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The Road to The Show™: Dylan Carlson

Top Cardinals prospect rocketed up rankings in breakout season
Dylan Carlson produced a .292/.372/.542 slash line across two levels during a breakout 2019 season. (Julio Cortez/AP)
May 4, 2020

Each week, profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson.

Each week, profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson.

Dylan Carlson has had a one-track mind since being selected by St Louis in the first round of the 2016 Draft -- or at least that's what his performance would have you believe.'s No. 17 overall prospect rose steadily through the Minor Leagues, closing the 2019 season with Triple-A Memphis in his best year yet. The multi-faceted switch-hitter possesses an alluring combination of power, instincts and pure skill, with many around the Cardinals organization believing that their top prospect's Major League debut is just around the corner.
2016: Rookie-level Gulf Coast League
As the 33rd overall Draft pick, the then-17-year-old was assigned to the GCL. A standout at Northern California powerhouse Elk Grove High School, where his father, Jeff, was the head coach, Carlson made his Minor League debut on June 24, going 1-for-4. Some growing pains followed as he struggled to find his footing in his first month of pro ball. Any doubts dissipated, however, as Carlson put up a .279/.311/.523 slash line with three triples, nine doubles and 16 RBIs over the final month of the season.
Defensively, he committed just one error in 123 total chances.
2017: Class A Peoria
After a promising rookie campaign, Carlson continued to hone his skills in the Midwest League. He spent his first full Minor League season with the Chiefs, continuing to shine with the glove.'s fifth-ranked outfield prospect saw time at all three positions, making the bulk of his starts in right. He made four errors and recorded 14 assists.
Watch: Carlson cranks a two-run homer
Carlson continued to show progress at the plate. Through 115 games, he batted .240 and drove in 42 runs, but a .347 slugging percentage and 116 strikeouts showed he still needed to fine-tune a few things before moving up to the next level. 
2018: Class A Peoria, Class A Advanced Palm Beach
Carlson did some fine-tuning -- and then some.
He returned to Peoria to begin the year, but after cranking a pair of homers and three doubles and driving in nine runs in 13 games, Carlson earned the second promotion of his career. He moved up to the Florida State League on April 25 and totaled nine big flies, three triples and 53 RBIs in 99 games. The high school teammate of fourth-ranked White Sox prospect Nick Madrigal ranked eighth in the FSL with 63 runs scored while his .738 combined OPS was the highest mark of his fledgling career.
Watch: Carlson sends one into the bullpen
His progress did not go unnoticed as the Cardinals rewarded him with invitation to big league Spring Training in 2019. That set the table for a breakout year. 
2019: Double A Springfield, Triple-A Memphis
After a promising stint in the Grapefruit League, the 20-year-old opened the regular season with Double-A Springfield as the second-youngest position player in the Texas League. That didn't appear to faze him.
On Opening Night, Carlson singled and drove in a run. Two days later, he connected on his first Double-A homer en route to a three-hit game that jump-started a seven-game hitting streak. Those first 10 days of the season were a portent of things to come.
In April, Carlson amassed four roundtrippers, seven doubles and 18 RBIs in 24 games. He managed to outdo himself the following month, driving in 17 runs, scoring 21 times in 27 contests and putting up a .304 average with a .952 OPS. After hitting .286/.369/.512 line in the first half of the season, he was named a Texas League All-Star and participated in the midsummer Home Run Derby. Two weeks later, Carlson represented the Cards at the All-Star Futures Game, where he started in right field for the National League and singled in a run. 
Returning to Springfield and having climbed to the No. 2 ranking among Cardinals prospects, he mashed his way through July. Against Amarillo on July 17, he recorded his first career two-homer game. For the month, he finished with seven long balls to go with seven doubles, 23 runs scored, 12 RBIs and a .301/.389/.602 line. By mid-August, he was one step from the big leagues.
Watch: Carlson launches first PCL jack
Carlson was promoted to Triple-A Memphis on Aug. 15 and took the Pacific Coast League by storm. He began his Triple-A tenure with an eight-game hitting streak that included three straight three-hit efforts.
Carlson kicked off his Triple-A induction with an eight-game hitting streak, where he notched three consecutive three-hit games. In 18 contests with the Redbirds, he hit .361/.418/.681 with five homers, nine RBIs and 14 runs scored. 

Across the two levels, Carlson finished 2019 with career bests in nearly every offensive category: average (.292), hits (143), runs scored (95), homers (26), doubles (28), triples (eight), RBIs (68) and stolen bases (20). Then came the awards.
He was named Texas League Player of the Year, becoming the ninth Cardinal in franchise history to win the award. He was also named the Cards' Minor League Player of the Year and an Organization All-Star while taking home the MiLBY for Breakout Prospect and the fans' choice MiLBY for Best Offensive Player
"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," Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque said in December. "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."
Carlson picked where he left off this spring, posting a .313/.439/.469 slash line in 39 at-bats in an abbreviated Spring Training. When baseball returns, he'll resume his battle for a spot on the Cards' Opening Day roster. 

Katie Woo is a contributor to Follow her on Twitter @katiejwoo.