Rookie phenoms on the brink of stardom can be tricky to predict. How will the St. Louis Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson turn out? Will he become a special player? Those are questions this season will answer.
Carlson certainly looks like a star in the making.
At press time, the 21-year-old is ranked No. 1 on the MLB Prospect Rankings list. Carlson is the first St. Louis prospect to rank inside the top 10 of Baseball America’s list since Alex Reyes came in at No. 4 back in 2017. He’s the first position player to do so since Oscar Taveras in 2014 [No. 3].
The outfielder, who doesn’t turn 22 until October, has raced through the Cardinals minor-league system after joining the organization as a first-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft.
Last season, Carlson thumped pitchers at two levels while playing for the Cards’ affiliates in Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. His combined statistics for both teams were highlighted by a .292 average, .372 on-base percentage, and a .542 slugging percentage with 28 doubles, six triples, 20 homers and 20 steals. In 79 plate appearances for Memphis, Carlson went off for a 1.098 OPS. He smoked five homers and 11 extra-base hits overall in just 72 at-bats.
Carlson proved his skill with a .281/.364/.518 batting line in Double-A Springfield before dominating a stint in Memphis to round out his year in September. In 79 plate appearances there, Carlson boasted a massive .361/.418/.681 batting line.
That set the stage for a potential MLB debut in 2020.
“Dylan obviously did a great job starting in the big league camp last year,” St. Louis Manager Mike Shildt said. “He went through the season and did his part.
“He had a nice year in the Texas League and got to Triple A and had the opportunity to compete there and he did very well. He looks great. He’s in a good place.”
Carlson is taking all the fanfare in stride.
“For me personally, my only goal each and every day is to find a way to get better,” Carlson said. “For me, the conversations I’ve had are to keep doing the things I’m doing and to keep building and trying to be the best version of myself as a player that I can be. For me, that’s the thing I really try to key on.” Certainly, Cardinals fans are looking forward to the Carlson era. They have fallen in love with the talented outfielder and flocked to him at the Winter Warm-Up in January.
“I’ve never played a game in the major leagues and I’ve had people knowing everything about me and lining up to come and meet me and having me sign something,” Carlson said. “It’s really humbling. It’s pretty exciting.”
He has shown he has a good understanding of the strike zone, and being a switch-hitter helps his chances, too. There’s not a lot of difference between his lefty and righty swings – both are smooth and balanced, and he tries to do damage no matter what side of the plate he’s on.
The switch-hitting outfielder was a non-roster invitee to Cardinals camp this spring. However, he’s in the mix for an outfield spot in St. Louis along with, among others, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Austin Dean and Rangel Ravelo.
Carlson just wants to play.
“I’m just going to go out and play whenever and wherever they want me. I’m comfortable playing all three [outfield positions],” Carlson said. “Honestly, I just like playing. I like being in the lineup so whatever spot in the outfield is going to get me in the lineup is what I want to play.”
Shildt likes how Carlson handles the expectations and hoopla surrounding him.
“Dylan has proven that he has a maturity to him and an understanding and a feel for him that is beyond his normal experiences,” Shildt said.
“I try to be as complete a player as I can be,” Carlson said.