It's been a long time coming, baby.
I've been trying to get around to writing this piece for awhile, but the time seems to keep eluding me. And, to be honest, I'm not exactly swimming in time at the moment, either, but I am determined to get my personal prospect list down in digital form for the sake of posterity. Therefore, I shall endeavour to be somewhat brief; ten players (I was planning on fifteen, but ten is more reasonable in length and time, I think), thoughts on each, no extended bullshit or meandering stories about old girlfriends, or Cowboy Bebop, or both at the same time. Promise.
The Future Redbirds guys did their own prospect list, of course, way back around Christmastime. It's a good list; much better than the one you're about to read, unfortunately. Our opinions aren't hugely different, though there are a few notable exceptions. (Chief difference: I'm writing mine as I sit here thinking about it, meaning I'm going from 1-10, rather than counting down.) Regardless, you should check it out if you missed it somehow in the hustle and bustle and other words that rhyme with -ustle of the holiday season.
Without further ado, here it is, folks: the Baron's top ten prospects for 2013.
Note: the blog management would like to preemptively disavow this list. Thank you.
1.) Oscar Taveras, OF
Honestly, what is there really to say about Taveras at this point we haven't already heard? The numbers are phenomenal; the combination of numbers and age relative to league is almost completely off the charts. He is, with Jurickson Profar likely a big leaguer now -- if unofficially -- likely the top position prospect in all of baseball.
The biggest question as to Taveras' long-term value lies in his position. He played almost exclusively in center field last season, as the club tried to see if he had the ability to handle it for the long haul. The early returns were promising, though not without some equivocation. Unfortunately, I can't offer any personal insight; I saw him play in center only once, and while he did manage to catch three fly balls without bursting into flames, I don't have magic scout eyes capable of reading much more into one afternoon game than that observation.
Even if Oscar is confined to right long term, he's still the best position prospect in the game. The bat is that good, that special, and he's still playing a relatively premium position. We should see him sometime this year; you may want to make sure you take note of wherever you are the first time you see him take the field wearing a Cardinal uniform.
2.) Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
The first mild surprise on the list, I think, comes early. Yes, I am in fact bumping the man they call Rosie all the way up to number two, over a couple of other, more highly-touted pitchers on the list.
It's entirely possible I'm falling into the trap of remembering too much the most recent bit of history I have with Rosenthal, but his stint in the bullpen last season made a serious impression on me. The arm is obviously premium, but I found his secondary offerings to be very impressive as well, and his approach on the mound was a thing of beauty.
Rosenthal has been coming for awhile; I put him on my list of sleeper prospects back before the 2011 season. (Which could explain my high ranking here; there's nothing in the world I like more than telling people how smart and how right I am.) The numbers last year were remarkable; the scouting reports even better.
3a.) Carlos Martinez, RHP
Diminutive right-handers have a tough go of it in life. Nobody wants to buy in. Doesn't matter if you can throw 100 plus, with a curve that occasionally looks like an optical illusion; when you're short and throw with your right hand you just don't get much respect. Martinez's height is usually listed at six foot even, but we can safely assume that, as is the case with most male measurements, that's probably two or three inches over the reality of the situation.
Still, the thing is, Carlos Martinez has the most electric arm in the Cardinal system, bar none. He can push his fastball into the triple digits, and it has a natural cutting action to it that may be even more impressive than the raw velocity. The aforementioned curveball is at least a plus, maybe a plus-plus pitch, and he features a changeup that gets pretty solid grades at its best as well. Look at any pitcher, at any level, and compare his stuff with that of Carlos Martinez. Chances are, Carlos is coming out on top.
You do have to ding Martinez for one thing, though: his strikeout rate, at least in 2012, just didn't match up with the stuff. He did, however, make strides -- rather large ones, I might add -- in bringing down his walk rate, and he posted an excellent groundball rate as well. If the strikeouts don't come back, maybe I'm concerned. But I'm willing, for the moment, to buy into the narrative of his development at the expense of the numbers. To an extent, anyway.
3b.) Shelby Miller, RHP
The near-unanimous choice for number one last year, I personally have Shelby falling further than the FR guys by a fair amount, and further than most prospect sources in general, to be honest. I have my reasons, but let me tell you first off what isn't a reason: the first half of the 2012 season.
