Minor League Keeper Thoughts: St. Louis Cardinals

March 12, 2012; Melbourne, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller (71) throws a pitch during spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

With the American League in the rear view mirror for now, next up is a system which may very well have the best pitching overall, both at the top and in terms of depth. I'm hoping to finish up the last of these posts prior to the end of Spring Training. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:

AL West: Los Angeles Angels | Oakland | Seattle | Texas

AL Central: Chicago White Sox | Cleveland | Detroit | Kansas City | Minnesota

AL East: Baltimore | Boston | New York Yankees | Tampa Bay | Toronto

NL East: Atlanta (3/23) | Miami (3/28) | New York (3/26) | Philadelphia (3/28) | Washington (3/21)

NL Central: Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati (3/19) | Houston | Milwaukee (3/19) | Pittsburgh | St. Louis (3/16)

NL West: Arizona | Colorado | Los Angeles Dodgers | San Diego | San Francisco

Prospects Traded Post-Review Of New Team (3/30)

The remaining reports will be coming out on the dates in parenthesis next to their names, so if there are specific prospects that you'd like to hear about from those organizations, please let me know in the comments and I will see what I can find out for you.

Overview

The Cardinals weren't always known for producing quality minor leaguers, but their system has gotten substantially better in the past few seasons. While they are able to spend with the many of the top teams in terms of payroll, they now also have the prospects to help them either in terms of replacing older players or as trade chips. Their system is flush with pitching prospects at this point, as they could have potentially 3 top flight starting pitchers in the Majors when they are done.

2011 Graduates

Allen Craig

Ready in 2012

Shelby Miller

Miller has been considered one of the top right handed pitching prospects for a couple years now, and did nothing with his performance in 2011 to dissuade that notion. He finished the season at AA and combined to strikeout 170 batters against 53 walks in 139+ innings, and posted a 2.77 ERA in his 25 starts as well. Marc Hulet ranked him as his top prospect in the Cardinals system, and gave this brief scouting report about him:

One of the top arms available in the 2009 draft, the hard-throwing Texan can fire his heat up into the mid-to-high 90s and it has excellent movement. Miller's fastball is so effective that he has to be encouraged to use his secondary pitches, both of which show flashes of brilliance: a curveball and changeup. Although they have potential, Miller needs to command them better. His plus velocity allows him to safely work in the upper half of the strike zone but it would be nice to see the fly-ball pitcher generate a few more ground-ball outs.

I agree with Hulet that Miller has the upside to be a #1 starter, and would also say that he has the potential to be a #1 starter for fantasy purposes long-term. He's been sent down to minor league camp already this spring, but it's very possible he could be up in the Majors before the end of the year. Once he is established in the bigs, I don't see any reason why he can't be a top flight starter who provides excellent ratios and a high strikeout rate. In deep-NL only leagues, I might take a flier on him toward the end of the draft, as he could come up and provide some excellent starts at the end of the year. He'll likely start the season at AAA, and could spend the whole season there until he's needed in St. Louis.

Matthew Adams

A 23rd round pick in the 2009 draft, Adams has just shown up at each stop and hit above .300 and shown power while doing it. 2011 may have been his best season yet, as he hit .300 with 32 home runs and 101 RBI in just 115 games for the Cardinals' AA affiliate. Adams appears to be the long-term solution at first base now that Albert Pujols has moved on, but there remains some concerns about his ability long-term. Here's a bit of what Kevin Goldstein had to say in his top 11 prospects list about Adams:

Adams is well over his listed weight of 230 pounds, and he's sluggish on the basepaths and in the field. He'll need to improve his plate discipline; he swings at too many pitches and finds himself behind in the count too often.

Overall, it looks like his bat should play regardless at 1B, and while there are concerns about his size, it doesn't appear to have stopped him from hitting to this point. After spending the full season at AA last year, I have to imagine that he'll be in AAA this season, and groomed to take over at 1B after Lance Berkman's contract is up after this season. I can see a 20-25 HR bat with a high batting average here once he gets to the Majors, which at 1B should still be worth having.

Kolten Wong

Last year's top draft pick, the second baseman out of Hawaii signed early enough to get into 47 games for the Cardinals' low-A affiliate in the Midwest League. He showed the bat that made him a first round pick to begin with, as he hit .335 with 5 HR, 25 RBI and 9 SB in those 47 games. I like what I've seen so far, and it really is in line with the performance he had in college. Here's what John Sickels had to say about Wong:

Pure hitter with few weaknesses and won't need long in the minors. Possible outcome: Todd Walker with a much better glove.

Wong is already thought of as a solid enough second baseman to stay at the position long-term, and I think he could very well break into a lot of top 100 lists next season if he shows he can hit at that level for a full season. To me, he looks like a high batting average (.280+), with decent power and speed combination (10+ HR, 20+ SB) long-term, and could be up by the end of the 2013 season depending on how he does to start the season in High-A. He is one of the top 5 2B prospects right now, and could be at the top of the list for sure by the end of the season.

Could Be Ready in 2014

Zack Cox

The Cardinals' top draft pick from the 2010 draft, Cox has really seen some divided reports on his long-term prospects. He hit .306 with 13 HR and 68 RBI between High-A and AA last year, while playing 3B. The guys over at Baseball Instinct rated him as their #113 overall prospect, but had this to say about Cox:

Even with his elite level contact ability being a possible major league tool, it's difficult to project Cox as more than a league average player - possibly a platoon 3B/2B/OF in the future.

