The single biggest question facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the next seven weeks is this: Will the team be buyers, sellers, both, or neither, at the July 31 trade deadline?
The St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in convoluted territory in 2017. Their winning percentage is as low as its been at this time of the season in ten years. The Cardinals remain under .500, yet within striking distance in the feeble National League Central.
For many, Flag Day is the first time during the season a team should take a good look at its standing in the division. The team should also consider what that means for the remainder of the year. June 14th is now behind us.
This year, Flag Day also coincided with the Major League Baseball draft, meaning each team has a boatload of new prospects on the radar when considering the immediate and long-term blueprint for their organization.
The organization boasts a farm system full of talent. It will be up to both the big league club’s performance in the next seven weeks and GM John Mozeliak to decide if some of that talent is expendable in trades to improve the team.
Whether the Cardinals are buyers or sellers at the deadline, there are three prospects that should be labeled “untouchable” in any trade discussion this summer.
Alex Reyes, RHP
Alex Reyes, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, stands atop the list of Cardinals prospects. Despite the lost season in 2017, the organization universally sees him as untouchable.
He will soon begin throwing as part of his year-long rehab, and is very much in the Cardinals’ pitching plans for 2018. What remains unknown is his readiness for Opening Day next year. Another question for Reyes next season is: How much of his time Is spent pitching out of the bullpen as opposed to being a member of the starting rotation?
If Lance Lynn leaves the team via trade or free agency later this year, the Cardinals will be in need of a starting pitcher. Reyes is the likely candidate for that role. It all depends on how soon he recovers and how heavy his workload will be.
Carson Kelly, C
Through 45 games, catching prospect Carson Kelly is hitting .296/.391/.491, all career-bests in the minor leagues. He’s drastically improved his game at the plate this season, solidifying himself as Triple-A Memphis’ cleanup hitter.
Kelly is, of course, blocked by Yadier Molina at the big-league level. However, that doesn’t mean the Cardinals should part with the top catching prospect in the sport.
Molina will be in St. Louis through at least the 2020 season, but Kelly’s continued rise could mean shared time with Molina. Molina could see more time at first base with Kelly behind the plate.
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Delvin Perez, SS
Delvin Perez was the organization’s top draft pick a year ago, and the 18-year old shorstop hit .294/.352/.393 in helping his team win the short-season Gulf Coast League championship.
He’s been in Florida for the first few months of the 2017 season at extended Spring Training, and will soon begin action with one of the low Cardinals affiliates, either Johnson City or State College.
Perez has all the tools defensively to remain at shortstop in the long-term. His success at the plate in the Gulf Coast League last season reflects the optimism the organization has in his plus-tool bat as well.
The St. Louis Cardinals won’t rush Perez along, and he’ll receive plenty of quality instruction and time to develop in the pipeline. If all goes as planned, he’ll reach the upper ranks of the organization in a few years.
One could argue pitchers like Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Sandy Alcantara should also be untouchable this summer. The Cardinals have more pitching depth than they do position depth in the minor leagues.
Mozeliak will need to determine how realistic a deep postseason run is for the 2017 Cardinals. Their play, in the next two months, will decide that. An implosion could find the team selling some of its better pieces at the major-league level for the first time in a while. If they stay in the mix for the division, they could be in a situation to deal away some of their young prospects for an impact player in the big leagues.