A rookie has been one of the top players on every St. Louis Cardinals team for the last eight years. A few of them have been highly ranked, but many have seemingly come out of nowhere to have an impact. Who are the candidates to be an unlikely major contributor for the 2020 season?
Every year since 2012, there has been at least one St. Louis Cardinals player that received votes for Rookie of the Year. In each of the last four years, there has been a rookie Cardinal batter who ranks in the top 6 on the team in WAR. Take a look below at the recent string of exceptional Cardinals rookies:
|YEAR||PLAYER||TEAM RANK (WAR)||ROY POSITION|
Some names on the list like Piscotty, Wong, and Bader were top prospects and high draft picks. Others, like Carpenter, Diaz, and Edman came out of nowhere and surprised us all. Either way, it’s become part of the culture every summer for someone unexpected to step up. Diaz, DeJong, and Edman were never ranked high on top prospect lists.
Each of the three were unheralded hitters in the minor leagues, thrust into important starting roles due to injuries and underperformers ahead of them. If the recent trend holds, there will be some new position player on the Cardinals this summer who keeps the “Cardinals Devil Magic” alive. The question is, who will it be?
First, we have to cut the players that aren’t coming to the majors next season. We’re all excited about Nolan Gorman, but we’re going to have to wait. Looking down the line, someone like Kramer Robertson seems tailor-made for the list. He is the type of Daniel Descalso-gritty infielder that the Cardinals love.
Evan Mendoza and Luken Baker are also in this category– even though they were invited to spring training, they haven’t had much experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues. With the amount of depth ahead of these younger players, they fail to make the list.
Next, we have to recognize that certain prospects are too highly regarded to be considered for this position. Lane Thomas, Elehuris Montero, and Justin Williams are all on the 40-man roster, and many people expect them to be contributors to the major league team at some point in the future. It would be a bigger surprise if these three don’t impact the Cardinals then if they did, so it doesn’t seem fair to pick them as an unlikely contributor.
Similarly, top prospect Dylan Carlson could very well be the Cardinals’ best rookie this season. However, he is the top prospect for a reason, and unlike the Matt Carpenters and Tommy Edmans of the world, we are well aware of his potential.
The toughest cuts to make were Edmundo Sosa and Rangel Ravelo. Both of them are rookies, and while Sosa has made it onto a few top prospect lists, neither of them have been billed as future all-stars. The reason they fail to make this list, however, is because I expect both players to be very close to making the starting roster and starting the year with the Major League team.
Ravelo has the inside track to be the 26th man, having hit the second-longest home run of the year in 2019, and without the team’s signing of Brad Miller, Sosa would’ve had a great chance to make the team. Sosa may not start with the big club but will be up at some point in 2020. The goal of this exercise was to find the least-likely major contributors, and while the Cardinals need these two to have productive seasons, a good season from these two wasn’t surprising enough.
Lastly, many people think Austin Dean is a great candidate to unexpectedly win a job in St. Louis. He is talented enough that the Cardinals traded for him this offseason and quirky and gritty enough to endear himself as the next fan-favorite. He is not on this list, though, because he is no longer considered a rookie. In addition, he would be the first rookie Devil Magic player to be drafted out of high school– each of the batters in the chart were drafted out of college, or signed after playing professionally.
After looking through end-of-season prospect lists, comparing traits to previous unheralded rookies, and hoping for some of my own magic to help make these predictions come true, two rookies revealed themselves as the most-likely unlikely superstars for the 2020 season:
Part of the Steven Piscotty deal a few years ago, Schrock’s abilities scream Daniel Descalso-Tommy Edman-utility infielder. As a left-handed hitter who plays multiple positions on the infield and outfield, there is a clear path to the Majors for the 25-year old. Schrock was the 11th ranked prospect on the Cardinals before last season, but he had a tough 2019 season, fighting injuries for much of the year.
Ramos Urias is gone, so there is one less player ahead of Schrock, but the signing of Brad Miller lessens the need for a left-handed utility bat, and while Schrock plays multiple positions, his inexperience at shortstop makes it more difficult to promote him.
If Schrock can stay healthy and perform consistently, however, he could be one of the first players from Memphis promoted to the big leagues. There is clear talent in someone who was once a top-10 2B prospect, and if he keeps bringing the kind of energy that lets him make the play below, then we might see him very soon.
Drafted in the 34th round by the A’s in 2014, John Nogowski came to the Cardinals after a stint in an independent league in 2017. Now 27 years old, Nogowski has made it to big league camp for the first time. Last season, he was third on the Memphis Redbirds with 15 home runs, and ranked in the top 10 on the team with a .889 OPS.
Even more impressive was this quote from Cardinals Director of Player Development Gary LaRocque; “He’s been as strong over there [at first] as anybody we’ve had move through the upper levels. 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.” Other than Ravelo, who profiles very similarly to Nogowski, there isn’t a clear cut backup to Cardinals’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. With a strong spring, Nogowski could make an impact early on.
The incredible depth of the Cardinals system becomes evident when examining these two players. The fact that both of them have been productive in the minor leagues and aren’t expected to even compete for the Opening Day roster says a lot about how talented the major league squad really is. The Cardinals might need another superstar, but they have an abundance of strong players who should be able to step up and perform at a big-league level in 2020.
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In an ideal world, everyone on the active roster would perform at their best and be healthy all year. In that case, neither of these two will ever get close to an important at-bat at Busch Stadium in 2020. Sadly, this has never happened for any major league team ever, so chances are that one of them will have their number called. Whether they fade away after this season or become mainstays in the lineup for years to come, the success of the 2020 St. Louis Cardinals will be impacted by someone we didn’t expect.