As part of our membership in the United Cardinal Bloggers, we frequently participate in various projects throughout the year. While the “Capture the Virtual Flag”, “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock”, and the “Rhino in a Hula Hoop” projects aren’t our favorites, we go along with whatever our illustrious leader cooks up for us. This month happens to be one off my personal favorites, because any opportunity to brag about how great the farm system is cannot be passed up willingly.
For the Cardinals, the farm system is not simply about the players or even the coaching staff at each level. The franchise invests a lot of time and money in making sure everything is a first class operation right down to the mascots and clean bathrooms. The fact that very little can take away from the minor league baseball fan experience says a lot about both the product on the field and the hundreds of people responsible for keeping your attention focused on that on-field product.
That said, the Cardinals put a really great product out on the field at many levels, and the follow 7 players have an awful lot to do with making that product what it is.
- Oscar Taveras (age 20)- He’s an outfielder in a first baseman’s body. He was also named the Texas League Player of the Year. Yes, he put up some great numbers at Double AA (.321/.380/.572/.953 with 23 HR and 94 RBI), but he also showed that he can cover quite a bit of outfield ground while also showing a slightly above average arm. He really projects to be the RF of the future for the Cardinals at some point, and it would surprise few to see him take that position by opening day 2014. Give him a year at Memphis to work on better plate discipline and footwork, and he can be everything people hope for and maybe a bit more.
- Trevor Rosenthal (age 22) – When a major league team adds a reliever/starter hybrid guy who gives the team a 3.15 ERA, 23 strikeouts, and a 1.000 WHIP in 20.0 innings of relief, it usually costs them quite a bit. All it cost the Cardinals was a relocation of Rosenthal from Springfield. He got a lot of attention for his 97-99 mph 4-seam fastball, but it was his command of that pitch combined with his willingness to throw an off-speed pitch or breaking ball just enough to keep hitters honest that allowed him to stay. In short appearances, he basically gives the Cardinals a more dynamic version of Jason Motte but with a cleaner uniform. He projects as a middle rotation starter, but the thought of him being in the mix next year as a hybrid guy has to be intriguing to Lilliquist et al.
- Shelby Miller (age 21) – Kudos to both Miller and the organization for taking the slow and patient approach with Miller. He used a substantial portion of his time at Memphis to work on some things that have paid off in his short time at the big league level. In terms of his pitching repertoire, he basically looks like Adam Wainwright Light. He’s very much Wainwright minus the great cutter right now. If he can master either his curve or his changeup as a legitimate secondary “out” pitch, he could be in the rotation next year.
- Carlos Martinez (age 21) – File Martinez in the list of pitchers who have “electric stuff”. You could make a case for flip-flopping him with the guy in the 5th spot, because Martinez probably has more talent and a higher ceiling, but his teammate at Springfield for much of the season is a bit further along in terms of development. He projects to the equivalent of a #2 or #3 starter, but that day is likely a few years down the road.
- Seth Maness (age 23) – UnliK. Martinez, Maness spent some time honing his craft in college at Eastern Carolina University, and it shows. He has a good mound presence, and he looks comfortable pitching with runners on base. He’s not afraid to use his secondary pitches when necessary, and keeps his team in games. He projects just slightly lower than Martinez, but don’t let that fool you. Maness knows how to pitch and could eventually be a really solid back end starter or long reliever.
- Kolten Wong (age 21) – No doubt that Wong can turn around a fastball, and he would rank higher, if he was a little pickier at the plate. His strikeout rate went up considerably as he made the jump from Single A to Double A, and his power numbers went down. Then again, the Cardinals have survived a long time without a guy at 2B who can hit for power, and anything close to his .754 OPS at Springfield would be welcome in St. Louis. The most exciting thing about Wong is his straight line speed and range at the position. While it’s difficult to successfully project how that speed will translate to stolen bases in the majors, he certainly passes the “eye test” as a guy who could steal 30 a season.
- Matt Adams – If not for an elbow injury ending his season prematurely, Adams probably would have been found several spots higher. Despite being effectively blocked by Allen Craig for the 1B job in St. Louis, Adams already has plenty of people wondering how he would do in a full season at the big league level. He tore up the PCL when healthy to the tune of .329/.362/.624/.986 with 18 HR and 50 RBI in just 67 games. He also spent 27 games with St. Louis and showed glimpses of the extra base hit machine that many expect him to be. If he doesn’t get a real opportunity to break through in Stl, he could be highly coveted by some AL teams as a 1B/DH combo guy.
With so many players getting the call up this season, this list has changed a lot over the season. Players like Ryan Jackson, Pete Kozma, and Joe Kelly were certainly top 10 candidates earlier this year, so the farm system has already paid huge dividends for the Cardinals this year.