I have terrible news for people who will be compulsively checking Future Redbirds every morning for the next three weeks: The minor league season is basically kaput. As I write Thursday evening the Quad City River Bandits' playoff matchup is the only game going on in the Cardinals' system.
The good news is that this season's stats are now in the book, so it's time to begin obsessively making top prospect lists. If you're following the Baseball America model and selecting a Top 30 you're going to need at least 45 or 50 candidates; to rank them will require the ability (or at least the will) to make snap judgments about players who are purporting to provide completely different kinds of value.
I can't help you with the will, though if it comes down to a low-minors middle reliever and a high-minors defensive replacement I suggest tossing a coin; I can provide the players. Enough prologue: Here's the not-especially-official (azruavatar's opinion overrules mine in the evaluation of all baseball players who could not buy and sell the both of us) Viva El Birdos prospect list construction set. (In no order! Aside from the first one.)
Group One: Shelby Miller. Shelby Miller is your top prospect. The sooner you admit this, presumably while looking at his strikeout-per-inning, 2.7 K:BB run as a 20-year-old in the Springfield Cardinals' Coors-Field-on-the-moon run environment, the sooner you will be able to piss off your readers with your opinions of the rest of the list.
Group Two: Zack Cox. Zack Cox is in his own group because I'm still not sure what to make of him. He had a perfectly decent full-season debut in Palm Beach and Springfield, hitting .306/.363/.434 with 13 home runs and 27 doubles, but Springfield was a launching pad this year, he's not extremely young for it (22), and I still don't know what Zack Cox, Three-WAR Third Baseman's skill-set looks like. A .300 average and then what?
It's really difficult to overstate how good Taveras was in his 78 games with the Quad Cities. He led the Midwest League in batting by 30 points, in on-base and slugging percentage as well. (The players he outslugged were 23, 22, 22, 24, et cetera.) He finished 16th in the league in hits; the guy who finished 15th played 116 games.
I worry about his health—he had some hamstring problems—but I don't worry about his bat. Neither do the Cardinals, apparently—he's on his way to the AFL.
Martinez and Jenkins are absurdly young and subject to minute innings limits and sample sizes, but they adjusted without issue to full-season ball and have front-of-the-prospect-list stuff.
Group Four: 2011 Breakout HPGF Stars. Trevor Rosenthal (22, 9.9 K/9, 3.41 K:BB, low-A), Matt Adams (23, .300/.357/.566, AA), Jordan Swagerty (22, 8.6 K/9, 3.87 K:BB, A-A+-AA) Maikel Cleto (23, 9 K/9, 2.08 K:BB, A+-AA-AAA), Ryan Jackson (24, .278/.334/.415, AA)
Welcome to the Hyperventilating Prospect-Geek Fraternity! Trevor Rosenthal has a mid-90s fastball and capitalized on his preseason buzz by putting together 120 great innings in low-A—not bad for a 21st-round pick. Matt Adams, the big-bodied first baseman who is maybe the most divisive prospect in the system, was more exciting after his .357/.397/.685 first half than his .252/.324/.464 second half; a lot is dependent on what he does in Memphis and what the Cardinals do in St. Louis.
Jordan Swagerty and Maikel Cleto both made massive jumps through the system and held their own, though Swagerty had to end the season as a reliever for innings reasons and Cleto lost his newfound control in Memphis. Both could end up relievers long-term, but if that's where the Cardinals see them they could be factors as soon as next year.
Ryan Jackson carried his incredible defensive reputation into the high minors and hasn't yet gotten the bat knocked out of his hands; if he keeps up the doubles power or brings his walk rate back up to 2010 levels he could be a younger, less eccentric-slacker-mystic version of Brendan Ryan.
Group Five: 2011 Draft Picks. Kolten Wong (21, .335/.401/.510, low-A), Charlie Tilson (19, .333/.400/.407, 8 G, GCL-Rookie), C.J. McElroy (19, .228/.303/.278, GCL), Gary Apelian (21, .298/.343/.502, 29 XBH, Rookie), Kyle Hald (23, 1.84 ERA, 5.25 K:BB, Rookie), Matthew Williams (22, .845 OPS, 20-2 SB-CS, Rookie), Tyler Rahmatulla (22, .314/.390/.545, 27 2B, Rookie)
In the Midwest League Kolten Wong was what I hoped Zack Cox would be—.911 OPS and a second baseman. And age-appropriate! Charlie Tilson signed at the deadline and managed to sneak out of the GCL. C.J. McElroy, a third-rounder with much the same skill set, signed early and did not. Gary Apelian is a big outfielder from the second day of the draft who hit eight home runs in 55 games at Johnson City; he also had eight outfield assists.
Kyle Hald, Matthew Williams, and Tyler Rahmatulla all dominated leagues they were a little old for. Williams is a shortstop, but he's a few months older than Rahmatulla and dominated a little less.
