Hatchlings: Closing Out AAA

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Hatchlings was a Future Redbirds series profiling the top prospects in the Cardinals minor league system, but that part is over now. The series will conclude tomorrow with a community vote to rank the pre-season top 20 Future Redbirds.

Boone Whiting

Age: 24

Position: SP

Acquired: Draft, 2010: 18th round, 559th overall

Bats: R

Throws: R

Boone Whiting 2011 Quad Cities River Bandits Highlight Video (via gent9nr)

Player Profile & Career Summary:

Boone Whiting is a college pick that has moved through the minors at a steady pace. He had a K:BB ratio approaching 5:1 at Quad Cities in his first full season, and had a 2.55 ERA in 120 IP, helped along by a .244 BABIP against. He started 2012 at Low A again, and, despite missing a great deal of time with injuries, he skipped High A and made two strong outings for AA Springfield. Management sent him to the AFL to get a few more advanced innings under his belt, and he surprised by striking out 30% and walking 7.3% in what is generally a hitter's league. It was enough to take the last spot in the FR Top 20.

Last season he started out at AA, and again struck out nearly fives times as many batters as he walked in six starts, earning a promotion to AAA (following many AAA pitchers being needed in the majors). He held his own in Memphis by striking out 21.6% of the competition. However, his command faltered a bit, as he walked 8.7% of his opponents, which was his highest walk rate at any stop.

Pitching Profile:

With a minor league career strikeout rate north of 25% and a K:BB ratio of 4.41, it's a bit surprising that Whiting's fastball tops out at a meager 91 MPH while sitting in the high 80s. He lives mostly on the success of his changeup, which he complements with a pitch Marc Hulet calls a slider but looks more like a curveball in the video from Quad Cities above. The interviewer in this recording with Whiting calls it a curve, and Whiting doesn't correct him. Whatever it is though, it looks pretty good in that video and he certainly gets some good swing-and-misses.

He's not particularly tall for a pitcher at 6'1", but makes the most of what he has with an exaggerated over-the-top delivery, leaning his body to the left to avoid putting too much strain on his shoulder. Whiting doesn't have impeccable command, but has enough movement on his pitches that he hasn't been afraid to work in the zone.

2014 Outlook:

It seemed like advanced competition at AAA was more willing to work counts against Whiting. He already had good success in Memphis last season, but to take the next step forward he has to sharpen that command and get his walk rate back down. Part of the issue may be the willingness of advanced LHB to lay off his changeups and curves, as he had an elevated walk rate against lefties: 10.2% vs. 6.1% against righties. He has the stuff to pitch in the majors, despite the mediocre velocity. He could probably be a decent ROOGY now, but the Cardinals don't have an opening in the bullpen.

Projection:

Whiting is slated to repeat at AAA, where I expect he'll make some improvement. Whiting isn't on the 40-man, so I don't see him making any appearances without some injuries or trades. It's tempting to say Whiting is trade bait, but there aren't any easy spots to upgrade the major league roster so I'm hesitant to predict a trade. Plus, with the depth of this system you could say that about a lot of players, pitchers and outfielders particularly.

Lee Stoppleman

Age: 23, 24 on May 24th

Position: RP

Acquired: Draft, 2012: 24th round, 750th overall

Bats: L

Throws: L

Lee Stoppelman (STL) - LHP - NYP National League All-Stars (2012-08-14) (via Jeff Reese)

Player Profile & Career Summary:

Entering 2013 the Cardinals were so desperate for left handed pitching that they signed Randy Choate to a three-year deal. This past season saw the major league debuts of Kevin Siegrist, John Gast, and Tyler Lyons, as well as the drafting of LHPs Marco Gonzalez and Rob Kaminsky. Add Lee Stoppelman to the list of lefties suddenly making Choate look superfluous; in fact Azruavatar described him as a "home grown Randy Choate".

Drafted out of the University of Central Missouri, Stoppelman skyrocketed through the minors last season.Starting in Palm Beach after demolishing Short Season Batavia in 2012, Stoppelman sent more than a quarter of opposing batters back to the bench with Ks, earning a promotion to AA in time for his 23rd birthday. He continued to put opponents away via the strike out, raising his rate to 33.1% before making two final appearances for AAA Memphis. He also got some extra work in for the Salt River Rafters in the AFL, where he also 12 in 9 ⅓ IP.

