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Minors : : General
Top Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals
Todd Gold        
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012

General Manager:  John Mozeliak
Farm Director:  John Vuch
Scouting Director:  Dan Kantrovitz

AAA:  Memphis Redbirds (Pacific Coast League)  77-66
AA:  Springfield Cardinals (Texas League)  62-78
Hi A:  Palm Beach Cardinals (Florida State League)  68-70
Low A:  Quad Cities Bandits (Midwest League)  81-56 MWL Champions
Rookie:  Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn League) 37-38
Rookie:  Johnson City Cardinals (Appalachian League) 45-23 APP Champions
Rookie:  GCL Cardinals (Gulf Coast League) 31-24
Dominican:  DSL Cardinals (Dominican Summer League) 27-44

System Overview

Coming off their 11th World Series title, the Cardinals find themselves in something of a transition period. Manager Tony LaRussa retired, Scouting Director Jeff Luhnow moved on to become General Manager of the division rival Houston Astros and franchise cornerstone Albert Pujols departed via free agency.

In spite of the heavy losses the team should remain strong in the short term, as veteran Lance Berkman can shift back to his natural position of first base and veteran free agent signee Carlos Beltran will take over his spot in the outfield. The return of Adam Wainwright, who missed 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, improves the Cardinals 2012 outlook significantly.

Former Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny takes over as La Russa’s successor in the dugout and will have some big shoes to fill as a rookie manager. Whether or not 2011 World Series MVP David Freese’s torrid postseason hitting is sustainable will go a long way in determining whether the Cardinals can return to October baseball in 2012.

Freese is a .298/.354/.429 career hitter, so his sudden surge wasn't completely out of left field. But he hadn’t shown the same level of power in the past that he flashed in October. During the 2011 playoffs Freese hit .397/.465/.794 with 5 Home Runs and 21 RBIs in 18 games. That type of production over a full season would make him a slam dunk for the NL MVP.

Allen Craig was another unlikely postseason hero for the Cardinals, hammering three Home Runs in the World Series, including the game seven clincher while playing with a broken knee cap. He will likely miss the start of the season recovering from the injury and will have to earn playing time once he does return.

While the Cardinals big league roster is still strong, it is also old and expensive. Fortunately, their farm system is very strong, headlined by RHP Shelby Miller, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball along with good depth behind him.

Veteran Chris Carpenter will turn 37 in April and likely is nearing the end of his career, but with Wainwright under control for the next two years and high upside pitching prospects in Miller, RHP Carlos Martinez and RHP Tyrell Jenkins in the system, they should be able to maintain a strong rotation well into the future.

Matt Holliday is signed through 2016, with a club option for 2017, but unless Freese or Craig develops into a viable long term power source, he is the only middle of the order run producer that the Cardinals can count on. 1B Matt Adams is an interesting prospect who hit 32 Home Runs in AA Springfield in 2011, though many scouts believe he lacks much additional upside.

OF Oscar Taveras and 2B Kolten Wong appear to be safe bets to be significant regulars for the Cardinals, suggesting that Cardinals offense should at least remain adequate without having to dole out high dollar contracts to free agent help.

The wild card of the system is 3B Zack Cox, who has the upside to be that impact bat to complement Holliday in the middle of the order and drive in the table setters (Taveras, Wong). But whether he will develop enough power to be a true impact bat is currently a subject of debate.

While the source of the potential impact bat in the future is not certain, there are enough viable candidates that the Cardinals appear to be in good shape going forward. With an abundance of pitching prospects, several players on the 25-man roster with the potential to become stars and a couple of high floor position prospects, GM John Mozeliak likely won’t have to do a lot of tinkering to keep the Cardinals competitive in the future.

2011 Draft

Efficient upside is the best way to describe the Cardinals 2011 draft. In total they spent $4.55 Million on 37 players, signing each of their first 13 selections and 18 of their first 19.

