St. Louis Cardinals: Intriguing winter league performances
If you have been paying attention to my St. Louis Cardinals’ Arizona Fall League reports, you may have been wondering when we were planning on getting into the all of the latin winter league players. There is not a whole lot of intrigue in terms of top prospects, but there are a few intriguing players to take a look at that I will cover today.
Hazelbaker is an interesting player. He was signed in May by the Cardinals after having been released by the Dodgers AA affiliate in Tulsa. Hazelbaker is an example of a guy who got lost in the shuffle a little bit in his past two organizations (Boston and LA). He underperformed a bit once he hit AAA managing to only get on base at a .313 clip in his only real long stint in AAA, which was with the Red Sox affiliate in Pawtucket.
He didn’t really get that fair of a shot at AAA in the Dodgers’ organization (only 22 games). When he was signed by the Cardinals, Hazelbaker was assigned to AA Springfield, and in 40 games there he posted a really impressive .308/.394/.503 slash line, while posting a really good OPS of .897 with 19 extra base-hits (3 homers, 13 doubles, 3 triples), this earned him a promotion to AAA Memphis on July 3rd.
Hazelbaker didn’t stop there as he posted a slash of .333/.403/.594, an OPS of .998, 27 extra base-hits (10 homers, 10 doubles, 7 triples). He also pitched in eight stolen bases during that time. It’s no surprise that Hazelbaker wanted to continue his success and impress his new organization more in the winter leagues.
He found an opportunity to play for Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 21 games played so far, Hazelbaker has continued his hot play and has postsed a .307/.366/.507 slash line, nine extra-base hits (one homer, four doubles, four triples), and stealing four bases. This is a really good look for a guy who has struggled in his career with consistency. However, the outlook for his chances of really doing much of anything for the Cardinals really is slim.
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Hazelbaker is 28 years old and plays in the OF (a position the Cardinals are loaded with). He has never played anywhere but the OF in his career, so learning a different position is unlikely at this point. While the numbers this season have been nice, don’t look for Hazelbaker to don a Cardinals’ uniform any time soon (unless a slew of injuries happen again next season). Although, he could be a valuable trade asset for the Cardinals.
Edit: Hazelbaker will be a minor league free agent this offsesaon, with his success I would look for the Cardinals to offer him another minor league deal.
Breyvic Valera IF/OF
Valera is the only current “top prospect” of the Cardinals who is playing winter ball in the Caribbean, he is ranked 23rd by MLB.com’s ranking of the Cardinals’ system. Valera had a down year a year after hitting .313 and getting on base at a .361 clip and between AA Springfield and A Palm Beach.
This year Valera had a year where he spent most of his team in Springfield and struggled hitting .236 with a .301 OBP. Part of this is due to a .246 BABIP , this also caused a demotion to Palm Beach to figure out his offense again. The one bright spot for Valera is that he only struck out 27 times in 401 plate appearances.
Valera is a high contact singles hitter, who isn’t going to give you much power at all. He can play all over the infield, as well as the outfield, with his best defensive spot being 2B. Valera being from Venezuela, naturally is playing in the Venezuelan Winter League for Bravos de Margarita. In 20 games so far, Valera is only hitting .254, with a .316 OBP.
The most intriguing stat for Valera? Seven of his 18 hits have been for extra-bases (five doubles and two triples), without knowing the size of the power alleys in Venezuela, that’s some pretty interesting information for a guy who (normally) doesn’t hit many doubles.
Depending on the organization’s feel on Valera, he could start the season in AAA Memphis or the club may want him to get another run at AA Springfield. He could be an interesting player to keep an eye on, as he could be up in the big leagues by September of next season to play a utility role.
J-Rod 2.0 is an intriguing prospect in that he plays a position of need for the Cardinals at first base. Rodriguez has spent the past two seasons in Springfield posting similar numbers .266/.358/.404 in 2014 and .275/.355/.414 in 2015. Not eye popping numbers, especially when you see that he only hit a combination of 24 homers and 43 doubles in those two seasons.
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In five games so far for the Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rico based Liga de Beisbol Professional Roberto Clemente, he has a .300/.417/.35o slash line, with just one of hits being a double. I will keep an eye on Rodriguez here, as it is unclear where he will start the season next season with him and Xavier Scruggs‘ status in the organization being unknown.
In August, Derrick Goold told an interesting story regarding Rodriguez and his relationships with fellow latin american players, that kind of gives you the feel for the human element of being in the minor leagues. For whatever reason, the club decided to go to Dan Johnson to play a majority of games at first in AAA instead of promoting a highly thought of player in their own system.
The final player I want to talk about today is Anthony Garcia. Garcia is a very interesting player that could find his way onto the big league roster next season if some injuries occur. Garcia was drafted in 2009 from Puerto Rico at age 17 and was on a lot of top prospect lists for the Cardinals for his first few years.
Garcia excelled at about every level until he hit Palm Beach in 2013 where he struggled with a slash of .217/.286/.383 in 98 games played, he had more of the same experience in 2014 in Palm Beach as he posted a .227/.320/.385 slash in 100 games. In Garcia’s defense he had some injuries in both seasons that hampered his performance. For Garcia, the power was still present during those two seasons as he did have 23 homers and 36 doubles in his two seasons in Palm Beach.
The Cardinals apparently saw something in the young slugger as they pushed him on to AA Springfield to start the season last year, and it worked. The 23 year old posted a .283/.400/.476, with 33 extra-base hits (11 homers and 22 doubles), in the hitter friendly Texas League. Garcia also took part in the Pan Am games in Canada in July, where he was a big offensive performer in the tournament. In eight games, Garcia hit .393 and slugged .964 while hammering five homers (tournament best) and driving in 17 (tournament best). This helped Garcia earn minor league player of month honors in July.
This led to him be promoted to AAA Memphis in mid-August. Garcia appeared in 18 games for Memphis and continued to play well as he hit a .276/.344/.483 line with two homers and four doubles in those 18 games.
Garcia has very similar numbers to Rodriguez so far in Puerto Rico, as he has a .250/375/.450 slash with one double and one homer through five games for the Gigantes. It is worth mentioning that Garcia was MVP of the PWL last season with his 1.057 OPS and 21 extra-base hits (10 homers, 10 doubles, 1 triple) and comeback player of the year the year before.
There is a lot to like here with Garcia. He’s still pretty young as he will be 24 entering 2016. According to Derrick Goold, of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, today the team purchased his contact and added him to the 40 man roster to avoid losing the young player to free agency. Keep an eye on Garcia for next year, as he likely starts the season in AAA Memphis and will probably see some time in spring training and could make his way back into the future of the St. Louis Cardinals’ outfield if anyone struggles or becomes injured.
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Side Note: Unfortunately, Scruggs is not helping his situation much down in the Dominican Republic, as he has struggled with a .182 average in 15 games for the defending champion Gigantes del Cibao.