It seems like he's not thought of well enough to unseat current 3B David Freese in terms of his defense when combined with his offense, and that he will be more of an in-between player than a high level contributor. I would imagine that he will start the season back at AA for a bit, but could be in AAA before too long. If he were an everyday player, I could see him hitting .280+ with 15+ HR in the Majors, which would have a ton more value if he can stay at 3B as opposed to moving elsewhere.

Carlos Martinez (A-/A+)

Originally signed by the Red Sox (and subsequently voided), Martinez ended up signing out of the Dominican Republic with the Cardinals. The raw stuff he is already showing has a lot of prospect experts wowed and projecting that he has #1 potential, but there have also been concerns voiced about whether he can reach those projections or not. Martinez made his stateside debut last season in the Midwest League, and was moved up to the Carolina League after 12 starts. The biggest concerns to this point appear to be whether or not he will have enough control over his stuff to get through the lineup more than once or twice. Here's some of concerns Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars had to say about Martinez:

As one might expect from a guy who turned 20 in September, Martinez is still raw. He walked far too many batters in High-A, including walking nearly as many lefthanders as he struck out. He needs to get much more consistent with his curveball and get more of a third pitch to reliably combat opposite-side hitters.


At 6'0″ and 165 lbs., Martinez is not a big guy, and his delivery has a lot of effort in it. That's always going to lead to durability concerns, and the righthander has a long way to go before he can show he can handle a full minor league season, let alone a major league one. He threw just 84 2/3 innings this year.

The strikeout numbers (98 in 84 innings) are always something you want to see, but 44 walks to go with is definitely a problem that will need to be worked on. I could see him spending the entire season at High-A to allow him to work on his control. There seems to be some concern among other prospect experts that he will end up pitching in the bullpen long-term, but that if he does he could be an elite-level closer. Either way, I don't foresee him being in St. Louis for at least 2-3 more seasons.

Oscar Taveras

Taveras put on a show last season in low-A, hitting .386/.444/.584 with 8 home runs and 62 RBI in just 78 games. He carried that performance forward in the Arizona Fall League against substantial competition, hitting .307 with a home run in 77 at bats there. Just 19 years old last year, Taveras has shown a lot of potential as a hitter already, and reports about him rave about his approach. That said, there are some concerns about Taveras. Here's a bit of what Nathaniel Stoltz of Seedlings to Stars had to say about him:

There's some concern over the legitimacy of Taveras' prospectdom. Nobody will argue he has a poor approach for his age, or that he doesn't have a knack for hard contact, but it's easy to look at a .440 BABIP from a sabermetric perspective and scream "regression!" Of course, there will be regression from that level, but the question is how much-will he regress to merely the .370 BABIP of 2010, or further?

Taveras has shown a lot of potential as a hitter, and the general consensus seems to be that despite a "violent approach" (in terms of swing), he finds a way to make good contact in spite of this. There have been rumors of Taveras being jumped from Low-A to AA to start the 2012 season, which would move his timeframe up slightly. Long term, he looks like he could turn into a high batting average, decent power production type outfielder, and eventually could develop more power as well.

Long Term Prospects (Might Not Be Ready Until At Least 2015)

Tyrell Jenkins

Just 18 years old last year in Rookie ball, Jenkins gets rave reports about his long-term prospects as a Major Leaguer. He struck out 55 batters and walked just 13 in 56 innings pitched last year, and could see time in a full season league this year. Dave Gershman of NY Penn League Report wrote up a brief scouting report on Jenkins last April, and had this to say about Jenkins' long-term outlook:

He has a real loose arm and he at times dials his fastball up to 95 MPH. It has more tailing away action than sink. He's deciptive enough to throw it consistently enough without it getting hit. He repeats his delivery and throws all of his pitches at the same arm angle. His change up isn't close to being developed yet thus it's a particularly raw pitch but he has a feel for it. The other pitch Jenkins features is a 1-7 curveball with some good velocity on it. It's a go-to pitch of his and he uses it more than his change up.

He's a LONG way away, as he won't likely get past low-A this season, but he could jump up rankings this time next year if he can continue to perform like he did last year.

Others to Watch:

Trevor Rosenthal

His performance last season in Low-A looks worse than it actually was, as his FIP was at 3.04 to go with a 133/39 K/BB rate in 120 innings there. He'll be 22 this season, and likely to move up to High-A to at least start the season. He's probably right in-line with regard to age-to-level, so he'll need to continue this performance as he moves up in the system. That said, he looks like he could be a solid fantasy contributor at the back end of a fantasy rotation as of right now, and could have the potential for more if he can show it at higher levels.

Jordan Swagerty

Swagerty spend part of the 2011 season working as a starting pitcher and part of the season out in the bullpen, and was the closer at Arizona State prior to being drafted. The Cardinals don't seem to be sure how they want to develop him, but if he stays in the bullpen he could be up very quickly. Overall last year he posted solid strikeout and walk numbers, and I'll be interested to see how the Cardinals decide to use him. His fantasy value as a reliever would rely almost entirely on his role, as his strikeout rate is not so dominant that he would overshadow other relievers in standard 5x5 leagues.

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