The Cardinals handed out an average signing bonus of $123,081 ($142,410.68 average), which was seventh lowest overall, and third lowest amongst teams that were not missing a first or second round pick.

While St. Louis didn’t dole out large bonuses, they still managed to acquire a good deal of upside. Their top pick, 2B Kolten Wong (22nd overall) clearly falls into the highly polished college player category. But he is rare amongst the Cardinals early 2011 draftees in that regard, as the general theme of the Cardinals draft, especially in the first few rounds, was raw and athletic high school position prospects and pitchability college arms.

The early returns on Wong are very positive after he hit .335/.401/.510 at Low-A Quad Cities in 47 games after signing quickly for slot money.

Second rounder Charlie Tilson, an outfielder from New Trier High School (IL), was seen as a potential first round talent. Tilson is a plus runner (as evidenced by his 6.54 60-yard dash time at the 2010 Area Code Games) with a highly projectable bat and good power potential.

Third rounder CJ McElroy, a three sport star (football, track, baseball) from Clear Creek High School (TX), was signed away from a dual scholarship to play outfield and wide receiver at Texas A&M and, like Tilson, is a highly impressive athlete. McElroy doesn’t possess the same power potential as Tilson but the Cardinals hope that he can develop into a solid tablesetter whose speed and defense would make him a significant big league contributor.

The raw athletic position players theme continued in earnest with fourth round with SS Ken Peoples-Walls (Westchester HS, CA), seventh round OF Nick Martini (Kansas State), and tenth round OF Lance Jeffries (McCleur HS, MO). 17th round SS Dutch Deol (Aliso Niguel HS, CA) is perhaps the most extreme case of the raw athlete that the Cardinals hope to develop into a ballplayer.

Should any of the players from this group develop into a solid hitter, the Cardinals have likely landed at least an above average everyday big leaguer outside of the top few rounds.

The pitching tends to come from the high pitchability, good performance college pitcher variety, with an emphasis on strikeout to walk ratios.

The first pitcher the Cardinals selected was fifth round RHP Sam Gaviglio (Oregon State), a control artist who typically worked in the upper 80s, topping out in the low 90s during college. Eighth round LHP Danny Miranda (UMiami) was an effective closer for the Hurricanes pitching from a deceptive low 3/4 arm slot and rarely issuing a free pass.

The Cardinals didn’t sign a single high school pitcher in the entire draft, signing 18 pitchers from the college or junior college ranks. The most promising early return came from LHP Kyle Hald (18th round) a senior signee out of Old Dominion who went 7-0 with a 1.84 ERA with 63 K to just 12 BB over 53 2/3 innings at Johnson City of the hitter friendly Appalachian League.

The exception to the overall emphasis on college strikeout to walk ratios came in the 31st round when they selected 6’ 6” flamethrower Kevin Jacob, a three true outcomes reliever out of Georgia Tech. Jacob continued to post gaudy strikeout and walk totals in proball. Jacob resembles the high school players selected near the top of the draft in that is he ever reaches his lofty upside he could become a steal.

Later round position players tended to come from the college ranks, and they played a key role in leading Johnson City to a second consecutive Appalachian League title. Liberty SS Matt Williams (15th round) had a strong debut, hitting .293/.382/.463 with 6 Home Runs and 20 SBs in 59 games. Physically imposing OF Gary Apelian (27th round) out of Santa Ana JC raked in his Johnson City debut, hitting .298/.343/.502 with 29 extra base hits (8 HR) in 55 games. But former UCLA star 2B Tyler Rahmatulla (34th round) was the biggest bright spot for the Appalachian League champions, hitting .314/.390/.545 6 Home Runs, 3 triples and 27 doubles in 58 games.

