The St. Louis Cardinals have always displayed one of the premier farm systems in the majors, producing players like Cardinal hero Yadi Molina, Albert Pujols, and the late Oscar Taveras. Entering the 2019 season the Cardinals have 2 top 100 prospects in highly renowned SP Alex Reyes and 2018 3B draft pick Nolan Gorman, although not a non-roster invitee for spring. Spring training is a perfect place to showcase young talent and find the next breakout star for the future.
POSITION PLAYERS TO WATCH
The 2019 Redbird lineup seems to be set as far as defense is concerned. The infield is set, anchored by 3B Matt Carpenter and the newly acquired 3x Gold Glove winner Paul Goldschmidt, added to Kolten Wong’s gold glove performance and SS Paul DeJong’s solid 2018. The outfield, also rich, is headlined by LF Marcell Ozuna, CF sensation Harrison Bader, and a potential combo in left with Dexter Fowler and Tyler O’Neill. The only foreseen leak that could flood this spring is the final bench/utility spot, which could be a great start for success-hungry prospects.
Most of the contention should be between INF/OF Drew Robinson and INF/OF Yairo Munoz, with the Cardinals being confident with their remaining bench spots. Since coming to St. Louis, Drew Robinson has done nothing but impress, contributing off the bat, and proving his worth defending multiple bags along with potential capability of providing in the outfield. Munoz, the more familiar Cardinal, is also vying for a spot. Playing over 100 games with the big-league Cardinals in 2018 may earn him the edge for the bench spot.
In my opinion, Robinson offers the Cardinals more stability and reliability when coming off the bench. His ability to, not only play all positions, but play them exceptionally well, should make him a permanent dugout figure.
Lane Thomas, a 23-year-old OF, went 3-3 and covered a lot of ground early on, during his first 2019 spring training appearance. Thomas could be a serious candidate for an outfield role, at some point.
Ramon Urias, a 24-year-old INF, has also outperformed expectations this spring, blasting the first home run of the season for the Redbirds, that being a huge 3 run dinger in the fifth. Urias could very well be a prime candidate for a future call-up.
Another player worthy of a shout out is OF Dylan Carlson. At just 20 years old, Carlson checks all the boxes, sizing up at 6’3’’, with an ability to hit. Carlson, with a major age advantage and promising consistent capability, is surely on his way to a long career.
PITCHING PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Along with the foreseen success displayed by Cardinal position players, St. Louis also has a lengthy line of adequate arms capable of breaking onto the very competitive stage of the Cardinal pitching staff. With the acquisition of RHP Andrew Miller, and the anticipated improvement of flamethrower Jordan Hicks, the key for success is behind a very heavy door, but also very possible.
Though an obvious candidate, Alex Reyes, the Cardinals reigning top prospect has been burdened with endless injury since being called up in 2016. Reyes, still listed as the number one prospect seeks a much-needed, consistent comeback. Alex only pitching few innings in 2018, is anxious for success and wants to prove not only to himself but to the Cardinals that he can be the everyday, 200 innings, 18-win ace that we saw last year in Miles Mikolas.
RHP Ryan Helsley, who was probable for a call last year before his injury, has heads turning. In 2018, Helsley rose from high class A to AAA as a second-year player. Posting a 2-1 record with a 3.71 ERA in his impressive 26.2 innings, Helsley was bound to the majors in June of 2018 until he was shut down with substantial fatigue in his shoulder. It wasn’t until August that he was sent to the Gulf Coast league for rehab, playing only a game until again shut down for the remainder of the season. After about five months of anticipation, Helsley was ready for spring. In the Cardinals 2019 spring training debut against the Marlins, Helsley pitched two full innings not allowing a hit nor walk, striking out three of the six batters faced. His hard, yet smooth delivery and impressive break may land Ryan Helsley in the majors, potentially making him the Cardinals breakout star of 2019.
Listed as the Cardinals 17th prospect, RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon may have proven his worth last year pitching a no hitter through 7 innings in his first ever big-league appearance. Ponce de Leon, just 3 years after being drafted found himself starting for the AAA Memphis Redbirds. In 2017, during one of his six starts, Ponce de Leon was struck in the head with a line drive. Requiring immediate surgery, and once being considered fatal, Daniel’s career was in jeopardy. After a long, restless wait chock-full of many rehab stints, the young Cardinal was finally informed that he had been cleared to play in 2018 in time for spring. Furthering Daniel’s astonishing story, he returned to a starting position in AAA and later got the call that every young player dreams of receiving. With his nasty, consistent sinking fastball, unheard-of fiery cutter, and impressive 2.73 big league ERA in 11 appearances, including 4 starts, Daniel Ponce de Leon puts himself in a very favorable position to be considered a key asset for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Per usual, it’s always interesting to see the next budding creation, worshiped by the best fan base in the league. Cardinal fans are used to uncharted talents rising out of thin air, now only time will tell the name of the next player we’ll be writing about.