I don't care that he lost too much weight; I would be more concerned if it went the other way. As it stands, this is a player who by all accounts quite literally worked his ass off in the offseason, but maybe didn't do it in exactly the best way. Nor do I care about the rough numbers early on. Between the physical issues and just plain hitting a competition wall, I didn't mind seeing Shelby struggle. The numbers on the back half of the year more than make up for the early season struggles to me.
So why am I marking him down compared to the other two pitchers? Because 2012 was the first time I got to see Shelby Miller in an extended look, and there were a couple things that worried me. The biggest one? His delivery. Specifically, I just don't like his arm action. At all. It scares me. Argue with me all you like, but it's my list, and I don't think Shelby Miller stays healthy for long. In fact, I'm honestly more willing to buy into Carlos Martinez, too small tag and all, as a starter than I am Shelby long term.
Nonetheless, Shelby Miller is a remarkably talented pitcher. We saw what he's capable of last year, when he finished the season on a ridiculous run through the highest level of the minors, posting the kind of numbers that you just flat-out don't see. The kid is going to be really, really good, I think. I just wish I thought he would be really, really good for a really, really long time.
I'd like to stop for a second and explain something. To me, the crux of this whole list is the three previous entries, in so much as the Cardinal system is largely dominated by this triumvirate of arms. Oscar Taveras is the unquestioned king of the farm, by dint of youth and production and just overwhelming talent, but the three pitchers are really the guys who give the system its meat. Heft, if you will.
All three had excellent seasons in 2012, albeit in very different ways. Rosenthal solidified his hype from 2011 and made it to the majors. Miller overcame and adjusted and came out stronger, ascending to the big leagues himself and making one really wonderful start, proving there was never as much reason to doubt him as many thought. Martinez had the quietest season of the three, spending the majority of it in High A ball, putting up good but not great numbers, and generally just sort of not standing out the way he did coming out of the gate his first pro season.
So, let me explain why I ranked the three of them in the order I did. They're all extremely close, and I honestly wouldn't have an issue with any order. But, my own opinion, you know?
I like Rosenthal's mechanics, I love the numbers, I loooove the stuff, and he keeps the ball generally on the ground.
I like Martinez's mechanics, especially the last time I saw him in Springfield, when he looked much less, um, flaily? than previously. The numbers weren't quite where I think many of us thought they would be, but he rolled up an enormous groundball rate.
I don't like Shelby's mechanics, I love the late-season numbers, and his GB% is below average.
You can certainly be successful without a high groundball rate; pitchers do it all the time. But, if you give me a choice, I'll take the guy who puts the ball on the ground. My favourite shorthand for a pitcher's success: K rate plus groundball rate. Don't let the ball leave the infield, and you aren't going to get beaten all that often. I'll put a higher value on a guy's ability to miss bats first, but my ideal is a pitcher capable of generating both empty swings and worm burners. By that measure, I prefer the batted ball profiles of both Rosie and Martinez over Miller.
The mechanics, well, I'm not going to try and start a war over it, but I'm just not a fan of Shelby's arm action. Both Rosenthal and Martinez have deliveries I'm more confident in, health-wise, than that of Miller. Just my opinion, obviously.
And, finally, I have to admit I was just a little underwhelmed by Shelby's stuff at the big league level. Rosenthal was exactly what we expected; we were told to expect a guy who throws capital H hard, and he most definitely did. Miller, though, never really showed me the kind of stuff reports usually claim. I've seen him throw harder in the minors, but last season the pop just didn't seem to be there to the same extent. It was a limited number of innings, obviously, and I'll probably look silly down the road for doubting the quality of his stuff. But, watching Shelby cruise along at 92, even out of the 'pen, I have to admit to wondering if the reason we weren't seeing the 97s he put up in years past was because he didn't need to throw that hard, or because he just doesn't anymore. And if he just doesn't, is there a reason?
So there you go. That's why I ranked the three arms the way I did. Martinez takes a knock for being further away; thus the 3a and 3b rankings, with no players occupying number four.
5.) Michael Wacha, RHP
I'll admit it; I was very lukewarm on Wacha, both at the time I covered him for my draft previw last year and when the Cardinals selected him. Lots to like about the guy, I thought, but...meh. There are more exciting choices out there.
