Over on my left you'll see a set of four to five identical-looking fanposts that may appear, at first glance, to be spam entries. But purple haze isn't trying to sell you Ph3nt3rm1n3 or unlock a Swiss bank vault willed you by Nigerian relatives, or at least if he is he isn't doing it through official VEB channels—it's the Community Prospect Ranking, official exercise of the last weeks before baseball comes back down from Sugarcandy Mountain.
Zack Cox is the newest member of the list, and the only position player in the system who can be relied upon to place in the top five of the average 2011 Cardinals prospect ranking. In Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 he placed fourth, behind three pitchers—Shelby Miller, a prospect whose actual name we didn't know until the end of last season, and a guy for whom "baseball has never been [a] focus." This from an outfit that is almost entirely responsible for "Is there such thing as a pitching prospect?" being on the sabermetric citizenship test.
After that you've got position players whose volatility most closely resembles—pitching prospects. Oscar Taveras is on a lot of lists on the strength of his age-18 performance at Johnson City; Tommy Pham is the hitting-prospect-equivalent of a flamethrower who just lowered his walk rate from eight per nine innings to five; Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig are Lance Lynn with bats.
Maybe this isn't new; I can't remember the last time I was rooting for two surefire hitting prospects. Daric Barton begat Colby Rasmus begat Brett Wallace begat Zack Cox. But it's an interesting bent for a system that in 2012 will either need to generate average, dirt-cheap players as spackle for the spaces between Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday or find a way to replace the seven-win first baseman who's been subsidizing all its crappy infields.
If that second one sounds more plausible to you—well, the conspiracy theories are welling up for me, too. I need Pujols news to leak, and I need it as soon as possible. I can imagine a scenario in which the Cardinals load up on high-upside arms and hope Zack Cox and others provide low-risk, average-plus value in the lineup, but that doesn't make it plausible. There are just too many counterfactuals to be made, too many competing theories to offer. (Most mundanely: If Pete Kozma hadn't been Pete Kozma; if Brett Wallace had stuck at third base; if Austin Wilson [goodnight, sweet prince] had been their high-risk bet instead of Martinez and Jenkins.)
Finally, one thing is certain: The Cardinals have pitching prospects (if there's such thing as them), and they've got several of each style for you to choose one. So let's put something on the record, in the hopes that, five years from now, Yadi2Second or any of his clones (it's the future) digs this story up to punish all of us. The Cardinals have quite a stable of young arms right now; how many WAR will they produce, either for the Cardinals specifically or in general, in 2016? For reference, the bWAR of the Cardinals' 2010 staff, and the pitching prospects in question.
2010 2016? Adam Wainwright: 5.7 Shelby Miller Chris Carpenter: 3.0 Tyrell Jenkins Jaime Garcia: 2.8 Carlos Martinez Kyle Lohse: -2.9 Lance Lynn Seth Blair Kyle McClellan: 1.8 Eduardo Sanchez Jason Motte: 1.5 Jordan Swagerty Ryan Franklin: 0.8 Joe Kelly Adam Reifer Robert Stock :( Maikel Cleto :( :(