Thursday, November 19, 2009

TEAM #29 – St. Louis Cardinals

Garcia looks to be healthy and ready to make a big contribution in 2010

Next up in our series of team prospect rankings are the St. Louis Cardinals. We wrote at the time of the trade for Matt Holliday, that it was an extreme gamble to deal to deal your top prospect (Brett Wallace), plus two of your other Top 10 prospects(Clay Mortensen and Shane Peterson) unless it was going to get you to the World Series. With the advantage of hindsight, the Cardinals would have likely finished the season just the same, whether or not they added Holliday. One wonders how many Cardinal fans would like to have that deal back now? The difference—post the Holliday trade, the Cardinals have gone from a mid-tier team, in terms of Minor League strength, to one of the League’s bottom teams. The good news if you are a Cardinal fan, is that most of the system’s top prospects are near Major League ready. The bad news…after the first two prospects, the majority of the rest of the system is made up of ‘low-ceiling’ players. Don’t expect the weakness of the system to show up at the Major League level until a couple of seasons from now—but it is coming.

Grade A-

1) Jaime Garcia, LHP (2009 Performance Scores - Dominance 75; Stamina 69; HRrate 44; Control 41)

For us, one of the truly ‘good’ developments of the 2009 season was watching the return from Tommy John surgery of Garcia. Coming into the 2008 season, we had Garcia as a Top 100 prospect, and that was before he really had his coming out party. In a 38 inning 2009 performance, at three different levels, Garcia showed that his velocity had returned to its low 90s, pre-surgery, level and that his curveball is still one of the better ones in the Minor Leagues. 2010 will provide the opportunity to see if the surgery has, once and for all, ended the elbow tenderness that cut short 2007 and 2008. If so, he may also improve his bouts with control that has often plagued him. While Garcia doesn’t have the front of the rotation ceiling of Miller, his 2009 stint convinces us that his floor is extremely high, and he still has enough stuff to be a solid 2/3 type…which is just enough to take the top spot.

Grade B+

2) Shelby Miller, RHP –

Heading into the 2009 draft we had Miller at#13, behind only Tyler Matzek and Jacob Turner among prep pitchers. We were surprised that he made it past the Rangers, and felt the pick was one of the more solid selections of the first round. Little has changed since then to move our opinion. Miller was likely the hardest prep thrower in June’s draft, usually working in the low-90s, with the ability to dial it up a few notches. Both his curve and change are works in process, but have the potential to be plus pitches. His mechanics are fairly sound, and at 6’3”, 200+ lbs there is good reason to believe he could be a ‘horse’ at the front of the rotation at some point. The only real negative is that he can go through stretches where he overthrows and struggles a bit with his control. Nonetheless, there is a ton of upside here.

3) Daryl Jones, LF (2009 Performance Scores – Power 36; First Base Rate 61; Discipline 36; Speed 50)

The Cardinals have been high on Jones since they drafted him in 2005. We became solid believers after his 19yo season in 2006…then he went and posted a .600 OPS in the MWL the following year. When most people had stopped believing, he had a breakout 2008 where he posted a an .889 OPS, between stops in the FSL and TXL, just missing a spot in our Top 100 list. The roller coaster ride continued in 2009, as he was plagued by injuries for most of the season, limping home to a .738 OPS, that was relatively devoid of power. His AFL performance hasn’t done anything to inspire us. There was a time that we felt that Jones was a legitimate everyday starting top of the order threat. It is still a possibility, and a healthy 2010 could put him back on track. However, the smart money right now is on a 4th OF type.

Grade B

4) Eduardo Sanchez, RP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 26; HRrate 48; Control 50)

In case we haven’t mentioned it, we aren’t big on Minor League relief pitchers. There is a reason that Stamina is the second characteristic listed in our Performance profiles. Our research has demonstrated that successful Major League pitchers—even those that see most of their innings from the bullpen, tend to come from Minor League starters. So if you see a relief pitcher rated this highly, then it is either a case of the organization not being very strong, or the player being really good. In Sanchez’s case, both apply. Signed as a 16yo out of Venezuela in 2005, Sanchez has thrived since being converted to a full-time reliever, early in the 2008 season. He pitches almost exclusively off of a mid-90s fastball that purportedly reaches triple digits. When we saw him in Springfield this summer, he was between 94 and 97. This past season Sanchez used the heater to dominate (82Ks in 75 IP) FSL and TXL hitters—despite being only 20yo. Perhaps even most encouraging, is that he has taken his BB/9IP from 4.0 down to 3.3. The biggest downside that we see, is that he is a bit slight at 5’11”, 155lbs, and there is some concern as to how we hold up over the long-term. Word is that Sanchez will get a look in Big League camp this spring. We expect him to start the season in the PCL, but could easily be making significant contributions in St. Louis, before the summer is out.

