Yesterday we took a look at the community prospect rankings and had a good discussion of where Rui rates on a 1-10 scale.
Today it's our turn to look at how the Cardinals farm system shapes up for 2014.
1. Oscar Taveras
(fourstick: 1; Cardinals645: 1)
When Taveras was first coming on our radar in Low A, I thought he was just going to be a "‘tweener"; I wasn't convinced he could play CF in the majors or hit enough for a corner OF spot. With average-ish speed and arm strength, his long term OF spot is still unclear, but his bat should be well above average at any position, including DH. It's hard to imagine an easier rank than this one.
2. Kolten Wong
(fourstick: 2; Cardinals645: 3)
For me, Wong's limited upside places him behind Piscotty, but his floor is high enough to make it close. He should have an above average contact rate immediately, and show decent glovework at the keystone. With the exception of his hitting, the story for Wong seems to be a limited set of tools, but with plus instincts that make him a plus baserunner and solid defender. If he can produce a solid line drive rate, he should be a 2+ WAR player for the next few years.
3. Stephen Piscotty
(fourstick: 5 ; Cardinals645: 2)
Say it after me: I believe in the bat. The VEB community does, Ryan does...but me? I'm on the fence. As a third baseman, I'd have him in the top 3 but you've got to hit a lot more to make it in the corner outfield, and I'm not sure that Piscotty's got the power numbers to be valuable to a big league club out there.
If I was coming up with a big league comp for Piscotty's ceiling, it would look something like a right handed Nick Markakis: Above average contact skills, gap power that's good enough for a few homers, and a decent enough walk rate. Below average defense, however, which effectively neuters Markakis' value and could potentially do the same for Piscotty, although most reports from last year had him being average or slight plus in right field less than 12 months into his transition.
There are worse things than having a Nick Markakis clone in your top 5 prospects and I think Piscotty will continue to hit -- but with Taveras, Holliday, and Craig getting time in the corner OF in St. Louis for the foreseeable future, it's hard to see a path for Piscotty to get much, if any, playing time with the Cardinals. If he continues to rake at AAA this spring, he's likely at the top of the list of trade candidates should the club need an impact player in July.
4. Alex Reyes
(fourstick: 3; Cardinals645: 4)
Throws 97 mph, has two plus pitches and a changeup that could qualify as a third with a little bit of work, plus solid command of all his pitches. Did I mention he's only 20 years old? And has a bigger frame than Carlos Martinez with similar high-upside stuff? There's just a ton to like about this kid and his ceiling is as high as any player in the minors not named Taveras.
5. Tim Cooney
(fourstick: 4; Cardinals645: 7)
My favorite minor league stat from last year belonged to Tim Cooney: His 6.97 K/BB ratio in 118 innings at AA Springfield. The number is ridiculous at face value, but even more so when you consider that he doesn't have the pure stuff to just blow it by people in the strike zone like Alex Reyes or Shelby Miller.
I'm much higher on Cooney than nearly everyone else, mostly because I see a guy with four 50/60 pitches who really knows how to sequence his arsenal and mix up speeds to keep hitters off balance. I've mentioned in multiple conversations this offseason about how similar he was to Cliff Lee in his age 23 season and I think he truly does have upside that could land him at the top of the rotation some day.
6. Marco Gonzales
(fourstick: 7; Cardinals645: 5)
The lack of projection puts him behind higher upside guys like Kaminsky and Reyes for me, but Gonzales probably has the highest floor of the three, with a plus curveball and a plus-plus changeup as well as excellent makeup and pitching ability. The lack of zip on his fastball is a real concern, but Mozeliak has been quoted a couple of different times stating that the Cardinal player development staff feels Gonzales could add 2-3 mph since he's now focussed solely on pitching. If so, he would move up quickly and likely be among a trio of lefties at AAA ready to fill in at a moment's notice in St. Louis.