The Appalachian League is a notorious hitter’s paradise, so the strong offensive debuts there are a bit misleading, though each of those three players have the potential to continue outperforming their draft position to varying degrees going forward.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Shelby Miller
- Baseball-reference player profile

One of the top arm in a strong crop of 2009 high school hurlers, Miller’s lofty signing bonus demands caused him to remain on the board when the Cardinals selection came around at 19th overall. St. Louis made Miller their first high school pitcher selected in the first round since 1991, signing him to a lofty $2.87 Million bonus (more than double the slot recommendation).

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Miller carries himself and pitches as though he were even more physically imposing. His aggressive pitching approach, overpowering arsenal and intense mound demeanor all play into his overall dominant skillset. Miller sits in the mid 90s with his fastball, commanding it well from a smooth delivery that features good rhythm. He creates severe downhill leverage with his delivery, allowing him to generate hard sink to his already heavy fastball, which climbs into the upper 90s at times. His curveball features hard biting action and 12-6 break with good depth. At its best his curveball is a legitimate out pitch, though his feel for it comes and goes. He also has an above average changeup with the potential to become a third plus pitch, featuring good deception and fading action with a good velocity differential that plays well off of his overpowering fastball.

Realistically, Miller could hold his own in the big leagues already, but his long term potential would benefit from more time in the minors. Miller pitched very well in AA as a 20 year old a year ago, proving he is ready to open 2012 at AAA Memphis. Where he goes from there will depend on his development and the Cardinals needs at the big league level. He has legitimate ace potential and is one of the best pitching prospects in the game.

2. RHP Carlos Martinez – Baseball-reference player profile

The Cardinals nearly missed out on Martinez, who had his $160,000 deal with the Red Sox voided due to questions about his true identity (known as Carlos Matias at the time) in 2009. The Cardinals swooped in and signed him for $1.5 Million the following April. Since arriving stateside Martinez has blown away hitters, averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings and reached the High-A Florida State League in his first full season.

As a diminutive Dominican flamethrower, Carlos frequently draws the requisite comparisons to Pedro Martinez, and there are some similarities. Carlos has a larger frame, and while his arm is also fast and whippy, it doesn’t quite belong in the same echelon of lightning quickness as Pedro's. The results are similar though, as Carlos works in the mid 90s with his fastball, and is capable of running it up into the upper 90s. Carlos’ delivery is a bit more violent, though when he’s at his best he remains efficient with taking his momentum to the plate. Carlos’ upper 70s curveball is already a legitimate weapon when stays on top of it, and he’s shown tremendous strides in developing his consistency with it. His changeup also shows promise, though it’s a pitch that lacks much polish at present.

It’s still early in his development, Calros will turn 21 in September, likely after having reached AA. If the secondary stuff continues to develop rapidly he has borderline ace level upside, though everything will have to work out in order for him to reach it. More realistically he profiles as a strong No. 2 starter.

3. OF Oscar TaverasBaseball-reference player profile

A potential steal, the Cardinals signed him for $145,000 out of the Dominican Republic in as a 16 year old. Taveras has performed impressively since coming over to the US minor leagues and had a breakout year in his first full season in 2011.

As evidenced by his highly impressive .386 batting average in the pitching dominated Midwest League, Taveras can flat out hit. He projects to hit for average or better power in the long term, and did blast eight Home Runs in 2011. But his ability to make consistent, hard contact on any pitch and in any count is what stands out most about Taveras. In order to hit for more power Taveras will need to let the ball travel deeper, as he has an aggressive approach with a tendency to attack pitches with line drive contact out front. While its difficult to nitpick about a hitter who posted a line of .386/.444/.584, he projects as a corner outfielder in the long term. As such, hitting for a high average without making at least a solid contribution in the power totals would limit his long term big league value. Taveras has a high level bat and will need to work on refining his secondary skills to supplement it, at worst he projects as a solid big league regular.

He won’t turn 20 years old until June, and if he doesn’t open the season in AA he should finish there. It will be tempting to promote Taveras aggressively and he could realistically be ready for the big leagues by 2013, but could benefit from extra development time. It will be interesting to see how he progresses from here.

