A Look at 8 Cardinals Hitters in the Lower Minors

I don't mean to step on Future Redbirds' toes here. Sorry if I end up doing so. Similar to my look at impressive minor league pitchers from earlier this month, I wanted to look at some impressive minor league hitters. However, the pitchers' post was not all about the Cardinals. This one is.

A lot is talked about the current depth of prospects in the Cardinals' system. In the last 2 years, the Cardinals have trotted out 19 rookie pitchers at various times and in various roles in the rotation and bullpen - finding rotation mainstays Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller, along with swing-man Joe Kelly, future starter or closer Trevor Rosenthal, and 15 others. In that same time frame, the Cardinals have asked 13 rookie hitters to perform, finding an every day second baseman in Matt Carpenter, a shortstop in Pete Kozma, a fantastic #5 outfielder in Shane Robinson, a future starting 1B/DH in Matt Adams, a solid backup catcher in Tony Cruz, and 8 more!

A lot is said about the Cardinals' future pitching depth, if you're reading what I'm reading, but not much is said about the future in terms of position players, outside of Kolten Wong - who arrived in St. Louis this month for some earlier PT (playing time) than anticipated. Oscar Taveras is likely a household name in Cardinals fans households. He is the future 3-5 left-handed hitter in the order and may be able to patrol CF rather than being a corner OF bat.

More names to know: Stephen Piscotty is being compared to an Allen Craig type RF (with better defensive skills), assuming he can add power as he gets older. He's already made it to AA and could be a 2015-2016 addition to the club. James Ramsey and Mike O'Neill are solid, yet not spectacular, outfield prospects. Ramsey is a CF and O'Neill is a corner OF. Both of them are closer to the Jon Jay mold than your star bat mold (a la Piscotty). O'Neill has great potential to become a Matt Carpenter type bat, in my mind. However, Carpenter developed power late (I don't believe O'Neill will hit for quite that power). O'Neill's batting eye and on base capabilities remind me a lot of Carpenter. The question is: does that play as well in the corner outfield as it does at 2B?

These are not the players I want to delve further into today, however. I have 8 youngsters in the lower minors, whose statistics I want to peruse.

Jacob Wilson is a second baseman. He went to the University of Memphis and was a 10th round pick in the 2012 draft. He is a 22 year old this year, but he reported to low A ball last year as a 21 year old and had a .275/.341/.444 line, walking 7.3% of the time and striking out 18.4% of the time. Those numbers are not spectacular, but it was a good debut. This year, at age 22, he has already been moved up to A ball for 409 PAs, then to high A ball for the last 30ish games. He hit .246/.337/.430 at A ball, again not spectacular, but walked 9.8% of the time and only struck out 13.2% of the time. His batting average on balls in play dropped from .309 the previous year to .268, but his isolated power went up from .169 to .204. He has since dipped quite a bit as a younger player in high A. My guess is that he'll start there (Palm Beach A+ ball) next year.

Bruce Caldwell is only 21 this year and is an infielder. Caldwell was a 15th round pick in the 2012 draft out of Spartanburg Methodist College in South Carolina. He had the majority of his starts as a SS last year, but has had the majority at second base this year. Caldwell mostly played rookie ball last year, getting a 2 game call up to low A ball at the end of the year, by means of an awesome .299/.355/.506 line for the year (slightly higher before the call up). He walked 8.1% of the time and struck out a lot - 23.8% of the time. He continued his tour of low A ball at the beginning of this year, playing his first 156 plate appearances there and hitting .315/.413/.400, while improving his BB rate to 14.1% and lower his K rate to 18.6% before being called up to A ball. He will finish there with ~25 games played this year (he's at 20 already). Again, Caldwell is having a steep learning curve, with quite poor performance at the plate in his late season call up. He will likely start there (Peoria A ball) next year.

