(So maybe I wrote this in advance? Or maybe, just maybe, I'm testing out a new robot mind reading trick.)
For the last two years, I've had the opportunity to see at least a dozen games in person among the minor league teams. I forget at times that not everyone has the desire (or OCD) to try and keep up with the minor league system on a daily basis though. We walked through the prominent minor league arms in last week's post, we'll take a look at the major position players this week. Remember that the Quad Cities' River Bandits will be in town on May 26th. Tickets are general admission for $10 and half price concessions. Carlos Martinez is slated to start. It can be a minor VEB day. ("Minor" get it? Don't scoff, I read your mind and know you missed my clever pun.)
The Cardinals have been using a lot of position prospects as role players in the last two years. Graduating players like Allen Craig, Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene into useful roles though not everyday players. In this regard, the position prospects have mirrored the pitching ones: Colby Rasmus/Jaime Garcia as an elite player and then a cadre of supporting players but ones that have a lesser impact on the major league squad.
If the pitching prospects still in the minors look to be dominant starters but far away, the hitting prospects are closer but scarcer. There's probably one truly well-rounded elite player in the system and he's all the way down in Quad Cities. The rest are players with some very good skills and some flaws that could hurt them in their attempt to break through to the majors.
What follows is a list of the hitting prospects you should know and the year that they should be ready for a chance at the majors (not necessarily when they'll actually be called up).
Memphis: Matt Carpenter - 2012
Matt Carpenter is the obvious prospect in Memphis. He's also one of the more unique prospects you'll find in the system. He plays an average third base defensively, hits for a good average (.280-.300) and has below average power for his position. What makes him special is the elite plate discipline that he exhibits. So far in the minors he's walked 136 times versus 159 strikeouts. He walks about 15% of his plate appearances. In AAA this year, he's got 25 walks against 18 strikeouts. When I saw him in Springfield last year, one scout complained that he was difficult to get a read on because you might only see him take 3 swings a game. Carpenter isn't just an elite walker, he's also extremely competent at swinging at good pitches and good pitches only. He'll be somewhat limited if the power never progresses (and realistically it probably won't) but he should be able to contribute a high OBP at the top of the order in the majors.
There's a plethora of second tier guys at Memphis but few who stand out. The Cardinals seem to really like Tony Cruz at catcher though I'm not sold on his defense and his offense is no sure thing in the majors. Adron Chambers is an athletic Jon Jay-ish outfielder with good speed, decent on base skills and light power. Andrew Brown continues to hit in the minors but is a real liability in the outfield. Ditto for Aaron Luna though his defense isn't as bad. Pete Kozma is a first round draft pick . . . so ya.
Springfield: Matt Adams - 2013; Ryan Jackson - 2013; Tommy Pham - 2014
Matt Adams is quite the controversial subject at Future Redbirds. He's the best power prospect in the Cardinals entire minor league system but his plate discipline is, in a word, poor. He hits for average despite being something of a free swinger and when he makes contact the ball tends to travel a long way. His defense will never be something to write home about with some of the worst range and footwork I've seen around the bag. Despite carrying around plenty of unnecessary weight, he runs the bases reasonably well. Whether Adams can continue to hit the ball really hard despite questionable plate discipline will determine his future. He adjusts quickly to new levels of competition so mid-2012 is not out of the question.
Ryan Jackson is an elite defender at shortstop. He has some of the smoothest glove to hand transitions I've seen in person. He gets a good first step, has a strong arm and solid fundamentals. His offense has been better than expected with a good walk rate and the ability to hit for average. I'll sound a note of caution on his offense - his swing at the plate is . . . interesting. I don't want to suck the air out of my Springfield report that's going up on FR tomorrow but Jackson is very active at the plate. It hasn't impacted him thus far as he's been right around league average offensively during his time in QC, PB and now Springfield.
Tommy Pham is a tease. Drafted out of high school in 2006, he's developed into an exceptional athlete with good speed, a strong arm and, at times, impressive power. He'd never put together an exceptional season prior to his stop in Springfield last year where everything seemed to click until he was hit on the hand by a pitch and forced to sit out the remainder of the season. Pham looks the part of a ball player and he's got the highest upside of among the outfield prospects in the system this side of Oscar Taveras. Pham is also a boom or bust kind of player. He's someone that has to be developed slowly (he's 23 right now) and may not ever come to fruition.
Other notables include Audry Perez, a Dominican catching prospect with good power and a chance to stick as a catcher. Alan Ahmady is an undersized outfielder (he's TINY) who doesn't field well but has posted a .400+ OBP at every level he's stopped at.
Palm Beach: Zach Cox - 2014
Once billed as a major league ready bat and, reportedly, considered for a 2010 callup, first round draft pick Zach Cox has proven to be a much slower developing prospect than expected. At this point, there have to be legitimate concerns about his development pat as, in 2014, he will be out of options. He's struggled so far in Palm Beach though is clawing his way towards being average offensively. Defensive reviews have not been good though his upside with the glove was generally considered to be average if things go well. Cox isn't a flawless prospect but he'll probably get less scrutiny once his hitting picks up. It's way to early to peg him as a Kozma redux (and I don't think he will be) but he's a bit further away from the majors than expected.
It's a thin position player crop at Palm Beach. No one else has stood out enough for a casual minor league follower to be interested in.
Quad CIties: Oscar Taveras - 2015
If Taveras can stay healthy (he's back on the DL with a strained hammy), 2015 is conservative. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $145k, Taveras can flat out hit. He's been limited to just 50 PAs in Quad Cities this year but his wOBA+ is at 175. He's polished for a player his age despite having excellent tools and has the glove to play centerfield. Expect him to rocket up prospect lists next year and land inside the top 5.
Cody Stanley has put up above average offense from the catcher's spot and has the ability to stay behind the plate. Nick Longmire had an excellent debut in 2010 and is capable of being an impact player, but his swing is long and his plate discipline has gone backwards this year. Robert Stock is someone that you'll probably hear more about when the Cardinals convert him to pitching.