Though he was optioned on Thursday, Magneuris Sierra may now be on a quicker path to the major leagues.
The St. Louis Cardinals optioned 20-year-old outfielder Magneuris Sierra to the minor leagues on Thursday, officially ending the prospect’s bid to make the Opening Day roster (a bid that was, in reality, nonexistent, but nevertheless apparently inspired a major-league coach from another club to ask Mike Matheny whether Sierra would make his team earlier this spring).
Sierra is probably a year away from the majors even if the most optimistic timeline is utilized. After the slender lefthanded hitter batted .387/.424/.484 in 33 plate appearances and played Gold Glove-worthy this spring, though, it’s fair to wonder if he might be progressing much more quickly than anyone thought he would.
Sierra, who is ranked as the Cardinals’ No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, hasn’t played above Low A ball during his four minor-league seasons, and he hasn’t really had a dominant offensive season since he hit .386/.434/.505 in the Gulf Coast League back in 2014. He’ll likely add some more weight to his 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame as he gets into his 20s, but it’s fair to say he’s never going to be a major power threat. Rather, Sierra is going to make an impact as an elite fielder with the ability to make consistent contact and get on base at an above-average rate. Since those skills are already so polished, though, he might not have much left to prove in the lower minors.
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Sierra was assigned to High-A Palm Beach on Thursday, but that’s not necessarily the level at which he’ll begin the season. His strong performance during the spring definitely opened eyes, and since he’s in the rather unique position of having already played 173 games at the Low A level at such a young age, it wouldn’t be so ridiculous to think that he could make the jump to Double-A without much difficulty.
The Cardinals aren’t expected to a ton of outfield at Double-A Springfield this season, so it’s not as if Sierra would struggle to get consistent playing time at that level. Depending on how long it takes recent signee Jose Adolis Garcia to get his visa issues resolved, Sierra may even get the opportunity to play center field in Springfield–a chance that he may not get in Palm Beach, since Cuban signee Randy Arozarena is expected to fill that position at the High-A level.
Perhaps even more significantly, Sierra’s option clock is now started–an unfortunate obstacle to the way clubs must handle high-profile players like Sierra who sign at the age of 16 and become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft by 20. That means he’ll have to become a full-time big-leaguer by 2020 or will be required to go through waivers every time he’s sent to the minors from henceforth on.
Even if he starts the season in Palm Beach, it’s very possible that he could make a quick jump to the upper minors. Since he’s a major-league-ready defender and is on the track as far as figuring out how to get on base on a consistent basis, he seems like a good candidate to fast track, and with the Cardinals lacking representative outfield talent at the Double-A level this year anyway, they might as well throw him into the pool and see if he can swim.