The Cardinals’ minor league system has generated a considerable amount of helium this year. Prior to the season we were a below average system with Shelby Miller and some intriguing names. This season has improved the stock of our top guys and added a solid amount of depth. The top two on this list are top 25 prospects. The next six all have legitimate claims to top 100 lists. The rest would have been much higher on the list last year than they are now.
1. Shelby Miller
Shelby hasn’t really hit a significant speed bump in his ascent to superstardom yet. The move to the hitter-friendly Texas League brought his K% down from an astonishing 13.8/9 to a still excellent 9.1 but he’s compensated by walking fewer batters and inducing more groundballs. It has been an absolute pleasure to witness Shelby’s transformation from raw high upside high school arm into polished high upside pitcher. His poise, mechanics, stuff and physical attributes get nothing but rave reviews.
Carlos is several orders of magnitude riskier than Shelby. He doesn’t have a prototypical pitching frame at 6’0 and he suffers from bouts of wildness. If you caught his appearance at the Futures Game, it was a perfect microcosm of C-Mart (someone suggested K-Mart at Future Redbirds, which I would be open to) as a prospect. He struck out Paul Goldschmidt, then hit Devin Mesoraco, then got Wil Middlebrooks to ground into a double play. All three of his pitches flashed plus (including the work-in-progress changeup) but there aren’t enough pluses in the world to describe Martinez’ fastball. Sitting around 97, the pitch also has heavy sink, resulting in a 2.0 GO/FO. The promotion to Palm Beach was unexpected but it seems that A-ballers just couldn’t handle his off-the-charts stuff.
3. Trevor Rosenthal
He came out of nowhere, a 21st round pick and a reliever in rookie ball, to break out in 2011. Only John Sickels (and, by extension, volsncards) saw it coming. Trevor has struck out 10.4/9 as a starter in Quad Cities with a 3.05 FIP. The fastball is a good one, working in the mid-nineties with good command, but the secondary offerings are lagging behind a bit. He’s got a slider with some late bite and he’s working on a changeup and curveball. Until we see those come around, he’s probably gonna stay in QC. Otherwise, he’ll have to move back to the pen.
4. Tyrell Jenkins
I took a wait-and-see approach to Jenkins at the start of the year. It was too easy to envision Jenkins flopping right out of the gate. After all, Jenkins wasn’t a rumor of outstanding stuff like Martinez, he was just a body; a dude who looked the part. But in his first five starts, Jenkins has done anything but flop. He had to learn a delivery that looks a little less like Dwight Gooden but he’s been sitting around 93 as opposed to 90. He’s striking out tons, walking few and not giving up home runs to combine for a 2.59 FIP. The only small downside so far is his tendency to give up a lot of hits. He’s still just getting started and learning a curveball to replace his slider but the signs are good.
5. Kolten Wong
I was disappointed as the rest when Kolten Wong’s name was called on draft day. There was so much talented upside pitching still out there that Wong’s advanced hitting approach seemed like the wrong talent to buy for the wrong reasons. But more and more, he is looking like the Zack Cox we wanted last year. Wong signed quickly and began to boost his value the moment he stepped into a batter’s box. The big difference (other than the fact that he can actually play second) is that advanced hitting approach meant good walk rate this time around, a skill that doesn’t get talked about enough in pre-draft scouting reports. He has hit .324/.412/.507 while walking more than striking out. And he’s only 20 years old. I could him ranking fairly well on the Aaron-Miles-to-Dustin-Pedroia spectrum of undersized middle infielders.
Oscar’s name has been up for several spots in this ranking and six is the highest of them. There are a lot of concerns for Oscar, not least of which is the fact that he has been suffering from a hammy all season and I’m not totally sure he has fully recovered. Also, is he fast enough for centerfield? Does he have enough power for a corner? Is he going to start walking more? Even so, there’s only so much you can criticize a kid who just turned nineteen and who is almost hitting .400 in A ball. As the third youngest player in the Midwest League, Taveras has been a force in the middle of the River Bandits’ lineup. I put him in the highest spot I was considering him for because he has been on an absolute tear lately, hitting .538/.574/.821 in the last ten games and earning a spot on Baseball America’s Prospect Hot Sheet.