Brett Wiley is (sort of) a Missouri native, playing for his "home town" team. Granted, he was born in Huntington, IN, but he went to Jefferson College in Hillsboro, MO - just south of STL. Wiley was a 13th round pick in the 2012 draft, drafted as another middle infielder, also getting the majority of his starts at 2B. Wiley started at rookie ball and got a 2 game call up to A ball (skipping low A) at the end of last season. He hit a combined .302/.386/.443 on the year - a quite good line for a 20 year old straight out of college. He started at A ball this year for 2 more games - with a decent OPS - before going back to rookie ball to continue mashing there. He put up a .294/.399/.421 line in 33 more games before he got the low A call up (this time). He's hit an astounding .338/.400/.506 in August with State College (A-). My belief is that he will start there next year because of the 2B ahead of him...but he may get the call to start in A ball again, along side Caldwell.

Carson Kelly may be a name already on your radar. He was drafted in the 2nd round out of a Portland, OR high school in 2012. He played rookie ball last year, started in A ball this year, then got moved down to low A in June. He was drafted at the age of 17, so is incredibly young for his league, no matter where he is playing. In rookie ball, he hit .225/.263/.399 at 17 playing third base. Thinking of pushing him quickly, he made the leap to A ball, but hit only .219/.288/.301 there for 43 games before going down to A- ball. In A- ball, he has a .292/.351/.404 line this season - incredible at age 18. His walk rate is up from last year, while his K rate has basically stabilized just under where it was last year. At age 19 next year, I believe he will start at A- ball and quickly move up if he is hitting just fine.

Kenneth Peoples was taken in the 4th round of the 2011 draft out of a Los Angeles, CA high school. He was 17 at the time and is in his age 19 season, although he's already turned 20. He is a shortstop playing his third season of rookie ball. He played his first two in the Gulf Coast League, but is in Johnson City this season. He has seen his statistics go from .239/.313/.250 his first year to .260/.317/.367 his second year to .294/.343/.463 his third year. While the Gulf Coast league suppresses power, Peoples was historically bad - with a .011 slugging - in his first year. His second year was nearly .100 points higher. The Appalachian League is quite a bit easier to hit, but his line gives him a wRC+ (league adjusted) of 131, so he's hitting really well for his league this year as well...that, plus being a shortstop, gives him a lot of sway in a SS weak system, I'd guess. I think that'd be enough to start at Low A next year.

Rowan Wick (besides having one of the most fun names I will write today) was drafted in the 9th round of the 2012 draft out of Cypress College. He was drafted out of high school two years earlier by the Brewers, but I'm glad I'm talking about this catcher/right fielder as a Cardinals' prospect. Last year, at age 19, he made his rookie ball debut just playing catcher in the GCL. His .156/.233/.273 line looks quite defensive best. However, moving to Johnson City this year, plus playing some of his games out from behind the dish, has helped. His line of .260/.358/.475 is pretty great, actually - a 144 wRC+. He's thrown out only 26% of base runners in 37 games at catcher. I would likely start him in Johnson City again next year - giving him more time to develop as a catcher. If he happens to be seen as more of a right fielder than catcher, it may be time to move him up and see if he can hit better pitching.

Bladimil Franco may be the toughest name I have to type today. Sheesh. He is an outfielder in the Dominican Summer League, playing his second season with the Cardinals' organization. In 55 games last year, Franco hit just .245/.317/.293 as an 18 year old. This year, at age 19, his production has jumped up to .355/.403/.522 in his first 38 games. After just 8 extra base hits and 0 homers in 55 games last year, Franco has 14 XBH and 3 HR in just 38 games this year. He's making quite the leap. I wouldn't be surprised to see them move Franco to a state-side rookie level program next year.

Edmundo Sosa is the last player about which I would like to talk to you today. Sosa is a Panama native also playing in the Dominican Summer League. This is his first year with the Cardinals. He is a shortstop who can really hit. He is only 17 years old and has more walks (11.1%) than strikeouts (7.6%) in just 47 games played. He already hits over .300 (.314) and gets on base nearly 40% of the time (.396). His slugging percentage is .450 due to 14 extra base hits (8 doubles, 3 triples, 3 homers) in those 47 games played. That gives him a quite respectable ISO of .136. His wRC+ is 150 - meaning he, again at 17 years old, already is much better than his league and is a shortstop. Get this guy stateside soon - although I bet he will start in the Dominican next year.

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