clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Minor League Keeper Thoughts: St. Louis Cardinals

Craig Goldstein takes a look at some of the top fantasy prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.


Jason and I continue our look at some of the more relevant prospects in each of the 30 MLB organizations. We won't be looking at each prospect in every organization, but rather providing brief profiles of players that are either expected to make an impact as soon as next season, or are worth watching in dynasty and keeper formats. In general, they will be sorted in the order of when they are anticipated to be in the Majors, even though it is no guarantee that they will get there.

Our goal is to speak more to each prospect's fantasy value, so while we do look at a player's defense, it is really only in the context of where they will end up when they get to the Majors, and how that may affect their long term outlook. We will be going roughly in alphabetical order, and planning to have the series completed by the end of the year.

Previous Reviews

NL West: Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco
NL Central: Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh
NL East: Atlanta, Miami, New York, Philadelphia
AL East: Baltimore, Boston, New York Yankees
AL Central: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota
AL West: Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle

System Overview

St. Louis boasts the league's best farm system in my opinion. They have impact talent nearing maturity and depth from the upper down to the lower minors. Buoyed by strong draft classes in recent years, the Cardinals have benefited from strong returns on top picks (hello, Shelby Miller), late round finds (hello, Trevor Rosenthal), and a healthy presence in the international market (hello, Oscar Taveras). Often a top of the class farm system coincides with a steady rebuilding period, but the Cardinals have managed to build their system while making repeated trips to the playoffs. Their farm system is poised to help them continue that feat and do so on the cheap - allowing them to reinvest money into their veterans.


Matt Carpenter (INF/OF), Shane Robinson (OF), Tony Cruz (C), Lance Lynn (SP), Joe Kelly (RP)

AAA or Higher in 2012

These are players who reached the Cardinals' Pacific Coast League affiliate in Memphis in 2012. They will likely see time in the Majors in 2013, and could be a significant contributor there.

Shelby Miller (BBRef Statistics, Profile)

Miller had quite the season in 2012, starting with an offseason program that led to weight loss as well as a loss in velocity. Miller also encountered some bad news on his makeup, all of which led to me to lower him in my mid-season starting pitcher rankings. This looks foolish now, as Miller has more than righted the ship. He regained his stuff and tore off a string of quality performances that led him to see time in the big leagues. At 21, Miller is on the verge of a big league rotation spot, though there is plenty of competition there. If the Cardinals prefer to start Miller at Triple-A, they can do so, but he is ready for a big league trial and has the upside of a very good #2 pitcher.

Trevor Rosenthal (BBRef Statistics)

Perhaps best known for being Will Leitch's spirit animal, Rosenthal burst onto the scene this post-season sporting a fastball in the upper upper 90s. Rosenthal received a lot of accolades, not just for his poise and lights out pitching on a grand stage but also for succeeding despite being drafted in the 21st round. After spending 2011 at Lo-A, Rosenthal made the jump to Double-A to begin 2012 and reached the big leagues by July. A in the majors, Rosenthal has the ability to start, with a mid-90s fastball, a solid change up and a biting curveball. His control works better out of the pen, but it's good enough to start and he should settle in as a #3/4 starter in time, if not a dominant reliever.

Matt Adams (BBRef Statistics, Profile)

I took a close look at Adams as part of our week-long look at first baseman a month ago, and rather than re-hash that, I ask you to take a look via the link above. In short, he's ready to step in whenever Allen Craig's next injury occurs and should be fairly productive.

AA in 2012

These are players who reached the Cardinals' Texas League affiliate in Springfield in 2012. They could see time in the Majors in 2013, but are more likely to arrive during the 2014 season.

Oscar Taveras (BBRef Statistics, Profile)

My profile of Taveras above was done in early May, so while time has passed, not much has changed for Taveras. He's the crown jewel of the Cardinals system, truly a feat given the presence of a talent like Shelby Miller. Taveras sports plus to plus-plus grades on his hit and power tools, just finished dominating Double-A in his age 20 season and could reasonably start in outfield next season for about half the teams in baseball. He won't for the Cardinals who return their outfield of Holliday, Jay and Beltran and have the added flexibility of Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig on their roster. In fact, it might take multiple injuries for Taveras to get a call-up early this season as he hasn't yet tasted Triple-A and the Cardinals will likely have interest in delaying his service clock and likely his arbitration as well. That means it could be July before we get an extended look at Taveras. Until then, we will stare at the numbers he puts up in the PCL and dream...

Carlos Martinez (BBRef Statistics)

If you've been reading me for any length of time, you'll know of my love for Kansas City Royals' prospect Yordano Ventura. Well, Martinez is the mold from which Ventura was cast. Martinez is a diminutive hurler, standing 6'/165 lbs, who overpowers hitters with an upper 90s fastball that can touch 100 MPH. His secondary pitches flash plus, but lack consistency, and he's been known to fall in love with a lower 90s two-seam fastball that features sharp movement. He missed about a month this season with shoulder tendinitis, and is often thought of as a potentially dominant bullpen piece thanks to his size, arsenal and mechanics. Control is often the issue for someone "destined' for the bullpen, but Martinez posted a BB/9 of under three in both Hi-A and Double-A in 2012. Durability is the one concern I have with him, as the 101.1 innings he threw last year represent his career high. Still, I'm firmly in the camp of not converting someone to relief until you have to and it's likely that Martinez opens up 2013 in the rotation at Triple-A. The Cardinals have plenty of depth both in their rotation and bullpen, so it's conceivable Martinez will have to wait to make his debut until 2014, though we could just as easily see him pull a Rosenthal.