7. Matt Adams
The debate over Matt Adams has been raging on this season but he’s been making it harder and harder for the detractors. Still, they have a point: fat 1B/DH types who don’t walk a lot have a hard time finding major league success. But there is no question that the Cards have finally found a prospect with big-time power. Adams has racked up 20 home runs this year and a .299 ISO. It would be completely unrealistic to expect Prince Fielder but perhaps we have a Pablo Sandoval type hitter at first base. Perhaps Matt Adams is just going to have to carve his own way into the majors and set his own precedent.
8. Zack Cox
Fans might be chomping at the bit to trade Zack Cox for some starting pitching help on the big club but I wouldn’t be so hasty. It took him awhile to break out in A+ ball and he’s just starting to do the same in AA with a wOBA of .479 in July. There’s no question that he is gonna smack line drives all over the place. But what else is he going to do? The defense has been fringy; his reaction times have been a bit slow and he has a tendency to stab at ground balls. The power and walks haven’t really been there either. On second thought, maybe that starting pitcher isn’t such a bad idea after all…
It’s not that Matt Carpenter’s stock has gone downhill, unremarkable MLB debut notwithstanding. It’s just that other prospects have surpassed him and he isn’t getting any younger. He’s the same old Matt Carpenter: he walks more than he strikes out, he is at least an average defender and his power is fringy at best. The guy is major league ready and has been for quite awhile. He’s already 25 and he turns 26 this November. After his exceptional showing in Spring training, I was sure he would get an extended look when David Freese went down. Now I wonder if he’ll get his shot in this organization.
10. Jordan Swagerty
Swagerty has been moved to the pen to protect his arm from an ungainly workload increase. Many have assumed that this means Swagerty is a reliever going forward, as was predicted prior to the season. But I was really beginning to buy into the idea of Jordan Swagerty as a starter. He absolutely dominated in five starts at Quad Cities, posting a 15.00 K/BB ratio, then proceeded to perform excellently in Palm Beach. He throws a four pitch mix of sinkers, sliders, changeups and curveballs. The curveball was among the best in the 2010 draft but the sinker, which works in the mid-nineties, has worked its way into the same class. The other two are in progress but at least the change looks to be an average pitch in the majors. He’s a bit skinny but tall enough at 6’2”. If they want him as a reliever, he is very close to major league ready. But John Mozeliak has made noises about wanting him in the rotation and I think they could have a #3 type if they have the patience.
11. Ryan Jackson
Ryan Jackson started the year in red-hot mode with the bat, raising eyebrows all over the place. When he regressed hard, it was easy to call it a mirage but I think the bat is perfectly cromulent for a slick fielding shortstop. He’s a bundle of moving parts in the batter’s box but has no significant issues with making contact and even has a little doubles pop to go with it. As a defender, Jackson does it with good reactions rather than being ultra-rangy but he has an excellent feel for the position. Errors are a slight concern as he has 14 of them already but he is probably a major league ready defender despite that. Not sure if he’ll ever be a starter but he could probably help the team as a utility guy pretty soon and he is easily the best shortstop in the system.
12. Maikel Cleto
Is he the next Francisco Samuel? He certainly needs to start walking less than 4.0/9 like has at Memphis so far. But Cleto throws possibly even harder than Samuel, often hitting triple digits. His 6’3”, 235 pound frame seems to suggest a starter but his lukewarm secondary offerings and the reckless abandon he throws into every pitch probably relegate him to the bullpen. His performance has been excellent this year but I think moving him up from A+ to AAA was premature. It likely speaks to the club’s intentions to eventually turn him into a reliever as well as his presence on the 40 man roster but the PCL has exposed his command issues. Better to take the time and get it right than to franticly try to save face on the horrible Brendan Ryan deal.
13. John Gast
Gast hasn’t had mindblowing numbers this year (and he just threw an absolute stinker in Springfield) but the scouting reports have been coming back positive. He works in the low nineties, good for a lefty, and keeps regaining the strength he had as a top high school draft prospect pre-Tommy John surgery. He also has a strong changeup, a developing breaking ball and a hellacious pick-off move. His debut in AA was promising but hopefully he can bounce back from this recent disastrous start. He’s been moving fast through the system which, combined with the extended look they gave him in spring training, indicates that the organization views him highly. This pick is more of a gut-feeling one but I get at least one of those per list, right?
