Short season baseball is full of new draftees, very young players and players coming up through Latin America. It’s an odd mix of older, often low upside players, and very young, very raw high upside players. The level of competition in a league is highly inconsistent from year to year (and from game to game for that matter).
We recap two of the Cardinals’ short season affiliates in Batavia and Johnson City but have not typically covered the Gulf Coast, Venezuelan or Domincan Leagues with any degree of regularity. If you want to take at the short season statistics from time to time, make sure and check in on these 5 players (in no particular order).
1. Hector Hernandez
Hernandez was drafted in the 2009 draft during the 10th round. He’s a lefty who showed a 90mph fastball at age 18 as well as a good curveball and the makings of a decent changeup. A young pitcher out of Puerto Rico, he was chosen for his projection and has produced good results in 2009 at the Gulf Coast League and 2010 at Johnson City with 77 strikeouts and 21 walks in 85.1 IP across the two seasons. He begins 2011 as Batavia’s opening day starter.
2. Sam Tuivailala
Club: GCL Cardinals
Position: SS (for now)
Tuivailala was the Cardinals 3rd round (5th overall) pick in the 2010 draft at the tender age of 17. Another raw projection pick, most of the praise and attention he’d garnered prior to draft time was for his pitching where he showcased low-90s velocity. He’s an athletic build but at 6’3″ and nearly 200lbs he’ll probably outgrow SS. The Cardinals took a chance on his potential, bat speed and build — they’ll hope his second year in the GCL is more productive than last year’s .591 OPS in 42 games.
3. Tyrell Jenkins
Club: Johnson City
Jenkins was drafted two rounds before Tuivailala in the supplemental selection of the 2010 first round. A multi-sport athlete in high school, Jenkins was a Division 1 college football recruit before signing with the Cardinals. He came with a low-90s fastball that could get into the mid-90s and a collection of undeveloped secondary pitches. Jenkins will need to be brought along slowly as he’ll be fully devoted to baseball for the first time. Don’t expect rapid advancement for the first year or two but keep an eye out for velocity reports and whether he’s developed command of secondary pitches.
4. Nicholas Martini
Age: 21 on 6/27
The first of a pair of 2011 draftees, Martini was plucked out of Kansas State for his advanced approach from the left side of the plate. He’s on the smaller side (5’11″) and doesn’t profile as a regular in centerfield though he can substitute there on occasion. He profiles better as a fourth outfielder but his upside might be something like 2010 Nick Markakis (or really, Nick Markakis in general minus the crazy 2008 season). If Martini hits for average and laces doubles in the gaps, he’s got a chance to be a solid contributer and move up the farm system.
5. Lance Jefferies
Club: GCL Cardinals
A burner on the bases, Jefferies brings surprising power for his frame (5′ 9″, 185lbs). He’s already recorded 3 stolen bases in 2 games for the Gulf Coast League. He’s got the defensive chops to play center based mostly on his range but the offensive output may take a while to come together. The club will need to refine his swing to make it a bit shorter and provide consistency to his mechanics. The talent is there and even if he never makes the majors, he could rack up some gaudy stolen base totals in the minors.