4. 2B Kolten WongBaseball-reference player profile

A product of the island of Hawaii, Wong is a stocky built, second baseman who was converted from catcher. After turning down the Twins as a 16th round pick out of high school, Wong went on to become a first team All-American as a junior at the University of Hawaii before being selected 22nd overall by the Cardinals in 2011.

Wong entered the draft as a highly polished hitter, perceived to have a high floor and low ceiling. His gritty and aggressive style of play allows him to perform at a level beyond his solid-above average tools. His short compact swing generates good bat speed and consistent hard line drive contact to all fields with good body control throughout his swing. Wong lived up to his label as a pro-ready hitter by tearing up the Low-A Midwest League immediately after signing. Wong played an integral part in leading the Quad Cities River Bandits to a Midwest League championship. Defensively, he is an above average second baseman with solid range and enough arm strength to make tough throws on double plays.

After what he accomplished in Low-A he may be able to jump straight to AA to open 2012. A September callup is not out of the question and it seems likely that he’ll be in the big leagues for good in some point in 2013.

5. RHP Tyrell JenkinsBaseball-reference player profile

Right in line with the Cardinals’ recent preference for drafting highly athletic high school players, Jenkins was a multi-sport star (baseball, basketball, football and track) at Henderson High School (TX). Because of his background, Jenkins was a raw talent entering the 2010 draft. His lack of polish combined with his signing bonus demands and dual sport (football, baseball) scholarship to Baylor, allowed the Cardinals to snag him in the compensation round.

As he begins to fill into his tall lanky build and gets better use of his lower half in his delivery it is likely that Jenkins could begin to increase his already impressive velocity. He generally worked comfortably at 91-93 last season, bumping it up into the mid 90s on occasion. His curveball flashed plus potential, at its best it showed big depth and sharp break. Though his command for the pitch is not there yet, when he misses with it, he usually misses low. Progress with the changeup has been slow to this point but is certainly not a concern yet. There has already been notable all-around progress despite the fact that Jenkins has not yet made his full season debut.

Jenkins has a lot of upside, but is also years away from reaching it. He should be ready for the pitching friendly Midwest League in 2012. He has enough talent that he could move quickly now that he has begun to focus entirely on baseball for the first time in his life.

6. 1B Matt AdamsBaseball-reference player profile

Adams was a 23rd round steal in 2009 coming out of Slippery Rock University (Div. II), where he hit .495/.566/.853 as a junior. In 2011, Adams hit “just” .300/.357/.566 with 32 Home Runs en route to earning AA Texas League MVP honors and setting the Johnson City franchise's single season Home Run record.

His power is what makes him an interesting prospect, and could potentially make him Adams an asset to the Cardinals in the near future. Adams combines plus bat speed, a sound swing and a lot of physical strength to drive the ball with authority. He is a solid pure hitter as well, and while he is not averse to taking a walk it has not yet been a big part of his game. Improving his walk rate is the area of his offense that still needs the most development at the upper levels of the minors. The best way to describe his defense at first base is “adequate.” His bat should produce adequate power numbers even for first base and 30+ Home Runs a year in the big leagues appears to be a realistic expectation given his skillset.

36 year old Lance Berkman stands between Adams and the everyday first base job in St. Louis. Adams will bide his time in AAA Memphis until he gets an opportunity to prove himself at the big league level. Berkman has one year left on his contract and Adams' performance in 2011 will be crucial in determining when and where that opportunity will come.

7. 3B Zack CoxBaseball-reference player profile

Like several of the players in this list, Cox was still on the board when the Cardinals picked late in the first round because of his large signing bonus demands. An All-American at Arkansas, Cox landed a big league contract for $3.2 Million as the 25th overall pick in 2010.