Kolten Wong (BBRef Statistics)

Wong certainly has his supporters, most notably a certain prospect writer who now works for the Houston Astros. It's easy to understand why when you see he recorded a .287/.348/.405 slash line at Double-A while in his first full season. He also has his detractors though, as ESPN's Keith Law said of Wong prior to the draft:
[He's] 5'8", can't run, lacks power, not a good defender at 2b. Doesn't make sense to rate a guy without upside there.
Now, since then Law hasn't been nearly as harsh on Wong as that, but his larger point still remains. Wong isn't a tools guy. He certainly has them as his hit tool borders on plus and he makes hard contact, but doesn't have a frame for power. He's a baseball gamer who shows tons of #want and makes the most, if not more, of what he's got. His arm isn't playable outside of second base and he makes a lot of plays due to positioning and instinct. While he did steal 21 bases, his speed is average to slightly above. He can swipe some bags based on instinct, but might reach a point where better defensive catchers for him to curtail his attempts. I fall into the Keith Law camp on this one, but I certainly understand the argument in Wong's favor. he's a high floor guy who will definitely play in the majors and should hit for average. In fantasy, I want more than an empty average. Some are convinced he'll get you that, I remain skeptical though.

Michael Wacha (BBRef Statistics)

An interesting case, Wacha seemed to be overlooked in the 2012 draft, falling to the Cardinals at 19 despite being regarded as one of the better pitchers a pitching heavy draft class. At the same time, Wacha might become overvalued by those who scout box scores due to his stellar 2012 season. A season that saw him put up a cumulative .86 ERA and strike out 40 batters in 21 innings across three different levels. Those stats will make your eyes pop. The catch comes in when you look at his game log. He never went more than 3 IP in any start. He only faced more than 9 batters once. That means he turned a lineup over once, and only faced one batter a second time. Part of that is due to his utter brilliance while on the mound. Part of that is due to the limited innings he threw. Either way, we cannot accurately assess his status against pro hitters until we see how he can turn over a lineup and how he sequences when seeing a batter multiple times. We got a look at "Wacha the reliever" when we're trying to assess "Wacha the starter". We will see what 2013 brings, with Wacha likely beginning back at Double-A. I'll be expecting strong results, though not quite as good as we saw in 2012. I like Wacha as a mid-rotation starter who should be able to eat innings and post strong WHIP numbers for fantasy players. He lacks a dominant breaking ball, so strikeouts could be tougher to come by, but he has enough stuff to rack up value without sky high strikeout numbers.

Jordan Swagerty (BBRef Statistics)

Placing Swagerty here is a bit of a misnomer, as he didn't pitch anywhere in 2012. He underwent Tommy John surgery in early April 2012, but he did blow through three levels of the minor leagues to reach Double-A in 2011. Swagerty is a top notch closer candidate, and while I don't like to speculate for saves until someone is at least at the major league level, I know others feel differently. It's hard to divine exactly what will become of Swagerty who posted a 1.83 ERA and featured a 8.6 K/9 against a 2.2 BB/9 across three levels when last we saw him. He did make 12 starts in 2011, though that was more to get him to work on his secondaries and allow him to develop by throwing more pitches. With durability concerns already present, the Tommy John surgery will likely shelve any further ideas of him starting. Nevertheless, Swagerty remains an excellent relief prospect with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s and a wipeout breaking ball that was ranked the best in the Cardinals system per Baseball America. I'd expect him to return to Double-A in 2013, and while there are a bunch of arms ahead of him, relief prospects can move quickly. It's possible he could see the majors this year, though I'd guess the Cardinals prefer it not come to that.

Low-A in 2012

These are prospects who reached the Cardinals' Midwest League affiliate in Palm Beach. These players could be at least 3 full seasons from reaching the Majors.

Tyrell Jenkins (BBRef Statistics, Profile)

I profiled Jenkins in May and unfortunately not much changed since that report, at least in terms of production. Jenkins finished 2012 with an ugly 5.14 ERA. Jenkins did well to maintain a strong K/9 of just under 9, but saw his BB/9 balloon from just over 2 to just under 4. There's still a lot to like about Jenkins though. The stuff remains premium, as detailed in the profile linked above. He's proven adept at keeping the ball in the ballpark with a HR/9 of .55 last year. His FIP once again finished well ahead of his actual ERA, I'm guessing due in part to his .336 BABIP, though that might be a recurring issue with Jenkins as his 2011 BABIP was also high at .373. Jenkins seems to get hit harder than he should given his stuff, but lack of command and control will do that to a player. Only 20 years old and a premium athlete, I like Jenkins chances of figuring it out enough to become useful, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward.

