Ronnierd Garcia
    46 David Popkins

Where there are certainly differences in the respective rankings, there is little significant variance between the names on my list and the consolidated view. That is not surprising since my vote was weighted heaviest. Mason Katz was the only name among my top 40 to not make the overall list.

Five other players were among my top 46, each with a shot at reaching the overall top 40, had the votes aligned. They are outfielders Ronald Castillo and David Popkins, third baseman Ronnierd Garcia and pitchers Andrew Pierce and Jimmy Reed.

In this article, I will highlight those six selections. Overall, they are an inexperienced group, at least professionally. Three were college players who joined the organization in the June 2013 draft, meaning we know a bit less about them. Five played in short-season ball last summer, all with the exception of Popkins, who was still in his first full season as a pro. In other words, all six have plenty of development runway ahead.



Mason Katz (my #40)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA 1B/2B 8/23/1990 5-10 190 R R 2013 4th

School: Louisiana State University

Selected 2013 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
SC 0.249 0.318 197 27 49 13 2 23 21 49 2 0.336 0.345 0.355 0.700

Katz
A glass-half-empty pundit might label Katz as an undersized college senior draftee with no clear position defensively. I prefer to call the former LSU star, taken in the fourth round, a good hitter who may project as a major league utility player.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing as the player Katz reminds me a bit of is former Cardinal Gregg Jefferies, a professional hitter who started between 230 and 320 MLB games at four different positions.

At State College, Katz began his professional career slowly, but came on with the bat late in the season and in the playoffs. Though he only started in the field at second base in the New York-Penn League, Katz saw time at first base in the instructional league. He has also played in the outfield in college.



Ronald Castillo (my #42)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR OF 6/12/1992 6-5 198 R R 2009 FA

Hometown: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Selected 2013 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
PB 0.273 0.250 11 3 3 0 1 2 0 2 0 0.368 0.273 0.545 0.818
SC 0.341 0.395 138 18 47 6 2 28 7 23 4 0.384 0.370 0.457 0.826
Total 0.336   149 21 50 6 3 30 7 25 4   0.363 0.463 0.826

Castillo
It is hard not to like a 6-foot-5 outfielder who can rake. Despite a short-season racked by injuries, Castillo showed enough to be selected to the New York-Penn All-Star Team. He hit over .340 and was productive as well, driving in 30 runs in 40 games.

On the question mark side, one can only hope his neck and shoulder injuries will not be lingering. Castillo is not a gifted left fielder so needs more work defensively. In addition, he could benefit in the power department if his frame can fill out.

If all is well, I expect Castillo to be a strong competitor to start in left for Peoria to open the 2014 season and bring plenty of upside.



Andrew Pierce (my #43)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA RHS 1/26/1991 6-4 160 R R 2013 8th

School: University of Southern Mississippi

Selected 2013 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H R HR BB SO G/AO AVG BABIP
SC 2 2 2.11 2.15 12 7 2 42.2 43 11 0 7 36 2.44 0.262 0.333

Pierce
The 6-foot-4 right-hander was the Cards' eighth-rounder in this June's draft. After being assigned to State College, Pierce out-performed all rookie pitchers in the entire system, in our estimation. If you look at his FIP above, it doesn't appear to be a fluke.

The 22-year-old right-hander placed among the system-wide rookie starting top five in ERA, WHIP, strikeout to walk ratio and walks. His strikeout rate of 7.6 per nine innings was decent, though not eye-popping, but look at that ground ball rate of almost 2.5:1.

Pierce missed 2 ½ weeks in early August, but finished strongly, with just one earned run allowed in his final 18 regular-season innings. He also started and won the deciding Game 3 of the New York-Penn League playoff semifinals.

Pierce should be ready to take on the Midwest League in 2014 and is a player I think everyone should watch.



Jimmy Reed (my #44)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA LHS 12/18/1990 6-0 177 L 2013 6th

School: University of Maryland

Selected 2013 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H R HR BB SO G/AO AVG BABIP
SC 3 2 2.05 2.92 12 9 2 52.2 52 19 2 12 40 1.38 0.255 0.309

Reed
Pierce's State College teammate Reed was chosen two rounds earlier in the 2013 draft. Another senior, Reed lacks Pierce's height. He excelled by keeping walks down, with a 2.1 per nine inning rate that was among the system-wide rookie bests. So was his stellar ERA of 2.05, though FIP adds nearly a run to that mark.

