In the second installment of our minor league preview for the St Louis Cardinals, we take a look at the fun players to watch at High-A Peoria.
On Thursday, the first installment of our look around the St Louis Cardinals’ minor league affiliates started with the lowest level, Palm Beach.
Today, we are taking one step up the organizational latter to Peoria, the newly minted High-A affiliate. As I mentioned in the first look at Palm Beach, I am no prospect guru, I’m just a guy who likes watching baseball and want to share what I find interesting as I walk deeper into the world of the minor leagues.
Peoria is home to a large amount of the Cardinals’ top prospects that are in the teens and beyond.
Organizationally, the premier talent at this level is clearly Jhon Torres. The 21-year-old outfielder is the 7th ranked prospect in the Cardinals’ top 30 and is in that slot because of his potential for power from a corner outfield spot.
Torres was acquired in the Oscar Mercado trade of the 2018 deadline and interestingly enough, Torres finished 2019 at Peoria, but that was when it was still Low-A. He hasn’t done anything at the plate to start the year, but he’s been batting leadoff and he’s only had eight at-bats.
The fourth pick in the 2020 draft, Alec Burleson, also finds himself in Peoria. Burleson was both a pitcher and an outfielder at East Carolina, but he’s viewed as strictly a fielder for the Cardinals. Already 23, it makes sense for him to start at a more advanced level and Burleson has yet to look outmatched.
Through the first three games, Burleson has gone 5-11 hitting two home runs to lead the team. It’s unclear how fast Burleson could rise
The Chiefs are starting their season with a six-game series at the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Our own Reed Zahradnik runs the Trackman data for the Kernels and has had the pleasure of watching the first three games of the Chiefs’ season in person.
The best eyewitness guy I have Leonardo Taveras, he relieved on Wednesday. He came in in a tie game and he did take the loss but his stuff was definitely something to keep an eye on. He came in and pumped 97 on his very first pitch for a foul ball, then dropped in two consecutive sliders (with high spin) for strikes looking to get the K. Next batter, he throws three consecutive sliders. All takes. All strikes. Backwards K. They looked hopeless, five straight looking strikes on the same pitch. He walked the next guy, then got the following batter on a weak fly out. He came back out for the 9th, which is where he took the loss. He hit the first batter with a breaking ball, the next batter reached on a total bloop single, and the winning run came across on a “double” that was lost in the lights by the left fielder but he dropped even though it hit his glove. Taveras has great stuff – his command was an issue but he’s got the makings of a solid reliever.
Taveras is a 6’5″ righty who is 22, but has been with the Cardinals since he was signed in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic.
Malcom Nunez is another interesting name at Peoria. The 20-year-old third baseman made waves in the Cardinals’ system when he hit .415 with a 1.272 OPS in 2018 in the Dominican Summer League. Since he’s moved stateside, he’s gone through some struggles (mainly 2019) but he’s started the year 5-11 as well at the plate. Not bad for the team’s 16th prospect.
On the pitching side, the team’s 4th round pick, Ian Bedell, was the Opening Day starter for the Chiefs after being drafted from Mizzou. Bedell didn’t make it out of the first inning in the Opening Day start, but he came into the year as the 12th-best prospect in the Cardinals’ system. The start in Cedar Rapids came just an hour and a half away from his hometown of Davenport, Iowa, so nerves may have been an issue.
Bedell is the only top 30 pitching prospect at Peoria, but that doesn’t mean he is the only fun pitcher to watch. Mac Lardner, an undrafted signee out of Gonzaga’s pitching staff, got the start for Peoria on Thursday and showed off some of his potential. Sitting at right around 85 mph on his fastball, he allowed just one hit in 4.0 innings. Lardner is the definition of a crafty lefty and the only question is if his lack of velo on the fastball will ever hold him back.
Other players like 30th prospect Brendan Donovan, Catcher Pedro Pages (such a cool name), and the 6’6″ righty Jack Ralston are all going to be fun to watch, even if they never find themselves in St. Louis. I’m quickly learning that it’s not all about the big club, there is plenty of fun to be had in just watching each level in a vacuum.
Peoria has six different teams in their division so they will see a lot of each opponent. There may not be scoreboards on the streams, but this is the lowest level that has a video stream which is an improvement over Palm Beach.