Today’s selection for the player profile is one of the brighter prospects in the Phillies system, SS/2B Adrian Cardenas. The Phillies selected Cardenas in the supplemental first round of the 2006 draft, 37th overall, and he signed quickly for $925,000. Cardenas might be one of the best stories in the 2006 draft. Originally well off the radar, his stock began to rise, and rise rapidly, when he found himself playing in front of scouts at every game, scouts who were there to see his teammate, first round pick Chris Marrero. While Marrero was thought to have the better tools set, it was Cardenas who was tearing the cover off of the ball, putting together one of the best seasons in the entire country for a high school player. In his senior season at Monsignor Pace High School (a superb prep school in Opa Loca Florida), Adrian hit .647, with 18 2B, 2 3B and 18 HR, knocking in 65 and stealing 14 bases, truly outstanding numbers. He basically went from being a mid rounds pick to a first round talent in just a few months, and was good enough to nab Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year award.
Without any real top quality middle infield prospects in the system, the pick of Cardenas may have looked like a “desperation move” at first glance, but when you see the type of hitting ability Cardenas brings, you have to re-examine that criticism and wonder if the Phillies didn’t get the best player available. Standing only 6’0, 185 lbs, there isn’t a ton of projection available on him, which is one reason he might not have been a pure first round pick. Chances are he’ll only add an inch or two and maybe 15 pounds, meaning he’ll probably max out at 6’2, 200lbs, which isn’t tiny, but also isn’t your prototypical size for an offensive machine. While he played SS in high school, most scouts/talent evaluators see him being much better at 2B, which is where he’ll play at Lakewood. His range and arm are probably not quite good enough to be a major league shortstop, though he doesn’t have to be moved to 3B yet, an area where the Phillies are also struggling, prospect-wise, as it will be easier for him to get adjusted to pro ball, especially full season ball, playing 2B as opposed to the hot corner.
Cardenas’ greatest strength is his pure hitting ability, as seen in his monstrous senior year in high school, and his strong GCL debut. After signing, he played 41 games in the GCL, posting an impressive .318/.384/.442 batting line across 154 AB. He finished with 11 extra base hits, he stole 13 bags in 16 attempts, and he drew 17 walks to only 28 strikeouts. Overall, his debut couldn’t have gone much better. Right now, he doesn’t have a ton of raw power, and he doesn’t look like a 35 HR hitter per year at the big league level, but his swing is very compact, and he does get good loft on the ball, which indicates that as he gets stronger, he might have a good chance of being a 20 HR per year type hitter, and that’s nothing to sneeze at for a middle infielder. Glove wise, he was a solid fielder at short, but as I mentioned, his range/arm will keep him off there. He’ll play 2B at Lakewood next to Jason Donald, and the team will probably wait before figuring out where to ultimately move him to, since 2B will be filled in Philly for a while by a guy named Utley.
Which leads me to the next part of this profile. When drafted, many people were saying “he reminds me of a young Chase Utley”…..that’s not a bad comparison, huh? Like Utley, he has a very compact stroke, and like Utley, he’s lefthanded. But that’s about as far as we can go for now. Utley was a college player and didn’t make his pro debut until age 21, when he played 40 games at Batavia upon being drafted out of UCLA. Utley, who stands at only 6’1, 185lbs, is an illustration though, that you don’t need to be 6’5, 230lbs to hit 30 HR a year. Cardenas looks like he could be very similar to Utley in terms of size, and the swing is similar. One other note, in terms of comparisons. Over at Baseball Prospectus, they’ve devised similarity scores, which help to analyze what a player has done, and who he is most similar to based on all of those variables. His number 1 comparable is Marcus Giles, and in his top 10, you also find David Wright (#3), Erik Aybar (#9) and Wilson Betemit (#10), not bad names for sure. In fact, Wright and Cardenas had very similar debuts, and it will be even more interesting if Cardenas eventually ends up at 3B.
At this point, it’s tough to temper expectations on Adrian, and it’s easy to get way ahead of ourselves. His debut went just about as well as could be expected, and he’ll be making the jump to full season ball, spending 2007 at Lakewood, playing 2B beside fellow 2006 draft pick Jason Donald. 2007 represents his age 19 season, so he’ll be a tick young for the league and playing against advanced competition. There is really no need to worry about moving him to a position of need right now, the most important thing is letting his offense develop, because that is what will ultimately determine his overall value in the big leagues. If his bat is good enough, it won’t matter if he’s playing 2B, 3B, LF, or RF, he’s going to be a big asset. One interesting thing to watch will be how aggressive he is on the bases. His speed rates as merely average, maybe even a tick below average, yet he did steal 13 bases in the GCL, and was only caught 3 times. If he can swipe 20 bags at Lakewood, it further increases his value. His 2007 should be one of the more entertaining things to watch in the Phillies minor league system.