5) Lance Lynn, RHP (2009 – Dominance 55; Stamina 71; HRrate 49; Control 49)

There is a difference between appreciating a player for what he is rather than knocking him for what he is not, and one often finds themselves in that trap with Lynn. We first became enamored with Lynn after his 2008 junior season at Mississippi, where he posted the 6th best Performance score among draft eligible college pitchers. While Lynn is big (6’5”, 250lbs), he doesn’t possess an overpowering fastball that would make him a top of the rotation starter. What Lynn is though, is a high-floor, mid-rotation innings eater, that commands four pitches rather well. After posting a 2.85 ERA, 1.312 WHIP, with a 124:57 K:BB ratio at three stops in 2009, look for him to open the 2010 season in AAA, with a solid shot at competing for a rotation spot by mid-year.

6) Allen Craig, LF (2009 – Power 75; FBR 57; Discipline 47; Speed 45)

You never know Cardinal fans, Craig could be your opening day LF. The Cardinals have tried to find a corner that they can stick Craig in defensively. The position du jour seems to be LF. With Matt Holliday’s status uncertain, Craig has the inside track for a spot on the St. Louis roster. His bat is the only reason he is even being considered, because the power that has generated 24, 22 and 26 Home Runs over the last three seasons is the real deal. He hits with authority to all fields, and if he ends up being the Cardinal’s default choice—they could certainly do worse. At 25yo, we don’t see much additional upside, but if you take a look at his 2009 MLEs, a .280/.325/.440 type of season would not be an unreasonable expectation.

7) Robert Stock, C (2009 – Power 77; FBR 56; Discipline 65; Speed 30)

Most prospect watchers have been keenly aware of Robert Stock since Baseball America named him their Youth Player of the Year in 2005. Stock entered college early, trying to both get a degree and leave his draft options open to create more leverage. But after a relatively disappointing collegiate career that saw him converted to a relief pitcher and eventually a starter, he entered the 2009 draft with most experts expecting some team to take a flier on him in the 3rd or 4th round—as a pitcher. The Cardinals surprised most of the baseball world by tabbing him in the second round, and announcing him as a Catcher. Hats off to Jeff Luhnow and crew, as it looks like they found a legitimate bat. Before a brief stint in the MWL, Stock destroyed APY pitching to the tune of .322/.386/.550—as a 19yo; finishing with the League’s 3rd best offensive Performance score. We would like to see how he does in a full season league, before really jumping on the bandwagon, but he is one of the few players in the system with a high ceiling.

Grade B -

8) Daniel Descalso, 2B (2009 – Power 47; FBR 61; Discipline 68; Speed 38)

The system takes a huge drop between spots #7 and #8, as Descalso has little more than a utility infielder type of upside. While that could keep him in the Major Leagues for quite some time, there is little about his track record or his projection to forecast any significant success. The good news is that he will be only 23yo when the 2010 season opens, one that should find him returning to AAA. If he puts together another showing like 2009, his ‘certainty’ quotient is rather high.

9) Richard Castillo, RHP (2009 – Dominance36; Stamina 69; HRrate 49; Control 37)

We can hear the groans already. How can you possibly put a 5’11”, soft tossing, right-hander in the Top 10? The answer is that because of the Cardinals' approach to Castillo (full-season as an 18yo; Hi-A as a 19yo), we really can’t read a tremendous amount into his numbers thus far. His age-adjusted performance rankings have graded out to 5th and 8th in his respective Leagues over the last two seasons. We were able to see him in-person, twice, in 2008 and he has a delivery and a feel for pitching that belies his age. Yes, we will have to see more than a 90mph fastball, and see continued improvements in both his curve and change, but in a system that is screaming for higher ceiling prospects, Castillo needs to be noticed.