Group Six: All the Other Pitching Prospects. Joe Kelly (24, 1.92 K:BB, 2.15 GO/AO, A+-AA), John Gast (23, 6.3 K/9, 1.85 K:BB, A+-AA), Boone Whiting (22, 9.2 K/9, 5.08 K:BB, low-A), Nick Additon (24, 7.3 K/9, 2.33 K:BB, AA-AAA), Ryan Copeland (24, 9 K/9, 5.47 K:BB, low-A), Keith Butler (23, 1.23 ERA, 11.9 K/9, A-A+)
Joe Kelly and John Gast are fast-moving recent draft picks without dominant numbers or strikeout stuff. Kelly is the Groundball Rate Guy and Gast is the Awesome Pick-Off Move Guy. Boone Whiting put up an outstanding season but is also a cautionary tale; Ryan Copeland put up a less outstanding season and is also Nick Additon's age, as a college senior drafted in 2010. Nick Additon got to AAA and kept up his strikeout rate despite being cautioned against at every level; at least he might end up a lefty specialist.
Keith Butler is, at the very least, the next Casey Mulligan. He's going to the Arizona Fall League.
Group Seven: Dinged-Up Top Prospects and Last Year's Models. Tommy Pham (24, .294/.372/.517, AA), Cody Stanley (23, .264/.317/.425, low-A), Daryl Jones (25, .260/.360/.400, AAA-AA), Bryan Anderson (25, .281/.357/.409, AAA), Charles Cutler (25, .333/.398/.475, AA), Seth Blair (23, 5.29 ERA, 1.13 K:BB, low-A), Deryk Hooker (23, 6 K/9, 2.17 K:BB, AA), Adam Reifer (26, catastrophic knee injury, AAA), David Kopp (26, 5.8 K/9, 6.08 ERA, AA-AAA)
Tommy Pham has had excellent hitting numbers and season-ending injuries in each of the last two years. A center fielder, he's got a lot of power and a lot of speed if he ever plays a full season. Cody Stanley failed to impress in 101 games in the Quad Cities, but he's still a catcher. Daryl Jones doesn't strike me as any worse than Adron Chambers, if that's any consolation. Bryan Anderson is invisible no matter what he hits; Charles Cutler hit a ton as a part-time catcher in AA but he's a few months older than Bryan Anderson.
Seth Blair's minor league debut was awful. Deryk Hooker, one of 2011's big sleeper prospects, slept through an injury-plagued season, but he's just 23. Adam Reifer, yet another mid-90s fastball relief prospect, would have spent at least a month in the Major Leagues in 2011 if he hadn't torn his knee up in April; he has Bryan Augenstein's chance of making next year's team. Some people like David Kopp now that he's been moved to relief.
Group Eight: Players You'll Forget Are Prospects, Technically. Eduardo Sanchez (23, 10.4 K/9, 1.88 ERA, MLB), Lance Lynn (25, 10.4 K/9, 3.12 ERA, MLB), Brandon Dickson (27, 7.1 K/9, 3.88 K:BB, AAA) Matt Carpenter (26, .300/.417/.463, AAA), Adron Chambers (25, .277/.368/.415, AAA), Tony Cruz (25, .258/.333/.339, AAA-MLB)
Vague shoulder injuries terrify me, but Eduardo Sanchez is apparently due back soon. Lance Lynn had about as good a season as you could expect, showing off potential as a reliever and staying in the fifth-starter picture. Brandon Dickson had a fine season for Memphis.
Matt Carpenter was about as Matt Carpenter as you can get, walking 20 times more than he struck out and hitting for a little power besides. I don't see the appeal of Adron Chambers who has to be the slowest super fast player ever inasmuch as it rarely shows up in his numbers. Tony Cruz hits well enough to be a backup catcher but I'm afraid of Tony La Russa someday giving him 50 games at third base.
Group Nine: Low-Minors Lottery Tickets. Nick Longmire (23, .242/.301/.367, low-A), Roberto De La Cruz (20, .264/.299/.542, 1 HR/14.2 AB, Rookie), Anthony Garcia (20, .308/.407/.527, Rookie), Greg Garcia (22, .283/.384/.392, A-A+), Hector Hernandez (21, 8.4 K/9, 2.89 K:BB, A-)
Nick Longmire is a toolsy center fielder who disappointed after a strong short-season debut in 2010. De La Cruz, one of the Cardinals' first big Latin-American signings, walked seven times all and is a butcher at third base, but he also hit 16 home runs in 59 games in his first non-GCL exposure. Anthony Garcia graduated from the GCL and kept hitting in rookie ball, but full-season work in 2012 will tell us a lot more; Greg Garcia is a middle infielder who's walked a ton since being drafted in the seventh round in 2010.
Hector Hernandez will be 21 when he starts out in Quad Cities in 2012 after three interesting years in short-season ball.
Pick the right guy from the DSL's nether-roster of 13-year-old shortstops and 26-year-old junkballers and you will be lauded as a seer all throughout the HPGF. Pick the wrong guy and—nobody will care!
The erstwhile driver of the Wladimir Mendoza bandwagon.
Now you have the pieces—anybody have a top 30 to share?