UCB September Project: Top 7 Prospects

When the calendar flips to September, you can mark it down that the United Cardinal Bloggers are going to take a crack at ranking the top 7 prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals system.  This project, first suggested to us by Derrick Goold, has seen the club go from a minor league system in disarray to one of the top systems in baseball.  Last year, there were just so many prospects that you couldn’t fit them all on the list.  Let’s take a look at my rankings from last year and what’s gone on with them in 2013.

1) Oscar Taveras–still eligible; more on him in a bit
2) Shelby Miller–With a full year of major league experience, Miller has posted double-digit wins and should be in the Rookie of the Year conversation, even if he’s not going to win it.  Some ups and downs but showing why he was ranked so high for so long.
3) Carlos Martinez–surprisingly, still eligible; more in a bit
4) Trevor Rosenthal–Rosenthal was always considered a starter when on these lists, but he’s found a home in the bullpen.  He’s been great in the eighth inning for most of the season and may slide into the closer role now that Edward Mujica has faltered.
5) Kolten Wong–still eligible; more coming
6) Michael Wacha–Spent some time in the bullpen and in the rotation, spent some time in Memphis and in St. Louis, but he’s shown why he moved so quickly. It’s not likely he’d get into the postseason rotation, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility either.
7) Matt Adams–We’ve seen a lot of Big Fill-In-The-Blank lately with Allen Craig sidelined and we’ve seen why the Cardinals are so high on him.  His power is outstanding–he’s third on the team in homers with a fraction of the at-bats–and he’s been able to be successful off the bench as well.

Obviously, there has to be a lot of turnover this year, perhaps more than we’ve ever had in this project.  Only three are still eligible to return to this list (and I believe, if you used the time-on-roster rule, Martinez would have to drop off as well).  The cream has definitely risen to the top, but that doesn’t mean that the farm is completely barren.  Let’s look at who is left down there.

1) Oscar Taveras, OF
2013: 46 games, 186 PA, 25 R, 12 2B, 5 HR, 32 RBI, 5 SB, 9 BB, 22 K, .306/.341/.462 (AAA)

Number one last year, number one this year.  Taveras had a lost season in 2013, with a high ankle sprain eventually requiring surgery and sidelining him for the rest of the season.  Taveras started out slow, but was starting to crank it into his usual high gear when the injury occurred.  By their own admission, the Cardinals rushed him back and the ankle never really responded well, forcing the shutdown.  In his last 10 games in Memphis in June, he hit .250 with just one home run.

Given all that, if Taveras had been able to be healthy at the end of August, I believe he still would have gotten a callup to the big leagues.  The organization does not seem to have soured on him or on his abilities at all.  John Mozeliak told us in April at UCB Weekend that Taveras was likely ready for the bigs right then and I don’t think they needed to see X number of at-bats from him in Memphis.  A strong spring training (or a pressing need) and I could easily see Taveras going north with the club in 2014 and, hopefully, becoming a Rookie of the Year frontrunner.

2) Carlos Martinez, RHP
2013: 8-4, 106 IP, 95 H, 94 K, 37 BB, 3.23 ERA, 2.54 K/BB, 7.98 K/BB (AA/AAA/MLB)

If he’s eligible, he has to be on here.  Martinez hasn’t done anything to undermine his “Baby Pedro” (or, in some quarters, his “Farmer Hat”) nickname, bouncing mainly between Memphis and St. Louis and the rotation to the bullpen without much worse for wear.  Martinez had some long layoffs when he was up with the big club, but lately has been given some more pressing assignments at the end of games.  He only had one start with the Cardinals, allowing four runs in 4.2 innings to the Dodgers, but he still seems ticketed for the rotation at some point in time.

He’s had a few blowups in the big leagues–of the six times in 19 appearances he allowed a run, four were of the three or more variety–but his stuff is unmistakable.  If he starts again in Memphis in 2014, it’d be a surprise.  He may not make the rotation–there are a lot of arms and not a lot of slots–but he’ll be in the bigs next season.

3) Kolten Wong, 2B
2013: 136 games, 519 PA, 74 R, 22 2B, 8 3B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 23 SB, 44 BB, 71 K, .286/.341/.432 (AAA/MLB)

Wong, brought up to St. Louis to provide a spark to the offense, hasn’t really gotten much of a chance to do that.  After starting four of his first five games in the bigs, he’s only started four more in the last 23 of his appearances.  David Freese starting hitting a bit more when Wong got the call, the Cards are happy with Matt Carpenter being fairly stable at second, and so Wong has done a lot of pinch-hitting and late-inning double-switching.  (Surprisingly, Wong went 3-5 in that last start before the drought, with two hits the game before.  Just as it looked like he was getting settled, his playing time was cut.)

That shouldn’t dim his star very much at all, though.  He was hitting .303/.369/.466 in Memphis.  While the AAA club is in a more forgiving offensive environment, there’s no reason to downgrade those stats much, if at all.  Wong showed the bat that he’d been bringing with him at every level, plus brings the dash of speed that the Cardinals haven’t seen in quite some time.  His three steals, which all came in back-to-back games, tie him for fifth in that category on the big league squad.

