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Cards' teenage prospect facing big AFL test

@GoldenSombrero
September 27, 2019

Whenever a team sends a teenage prospect to the Arizona Fall League, it’s usually because they view him as a potential impact player who stands to benefit from being exposed to advanced competition early in his career. That’s certainly the case this year with the St. Louis Cardinals and 19-year-old

Whenever a team sends a teenage prospect to the Arizona Fall League, it’s usually because they view him as a potential impact player who stands to benefit from being exposed to advanced competition early in his career.

That’s certainly the case this year with the St. Louis Cardinals and 19-year-old catcher Ivan Herrera, who checks in as the second-youngest player in this year’s Fall League after an impressive first full season in the Minors.

Herrera has done nothing but hit since he signed with the Cardinals for $200,000 out of Panama in July 2016. After batting .335 during his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in '17, Herrera moved stateside in '18 and produced a .348/.423/.500 line in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. The performance earned the 6-foot, 180-pound backstop a full-season assignment in '19, and Herrera responded to the challenge by slashing .284/.374/.405 with nine homers in 87 games while ascending from Class A Peoria to Class A Advanced Palm Beach.

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But even after his eye-opening campaign, Herrera did not think he’d be continuing his season in the prestigious AFL.

“I was very surprised … this was my first [full] season and I wasn’t thinking about coming here,” said the Cardinals’ No. 6 prospect. “It was really exciting to me because I’m really young. I appreciate the confidence they have in me, sending me here with our guys to learn about them.”

Herrera’s athleticism, mobility and blocking are all assets for him defensively, as is his strong arm, and he made gains with both his receiving and catch-and-throw skills in 2019. Like any young catcher, though, Herrera still has his share of improvements to make behind the plate.

“I think catchers have to be leaders in the field and off the field,” said Herrera, who began learning English in Panama prior to signing with St. Louis. “The hardest thing is controlling the game … paying attention to every detail in the field.”

As one of two catchers on Glendale’s roster in this year’s Fall League, Herrera has a unique opportunity to further his overall game while playing with and against other highly touted young players -- including fellow Panamanian catcher Miguel Amaya, the No. 2 prospect in the Cubs’ system.

Though they aren’t teammates this fall, Herrera and Amaya have remained close over the years, with the former viewing the latter as a role model given his extra year of experience.

“If you play baseball [in Panama], you play for your country, for your family,” Herrera said about their roots. “I talk to [Amaya] almost every day because he’s a good guy and I like how he plays. He gives me advice”

Cardinals hitters in the AFL

Elehuris Montero, 3B (No. 4): In 2018, Montero garnered Class A Midwest League MVP honors in his first full season after he led the circuit in batting average (.322), slugging (.529) and OPS (.910), and he finished his age-19 campaign with Class A Advanced Palm Beach. Challenged with an aggressive Double-A assignment in '19, the 21-year-old got off to a slow start before requiring surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his left hand in late May. He made a healthy return two months later and will now use the Fall League to make for the time he lost to injury.

Kramer Robertson, INF: A 2017 fourth-round pick out of LSU, Robertson added power to his game this past season, hitting a career-high 11 home runs while ascending from Double-A to Triple-A. He did so while continuing to draw walks and reach base at a solid clip (.360), albeit while batting just .231 in 123 games. Robertson received the bulk of his playing time at shortstop, but also saw time and second and third base.

Conner Capel, OF (No. 24): Acquired in the 2018 Deadline deal that sent Oscar Mercado to Cleveland, Capel, 22, is a left-handed-hitting outfielder who reached Triple-A for the first time this past season. He hasn’t shown the type of power potential that he did during his first full season, when he hit a career-high 22 homers in Class A, and continues to show swing-and-miss tendencies, but he also produces solid line-drive contact when he connects and possesses athleticism that allows him to play all three outfield spots.

Cardinals pitchers in the AFL

Seth Elledge, RHP (No. 25): Elledge joined St. Louis via a trade in July 2018, a little more than one year after the Mariners had selected him in the fourth round out of Dallas Baptist. He split this past season between Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a 4.26 ERA with 75 strikeouts and 32 walks in 67 2/3 innings (47 games). The 6-foot-3 right-hander is a two-pitch reliever, as he’ll pair a 92-94 mph fastball with low-80s breaking ball that nets him both called strikes and whiffs.

Roel Ramirez, RHP: Acquired along with Genesis Cabrera and Justin Williams from Tampa Bay in the July 2018 Tommy Pham trade, Ramirez spent most of 2018 in Double-A before joining Memphis ahead of the Pacific Coast League playoffs. The 24-year-old righty posted a 4.78 ERA between the two stops, striking out 85 with 30 walks in 75 1/3 innings (43 games).

Griffin Roberts, RHP (No. 19): The 2018 Competitive Balance Round A pick missed the first half of the season while serving an 50-game suspension that he received last December, and after he finally took the mound in June, Roberts pitched to a 6.44 ERA with nearly as many walks (35) as strikeouts (36) over 65 2/3 frames in the Florida State League. In terms of stuff, the right-hander operates at 90-93 mph with his fastball that he combines with a plus slider and a mid-80s changeup that’s a distant third pitch.

Kodi Whitley, RHP: The 2017 24th-round pick climbed from Palm Beach to Memphis during a breakout 2019 campaign in which he registered a 1.60 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 19 walks in 67 1/3 innings (50 games). He logged nine saves in 11 chances and held opposing hitters to a .210 average and three home runs.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.