Carlson leads fast-moving Cards prospects

Outfielder breaks out; Sosa, Arozarena, Fernandez hit Majors

Dylan Carlson posted a .914 OPS overall at Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. (Springfield Cardinals)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | December 11, 2019 10:00 AM

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

It was a big year for the Cardinals, who reached the postseason for the first time since 2015. But while the "Best Fans in Baseball" missed a Red October, they got to see a lot of exciting youngsters, with Dakota Hudson, Harrison Bader, Jordan Hicks and Tyler O'Neill contributing in St. Louis.

Now Edmundo Sosa, Randy Arozarena and Junior Fernandez are getting their first cups of coffee, and soon the next big flock of Redbirds will head to the Gateway to the West, led by top prospect Dylan Carlson.

While only one Cardinals affiliate reached the postseason -- Rookie Advanced Johnson City, which won the Appalachian League title -- infielders Nolan Gorman and Elehuris Montero, along with pitchers Angel Rondon and Diego Cordero, made big moves up the ladder.

"We feel as though we're pushing those players into those upper levels to where they're just a few years away from contributing," said Gary LaRocque, the Cardinals' director of player development. "And of course that's what we do; we rely heavily on making sure our Minor Leagues are productive. And it's fun to watch the progress of these players. So from a standpoint of what we're looking at for 2020, we feel pretty excited about getting started next season."

Cardinals Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Ivan Herrera, Peoria (69 games), Palm Beach (18 games): After spending his first two seasons in the complex (aside from 18 Texas League at-bats), Herrera reached the Class A Midwest League at age 18. The Panama native showed power and patience as he adjusted to the new level, and it wasn't long before he earned a promotion to the Class A Advanced Florida State League.

Across the two levels, Herrera hit .284/.374/.405 with nine homers and 47 RBIs. He also threw out 31 percent of would-be basestealers (32 of 104). Now 19, he continued to make "steady progress" behind and at the plate, climbing from a ranking as St. Louis' No. 20 prospect in March to the No. 6 spot in August.

Video: Herrera notches first career five-hit game

First baseman -- John Nogowski, Memphis (117 games): It might have taken Nogowski until his sixth pro season to reach Triple-A, but once he got there, the 26-year-old fit right in. Nogowski notched career highs with 15 homers, 75 RBIs and an .889 OPS.

What stands out most to LaRocque, however, is the Florida State product's defense.

"He's been as strong over there [at first] as anybody we've had move through the upper levels," said the director of player development. "He saves the infielders a lot of runs and a lot of throwing errors. He has very good hands, very good fielder. He was ready for that level."

Second baseman -- Brendan Donovan, Peoria (113 games), Memphis (one game): German-born and Alabama-bred, Donovan had a respectable first full season. The 2018 seventh-rounder out of the University of South Alabama shook off a tough first half in which he posted a .663 OPS to tally a .914 mark in the second half.


MiLB.com 2019 Organization All-Stars: Team by Team >>


The adjustment to second base could have been the cause of the slow start, LaRocque thinks. Donovan was drafted as a third baseman but spent all but one game at second this year, in part because "he's very capable of being an offensive second baseman." While LaRocque and the Cardinals put a premium on versatility, the former said Donovan will remain at second to start 2020.

Third baseman -- Nolan Gorman, Peoria (67 games), Palm Beach (58 games): Gorman grabbed the spotlight in 2018 when he was the first person born in 2000 to be selected in the First-Year Player Draft. The No. 19 overall pick showcased his plus power with 17 homers in 63 games while advancing to Class A Peoria that summer.

While his numbers appeared to indicate a sophomore slump this year -- .241/.344/.448 with the Chiefs -- Gorman earned a promotion to Class A Advanced Palm Beach in his first full season. And while the numbers again may not have reflected much progress -- 15 homers across the two levels --- the adjustments were there.

Video: Cardinals' Gorman's game-tying triple

"He is so focused on his game and trying to make sure that he delivers the best, each day, every at-bat. Nolan's got a great work ethic, wonderful makeup, and it makes a big difference as far as adjusting real quick to the new leagues. So when he came to Palm Beach and the Florida State League, we thought he adjusted very quickly to it," LaRocque said. "He was very solid and very consistent at third base in the Florida State League, so we noticed that right away. Nolan plays with confidence and it showed in both offensively and defensively."

Shortstop -- Edmundo Sosa, Memphis (118 games), St Louis (eight games): Sosa made his seventh pro season his best yet. After Tommy Edman was called up in early June, Sosa took over as the Redbirds' everyday third baseman, a move LaRocque thinks was key for the 23-year-old. With the consistent position, Sosa thrived, notching an .801 OPS, his best in full-season ball. The Panama native did especially well with two outs as his OPS bumped up to .978. Ultimately, Sosa earned his first Major League stint, going 2-for-8 (.250) with a walk and a stolen base.