So while Wong still seems to be a major league player in the making, there’s no guarantee that it will be in St. Louis.  With Carpenter owning the position this year, the Cards may be hesitant to move him back over to third, which could mean Wong is one of John Mozeliak’s many trade chips this offseason.

4) Stephen Piscotty, OF
2013: 112 games, 471 PA, 47 R, 23 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 11 SB, 37 BB, 46 K, .295/.346/.464

Now we get into the newer names, names that haven’t been on my lists before.  Piscotty, who was drafted as a third baseman, got moved to the outfield when he was on the same team as Patrick Wisdom, who also played the position.  Piscotty has done pretty well out there, as you can see below:

Of course, one catch does not a season make. Piscotty has shown not only that he has a power stroke, but that he’s got an eye and a plan at the plate.  Neither of those diminished when he moved up to AA Springfield.  In fact, at Springfield he posted a perfect 1:1 K/BB ratio, showing that he wasn’t overanxious to make an impression at the upper level.  If his power holds, he could be a 20-home run guy in the big leagues, though there is some doubt on that score.  Still, he’s got time to develop, as he won’t turn 23 until January.

5) Zack Petrick, RHP
2013: 7-3, 8 SV, 113.1 IP, 89 H, 122 K, 27 BB, 1.99 ERA, 4.52 K/BB, 9.69 K/BB (A/A+/AA)

Petrick was the story of the year in the minor leagues, at least for a while.  He dominated both A ball and advanced A ball, moving to Springfield by the middle of July.  Not bad for a guy that went undrafted the year before and signed as a minor league free agent.

Petrick’s strikeout numbers are eye-popping, especially when you pair it with the command that has him walking less than one batter an appearance.  He put up ERAs under 1.00 at both A-ball levels before getting a bit of a reality check at Springfield, giving up more runs in one game against Arkansas (5) than he did in both A levels combined (4).  Still, in his last three starts of the year, he had an ERA of 3.31 in 16.1 innings, striking out 15 and walking just two.

Stories like Petrick’s can go one of two ways.  He can either be a justification of the process and methodology of the organization, or he can be a flash-in-the-pan and as he moves up the ladder hits his ceiling.  I don’t expect that Petrick is the next Michael Wacha, flying up the system and quickly hitting St. Louis, but he’s going to be an interesting one to watch in Springfield next season.  If he’s in Memphis by the All-Star Break, he could be a contender for the 2015 rotation.

6) Tim Cooney, LHP
2013: 10-13, 154.1 IP, 169 H, 148 K, 22 BB, 3.56 ERA, 6.73 K/BB, 8.63 K/9 (A+/AA)

After looking at Petrick’s numbers, some of Cooney’s aren’t quite as outstanding.  Until you look at that strikeout-to-walk ratio, that is.  When you’ve got a left-handed pitcher that can strikeout almost a batter an inning and close to seven times as many people as he walks, you are going to find a player that’s getting some attention.

Cooney moved up to Springfield in mid-May and was able to put up a K/9 rate of 9.51 in a hitter-friendly league.  Cooney, who like Piscotty will turn 23 over the winter, had an FIP a full run lower than his actual ERA in AA, indicating that he could be much better than you’d think from a look at his overall numbers.  You’d think you’d see Cooney at Memphis to start the 2014 season and some good outings there would put him in line for the big club should there be a need.

It’s going to be hard to crack the St. Louis rotation for a while, but Cooney might be the force that send Jaime Garcia out of town after he establishes his health.  A power lefty in the rotation is a huge thing to have.

7) Lee Stoppelman, LHP
2013: 6-3, 6 SV, 64 IP, 40 H, 76 K, 25 BB, 1.55 ERA, 3.04 K/BB, 10.69 K/9 (A+/AA/AAA)

The Cardinals, realizing that they have too many arms for not enough rotation slots, decided that they might want some relievers as well.  Which, unfortunately for the rest of the league, they seem to have coming up in Stoppelman.

Can you imagine a left-handed closer, coming in and blowing people away at the rate Stoppelman had this season?  He’s not walking many batters either (though, granted, when you look at him after Petrick and Cooney, it seems rather pedestrian!) and has been effective about not allowing runs to score.  What’s not to like?

Stoppelman spent most of his time this season at Springfield, where he had an ERA of 1.42 and a K/9 of 11.37 in, as we’ve noted before, a hitter-friendly league.  He got a late promotion to Memphis, where he got into only three games, but still struck out two in the two innings he worked, giving up a run.  He only allowed three home runs in Springfield as well, so we’ll see if that carries forward when he moves up also.

He should return to Memphis to begin the ’14 season, but if he doesn’t have any speed bumps, the Cardinals will find a place for him.  I don’t think they’d move Trevor Rosenthal to the rotation and install him as closer, but stranger things have happened, I guess!

Others worth mentioning: Nick Additon (RHP), Keith Butler (RHP), Greg Garcia (SS), Marco Gonzales (RHP), Tyrell Jenkins (RHP), Alexander Reyes (RHP), Patrick Wisdom (1-3B)

That’s my look at the Top 7 Prospects.  Now, I’m not anything close to a prospect maven–there’s a reason I never have written the Prospect Preacher–so you’ll want to check out the other posts that are linked up at the official United Cardinal Bloggers sites.  Go check those out and get a real feel for the Cardinal minor league system!

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