B Prospects, Plan Bs, DWIs

John Sickels released his Cardinals Top Twenty over the weekend, giving us an SBN-approved list of prospects to salivate over. I can't deprive him the pageview, but suffice it to say that the Cardinals' remaining minor league strength, a large pool of Sickels's ubiquitous "Grade C" guys, is not the most exciting thing to talk about. Go over there and read it, because then I'm going to niggle with it in bullet point format. 

  • It's awful to see Pete Kozma rated 16th, but I can't exactly argue with the thought process that landed him there. I can almost see the thought process behind promoting Kozma, and position players in general, aggressively through high-A. Palm Beach is a hitter's nightmare, and the Springfield Cardinals play in the Texas League; it's a much closer step than it typically is, and probably should be, and had it worked out it would have been a nice confidence boost for a guy who's been not-Rick-Porcello from day one. 

    That said, I don't get why they kept him there while he endured an unbelievably terrible season. Kozma, who Sickels reminds us was drafted as a "makeup" guy, didn't hit; he wasn't sure-handed afield. At least when Tyler Greene, who managed to climb past Kozma in what is presumably his last year as a prospect, flailed around the minor leagues he stole bases like crazy (113 SB, 15 CS) and hit a few home runs to show that the tools were intact. Kozma wasn't a tools guy; he was drafted on the presumption that he would adjust well to adversity, to whatever role was required of him. I expect a bounceback season of some kind, but the question with Kozma has always been how high that last bounce will be. 

  • The exciting news is that Sickels is higher on Robert Stock than any other source to this point—number four on the Cardinals' list, ahead of Daryl Jones, for the usual reasons: if his bat holds up, he's the total catching prospect package, and if it doesn't he's a hard-throwing pitcher who can kind of hit. Two, two, two prospects in one! I was as excited to watch Stock pick apart the Appalachian League as anybody else, but since Niko Vasquez I've learned to resist the temptation to throw out small samples of at-bats when the season-wide total is so small. Stock may have struggled in just 24 at-bats in the Midwest League, but when that's the difference between a .936 OPS and an .857 OPS for a guy whose bat has as much uncertainty as it does upside it advises some caution in using his short-season debut to forecast future greatness.
  • While we're on the subject of catchers, Steven Hill was perhaps the biggest surprise of the whole top twenty for me-his .282/.333/.470 line in the Texas League as a 24 year-old earned him the spot just ahead of Pete Kozma on the list. What I'm about to say makes me very uncomfortable. I was an early Bryan Anderson skeptic, and I don't think it's beating my own drum to say that I had him out of my mental top five before other people did. But Steven Hill is a year and a half older than Anderson, and has his own fatal bat flaws; Anderson may have less power than his pitcher, on nights when he's catching Adam Wainwright, but Hill's high-strikeouts/high-average/low-walks routine is a recipe for Major League disaster, and he's apparently even worse behind the plate. I hate to say it, but we might have officially begun to underrate Bryan Anderson. 
  • He's still got no chance of ever starting here, ever, and I'll ban anybody what says different, but I like the decision to list Mark Hamilton at the back of the list. He did it in two hitters' leagues, but an OBP-heavy .927 OPS in the high minors is no mean feat. (And he, too, is six months younger than Steve Hill.) If the Cardinals have any interest in keeping the guy it might have made sense to give him more than a single start in left field, where he could platoon with Allen Craig on a team with less of its future wrapped up in competing right this instant.
It's true, though: the Cardinals have a wealth of guys who are, in the vaguest way possible, interesting. Relievers who might be useful if they learn that strikes and balls aren't called at random? There's Francisco Samuel, owner of a legitimate high-90s fastball and a walk rate that just missed touching one batter an inning, and Tyler Norrick, whose strikeouts-to-hits ratio against lefties—which as fake stats go is both inanely compartmentalized and entertaining—was 2.5:1, and that's just the wild-fireballers nearest the major leagues. Potential fourth outfielders? Jon Jay, Tyler Henley. Offensive-minded catchers with terrible defensive reputations? Hey, we've got three a-those.

You get the idea—these are misfit toys, but eventually the Cardinals will find off-label uses for some of them. 

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This is extremely interesting timing, given the imminent and uncertain timing of Boras/Holliday's decision on the Cardinals' official offer—over at Play a Hard 9 there's an interesting graph of possible Plan Bs should things not go the Cardinals way. What I doubt in the graph is not that the thought of Miguel Tejada playing third gives Future Redbirds godfather Erik nightmares but that the Cardinals will stick mainly to Allen Craig in left should Holliday leave for greener pastures.

Craig might have a good year, but the symbolic value among the DeWallet set won't be lost on ownership or management; nobody at third base, short of Scott Rolen with a bionic shoulder, is going to make fans forget that the Protect Albert spot is being filled by a rookie making $400,000 a year. And it's simply too easy to use Craig without starting him; as the small end of a platoon he could get his feet wet without having to be the Guy Who Isn't Matt Holliday. U.S.S. Mariner has it "third-hand" that Seattle and Baltimore are talking about Luke Scott, erstwhile Astros slugger. A guy like that would make a lot of sense, should the Cardinals find themselves with a Lego-sized vacuum. 

That said, my dark horse candidate for surprise left fielder come this April is, more and more, Johnny Damon. He wasn't offered arbitration, so he won't cost the Cardinals one of what looks like a bounty of draft picks, he fills a hole, Guy In Front of Pujols, that's been assumed vacant nearly as long as Guy Behind Pujols, and he's a guy with a broad base of pretty good skills. I don't know how fond I am of blowing the easiest spot on the team to upgrade on a 36 year-old left fielder coming off a huge season fraught with reasonable park effects concerns, but I can see it happening. 

#

And finally, speaking of Miguel Tejada playing third base, there is Joe Strauss's pre-tweeted breaking news, that David Freese was arrested on DWI charges. We don't know the whole story yet, and I'd hate to pass complete moral judgment on it without that, but suffice it to say that this is a really stupid thing to do.

In the end they're athletes, and should be in the news, for the most part, based on what they do on the baseball field; at the same time, it's not unfair to hold a baseball player—or a golfer, I guess, to turn subtext into text—to the same standards for generalized disappointment you do any other human being you happen to come across. This is bad; I hope either that there is some mitigating circumstance, though I can't imagine one, or that he is prepared to deal with it in the future, before the consequences get worse, far worse, than a really disappointing Twitter-tease. I don't think, and have never thought, that I as a sportswriter, or we as baseball fans, can say much more about something like this than that.

That said, we don't yet know how this is going to play out on the baseball field; as a ballplayer, Freese, cheap, useful, is an important cog in any free agent machinations. 

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