Pitching Profile:

Stoppelman's strikeouts are piled so high, and his ERAs are so low (a combined 1.50 last season), that it's easy to overlook his high walk totals, but they constitute a potentially serious problem for Stoppleman. Exactly 10% of all PAs against Stoppelman resulted in a walk last season, and that number rose to 24.3% during his brief time in the AFL.

Stoppelman has the standard fastball, throws a changeup, and a curveball. In an interview with our own Joe Schwarz (stlCupofJoe), Stoppelman describes the curveball as a focus of his, noting that he became more comfortable throwing it toward the end of the season. He delivers these pitches from a very low, practically horizontal, arm slot.

2014 Outlook:

Stoppelman has some time to figure out his control issues, as there's no rush at the moment for another lefty in the bullpen. Should things change though, Stoppelman seems ready to at least be a LOOGY. Against 81 lefties last year, Stoppelman struck out 18 and walked just two. In short, the focus of his control problem centers on getting out opposite-handed batters -- much like Whiting. Having read this article (HT to BGH) from fangraphs on swinging strike rates by pitch type, it's interesting to note that both pitchers rely on changeups to produce lots of strikeouts without overwhelming fastballs. Changeups easily generate one of the highest swing and miss rates, falling just behind sliders for pitches most frequently swung through.

Stoppelman received an invite to Spring Training, so we should get a good look at him finally (I can't find anyone reporting his velocity), and he'll spend the season in Memphis.

Projection:

I won't be surprised if Stoppelman struggles with walk rates for the early portion of this season, and throwing strikes consistently, particularly to right-handers, is going to have to be a focus of his if he wants to be more than a LOOGY. He certainly has the stuff to get righties out, as he struck out more than a third of them last year. If he can't get the walks down, he should be fine against lefties whenever the Cardinals need him.

Tommy Pham

Age: 25, 26 on March 8th.

Position: CF

Acquired: Draft, 2006: 16th round, 496th overall

Bats: R

Throws: R

Tommy Pham St Louis Cardinals @ Bat-R-Up 12-30-08 (via Jack Thomas)

Player Profile & Career Summary:

Thomas Pham was a high upside high school pick taken nearly eight years ago, in a time where merely having upside was enough to get you considered for the Cardinals Top Ten prospects -- nearly TWO Winter Olympics ago. He mostly toiled away in the low minors, trying to put his plus tools together, until June 2010 when he hit .329/.416/.459 for the Palm Beach Cardinals. He was promoted that July to Springfield, where he exploded with a .339/.429/.537 line. And he has pretty much been in Springfield ever since.

Despite a combined .298/.382/.504 line at AA, Pham never made it to Memphis until last season. It's hard for me to recall exactly when or how Pham first hurt his shoulder (I'm guessing 6/5/2011 from gamelogs), but injuries to his shoulder and other assorted ailments have been causing him to miss large parts of seasons ever since. In fact, here's a profile from an Orioles blog looking at him as a potential Rule 5 pick -- in 2011. Note: it's a pretty interesting profile, that's worth the read if you're a Pham Fan. That line at AA Springfield spans parts of four seasons, but just 537 PAs or ~1 season's worth.

After finally making it to AAA last year, and posting a .264/.310/.368 line, Pham gave in and had shoulder surgery.

Profile:

Pham has solid power and good speed, though his speed has faded somewhat over his many minor league seasons. For his career he has stolen 25 bases per 162 games, but 8 in 75 games last year. That's still 17 over 162, but he was also caught four times, or ~9 CS in 162. So his speed is still good, but at 26 we shouldn't expect him to be the burner he was at 18.

He has always taken a good approach at the plate, walking in over 10% of his career PAs. He swings and misses a bit, usually a bit over 20%, but it's not so bad that it keeps him from being a productive hitter.

2014 Outlook:

Pham has aggravated his shoulder a few times, broken his wrist, etc., but he is the right-handed CF we've been hoping the Cardinals could pair with Jay. Unfortunately the Cardinals have like three of those guys now.

Even assuming he is 100% following his surgery, it's hard to know what to expect from Pham. He probably had the tools to figure out AAA at one point, but 26 is a bit past the age at which most players try to figure out high minors pitching.

Projection:

If Pham is healthy and starts hitting at AAA from the start, then he's an exciting older prospect that could have a late career arc like Ryan Ludwick. If not, the he probably gets cut in a very crowded outfield depth chart. Either way, it's hard to see exactly where he fits on the major league roster without someone leaving town.



That concludes things for the Hatchlings series this year. Look for a post tomorrow to take part in the community ranking of the Cardinals top prospects.

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