And that, friends, is exactly why I would make a terrible General Manager for a major league baseball team. I would have picked something shiny, instead of the guy who should have gone in the top ten but was still sitting there at nineteen and has a real chance to be really, really good.
For the record, it actually isn't the numbers Wacha put up in his late season audition that changed my tune, or not just the numbers, anyway. After all, we've seen collegians put up spectacular numbers in the low minors before, and it doesn't always translate up the ladder particularly well (I'm still smarting from Robert Stock dropping me on my ass.)
No, it was more the scouting reports that did it for me, as Wacha showed off a more advanced, deeper repertoire than he previously had, and the ability to push his velocity into the upper 90s working in limited stints as well. The curve was a question in college; it received rave reviews in the pros. The changeup was as advertised; one of the best pitches in the draft entire. (And, to be honest, I'm a sucker for a great changeup. Much more so than a pitcher with a top-notch breaking ball. I'm not sure why that is.)
And, well, okay, I can't say the numbers didn't help. Forty strikeouts in 21 innings will do that. A 10:1 K:BB ratio doesn't hurt either. Sure, he came from a major college program and probably should have had a leg up. Still, after a long college season, to have that much left in the tank and make such an immediate impression...I can't say I'm not impressed. And anxious to see what he does this season. Hopefully I feel even worse about panning him in a draft preview come this time next year.
6.) Kolten Wong, 2B
Wong had himself a slightly odd 2012. On the upside, most reports on his defense ranged from positive to downright glowing, a pleasant surprise for a player who was just thought to be adequate at the keystone coming out of college. In his first sull season as a pro, though (and, it should be noted, his first in which there was no thought of him playing anywhere but second base), Wong exceeded expectations with the glove in a big way. On the downside, the bat wasn't quite as ready as a lot of us thought going into the season, I think.
I like Wong. I do. Obvious jokes aside, I was a fan at the time he was drafted, and I still am. I loved the bat but questioned the glove back then; now I love the glove, like the bat, and wonder about the actual production. Kind of an odd change.
He was a young 21 in 2012, but still, a .754 OPS at the Springfield Launch Site isn't exactly the stuff of legend. He did post a very low strikeout rate (12.8%), but the walk rate was not what I would have hoped to see. The power wasn't really there, either, and while this isn't a player who was ever going to hit for massive power, there's more than enough pop in those wrists to make Hammon Field look small. But, for the most part, he just didn't very often.
Overall, it wasn't a bad season for Kolten Wong; not at all. But the guy we thought was near major league ready coming out of spring training last year? He never really showed up once the regular season got going. Maybe that has more to do with us being wrong than him being anything but what we should have been expecting all along.
7.) Carson Kelly, 3B
This...is too high for Carson Kelly. Trust me. Way, way too high. He's too young, and too far away, and too raw, and this is just me rating a guy much too high because he's super talented and I'm a sucker for upside.
That being said, Carson Kelly is likely the second most talented position player in the Cards' system, behind only Oscar Taveras, and he isn't all that far behind even in that comparison. He has every tool you could ask for from a third baseman, with an arm strong that pitching is a very feasible backup plan, quick feet, easy athleticism, and the kind of raw power it's impossible to teach. Nine home runs in 224 plate appearances while barely 18 years old should say something about his physical ability.
I'm not saying Carson Kelly is going to get to St. Louis soon. He's almost assuredly not. The guy comes from a cold-weather state (Oregon), and needs a whole heaping helping of work to polish his talent into usable skills. But sweet jesus, the talent is just huge. So yeah, this is too high a ranking. But, I'm okay with that.
8.) Stephen Piscotty, OF
Stephen Piscotty can't play third base, the position he was drafted playing. Like, at all. The inevitable move down the defensive spectrum puts a ton of pressure on his bat to perform. I must really believe in his bat to put him this high, right?
I really believe in Stephen Piscotty's bat.
Wow. I'm approaching 3000 words here. Damn. So much for brevity, eh? I'll try to wrap it up quickly.
Anyway, I think there's more power in Piscotty's bat than we saw at Stanford; I like his wrists and I love his hips. He already hits to all fields, and has just beautiful balance in his swing. It's the Stanford way, after all; spray hitters with no pop, regardless of the physical abilities of the player in question.
