Cardinals’ 2011 Top 7 Prospects – UCB September

by on September 17, 2011 · 1 comment

Once a year, along with the rest of the United Cardinal Bloggers, we get to put this list together as a review of the Cardinals’ farm system.

So far, pretty much every year has been an improvement over the previous. This year is no exception.

The Cardinals have multiple prospects on the national radar, and some aggressive promotion have some of them on the cusp of contribution to the big club.

Let’s start with the crown jewel, shall we?

1. Shelby Miller

In my opinion, Miller is the undisputed top prospect in the organization both on potential and performance. But alas, he can’t be associated with the Cardinals without being involved in some type of drama, right? Miller was suspended this season after reports of being involved in a bar fight in Springfield, and rumblings of “entitlement issues” from the likes of the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss.

Lest we focus solely on the negatives, Miller certainly still has the goods to be a top of the rotation starting pitcher. He cruised through high-A Palm Beach competition, earning a promotion to Springfield where early returns were excellent, making the transition to the more-hitter-friendly Texas League almost seamlessly. As acknowledged by Kevin Goldstein on the Pitchers Hit Eighth podcast, the jump from single-A ball to double-A is the second most difficult in baseball, after the jump to the bigs from triple-A. Seeing Miller succeed in Springfield is a great sign for his continued development and movement in the system.

Shelby’s secondary pitches still need work, as Texas League hitters started to catch up to the fastball and Miller’s stubborn streak when continuing to throw it when maybe he shouldn’t.

Prior to his suspension, there were rumblings that Miller may be able to put himself on a track to win a job out of Spring Training in 2012, but now I think we’ll see a minimum of half a season in Memphis first, if not starting out back in Springfield.

2. Carlos Martinez

Cardinal fans, and perhaps even the organization, are still learning about Carlos Martinez with every start he makes. Martinez carved up Midwest League hitters prior to a promotion and finishing the season in Palm Beach. Still a very young nineteen years old and also still acclimating to life in the United States, the Cardinals have been a bit more cautious with Martinez’ development and progress, and he has responded well.

Does he have an even higher ceiling than Miller? Perhaps, only time (and again, those pesky secondary pitches) will tell. For now, it would be foolish to place any limits on how good this lanky youngster can be.

Similar to Miller, I wouldn’t rule out a quick start to 2012 back in Palm Beach and quick promotion to Springfield. Another strong Camp Jupiter could escalate that track even more.

3. Oscar Taveras

Friend and sometime contributor to the site Andrew chimed in on this one:

Taveras exploded onto the scene with a huge year at Quad Cities, posting a slash line of .386/.444/584. Taveras struggled with injuries early on, but when healthy, he flashed at least average ability of all five tools.Taveras has a great feel for hitting, and he’s arguably the best pure hitting prospect in baseball. He’s an aggressive hitter, but he took more walks and cut down on his strikeouts this year, which is a good sign that he’s developing his approach as he gains more experience. The hitting mechanics are violent, with a big leg kick and a high finish. He quieted it down some, keeping his back elbow more level, allowing for a quicker path to the ball, which let his (great) hands produce line drive after line drive. With good bat speed and leverage, Taveras currently has above-average power with ceiling left to improve. He’s got an athletic build (6’2, 180), with some room left to fill out if he stays at a corner. He’s a solid-average runner currently, but it remains unclear if he has the defensive instincts and abilities to play center.

Tools             Present Future
Hitting           70      70
Power             50      60
Plate Discipline  50      60
Running Speed     50      50

4. Matt Adams

The official prospect of Pitchers Hit Eighth ™ just keeps hitting. He may not have a place to play, depending on the Cardinals’ proceedings with one Albert Pujols, but by golly, get him in the lineup and give him a bat and he will put it to good use.

The hefty slugger impressed enough in the spring of 2011 to earn a spot with Springfield to start 2011, and had it not been for a late-season injury and subsequent slump, Adams may have found himself finishing up with Memphis.

Adams continued to mash in 2011, carrying over his successful 2010 campaign with Quad Cities. The aforementioned late-season slump left his batting average down to .300 to finish the season, but he hit 32 home runs and ended up with a .923 OPS. Straight rakin’, y’all.

The issue with Adams going forward is how he fits into the Cardinals’ organizational depth chart. If Pujols re-ups with the Redbirds, is it as an outfielder (a move that Adams acknowledges will likely require some serious “body work”)? Or if Pujols leaves, does a Lance Berkman extension play out while Adams gets another year of seasoning in Memphis while being groomed to take over the first base job with the big club?

One thing is for certain with Adams – if he continues to hit, he will be on a big league club somewhere, and soon. Must work on his plate patience – less “see it, hit it” and more focus on finding just the right pitch to drive.

I’d be truly shocked if he’s not Memphis bound out of camp.

5. Kolten Wong

“Hitters hit.” “All the guy does is hit.” “Just rakes.”

Kolten Wong has been described with all of these phrases at some point in his baseball career, most recently with Hawaii in college and forty-seven games with Quad Cities. Well, it just so happens Wong can play his position a bit too.

Another player who “fell” to the Cardinals in the recent draft, the Cardinals were happy to see Wong available at the top of their board when their pick came due.

Finding a home in an organization truly lacking quality depth in the minor leagues up the middle, Wong’s experience playing college ball at Hawaii figures to make him another quick mover so long as he continues to hit at each successive level. Seems logical, right? Well, I’m thinking more quickly than that – wouldn’t be surprised to see Wong hitting in Memphis by the end of 2012.

6. Zack Cox

Zack Cox is seemingly another bat without a position. His power finally came around at Springfield in late summer, a relief for many prospect watchers and fans of Zack.

A player who seemingly squarely divides the Cardinal fan base (and even moreso nationally) between those excited about his potential and those who see a four-A guy, Cox to me represents another Cardinals pick that was simply the best player available at the time they came on the board.

In the vein of Brett Wallace years before, Cox has a projectable bat, but doesn’t really project at the position he plays currently, third base. So what to do with him then? Let him continue to develop as a hitter, then trade him off to a team that needs a first baseman or designated hitter?

Maybe, I certainly think John Mozeliak would’ve liked to have someone like that at his disposal this past trade deadline. Now if only there weren’t that pesky major league contract besides…

7. Jordan Swagerty

Finding success as both a starter and a reliever while pitching across three different leagues in 2011 really put Jordan Swagerty on the map to be involved in this discussion.

Swagerty’s ability to flexibly transition between roles in a pitching staff is obviously a huge asset for someone in the Cardinals’ organization whether it comes to performing exactly that role eventually in the big leagues – also known as “The Brad Thompson Spot” – or taking more of an Adam Wainwright-style approach to breaking in with the Cardinals, Swagerty’s potential to contribute is also likely sooner than later as the Cards continue to move toward being a more self-sufficient organization, particularly in the bullpen.

There will be a lot of pitching coming off of the roster in 2013 that lends itself well for some of these guys finding, or perhaps more accurately – winning, themselves a spot on the big league staff.

Other notables: Tyrell Jenkins, Trevor Rosenthal

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Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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