Outfielders

Dylan Carlson, Springfield (108 games), Memphis (18 games): 2019 was Carlson's year. The 21-year-old earned an All-Star Futures Game invitation as well as kudos as the Texas League Player of the Year, the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year, the MiLBY for Breakout Prospect and the fans' choice MiLBY for Best Offensive Player. MLB.com's No. 24 overall prospect raked at Double-A with 21 homers, 59 RBIs and a .882 OPS. Then he went to Triple-A and was unreal.

With the Redbirds, Carlson batted .361/.418/.681 with 11 extra-base hits and nine RBIs in 72 at-bats. The switch-hitter impressed at the plate and in the outfield while possessing "excellent aptitude" on the basepaths. Across the two levels, Carlson topped the farm system with 143 hits. While many were awestruck by the California native's campaign, there was at least one person who was not surprised.

"None of it ever exceeded Dylan's expectations because he plays with great confidence, he has a tremendous work ethic, and that's the big key. He always places the accountability right on his own shoulders," said LaRocque. "Offensively, clearly he's established himself as a threat, and we've been real pleased with how he's gone about getting quality at-bats. He doesn't give away too many at-bats as he's gone through the Minor Leagues."

Video: Carlson launches first Triple-A home run

Randy Arozarena, Springfield (28 games), Memphis (64 games), St. Louis (19 games): Arozarena had a big breakout too, posting a career-best .344/.431/.500 slash line with 15 long balls and 53 RBIs. He also swiped 17 bases in 29 attempts. The 24-year-old was able to keep it going in St. Louis, where he went 6-for-20 (.300) with a homer off Arizona's Merrill Kelly. Arozarena's most impressive adjustment to the Majors may have been keeping his strikeout rate around 17 percent, which is considered above average.

"He was an extremely tough out at Triple-A. I saw him in July and he was one tough out," LaRocque said. "As a credit to him, he's a good athlete. He handles the outfield well."

Adolis Garcia, Memphis (132 games): No Cardinals prospect took advantage of the new Triple-A balls quite like Garcia. In just his third pro season, the 26-year-old topped the system with 32 homers, 96 RBIs and 96 runs while leading non-complex batters with a .344 average.

Offseason MiLB include

"I think Adolis puts himself in a position to always be considered, based on his body of work at that level," LaRocque said. "He's an exciting player. And when he gets on a streak, he can carry a team in stretches -- he's done it on the Triple-A level, and he's anxious to prove himself on the Major League level."

Honorable mention: Darlin Moquete posted a .390/.459/.571 line with an organization-leading 178 wRC+ in 43 Rookie-level Dominican Summer League games.

Utility player -- Rangel Ravelo, Memphis (95 games), St. Louis (29 games): In April, Ravelo repeated the Pacific Coast League for the fourth time, and after a tough April, it looked like he would remain there. But then the 27-year-old hit his stride, batting .417/.494/.667 from May 1 until he forced the Cardinals to call him up on June 17.

Ravelo played the corner infield and outfield positions in the Minors, providing the versatility that is "very important to [manager] Mike Shildt and the Major League staff," though he only played first in the bigs.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Angel Rondon, Palm Beach (eight games), Springfield (20 games): Rondon, who turned 22 on Dec. 1, made quick work of the Florida State League, going 5-1 with a 2.20 ERA over 45 innings before moving up to the Texas League. There, the Dominican hurler continued to fool hitters with his plus fastball and plus slider. In total, Rondon notched 159 strikeouts and 59 walks in 160 innings.

"He just has that ability to throw quality strikes," LaRocque said of the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. "He has very good presence, he likes to challenge the strike zone. I look at the work he's done and it's not a surprise in a lot of ways because he does have such good command."

Video: Cardinals' Rondon notches K

Honorable mention: Johan Oviedo led the organization with 163 strikeouts in 146 2/3 frames between Palm Beach and Springfield.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Diego Cordero, Peoria (12 games), Palm Beach (11 games): Unlike his right-handed counterpart, Cordero is not big on the strikeout. Featuring a four-pitch mix, the 22-year-old relies as much on groundouts as flyouts. In his first full season, Cordero went 4-12 with a 3.43 ERA, 83 punchouts and 38 walks in 128 2/3 innings.

"As the lefties go, Diego is distinguishing himself," LaRocque said. "He has an excellent changeup, so he's got nice contrast. This is a guy with enough of a mix -- fastball, curveball, slider, change -- that as long as he continues to command it, he'll move up through the system, and he'll determine his ceiling."

Relief pitcher -- Junior Fernandez, Palm Beach (nine games), Springfield (18 games), Memphis (18 games), St. Louis (12 games): In his second full season since moving to the bullpen, Fernandez became an elite reliever. The 22-year-old posted a 1.52 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 30 walks in 65 frames. He also converted 11 saves in 12 opportunities before getting his first call to Busch. LaRocque looks forward to Fernandez refining his command en route to making a solid contribution in the Majors.

Kelsie Heneghan is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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