Ordinarily, I would prefer the player with the potential and the power who needs polishing over the guy who has the polish but needs to find some way to unleash his inner beast a bit more. (Or find some inner beast to unleash, perhaps.) But Piscotty is just one of those guys for me, a player I have a feeling about. I think he's going to hit, and hit, and then hit some more. He's probably a left field long term, which isn't great, but I think there's a very good chance he hits like a left fielder long term, too, which is.
9.) Tyler Lyons, LHP
Huh? A left-handed pitcher on the Cardinals' prospect list? The hell is this?
You know who really doesn't wow you out of the gate? Tyler Lyons. You know who doesn't rack up huge numbers and get a bunch of attention all over the place? Yep, Lyons again. You know who also walked just 4.9% of the hitters he faced at Triple A last year en route to a 3.19 FIP in the brutal Pacific Coast League? Hey, you're good at this game!
Tyler Lyons is kind of the Lance Lynn of the lefty world. Or the version of Lance Lynn from a couple years ago, the prospect who everyone felt very iffy toward because of a certain modesty of ceiling. And that's very much Lyons, as well. He's likely never going to be much more than a back end starter. But he's close to major league ready, he put up some really excellent numbers in a couple of brutal leagues last season, and, um, you know what? I think those two things are more than enough.
10.) Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
It was kind of a rough season for Tyrell Jenkins, honestly. He came in to 2012 the third of the Cards' big three pitching prospects, way back when Trevor Rosenthal was still more hard-throwing novelty than possible future ace, but left it with far more questions than answers. Health questions, performance questions, and makeup questions. Name a type of question, and it was asked about Tyrell Jenkins last year.
Going from Johnson City to Quad Cities in 2012, Jenkins saw his walk rate nearly double, which is obviously somewhat less than ideal. On the other hand, the strikeout rate held steady, the groundball rate stayed high, and he didn't exactly get lit up on the long ball. It all added up to a 3.62 FIP for Jenkins, which isn't bad at all when you get right down to it, considering his relative lack of experience as a former multi-sport athlete still making the adjustment to full-time baseball.
I have to admit, my concerns about Jenkins are more mental than physical. There were questions about his makeup raised in 2012, with his maturity heavily questioned. I will personally recommend you just stay well clear of his Twitter account for your own sanity. Maybe that's unfair, though; I'm sure very few of us were paragons of responsibility and intelligence at 19 years old. Hell, I write things now at 32 that make me question exactly what the hell is wrong with me on a near-daily basis. On the other hand, when you've got smoke you should be on alert for fire, and Jenkins at least has some growing up to do. I still love the athleticism, and the numbers weren't as ugly as they looked on the surface. Nonetheless, 2012 was not particularly kind to the kid from Texas.
Bonus #11: Adam Ehrlich, C
This is a pure feel pick for me, but one I feel good about all the same. I liked Ehrlich a lot when he was drafted, and I like him even more after his performance in 2012. He's very young, and very far away, but it's hard to find catchers who can actually play the position coming out of high school, and Ehrlich most definitely can. The offensive potential is just icing on the cake at this point.
A group of players who, for one reason or another, juuust missed making the list.
Anthony Garcia, OF -- That strikeout rate is just horrific. I love the power, and I've been on this guy for a couple years now, but striking out in nearly a quarter of your at-bats at the Low A level is just too big a red flag for me.
Greg Garcia, SS/2B -- I really like Garcia, and kind of wish I had put him on here. Still, he's somewhat limited defensively, and I worry he doesn't have enough power for his bat to translate to the big leagues. He should be playing second base; I have to imagine he's really tired of Kolten Wong constantly taking his best spot by now.
Matt Adams, 1B -- The power is real. Very real. Still, too many questions, from defense to plate discipline to conditioning. I think he's trade bait, and I have my doubts about his long-term prospects.
And finally, a prediction: next year's list will have Charlie Tilson in the top ten, easy. Bank on it.
Sorry, guys, I didn't mean for this to be so long. Hopefully you made it all the way through, and can still recall all the vitriol you were storing up along the way. Vent some spleen in the comments section, and tell me what an asshole I am.
See you next week.