10) Jon Jay, LF (2009 – Power 40; FBR 53; Discipline 71; Speed 69)

Consider Jay to be Daryl Jones-lite. Possessing no more than a 4th OF type upside, Jay has used good speed and excellent plate discipline to post solid, yet unspectacular, numbers at every stop. He is doing much the same this winter in Venezuela. Jay is another in a long-line of high-floor, low-ceiling types that permeate the Cardinal system. Expect him to get a solid look with the Big League club this Spring.

11) Bryan Anderson, C (2009 – Power 46; FBR 27; Discipline 29; Speed 36)

Anderson’s stock has dropped precipitously since the 2006 season, as he seems to have not really recovered from skipping Hi-A. Over that time he has posted Slugging % of .388, .416, and .408, and OPS of .738, .793 and .717. His AZFL performance this year has been as equally uninspiring. Part of that can be traced to over aggressiveness on the part of Cardinal brass, who, in hindsight, would have been much better served with Anderson spending the 2007 season in the FSL. It must be remembered that Anderson will be playing the 2010 season, as still just a 23yo. But 2010 becomes a pivotal year, as the power that was once predicted for him has not developed, and with Yadier Molina in the organization, it may finally be time to shift him away from catcher, where, while improved, his defense is still somewhat lacking. For the moment, Anderson does not look to have the power numbers required from a corner. If a Big League career is in the offing, it appears that it will either be with another organization, or perhaps in a move to 2B.

12) P.J. Walters, RHP (2009 – Dominance 64; Stamina 72; HRrate 49; Control 52)

Walters was a bit of an enigma in 2009, as he pitched reasonably well as a starter at Memphis, but got knocked around pretty badly upon his call to the Big Leagues. This is not a high upside player, as his fastball is no more than a high 80s offering. His best pitch is a ‘flutterball’/change that appears to dance as it crosses the strikezone, and he has very good control. He will be 25yo at the beginning of 2010, and there isn’t likely much more projection here, but he is already a Major League ready arm, that is likely to make a living at the back-end of the rotation or, perhaps more likely, in middle relief.

13) David Freese, IF (2009 – Power 76; FBR 52; Discipline 30; Speed 36)

Freese is one of those players that is likely to get us in trouble with our ‘performance’ readers, as he carries a .916 lifetime Minor League OPS, in over 1400 ABs, into the 2010 season, yet we don’t project him to be more than a utility IF type, as he will enter 2010 as 27yo with only 31 MLB ABs. Make no mistake, Freese has hit at every level he has played, but he was drafted as a college senior, and has therefore been old for each level along the way. Don’t expect any additional upside to what you already have, and his 2009 MLEs were around a .750 OPS. That may make him a serviceable thirdbaseman…but nothing more.

14) Peter Kozma, 2B (2009 – Power 37; FBR 34; Discipline 38; Speed 44)

We called this pick questionable when the Cardinals made him the 18th overall choice in 2007. He has always been a sound defender with a bat that may not play at the Major League level. Nearly two and one-half years later, little has changed. At 22yo in 2010, Kozma has plenty of time to develop. The problem is that we just can’t figure out where he will improve that is going to make a difference. He is a player with the upside of an 8th place hitting middle infielder. There are no guarantees that he reaches it, and that made the 18th pick a reach.

Grade C+

15) Blake Hawksworth, RHP; 16) Matt Adams, 1B; 17) Roberto de la Cruz, 3B; 18) Adam Ottavino, RHP; 19) Arquimedes Nieto, RHP; 20) Kyle Conley, LF; 21) Grabiel Hernandez, SS; 22) Deimer Bier, RHP; 23) Niko Vasquez, 3B; 24) Scott Bittle, RHP; 25) Adam Reifer, RP; 26) Joe Kelly, RP; 27) Ryan Jackson, SS; 28) Tyler Henley, RF; 29) Fernando Salas, RP; 30) Aaron Luna, OF; 31) Audry Perez, OF; 32) Nicholas Addition, LHP.

Grade C

Arnoldi (Tony) Cruz; Jon Edwards; Jose Garcia; Hector Garcia; Hector Hernandez; Steven Hill; Virgil Hill; D’Marcus Ingram; Luis Mateo; Osvaldo Morales; Casey Mulligan; Ted Obregon; Frederick Parejo; Roberto Perez; Francisco Rivera; Shane Robinson; Ryde Rodriguez; Francisco Samuel; Scott Schneider.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the players performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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