As a long-standing member of the Hyperventilating Prospect Geek Fraternity, I was excited from the start to host Future Redbirds on VEB, and I'm happier still now that their 2013 Top 20 is in the books. But no set of St. Louis Cardinals prospects is complete without a dip into the players who didn't make the list--the prospects who are interested either because we as a species love being the first people to appreciate things or because they do something goofy in the course of being completely ordinary baseball players. On this extremely quiet Saturday, then, here are my Top 5 Cardinals Novelty Prospects--players who are more interesting for something they do than for what they might eventually do at Busch.
These are the guys with crazy numbers and a boldface disclaimer over them--because they're old for their league, or their BAbip was .415, or their out pitch is a 60-mile-an-hour slurve. They're the guys with bizarre throwing motions or violent swings without the violent results. They're the guys who flower in the minors, where the overall strength of the league hasn't forced everyone into the same mold. They're the guys you root for in a way that's either completely selfless or a different kind of selfish--I can't quite decide.
This sort of list is entirely subjective, so I'm hoping to pick up a few more novelty prospects to follow based on your own lists, in the comments.
5. Tommy Pham
One class of novelty prospect is really just a more conventional prospect at his half-life. Bryan Anderson morphed into a novelty prospect once it was clear he wasn't nearly good enough to overcome the Cardinals' aversions to offensive-minded backup catchers and backup catchers who can't honestly be called "grizzled" or "Ol' [firstname], the rascal." Jimmy Journell and Blake Hawksworth reached this point after their brief stints as top-prospect-by-default were interrupted.
Tommy Pham, unfortunately enough, reached this point because he's hurt all the time. Pham has hit .294/.378/.495 in 90 AA games, but it's taken him three years to do it. I'm not even sure if he's a member of the Cardinals organization any more, or in baseball, but that's hardly important to a novelty prospect.
4. Jermaine Curtis
Hey, what if Matt Carpenter had no power? Jermaine Curtis is an old-for-his-league third baseman who walks a lot, except his career ISO is .079. That means his movement between levels and positions are less about his own strengths and weaknesses than the needs of the Cardinals' minor league teams.
Last year he hit .310/.419/.373, mostly in AA; the year before that, he hit .315/.415/.435, entirely in AA. I get the impression that the Cardinals will allow him to hit .300/.410/.370 in AA indefinitely, until some historically minded Texas League fan names him Camera Eye and I like him even more.
Whats the talk about this song #Gangnam style? Everyone is obsessed.— Jermaine Curtis (@JermaineCurtis) October 2, 2012
Very few of these guys turn into David Eckstein, but I like that a few of them do.
3. Keith Butler
Finally, a Mark Worrell for a new generation. Keith Butler strikes out a batter an inning, has good-enough control, and despite throwing crafty-reliever stuff hasn't had that worrying season where he allows a bunch of home runs yet. He's already had a hey-this-is-a-weird-pitch-he-throws feature story, which is great.
2. Jonathan Rodriguez
Anonymous power hitters are a particular weakness of mine. Jonathan Rodriguez hit .251/.389/.472 in the Midwest League in 2011, where the league slugs .370, and followed it up by hitting .252/.327/.405 in the Florida State League, though he missed a lot of time while he was doing it.
He wrests this spot from Roberto De La Cruz, who was absolutely terrible in the Quad Cities after a great sleeper prospect year in Johnson City. If he reaches AA next year he could upgrade himself to sleeper prospect, since home runs are allowed in the Texas League.
1. Mike O'Neill
He had to be 24-years-old and in high-A to do it, but Mike O'Neill managed to replicate a Cupid Childs season in 2012, somehow, which makes him an all-time novelty prospect. Just meditate on the beauty of this batting line:
That happened this year. If a guy rides a penny-farthing cross-country tomorrow, it is not enough to say that it doesn't mean anything re: his ability to compete as a professional cyclist, or even wear skintight outfits in the cold like one.