St. Louis Cardinals: Who’s on next year’s MLBN Top 100?
By Matt Graves
In 2020’s list, the St. Louis Cardinals had just two players on MLB Network’s yearly Top 100 list. Looking ahead a year, who could be on the list next?
Every year, it’s fun to get upset about MLB Network’s Top 10 lists and at the end of it all, they release their yearly Top 100 list. St. Louis Cardinals fans are just like any other fanbase in that these lists can be infuriating, but most of the time the choices made are at least semi-defendable and are made by an algorithm that MLBN calls “The Shredder.”
In 2020, the Cardinals had two players on the Top 100 list. Paul Goldschmidt slotted in at number 46 and Jack Flaherty came in at 28. We broke down the ranking here, but the main conclusions were that these two made sense given the years each player had.
The only real disagreement I had with the rankings done by MLBN was that neither Kolten Wong nor Paul DeJong made the Top 100 and while DeJong was the #10 shortstop, Wong was ranked as the #8 second baseman. I think this is disrespectful to the best middle infield in baseball.
Jack Flaherty jumped from off the list in 2019 to the top third in 2020, so any player could make a big jump with a good year. Looking ahead to 2021’s list (the rankings are done in February each year so next year’s list after the 2020 season will come out in 2021), who could the Cardinals have on the list?
Flaherty and Goldschmidt
I am putting a short note on these guys first because I would be unbelievably surprised if both of them did not remain on the list. Goldschmidt had his worst season in the MLB in 2019 and to think that the player he was last year is just who he is now is foolish.
Goldschmidt and the Cardinals expect him to get better in 2020 and if he does, it’s reasonable to not only expect him to stay on the list, but climb back up towards a top 20 spot where he’s been the rest of his career. We forget just how good he’s been in his career and if you isolate his second-half stats and double them, he would’ve been at career levels. He clearly just needed some time to get comfortable in a new city and team for the first time in his career.
For Flaherty, I would almost be surprised if he was not a top-20 player on this list in 2020. Don’t forget, Flaherty had just a 0.91 ERA over 15 second-half starts in 2019 and proved that he’s not only the ace of this staff, but he’s also among the top starters in the league. At the age of 24 for the entire 2020 regular season, he’s got more room to grow and should be exciting to watch.
Kolten Wong was finally the player in 2019 that fans saw glimpses of for years. He finally put ut all together in almost every facet of his game. Defensively, there was no mental block, no odd trends, and Wong put up 14 DRS and 10 OAA in route to winning his first career Gold Glove.
With the bat, Wong had a .285/.361/.423 slash line and hit 11 homers, driving in 59. Wong has had years where he tried to hit 30 homers and that was really where he got into trouble. He stopped swinging for the fences and the results came. On the basepaths, Wong set a career-high in both steals and success percentage with 24 steals in 28 attempts.
All of this came together for a 3.7 fWAR which ranked him 6th among second baseman in baseball. If Wong keeps growing on this performance in his age-29 season, he should have no trouble cracking the Top 100 in 2021.
If you just look at counting stats, Paul DeJong had a great year. With 30 homers and 78 RBIs, he was one of the better power-hitting shortstops in the league. However, his .233 batting average and .259 BABIP caused him to be average in total with the bat (100 wRC+).
However, DeJong’s approach at the plate continued to mature which could signal more success down the road for the 26-year-old. Looking at three-year trends, DeJong has dropped his strikeout percentage from 28% to 25.1% to 22.4% in 2019 and has simultaneously raised his walk rate from 4.7% to 7.3% to 9.3%. These advances will pay off eventually, even if they didn’t in 2019 due to his bad luck which was probably caused by his below-average exit velocity. Dividends will come eventually.
Defensively is where he really took a leap forward. I wrote on DeJong’s defensive strides last week and with the most recent DRS update, DeJong was just as good at shortstop as Javy Baez of the Cubs. Nobody is talking about that though.
DeJong has been building the foundation for a better offensive profile since he broke into the league and while he may not have hit for much of an average in 2019, he should keep getting better and better in 2020 and that should land him in the Top 100.
Wayyyyyyy back in 2016, Carlos Martinez was ranked as the 73rd best player in baseball on this very list by MLBN (Paul Goldschmidt was #6). Most people wouldn’t remember that though. In 2017, Martinez was ranked #86. In those two seasons, Martinez averaged a 3.02 ERA (3.42 FIP) throwing just under 190 innings a season and was 32% above average.
Martinez was lethal as a starter and while he’s been injured for two of the three seasons between then and now, Martinez is still just 28-years-old and is coming into 2020, he’s finally healthy and returning to the rotation again.
There is a big question about whether he can stay healthy, but we know that when he is healthy and starting, he belongs on the Top 100 list.
It’s not a stretch at all to think Martinez can return to his 2016 form in 2020 and return to the list.
This pick was just too good to resist. If there’s one thing that MLBN has proven, it’s that they love young players. I don’t think anyone thinks Carlson will be a top-50 player in the league by seasons end, but he could crack into the 90s based off the end of this year’s list. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Eloy Jimenez, and Keston Hiura were all rookies in 2019 and all cracked this year’s list right near the end.
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None of these four rookies played in more than 123 games in 2019 with Bichette playing in just 46 games and Hiura playing in under 100. Still, they proved enough to be included in the Top 100 list. I certainly understand the disdain that some fans showed with these guys being ranked where they were, but all these players were top-20 prospects in baseball when they were called up and so is Dylan Carlson.
If I were to guess, I would bet that Carlson plays in about 100 games this season (that’s more of an aggressive hope than a completely realistic projection but we’ll roll with it) and if he puts up good numbers, the track record of MLBN’s list would put him in the top 100 in 2021’s list.
We all know how good Carlson is, and at just 21 years old, he could be the future of this team. The Cardinals aren’t going to call him up right away, but if he comes up in May or June, he could reach the necessary games needed to get on the list for 2021, assuming he comes in right away and produces like we all hope he can.
If I had to put money on it, I would bet that the first four players are borderline locks to make the Top 100 list for 2021 with Martinez and Carlson being dark horses for the spots. At the end of the day, it’s all a guess at what players are going to do in the coming year and being on one list doesn’t mean a player is great or is bad; it is a fun game to play though.