Cox attacks the ball with a swing that keeps his barrel in the hitting zone for a long time, generating good bat whip. His line drive swing plane is geared for hard line drives rather than towering fly balls. With an adjustment Cox could hit for more power, though it could come at the expense of his pure hitting ability. Cox is a high caliber pure hitter who should post a high average and solid power totals at the big league level. A left handed hitter, Cox rakes against right handers but struggled mightily against southpaws in the Texas League (hit .247/.351/.289 vs LHP) last year. His soft hands and strong arm are an asset at third base and he has the tools to be an above average defender there.

It is too early to know whether or not third base in St. Louis will be blocked by David Freese, but if his late season surge is sustainable then Cox may need to find a new defensive home (possibly second base). Cox could be ready for the big leagues in 2013 if there is an opening.

8. RHP Lance LynnBaseball-reference player profile

A sixth round pick of the Mariners coming out of Brownsburg High School (IN) in 2005, Lynn turned them down and went on to set the single season and career records for strikeouts at Ole Miss. He was drafted 39th overall in 2010 and had a strong minor league track record as a starter.

Lynn made his big league debut on June 2nd and made a second start on June 9th. After those two starts Lynn moved to the bullpen, where he flourished. He went on to earn the Win in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series and worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning in Game 7. Lynn worked off of his 89-91 mph two-seamer as a starter, but pitching in shorter spurts as a reliever has allowed him to unleash his mid 90s four-seamer that features good riding life. After reaching the big leagues his mechanics also improved, a credit to Pitching Coach Dave Duncan. As a result his curveball gained some additional bite and his overall command improved as well.

After a strong season in the St. Louis bullpen last year Lynn appears ready to return there in 2012, possibly in a prominent late-inning role.

9. RHP Eduardo SanchezBaseball-reference player profile

A shoulder injury derailed what had been shaping up to be a very strong rookie season for Sanchez. While he missed most of the season with inflammation in his pitching shoulder, most of it was due to the Cardinals cautious handling of his injury. He returned at the end of the season, tossing 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the second to last game of the regular season.

Sanchez generates mid 90s velocity from a deceptive, low effort delivery. His short stature prevents him from generating sink to his pitches. Sanchez is a two-pitch reliever and can get into trouble when he doesn’t have his best stuff. But that didn’t happen often during his 30 inning debut in 2011. Both of his pitches (fastball, slider) are both plus present offerings, the slider features hard horizontal break and his fastball has riding life. Sanchez pitches aggressively, and is not afraid to elevate his fastball or throw his slider when behind in the count. That fearless approach allowed him to mow down 35 batters in his 30 innings.

Barring injury setbacks Sanchez should return to the Cardinals bullpen again in 2012.

10. RHP Trevor RosenthalBaseball-reference profile

Rosenthal has pitched very well since the Cardinals made him a 21st round selection out of Cowley CC (KS). Rosenthal was undrafted out of high school and topped out at 85 at the 2007 WWBA National Championship, and while he didn’t light up radar guns back then he showed good pitchability. His notes from that tournament read:

"Complete game Shutout, 8 K's.  Broad shouldered build, aggressive pitcher, mostly fastballs, challenges, jumps at hitters, heavy fastballs, room for improvement. Projects well, present strength."

More than just a good story, Rosenthal has legitimate ability on the mound. His fastball now sits in the low to mid 90s while occasionally reaching as high as 96. He combines it with a solid mid 80s changeup and upper 70s curveball that flashes above average potential. His effortless delivery with simple mechanics allow him to pound the strike zone with his fastball, but he will need to continue developing his secondary stuff to continue to be effective as he moves up the ladder.

He’ll move up to High-A Palm Beach to start 2012 and is still several years away from the big leagues. He has the potential to be a mid rotation starter.

Others in the Conversation (listed alphabetically):   RHP Seth Blair, OF Adron Chambers, LHP John Gast, OF Charlie Tilson, C Cody Stanley, RHP Jordan Swagerty



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