7. Rob Kaminsky
(fourstick: 6; Cardinals645: 6)
There's some consensus for Kaminsky here, as he has moderate upside, with some polish for a high school guy who hasn't made a full season debut. In a system that is still very deep, but suddenly low on players with impact potential following several prospects graduating, Kaminksy stands out among the mid-level prospects. I fully expect him to excel in the Midwest League this year, and could be as high as #2 on this list in 2015.
8. Randal Grichuk
(fourstick: 9; Cardinals645: 9)
Between Grichuk and I, one of us thinks he can play CF. Both of us think he can probably hit enough to play in a corner spot, just not likely with the Cardinals. The lack of walks is a concern, but the power numbers are real. Grichuk seems to think that his approach doesn't need changing, something that probably got him dealt out of an Angels player development system that's put improved plate discipline on a pedestal above all else under new farm director Scott Servais. A notion he stole from the Cardinals, I might add. The Cardinals might get the last laugh though, if Grichuk can hit his ceiling as a player. Color me skeptical, but he'll be a fun guy to watch at Memphis this year.
9. Carson Kelly
(fourstick: 8; Cardinals645: 12)
Apparently I have some explaining to do with this ranking. I love that Kelly has moved to catcher, and the handful of whispers about his progress at the position have been positive. With Kelly behind the plate, the team doesn't need nearly as much production from his bat, which is good since Kelly hasn't really hit yet. Kelly has mostly struggled in pro ball so far, and hasn't shown a consistent profile. He showing impressive power as a 17 year old in the Rookie League, but hit fewer homers in twice as many games last year, albeit against much tougher competition. I still like Kelly, but this is a tough organization to be ranked in, and there are a lot of solid players in the system that are closer to the majors. In another year, his future offensive potential should be clearer, potentially making me look foolish.
10. Charlie Tilson
(fourstick: 13; Cardinals645: 12)
After fighting off various injuries for his first couple of seasons as a professional, Tilson emerged a bit last year with a clean bill of health, hitting .303/.349/.388 in 411 PA's at Peoria before moving up for a cup of coffee with Palm Beach and continuing his torrid pace there. Still just entering his age 21 season, there's still a ton of projection in Tilson's bat to go along with his plus defense in CF and equally good baserunning. Going to be tough sledding jumping ahead of all the outfielders above him, but if the bat continues to improve, he'll be a candidate for quick promotion.
11. James Ramsey
(fourstick: 16; Cardinals645: 10)
I have Ramsey 16th on my list because I'm just not a believer in the bat like everyone else is. Most other prospect lists I've seen note his power surge last year -- but it looks to me like he hit a few lucky home runs in the Texas League. The rest of Ramsey's power numbers didn't get the same boost: No surge in doubles or triples, just homers and a lot of singles -- and they weren't Mark McGwire laser-off-the-wall singles either. Seems like scouts are down on him being able to stay in CF too. A lot of red flags here for me; enough that I dropped him considerably, which knocked him out of the FR Top 10.
12. Greg Garcia
(fourstick: 10; Cardinals645: 13)
I was shocked when he was left off just over half of the community ballots. Garcia's hit at every level, is an average or plus defender at all the infield positions, and sports an excellent approach at the plate with walk rates above 11% for his entire minor league career. At worst, he's an excellent utility player and left-handed pinch hitter for a good ball club and probably a starting middle infielder for a mediocre team. That's a pretty valuable prospect and one that is probably being overlooked with all the upside in the current farm system.
13. Boone Whiting
(fourstick: 16; Cardinals645: 15)
I'm a bit surprised Whiting fell short of the community projections, but it's easy to overlook him in a system this blessed with talent. Whiting is around the 5th best mid-backend rotation piece on my rankings. Given his proximity to the majors, and his solid performance at AAA last season he's a better prospect right now than the longshots further down this list, but he's probably not the sort that rises much next year. Some of those long shots will make good, at least enough to shoot up this list and past Whiting. There's not much for Whiting to do to improve his stock but keep plugging away in Memphis and wait for his shot at the majors.
