The spoils of the Chicago Cubs’ winter spending to win the 2016 World Series could share the same field as Cardinals during the pennant race of 2020.
Outfielder Dylan Carlson, the top prospect who was drafted with a compensation pick the Cardinals received when their archrivals signed John Lackey, was named the Cardinals’ organization’s player of the year for 2019 after a 20-20 season that also included the Texas League’s player of the year award. Righthander Angel Rondon won the organization’s pitcher of the year award, the Cardinals announced Thursday. In recent years, the awards have become a prelude to a player's major-league debut.
The Cardinals intend to bring Carlson, 21, to major-league spring training as part of the competition for playing time in the outfield. The club is open to him winning a spot on the opening day roster. The club is more likely to get Carlson regular playing time at Class AAA Memphis with an eye on him reaching the majors later in the summer – and sticking there. If Carlson makes his debut and gets regular playing time in 2020, he’ll continue a trend for the organization player or pitcher of the year winners.
Since 2012, one of the winners of the organization’s awards has reached the majors the next season as a contributing member of the Cardinals. In 2012, Seth Maness won the pitcher of the year award, and in 2013 he was a fixture in the bullpen. Kolten Wong (2013), Stephen Piscotty (2015), and Harrison Bader (2017) all won the player of the year award the year before joining the major-league lineup as a regular, and pitchers Marco Gonzales (2014), Luke Weaver (2016), Jack Flaherty (2017), and Dakota Hudson (2018) did the same as pitcher of the year.
Carlson will also give the Cardinals a second impact and young player who they drafted because of the free agent players the Cubs signed headed into the 2016 season.
Carlson was the 33rd overall pick in the 2016 draft, and immediately after him, at 34, the Cardinals selected starter Hudson. The Cardinals received those picks as compensation for losing Lackey and outfielder Jason Heyward as free agents. Both signed with the Cubs and were key parts of the 2016 championship.
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A switch-hitter, Carlson had 26 homers and 20 stolen bases in 2019 to become the first Cardinals’ prospect with a 20-20 season since Terry Evans and Tyler Greene in 2006. Carlson pulled it off as one of the younger players at any level he played. On opening day, at 20, Carlson was the fourth-youngest player in the Texas League. At the time of his promotion to Class AAA Memphis, Carlson led the league in several significant offensive categories. Even with time at Triple-A, Carlson led all Class AA players in runs scored (53) and the Texas League with a .518 slugging percentage.
In 18 games at Memphis, Carlson hit .361/.418/.681 with five homers.
Originally selected to represent that Cardinals in the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school for top prospects, Carlson and the Cardinals opted instead to have him focus on offseason training and ready himself to leave an impression this spring.
While Carlson stood out from his peers, Rondon emerged from a competitive class of pitchers to win the organization’s award. Rondon, who turned 22 this month, was 11-7 with a 2.93 ERA in 28 starts split between High-A and Class AA. He ranked first or second in the organization in wins, strikeouts, starts and innings pitched. Rondon had 159 strikeouts in 160 innings. Signed in January 2016 as an international amateur from the Dominican Republic, Rondon rose steadily through the minors as a starter before this breakout summer. He set career highs across the columns on his baseball card, and in those career-best 160 innings he allowed only 125 hits and walked 59 batters. After a promotion to Class AA Springfield, Rondon’s success remained steady with a 6-6 record, 3.21 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 115 innings.
The strong-armed, 6-foot-1 righthander will continue to advance as a starter until needed in relief. His season-long consistency and starter’s workload helped Rondon edge other pitcher-of-the-year contenders like Jake Woodford, Junior Fernandez and Kodi Whitley. Woodford, recently added to the 40-man roster, went 9-8 with a 4.15 ERA against the jumpy baseball at Class AAA Memphis, where he struck out 131 in 151 2/3 innings. Fernandez had a meteoric rise through the ranks as a reliever, pitching at four levels in 2019, including the majors. Fernandez was 3-2 with a 1.52 ERA in 45 appearances spread from High-A to Class AAA. He had an ERA better than 1.60 at every level.
Whitley, a 6-foot-4 righthander, was 3-4 with a 1.60 ERA in 50 appearances, and he reached Memphis to be a part of the Redbirds’ bullpen. With movement and control that has earned past prospects a fireman role in the Cardinals’ bullpen, Whitley struck out 78 and walked 19 in 67 1/3 innings. At the Arizona Fall League, Whitley had a 1.64 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. He walked one batter.
Carlson and Rondon will receive their awards at the annual St. Louis Baseball Writers’ Dinner on Jan. 19 in downtown St. Louis.
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