14. Adron Chambers
First off, Adron Chambers is not Jon Jay. He’s not the same quality hitter although he is faster and will probably take a few more walks. The bat picked up a bit in June but has been pretty tepid the rest of the time. He plays good to great defense which should make him at least a passable back-up centerfielder should one of our current centerfielders get moved in a trade. His speed and defensive value make him excellent depth to have on the club but he’s never had an OPS above .800 in the minors so I can’t see him as any more than that.
15. Boone Whiting
Boone just keeps dominating. He was relegated to the pen in the face of a crowded Quad Cities rotation to start the year but he forced his way in and hasn’t disappointed in the least. He has been striking out 9.8/9 and walking 1.8 and soon he’s going to force the club to promote him. That will be the true test because he isn’t lighting up any radar guns. He goes deep into games, commands all three of his pitches and gets good movement on his slurvy breaking ball but the latest I’ve heard says he tops out around 90. Still, if he keeps dominating like this, we may well have a back of the rotation type. Not bad for your eighth best pitching prospect.
16. Joe Kelly
Joe is like the inverse of John Gast to me. Both just arrived in AA but while the lefty Gast started great there and just had his worst game of the season, the righty Kelly started terribly and just had his best. And where I feel generally optimistic about Gast, I don’t feel nearly as good about Joe Kelly. Everything has gone in the wrong direction this season. Worst of all, his walk rate, which was iffy last year has been completely untenable at 4.4/9. He’s got a zippy mid-nineties fastball with good sink but his groundball rate is down this season as well. Could be time to switch back to the bullpen where he spent his college days.
17. Alex Castellanos
Castellanos needs a promotion. Currently hitting .307/.370/.517 in Springfield, the twenty four year old would be a more interesting bench bat than positionless AAAA hitters like Andrew Brown and Mark Hamilton. Of course, it’s possible that Hammonds Field is inflating his power numbers which has been excellent this year with a .214 ISO and 16 home runs. Also, he’s been striking out almost a quarter of the time which has been a concern for most of his career. The outfield is crowded in Memphis but at least he can play the outfield rather than just stand in the general vicinity of right field so we might as well see what he does there.
18. Tommy Pham
Kary Booher is probably sick of me pestering him on Twitter with questions about Tommy Pham. But it’s because if it weren’t for his injury issues, he’d be up with the Oscar Taveras’s of the world, vying for a top 100 ranking. In addition to hitting .314/.398/.527 in two partial seasons of AA, he’s also one of the best defensive outfielders in the organization. Good speed, power, walk rate, arm, everything. He’s a real five tooler and yet wrist injuries are scary, especially the ligament kind. He’s dodged surgery and could still see some playing time this season but injuries are hardly new to Pham. He missed some time in May with shoulder troubles and ended his last season when he was hit by a pitch on his other wrist. I’m a phan but there’s too much risk to consider him a premium prospect.
19. Cody Stanley
Out of the intriguing names coming from Rookie and A- ball last year, Nick Longmire has flopped and Oscar Taveras has soared but Cody Stanley is somewhere in the middle. Hitting .254/.315/.413, he seems to have found his power stroke lately, hitting four of his seven homeruns in the past week. His tools are nothing spectacular and his receiving grades out as solid average. I like him though and I see him climbing the ladder. The catching depth in the system has fled as Bryan Anderson is no longer a prospect, Tony Cruz is on the big club, Audry Perez is floundering and Steven Hill has been moved to a 1B/DH slot. That makes Cody the best of the bunch.
20. Daryl Jones
Time is running out for Jones but he hasn’t been a total disappointment this year. He’s had precious little playing time, shuffling back and forth between Springfield and Memphis but his .296/.397/.434 line is a step up from years past. It’s buoyed by an encouraging 15% walk rate but with so many outfielders in the high minors, Jones is starting to get lost in the mix. If he keeps hitting like this and/or the Cardinals move some outfielders he could work his way out of the organizational doghouse.
Names to watch:
Robert Stock is not dead yet… yet. He’s staving off his prospect demise with a good showing in the Florida State league (albeit in precious little playing time), mostly by not striking out at all. Only 11 K’s in 119 PAs on the season. Still only 21 years old. Justin Wright is striking out 13.6/9 in Quad Cities and makes for an intriguing LOOGY prospect. Same with Kyle Hald, the 2011 Draft 18th round pick who has been dominating in Johnson City. His teammate, Matthew Williams, is a shortstop who has already hit 5 home runs.