This 30-part series will look at the projected Top 5 freshman contributors for each big league club for the year ahead. The rankings take into consideration a mixture of ceiling, readiness and potential playing time allocation, which is to say some players with lower ceilings may be ranked ahead of others with higher ceilings because they project to have a greater impact in the coming season.
In a Nutshell: Promotions and trades (not to mention so-so draft results) have left the system somewhat bare and the ceilings for upper-level talents modest. The list below definitely lacks a “wow” factor.
The Top 5 Freshman for 2015
1. Stephen Piscotty, OF: The Jason Heyward trade was good news for Cardinals fans, but not as well received (I would assume) by the family and friends of Piscotty. A former third baseman, he was being groomed as the next corner outfielder in St. Louis before the deal put the kibosh on that for 2015 — unless an injury occurs to Heyward or Matt Holliday. He has a chance to hit .280-.300 with 15 or so homers. Piscotty makes good contact and will even steal the odd base.
2. Marco Gonzales, LHP: A polished southpaw, Gonzales has a modest ceiling considering he was selected 19th overall in the 2013 amateur draft. He doesn’t have “stellar stuff” but he succeeds due to above-average command/control (although that slipped during his MLB debut) and a plus changeup. Gonzales has a chance to settle in as a No. 3/4 starter. He’ll compete for a rotation spot in spring training but he has the likes of Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez ahead of him, which means he could be destined for more Triple-A time or a bullpen spot.
3. Randal Grichuk, OF: Like Piscotty, the acquisition of Jason Heyward puts a damper on the 2015 outlook. However, Grichuk is a little ahead of his fellow rookie on the depth chart (but has a lower ceiling) so he may spend the year with sporadic playing time as the club’s fourth or fifth outfielder. The young outfielder has some pop in his bat but his overly-aggressive approach puts a dent in his production and hurts both his on-base percentage and his ability to make consistent contact.
4. Tim Cooney, LHP: Cooney, 24, is very similar to Gonzales. The southpaw’s best asset is his changeup, followed by perhaps his durability or command/control. He was prone to the home run ball in 2014 at the Triple-A level so it’s something to be cautious of as he settles into a big league role. Unless injuries blow through the Cardinals’ starting staff in 2015, Cooney is likely to see his first big league action or a middle or long reliever. His ultimate ceiling is that of a No. 4 starter.
5. Sam Tuivailala, RHP: A former pro shortstop, it took Tuivailala a couple of seasons to acclimatized himself the new role on the mound. Things really clicked in 2014, though, and played at four different levels, including the Majors. He features an upper-90s fastball and promising curveball, which should allow him to eventually settle in as a high-leverage reliever.