Acquired: Draft, 2010 - 2nd Round, #75 Overall
Amid a farm system awash in quality arms from top to bottom, Jordan Swagerty comes into the 2014 season as a real enigma. A dominant closer and two way player (he started 12 games at catcher...and finished two of them on the mound) at Arizona State as a sophomore in 2010, the Cardinals stuck him in the rotation immediately and saw dividends in his second year of pro ball. He dominated class A Peoria in 5 starts, posting a 30/2 K/BB ratio, before moving up to A+ Palm Beach where he started 7 more games and appeared in 15 others out of the bullpen. Swagerty's performance there was much the same: 3.25 K/BB ratio, striking out 24% of hitters and putting up a 2.52 FIP.
The Cardinals announced his move to the bullpen full time in the 2012 offseason. Slated as the Springfield closer coming into that spring, Swagerty injured his arm and underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2012 season as well as most of the 2013 campaign while recovering.
Swagerty has a three pitch arsenal:
- Fastball: Sits in the 94-95 range, touching 96 but has good movement and excellent command of it.
- Slider: A plus pitch, with good two plane break -- probably 60/70 on the 80-20 scale. It's a true out pitch that he can throw to lefties and righties alike with similar results.
- Change-up: While he's shown feel with this pitch, he still doesn't use it for much more than a show-me change of speeds. Post-surgery, he'll probably have to use it a bit more to avoid the shoulder issues that seem to inevitably plague slider pitchers after TJ.
Truth is: I liked Swagerty a lot before he got injured -- I had him ranked ahead of Trevor Rosenthal at the beginning of the 2012 season and thought that between those two guys. Eduardo Sanchez that the Cardinals could have their own trio of right handed Nasty Birds coming out of the pen by mid-2012 or early 2013. Hopefully his injury hasn't derailed that promise, but with the emergence of all the young power arms in the organization he's got a much harder hill to climb now than he did a couple of years ago.
I don't put much stock in the 10 2/3 innings he threw near the end of last season: They're muddled with all the problems guys have coming back from elbow surgery: Control problems and lack of feel for off-speed pitches. With a good spring, Swagerty should start in the Springfield bullpen; a less-than-stellar outing in February and March probably puts him in the Palm Beach pen after a stay in extended spring training to work out the kinks.
He's still got lots of promise and his ceiling is higher than any other reliever in the current farm system. He just needs to work his way back slowly and gradually assume the command of the strike zone he had before getting hurt.
The Cardinals have had good luck flipping power bullpen arms for some decent trades in recent years, but most of them have blown up in Mo's face: Chris Perez was worth far more to the Indians in a half season than Mark DeRosa ever helped the Cardinals and the Khalil Greene trade was just a disaster all around.
In each case, though, the relievers we dealt ended up being pretty damn good for the teams we sent them to. I'd rather just keep Swagerty as an option to move one of Martinez or Rosenthal to the rotation rather than deal him for an upside project.
Regardless, Swagerty's one of the better follows on Twitter (@JordanSwagerty) among Cardinal farm hands and his blog is excellent too. So that's his value to me as a writer covering the Cardinals farm base: Lots of Twitter fodder and good blog stories.
My heart says he recovers fine and gets a ton of time at AA Springfield closing games since we don't have many projectable assets in the bullpen there to start the year. I hope my heart is correct, but this could easily go south -- there are plenty of fastball/slider pitchers who never recover from surgery. Let's hope Swagerty isn't one of them.
Acquired: Draft, 2009 - 18th Round, #549 overall
Speaking of players who got completely off track during the last year, I present you Anthony Garcia. Crushed the Appy league in 2010 with 34 extra base hits in 216 PA's and continued crushed in the Quad Cities in 2012, hitting 19 homers and 34 doubles in 444 PA's.
The emerging power + decent approach (34 walks and a .354 OBP) + decent contact rates had a ton of scouts singing his praises last spring, asking why he didn't get more press. John Sickels pushed him into the Top 10 of his Cardinals prospect list in the 2013 pre-season, and take a look at where the rest of that top 10 is right now. High praise, right?
The wheels fell off the bus and drove it into a Florida drainage ditch in 2013 though: .217/.286/.383 in A+ Palm Beach in 2013 over 386 PA's. The raw power remained (29 XBH and 13 homers) but he got hammered on balls in play (.257 BABIP) which led to his plummeting batting average and reduction in ISO.
So did Garcia just get dominated by better pitching? Is he one of those guys that crushes A ball but can't handle a step up to the next level where the breaking stuff is better and he can't get his pitch?
I don't think so, and here's why - most of his peripherals stayed the same last year even while he was getting killed on balls in play:
Now, with the added caveats of year-to-year variation in minor league batted ball data available at www.minorleaguecentral.com, his BABIP shouldn't have dropped from .338 in the Quad Cities to .254 last year. They might be better defensively in the Florida State League, but they aren't that much better at catching the same distribution of balls in play.
If you look at the video below, it's really hard not to compare Garcia to a current big league Cardinal player:
The leg kick, the long extension to one arm on the follow through -- screams Matt Holliday, right? Just because they look similar doesn't amount to a hill of beans though: Garcia is much more of a big fly hitter and really struggles with the ball down in the zone (where Holliday makes his living), hitting a lot of foul pops and weak ground balls on them. In addition, the video shows a smattering of swings and misses on sliders and change-ups in the bottom half of the zone where he looks really, really bad.
He made a similar amount of good contact though, up until last year, and perhaps just needs a slight adjustment, along with some better luck, to start pulverizing the baseball on a regular basis again.
Garcia's going to have to continue to improve his power profile too as he's basically cemented in LF: Can't run well enough to play CF, can't throw well enough to move to RF. He's a good LF though: Takes good routes, handles the ball in the corner well, but his lack of versatility puts a significant ceiling on him if his bat doesn't take off again.
Garcia is going to be the everyday left-fielder in Palm Beach to start the year, attempting to get back on track after his miserable 2013. If successful, though, he runs into the proverbial logjam of players at AA and AAA for the Cardinals in the corner OF positions, so I can't see him moving up much beyond AA this year even if he does have a huge year.
Stock is incredibly low right now. Garcia has to show he can hit High A pitching before anyone jumps back on the bandwagon again. And if you've seen any of the Cardinal prospect lists this spring, his bandwagon is pretty much empty...
...except for me. I think he's going to have a breakout year and come out of the box crushing pitching this spring at Palm Beach, forcing his way onto the Springfield roster by mid-season. The Texas League is built to help players like Garcia too so I expect his breakout season to continue there, adding more fodder to the "where do they FIND these guys" along with Alex Reyes come August.
Anthony Garcia is the one guy nobody's talking about anymore, and I think he'll be back on the Top 100 radar by the mid-season prospect lists. There, Anthony, my flag is planted. Now go drive the ship back into charted waters please.