Reed is another pitcher without a blistering fastball, but has a very good changeup and a decent breaking ball. I forgot to draw attention to the fact he is a left-hander. That should keep the door open for Reed to advance as quickly as his abilities demonstrate, even if his end game turns out to be as a reliever.



Ronnierd Garcia (my #45)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR 3B 1/1/1993 6-2 175 R R 2009 FA

Hometown: Coro, Venezuela

Selected 2013 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
JC 0.286 0.351 231 41 66 17 5 39 24 53 2 0.374 0.362 0.442 0.803

Garcia
I admit that I am getting on this bandwagon early. I hope it isn't because I wanted to see another third baseman besides Patrick Wisdom in the top 40.

Seriously, Garcia earned this recognition. The just-turned 21-year-old finished especially strongly for Johnson City, named the Appalachian League Player of the Week for the final period of the season. In between, the right-handed hitter led the club in RBI and in games played while also shifting over to first base for 20 games.

Note that both Baseball Reference and MiLB.com show Garcia as almost three years older than the Cardinals report. He was originally signed out of Venezuela at the age of 16 in 2009. Obviously, Garcia would not be a prospect at all if almost 24 years of age and still in rookie ball. In fact, he would have been the oldest player on the entire JC roster by a substantial margin!



David Popkins (my #46)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR OF 11/16/1989 6-3 215 B R 2012 FA

School: University of California - Davis

Selected 2013 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
Peo 0.000 0.000 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0.085 0.111 0.000 0.111
PB 0.317 0.392 350 49 111 21 6 45 27 78 9 0.384 0.377 0.463 0.840
Total 0.310   358 50 111 21 6 45 27 81 9   0.371 0.453 0.824

Popkins
It only seems fitting that the Rodney Dangerfield of this entire countdown concludes my Best of the Rest. In his first full season in the system, playing in a tough offensive circuit, the Florida State League, the switch-hitter excelled.

Though the outfielder was edged out by fellow Best-of-the-Rester Jonathan Rodriguez as our top position player at Palm Beach this season, Popkins put together a very strong summer statistically. He was the FSL Player of the Month in June and a league All-Star.

In fact, a number of Popkins' key stats were comparable to those put up by our system-wide Player of the Year Kolten Wong, albeit at different levels. The two tied in doubles and RBI, with Wong holding an OPS edge of just .011. Popkins placed in the top 10 in the system in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. On the other hand, his lusty BABIP of .392 and his age, now 24, led me to pause.

Still, Popkins accomplished all of this after being a non-drafted free agent in 2012, then opening 2013 in extended spring training, before a non-descript cameo with Peoria. It will be interesting to see if Popkins can deliver an encore performance in 2014 and cast his lot among the many top prospect outfielders in the system.



Addendum:
Dixon Llorens (Community #23)

The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Player Profile
(including links to full 2013 and career stats)

2013 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
33 RHR 11/18/1992 5-10 170 R R 2012 25th

School: Miami-Dade Junior College

Selected 2013 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H R HR BB SO G/AO AVG BABIP
Peo 3 3 2.85 2.21 37 0 11 47.1 34 15 2 23 71 1.09 0.199 0.317

Llorens
Due to an oversight, the submarining right-hander was omitted from the community's Best of the Rest writeups yesterday. Perhaps it is fitting that writing the capsule for their 23rd-ranked prospect has fallen to me. After all, it was my low placement that kept Llorens out of the consolidated top 40.

While his strikeout rate of 13.5 per nine innings led the entire Cardinals minor league system, Llorens' strikeout to walk ratio of 3.1 to 1 was far more ordinary. But this isn't really about stats as much as it is runway.

Without the funky delivery, hard-throwing Victor De Leon ended up being treated similarly, missing the top 40. I don't generally rank relievers highly when in the lower minors, since the high-potential arms are typically put in the rotation. Llorens' Peoria teammate Sam Tuivailala was an exception, but even he was below 40 on my list and I see him having more upside at this point. The same ultimate potential consideration is why Fernando Baez came in at 38.

Even Keith Butler, who has reached St. Louis, barely scraped into the top 40 at 35th. Eric Fornataro is another right-handed reliever I put ahead of Llorens due to his stuff, 40-man roster spot and proximity to St. Louis. The reality is that there is considerable competition for top 40 spots, especially for relievers.



Next up: This article series continues as we move next to our All-Prospect Team, the highest-ranked players at each position, dive into the numbers behind the top 40, take a look at our best and worst selections from 2013, the top prospects by level of play and those who left the top 40 from last year to this.




Our 2014 top 40 series continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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