Stephen Piscotty (BBRef Statistics)

Drafted as a Junior out of Stanford, Piscotty showed why he earned his $1.435 million bonus by posting a .295/.376/.448 slash line in his professional debut. Yes, he beat up on some younger competition and we'll find out what he's really all about when he faces more on-level talent this coming season, but it's still a nice debut for someone straight out of the draft. Piscotty had been playing outfield for Stanford, but transitioned back to his native 3rd base for the Cardinals. His bat profiles better there as he has more of a line drive stroke than a power oriented swing, though he's clearly not devoid of power altogether. Piscotty showed a good knowledge of the zone, taking pitches he couldn't drive though his patience will be tested as he sees better and better breaking balls. There is the possibility Piscotty ends up in the outfield (as he did at Stanford) due to a lack of range and quickness, though he does boast a powerful arm. Piscotty can really hit, but his utility will be determined by his power production. If it all comes together he could be a first division player, but the likelihood is that he ends up a 2nd division starter or utility guy.

Short Season in 2012

The prospects in this group reached one of the short season leagues as their final stop of the season. For the Cardinals, this could mean the New York-Penn or Appalachian League.

Carson Kelly (BBRef Statistics)

Young for his class, Kelly didn't turn 18 until after signing for $1.6 million as a second round pick. He had a mixed debut, hitting only .225 for the Johnson City in the Appy League, though he did hit 9 home runs. Kelly has a line drive stroke and can get good loft on the ball, portending future power. He has below average speed and that does affect his range at 3rd base, though he has solid hands and more than enough arm for the position, as he was a two-way prospect. We can't be surprised at a weak debut given his age, and all in all it was only 213 at-bats. I'm a fan of Kelly and though it may take a while, I expect him to turn into a solid prospect.

Patrick Wisdom (BBRef Statistics)

Widsom had a down season as a Junior at St. Mary's, leading him to fall to the supplemental first round after generating some first round buzz previously. Wisdom showed that the Cardinals faith in taking him 52nd overall was well worth it by producing a .282/.373/.465 slash line in his pro debut. Wisdom, like 2nd round choice Carson Kelly and 4th round selection Stephen Piscotty is a 3rd baseman. He has all the actions to stay at the position including solid athleticism, enough speed, and an above-average arm. The question on Wisdom is whether he will hit in the end, after posting a dismal .254/.380/.435 slash line his Junior campaign. His pro debut was a good first step in answering that question, but 241 at-bats isn't going to settle any dispute. Wisdom owns plus raw power, as evidenced by his 27 extra-base hits in those 241 at-bats. Already 21, I'd expect Wisdom to get a look at Low-A Quad Cities to open next year. He could turn into a good average, 20 home run guy who can really field the position in due time.

Others of Note

James Ramsey (BBRef Statistics)

A leader of the Florida State Seminoles, Ramsey was picked with the Cardinals second pick in the first round and signed for $1.6 million, about $175,000 under the allotment for that pick. Certainly at that figure it wasn't a punt of a pick, as scouts see Ramsey with average tools across the board, but lacking even one standout tool. He's currently a centerfielder, though his range is only average and he might not be able to stick there. He doesn't have the power for a corner outfield spot, but is athletic enough for an attempt at 2B if the Cardinals opt to send him to the Skip Schumaker school of position switches, or Kipnising for the younger crowd. Ramsey is likely to be a major leaguer - but he might be more Schumaker than Kipnis in that he's probably a utility player in the long run.

Starlin Rodriguez (BBRef Statistics)

Rodriguez has come a long way since being an undrafted free agent who was both signed and released by the Rays in 2009. He signed on with St. Louis later that year and has been making steady progress since. While he was a bit old for his level at 22, Rodriguez recorded a .300/.373/.442 slash line in the Florida State League. Given the dearth of prospect worthy second sackers, it makes Rodriguez an interesting name. Maybe he was beating up on younger competition and maybe he is just a late bloomer. Either way, he's on plenty of sleeper lists for now and is worth monitoring in deep leagues.

Seth Blair (BBRef Statistics)

Blair wouldn't seem like a candidate for inclusion in this space due to his horrid performance thus far as a pro, failing to post an ERA under 5.29 or a walk rate under 6 per 9 innings thus far in his career. Add to that that he is already 23 and has yet to progress past Hi-A, and I'm making a good case to just end this seemingly eternal article already. But I can't in good conscience do that. Blair threw only 16.2 innings in the minor league in 2012, walking more than he struck out in 5 starts. He did spend some time in the AFL where his control was no more refined, but the results were much better. Blair profiles as a relief prospect at this point, with a fastball that registers in the mid-90s when starting and should play up in relief. His curveball has shown the makings of a plus pitch, and while his changeup is still nascent, a move to the pen would allow him to junk it altogether. The Cardinals may continue to start Blair in an effort to more fully develop his pitches, but given his age and stuff he could be a relatively quick mover. The determining factor could be whether he ever figures out where the ball will end up once it leaves his hand.

Statistics from Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs
Other research from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus

You can follow me on Twitter at @cdgoldstein