The Cardinals are making waves on the big prospect front, and we’re here to cover it.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Nolan Gorman, 22, 2B/3B, STL (AAA)
147 PA, 15 HR, 3 SB, .308/.367/.677
Once the move is official, the Cardinals will become the first team to roster two Nolans at once (I assume). Baseball has come a long way since its origins. From 1878 through 1885, the sport featured a player known as The Only Nolan.
Trivia aside, Gorman will be the latest top prospect to make his debut. Power has always been his calling card, though this is the first season he’s getting to it in games at such a blistering rate. It comes at a price. He had a 34 percent strikeout rate, and he didn’t walk often (8.2 percent walk rate). In my experience, prospects with questionable discipline tend to have volatile debuts. Opponents sometimes quickly seize upon the player’s weaknesses, making it necessary for the hitter to immediately adjust. Other times, opponents accidentally wander into the batter’s nitro zone, leading to an explosive debut. The slump comes later. Players with these plate discipline markers always slump at some point. We’ll soon see if Gorman enters the league with a rampage, a whimper, or something in between.
Matthew Liberatore, 22, SP, STL (AAA)
40 IP, 10.35 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 3.83 ERA
I’ve been wondering which of Liberatore or Zack Thompson would make their debut first. We now have our answer. Originally acquired in the Randy Arozarena trade, Liberatore was viewed by many at the time as the best player in the trade. Arozarena’s early-career heroics led us to revise our opinion of what looked like a rare misstep for the Rays, but Liberatore is now poised to help complete the analysis.
As a public, we’ve learned a lot about pitching since that trade, and new findings help to put the deal in context. While the southpaw grades out well on a pitch-by-pitch basis – his fastball is mid-90s, his curve has lovely shape, and his slider is a borderline wipeout offering – the repertoire as a whole doesn’t quite mesh. His fastball is built to work low in the zone so it doesn’t tunnel with his curve. It also plays down for other reasons – in short, some hitters are able to identify it out of the hand. There’s still enough here for a solid big-league pitcher, the profile just isn’t as exciting as it once was.
Alek Thomas, 22, OF, ARI (MLB)
39 PA, 2 HR, .316/.333/.553
Thomas is off to a sizzling start. As expected, he’s hitting for average and even has a pair of home runs. Beneath the surface are a few modest causes for concern. He’s known for his plate discipline, but his 2.6 percent walk and 20.5 percent strikeout rates are both worse than many hoped. His swing rates on pitches in and out of the zone are roughly league average. As an industry, we expected him to be more discerning. Thomas is a ground ball-oriented hitter who uses all fields. The profile remains that of a leadoff hitter who can go 15/15 while posting a top batting average and on-base percentage.
Royce Lewis, 23, SS, MIN (AAA)
(MLB) 40 PA, 2 HR, .308/.325/.564
Lewis had a lovely debut for the Twins. He was neither overmatched nor out of his element. The top prospect showed he belonged by flashing power, a high rate of contact, and adequate plate discipline. His aggressiveness as a hitter often worked against him in the lower minors, but Lewis has worked to improve. He posted a 15.3 percent walk rate in Triple-A. While his 2.5 percent walk rate in the majors implies he was free swinging, his swing rates at pitches in and out of the zone were roughly league average. His two home runs were backed by gaudy exit velocities. He maxed out at 114-mph, on par with Mike Trout (114.4), Julio Rodriguez (114), and Bryce Harper (113.8), among others.
For now, he returns to Triple-A in deference to Carlos Correa. The move raised some eyebrows (including mine) due to the struggles of Jose Miranda (.094/.143/.189) and Gio Urshela (.229/.293/.330). Having shown his bat belongs, Lewis will presumably spend the next few weeks preparing to return at a new position. In his first game back at Triple-A, he went 3-for-3 with a home run and a stolen base.
Grayson Rodriguez, 22, SP, BAL (AAA)
37.1 IP, 13.74 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 2.65 ERA
While we were looking elsewhere, Rodriguez might have completed the final step in his ascension to the Majors. On Tuesday, he faced 23 batters while pitching 5.1 innings. He’d faced 19 batters in his previous four starts. He held the Charlotte Knights scoreless on three hits, three walks, and 11 strikeouts. If there’s a small measure of concern for the right-handed changeup artist, it’s that he’s allowed 4.74 BB/9 over his last four starts. We’re approaching a point in the season where teams might be tempted to push a debut past the nebulous Super Two deadline. That would probably entail at least another full month in the minors.
Adley Rutschman (24): Rutschman watch continues unabated. He’s passed the rehab hurdles set for him. Over the last week, he hit .261/.370/.522 with two home runs, three walks, and one strikeout. His debut could come within the next week, possibly even this weekend.
C.J. Abrams (21): After skipping Triple-A by earning a spot on the Opening Day roster, Abrams looked overmatched in 65 big-league plate appearances. Optioned to the minors, he’s hitting .216/.293/.459 with three home runs and three steals in 41 Triple-A plate appearances. The results are modestly encouraging despite the low average and OBP.
Marco Luciano (20): Last season, Luciano’s plate approach deteriorated upon a promotion to High-A. Repeating the level, he’s back to his usual ways, hitting .300/.366/.530 with six home runs in 112 plate appearances. He’s hit especially well over his last 60 plate appearances. He’s trending towards a promotion to Double-A.
Chase Silseth (22): Silseth, who also appeared here last week, had a strong debut. He recorded an 11.1 percent swinging strike rate thanks mostly to his frequently-used splitter. His fastball and slider also looked like plus offerings.
Corbin Carroll (21): Over the last week, Carroll hit .435/.552/1.043 with three home runs, two triples, a double, and two stolen bases. He’s overdue for a promotion to Triple-A. Should that go equally well, we could see him in the Majors later this season.