14. Tommy Pham
(fourstick: 15; Cardinals645: 16)
If it feels like we've been waiting a half decade for Tommy Pham to break out...well, it's because we have. He's played 100 games only once in the last four years, his breakout 2010 campaign at Springfield, and has been a mess of injuries ever since then, so his numbers are hard to take seriously at AAA since he's never been 100% healthy when playing there. Pham is hitting .296/.381/.504 with 57 XBH in 537 career PA's (over 4 seasons no less) with Springfield, which happens to be the only place where he's spent a considerable time not dinged up. We're fitfully hoping he can stay healthy this year and somehow find PA's among the plethora of outfield talent likely to start the year at Memphis.
15. Cory Jones
(fourstick: NR; Cardinals645: 11)
I am now the 16th person in all of VEBdom to put Jones in his or her Top 20. What's interesting is that almost ⅔ of us have him 14th or higher. I guess we're the ones that are suckered in by high velocity. In my mind Jones has a future for high leverage spots out of the bullpen, but he could be an interesting arm in the rotation as well, though that's a bit less likely. I don't mind having to project a player's value based on upside (like a high 90s fastball), but I prefer for him to have already played well at his minor league level, and for that level to be Low A or higher. Jones meets those requirements, so I've taken a chance with this rank. I think this will still look good next year, but the real test might not come until he pitches at AA; we'll see how smart we 16 are then.
16. Anthony Garcia
(fourstick: 12; Cardinals645: NR)
I've already planted my flag on camp Garcia for 2014, dutifully holding on to the bandwagon rails after a bumpy ride in 2013. Still a big believer in a bat with tons of raw power and his batted ball profile from last year (admittedly not 100% trustworthy) was too darn good to put up the below average BABIP he sported the entire summer. Something's got to give with Garcia, and I'm betting he returns to form in 2014 and absolutely mashes the Texas League in the late summer.
17. Vaughn Bryan
(fourstick: 13; Cardinals645: NR)
Jason Parks isn't the only one who thinks Bryan has huge upside -- there are a number of other high baseball IQ's who were impressed with Bryan as well. Dan Kantrovitz certainly seems to be a believer. I'm still on the fence that he'll ever hit his ceiling, but the tools are just too good to ignore. I still like Tilson's floor a lot more -- he's already got refined skills that Bryan doesn't at the same age with far less playing time.
18. Mike O'Neill
(fourstick: 20; Cardinals645: 19)
Such a hard prospect to rank, given that his offensive skills literally break the traditional metrics through which to measure a player. His lack of versatility does not, however, and it's what's likely to hold him back from ever getting a regular job in the big leagues. O'Neill can hit, and I've got no reservations about him being able to do so at the big league level either -- but he can't probably hit enough to play corner outfield or first base, which are the only two positions that he's suited for defensively.
19. Zach Petrick
(fourstick: NR; Cardinals645: 14)
I originally had Petrick up closer to the Cooneys and Gonzaleses on my own list, before bumping him down a bit. He's another guy nearly lost in a sea of decent rotation arms. His incredible and exciting launch through the system as an undrafted guy makes it easy to overlook that his FIP (almost) doubled from High A to AA. These are smallish sample sizes here (less than 50 IP each), but the point is he still has some work to do. I think he's a back rotation guy with good minor league performances a la Whiting, Cooney, and Tyler Lyons, but this version of Petrick is still relatively new and may yet surprise us more like Lance Lynn. Among the guys future 5th starter/middle reliever guys in the system, he's the one I'm most interested to watch.
20. Edmundo Sosa
(fourstick: 19; Cardinals645: NR)
It's always safe to be a little skeptical of any numbers coming out of the Dominican Summer League, but I've heard two solid reports on Sosa that put his defense at a 60/70 at SS, and offensive tools that trend to average/plus. There's little doubt that the low minors is going to be full of potential future middle infielders trying to make a name for themselves in 2014 and I think Sosa is the best of that group.
