Acquired: Draft, 2012 - 3rd Round, #117 Overall
Cooney jumped on the prospect radar with his performance on the Cape in the summer of 2011, flashing three average/plus pitches with excellent command (46/8 K/BB) and an above average K-rate (48 K's in 49 innings), pushing him into the top 50 prospects at the time. Everyone cooled on him after an average Junior campaign at Wake Forest, allowing him drop to the Cardinals at #117, a year before they would take two more left handed pitchers in the first 100 draft selections.
Cooney is your average junior eligible college hurler, but has really high upside due mostly to his command: The guy hates walks almost as much as Adam Wainwright: In 210 minor league innings across three levels (low-A, high-A, and AA) he's given out just 31 free passes (1 was IBB) with 191 strikeouts. That's an elite 6.37 K/BB ratio -- really similar to what you'd see from someone like Cliff Lee, who happens to be Cooney's model pitcher.
Cooney has a mix of four different pitches, all in the average/above average range:
- Fastball: Sits in the 91-92 mph range, touching 93 rarely, but has really good late movement to the arm side, tailing away from right handed hitters and jamming up lefties pretty well. Scouts have also complimented him on his ability to throw his two-seamer at different speeds, further throwing off a hitters' timing.
- Cutter: Cooney uses this pitch almost exclusively to get the ball in to right handed hitters and keep them off his fastball, which can end up out over the plate when he misses inside. Marco Gonzales could learn a lot from how Cooney utilizes this pitch to keep right handed hitters off balance.
- Curveball: A good pitch in the 75-76 mph range but it's his command of it and ability to throw it backdoor to right handed hitters that makes it above average. Solid two plane break, but isn't a late breaking pitch, which is why he has to utilize the cutter more to lefties
- Changeup: Probably his best pitch -- not as good as Gonzales' change, but Cooney's change has similar arm-side movement as his fastball with even more fade. It's a pitch that induces a lot of swings and misses and is his go-to out pitch at this point in his career.
Cooney should start the season in the Memphis rotation, so we'll see how he fares against more professional hitters there. If he's able to handle the move to AAA, I can't see much of an issue with him moving up to the big leagues, especially if the changeup improves to a plus pitch and the cutter continues to be effective against righties.
Fringe top 150 prospect and someone who was a Carson Cistulli favorite for much of 2013 -- he ended the year with more Fringe Five points that C.J. Edwards, who was the centerpiece of the Cubs' Matt Garza trade to the Rangers. Could have excellent trade value if he handles AAA well and might well make some spot starts in MLB if the injury bug runs wild, further enhancing his value. Not a bullpen candidate in my mind, as he doesn't have gargantuan platoon splits in either direction.
Early struggles at Memphis but I think the changeup improves enough to make him effective there. Watch the BB%: If it starts to climb, it means he's being more fine with his pitches so that he doesn't get hammered by throwing strikes and that's a bad sign for Cooney's continued development -- he's must continue to trust his stuff like he has the last couple of years.
Acquired: Draft, 2010 - 13th Round, #409 Overall
Walsh's offensive breakout while repeating Low-A in the Quad Cities was a prime addition to the late-round Cardinals touch of gold coming into 2013. The switch-hitting phenom from Stanford hit .314/.419/.530 with 16 homers while playing all over the field for a solid River Bandits squad featuring equally interesting breakout seasons from Anthony Garcia and Tyler Rahmatulla.
Unfortunately, Walsh slid back a bit in 2013, mostly due to in ISO falling nearly 100 points from low-A to high-A in the same number of PA's. He's always had great plate discipline (which was probably the tool the Cardinals were most interested in when drafting him in 2010) and that's not changed much -- but the hit tool that looked to be emerging in 2012 didn't continue to improve in 2013 against better competition, which is a concern for 2014 with a full season at AA on the docket.
Walsh is much better from the right side (.281/.382/.463) than he is the left (.264/.375/.407) which is a bit of a concern for him since he would project to be a bench/utility player in the big leagues due to his defensive versatility, and likely see more PA's against right handed pitching in that role. Still, he's not bad from either side and has demonstrated average power on either side of the dish.
The question that remains is whether the gap power stroke he flashed in 2012 is going to come back to him as he gets his second taste of AA Springfield this season. If he does, he's likely a fringe Top 15 prospect in a deep Cardinals system and there will be talk about whether he's the next Matt Carpenter.
If it doesn't, he's going to draw lots of comparisons to Mike O'Neill in the "This guy has a really weird offensive skill set but how do we get him on the field?" kind of way.
Luckily, Walsh can be an average defender at a bunch of different positions, which would give him a leg up on O'Neill, along with his ability to hit at least a few home runs occasionally.
Walsh has seen time at 2B, 3B, LF, and RF in his minor league time, and while he's not exceptional at any of those spots, there's very little reason to see why he can't be average at any one of those positions. It will be interesting to see what the club decides to do with him during the 2014 season, what with big gaps opening up at 2B and 3B due to position moves (Kelly, Piscotty) and ineffectiveness (Wisdom, Rahmatulla) and top prospects graduating to the big leagues (Wong), while the outfield got ever more crowded over the winter at nearly every level.
Seems certain that he'll have every chance to play 2B as his bat really plays the best there.
Walsh will start the season at Springfield, likely in the lineup every day and splitting time between 2B and 3B with Wisdom and Rahmatulla, gradually getting more and more on-field time if his bat shows up. If the bat wakes up and the gap power jumps out he could see a mid-season move up to Memphis, assuming Kolten Wong doesn't massively struggle and need to find himself at AAA.
Hard to see much value to anyone besides the Cardinals here, much like Matt Carpenter wouldn't have brought back much in trade until after his 2013 season. If Walsh follows a similar path, I'd expect him to always have more value to the Cardinals than to anyone else.
Walsh spends the whole year at AA while his bat gradually improves but the power never comes back, receiving the "Mike O'Neill 2.0" treatment, fairly or unfairly (and I'm not sure to who its fair or unfair), by year's end.