Ahh, Minor League Baseball: Drama, anticipation, inspiring stories, raw talent, 19-year-old athletes who can throw 100 MPH, and other 19-year-old athletes that can blast 400-foot homeruns. Baseball is a kid’s game, after all, and perhaps that’s why checking out prospects is so intriguing.
Every September, the United Cardinal Bloggers write about their favorite seven prospects in the Cardinals’ farm system. As I began preparing for this story, I effortlessly brainstormed 20 people to possibly include, but I managed to narrow that number down to seven for this list, which I have crafted in no particular order. For the record, I have decided to leave Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Sam Tuivailala, and Jose Martinez off of my list, simply because they’ve already debuted at the Major League level.
So, without further ado, enjoy!
Ryan Helsley, Pitcher
Photo is credited to MILB.com.
Right-hander Ryan Helsley put up big numbers as a member of the Peoria Chiefs’ starting rotation in 2016. In seventeen games and starts as a Chief, the 22-year-old Helsley went 10-2 with a 1.61 ERA and 109:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 95 innings of work.
In particular, Helsley stands out because of the vast improvements he has made since drafted in 2015. Helsley, who was drafted without any real polished offspeed pitches, was able to make hay in the whiff department this year by tooling with his changeup, a pitch that was buried in his arsenal as a draft pick but far less superior than his hard-thrown fastball when it came to garnering swings and misses.
Magneuris Sierra, Outfielder
Photo is credited to MILB.com.
After an overall poor 2015 campaign, speedy outfielder Magneuris Sierra spun things around at the tail end of last year and performed very well as the primary center fielder for the Chiefs this summer. Sierra made some dazzling defensive plays and showed plenty of range, but the most prominent takeaway from this year is his bat.
A meager .191 batting mark transpired over 51 games at the Class-A level for Sierra last year, and that forced a demotion to Johnson City, where he seemed to get back on track to close out 2015. In turn, Sierra batted .307 this year in 122 games as a Chief, and, in correlation to the raised batting mark, his on-base percentage jumped up over 30 points to .335, allowing the 20-year-old to successfully steal 31 bases.
Junior Fernandez, Pitcher
Photo is credited to MILB.com.
Although the numbers aren’t great, 19-year-old Junior Fernandez had a pretty solid year as a starting pitcher for the Chiefs and Palm Beach Cardinals in 2016.
Fernandez appeared in 24 games (20 starts) between the two levels this season and went 8-8 with an ERA of 4.06. Fernandez was only tagged for seven home runs in his 122 innings of work, but, in theory, the number of runs he allowed (66) came as a result of a high WHIP (1.42), more specifically many walks. Pitching to a less-than-mediocre K/BB ratio of 88:54, Fernandez experienced many deep counts as result of his slider, a developing pitch that the fiery right-handed hurler adopted due to his lack of an effective curveball to mingle with his mid-90s fastball and deceptive changeup. Several of those deep counts turned into walks and trouble for the developing, yet promising young pitcher, who will have to embrace the natural tilt of his work-in-progress slider to morph it into a proficient third pitch.
Harrison Bader, Outfielder
Photo is credited to the Springfield Cardinals.
If a 22-year-old completely bypasses the High-A level and needs just over 70 games to force a promotion to the Triple-A club, it’d be fair to say they are special.
Harrison Bader is special.
Drafted in the third round of The 2015 First-Year Player Draft, Bader smashed thirteen home runs in 73 games with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals to force a promotion to the Memphis Redbirds by early July of this year. Although we saw Bader’s power numbers dip — only three home runs in 49 games as a Redbird — Bader still managed to swat nineteen bombs in 465 at-bats last year, as he played nine games at Springfield to close out the season and picked up right where he’d left off. The bat’s obviously there, but I seldom forget to appreciate Bader’s fine defense and speed, too.
Bader’s speed presents unique versatility in the outfield because it gives him a big boost in either of the corner positions and allows him to patrol center field very effectively. His speed has only translated into 30 stolen bases in 49 chances in his Minor League career, but his extra-base hit total — 24, not including his home runs — and so-so on-base percentage (.335) still prompted Bader to score 70 runs in 2016.
Austin Gomber, Pitcher
Photo is credited to the Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos.
I feel that many have not fully appreciated Austin Gomber, but perhaps his second consecutive season with an ERA under 2.70 and a strikeout count that has reached well above 100 both years will begin to correct the narrative.
In seventeen and four games and starts at the High-A and Double-A levels this year respectively, the 23-year-old lefty pitched to a 2.69 ERA and managed a very sturdy WHIP of 1.06. The 21 total starts totaled 127 innings, during which Gomber pitched to a 116:33 K/BB ratio. Gomber’s pitch arsenal is based around a low-90s fastball, one that is complemented quite well by a tight slider and easy-going changeup.
With Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver pretty well stealing the Cardinals’ Minor League show over the last couple of years, guys like Gomber — who weren’t drafted in the first or second round — find themselves set aside. Nonetheless, it’s getting difficult to disregard what Gomber has done in his first two full seasons in the organization, especially since both seasons were very solid.
Darren Seferina, Second baseman
Photo is credited to the Midwest League Traveler. (This was taken in 2015, when Seferina was a Peoria Chief.)
Though his season was cut to 70 games due to injury, Palm Beach second baseman Darren Seferina put up some flattering numbers in his playing time this year.
The 22-year-old Seferina robbed a whopping 32 bases in 38 attempts this season, upping his total to 75 stolen bases in 103 attempts across 228 games as a member of the Cardinals’ organization. Wow.
If there is one thing this Major League squad lacks, it’s speed. And though I’m not suggesting Seferina will reach the big-league plateau soon, seeing such a high stolen base rate — even in the minors — in this organization is certainly something worth gawking at.
Ryan Sherriff, Pitcher
Photo is credited to the LA Times.
A 2.84 ERA in 49 relief appearances at the Triple-A level should open the eyes of many. Everyone, please meet Ryan Sherriff.
The 26-year-old left-handed Sherriff, who was a Triple-A All-Star this season, pitched to those numbers as a member of the Redbirds’ bullpen, and he did so by basically always using his sinker.
Though he lacks any Major League time, a year like Sherriff’s in 2016 will certainly put him in conversation for an invitation to spring training, and, assuming the Major League bullpen isn’t heavily altered and rebuilt over the winter, Sherriff very well may contend for a spot on the Opening Day roster, considering the logical assumption that he could be just as effective from the left side as Dean Kiekhefer and induce groundballs like Matt Bowman and Seth Maness.