The Not So Serious Six
Six players who just missed the cut...
The glove could probably play in the big leagues right now, it's the bat that's questionable. If Mercado can hit at all, he's going to promote quickly -- we're just not sure that he'll ever hit enough to be a valuable MLB player.
I'm a bit disappointed, and confused, that he's not going to play SS or 2B anymore, but P-Dubs is still an interesting athlete in the system, and one with a decent performance with the bat last year too. Kenny PWers is still just 20 this year, and has the potential for above average power in a system a bit short on positions player prospects at the moment.
With so much talent in the farm system we couldn't find a spot for a pitcher coming off a shoulder injury who's never pitched above A ball, and who really hasn't shown much sustained promise prior to getting hurt. If he comes back at full strength and has a good year Jenkins clearly has the high ceiling of a top 10 prospect in this farm system, due to his talent and athleticism. We just need to see it on the field before ranking him above other players who we feel are more deserving.
Stoppelman is already a very good LOOGY, most likely. Whether or not he can become more than that will depend on whether or not he can keep from walking so many righties. It's not easy to make a prospect list as a rookie, at least not in a deep system, but Stoppelman has the K-rate to make that happen.
The third base convert throws 97-99 mph consistently and has a plus curveball to go along with it, stuff filthy enough to strike out nearly 30% of low-A hitters a year ago. It will be interesting to see his adjustment as he moves up and faces better hitters, but it's safe to say that Sam's Stuff is good enough to warrant some mention, even in a farm system full of hard throwers.
It's hard to believe Blair now ranks above Jordan Swagerty in the system, but here we are. I don't think Blair has a prayer of making a big league rotation, but I'm anxious to see how he performs as a reliever. Like I said, it's not easy to make the Top 20 as a reliever, but here's another guy with the stuff to do it.
A look at a few players who we think will be in the Top 20 discussion a year from now:
Fringe-average velocity that's likely to improve a bit and average or better secondary offerings with solid command of everything. Sounds like Tim Cooney a year ago. Keep an eye on this 9th round draftee.
A 2013 draftee out of tiny Coker College in South Carolina, the St. Louis native had an impressive debut at Johnson City, striking out 47 in 39 2/3 innings while walking only 11, 2 intentionally. Loraine has the fastball/slider combination many top relievers use, along with a fringe-average changeup and excellent command. He'll fill out the bullpen in Peoria (which is looking to be incredibly good at present) to start but could progress quickly given his age and above average stuff.
Above average makeup for a high school pitcher and sports four pitches that rate as average or fringe-average. Throws an easy 90-91 mph as an 18 year old and has room to mature and develop a tad more velocity. Scouts love his feel for pitching: He mixes offerings well for a guy his age and has demonstrated an advanced ability to set up hitters.
He probably doesn't shoot up this list, but after a solid AFL showing, I'll be surprised if he doesn't put up some good numbers at AA this year. He'll never be the hottest prospect pick, but that should be enough to take somebody's spot as a future 6th starter.
Rivera may be 2nd fiddle to Mercado at SS, but Scouting Director Dan Kantrovitz advised not to overlook his defense in his interview with Joe. Of the three disappointing performances from drafted middle infielders at the GCL level last year, Rivera's was probably the least disappointing, besting Mercado's and Malik Collymore's by hitting 5 home runs. That's not too terribly impressive, but Rivera was considered a future top pick a few years back, and Keith Law already has as his 10th prospect in the system. He's worth keeping an eye on.
Wilson is a 2B who hit 18 HR combined for the Cardinals' A-Ball teams last year. Intrigued? Sure, why wouldn't you be? For a guy that struck out less than 15% of the time, his batting average was quite low thanks to some real bad BABIPs, but his walk rates are very good. He's a bit old, 23 this year, for A-Ball, but another successful offensive season could make him an interesting addition to this list.