Writers Roundtable: Dissecting Our 2014 St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospect Lists

We're Looney for Cooney™, you guys. - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Surprises? Glaring mistakes? Exclusions? We've got all that covered and more. Ready? Set! DISCUSS!

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In case you haven't noticed, we've been covering the Cardinals farm system this last week. I know, I know–not nearly enough posts with prospects in them, which is why we decided that a Writers Roundtable discussion of the farm would make for a good way to wrap up our deep dive into the Cardinals' top prospects entering the 2014 season.

I'm stepping in for the Overlord and moderating the discussion today and as the editor of Future Redbirds this could end up being more like a reverse roast where I go first and everyone else gets the last word. So, on the strength of my convictions after having watched far too many YouTube videos of teenage baseball players...

Today's Roundtable Topics:

  • Most Surprising High Ranking
  • Most Surprising Low Ranking
  • Most Glaring Exclusion
  • Most Surprising Inclusion
  • Under-the-Radar Prospect You'll Be Watching This Year
  • Prospect Most Likely to Have a Major-League Impact This Year (Not Named Oscar Taveras or Kolten Wong)

Ben, Joe, and Craig will give us their picks in each category, choosing from among the rankings in the 2014 VEB Community Top 20 prospect list, the 2014 Future Redbirds Top 20 prospect list, and Red Baron's Great Big Prospect Rodeo Roundup, 2014 Edition.

MOST SURPRISING HIGH RANKING

Craig Edwards: Notwithstanding the fact that his name should belong to a character on Justified, Boone Whiting at No. 13 on the Future Redbirds Top 20 list seems a tad high for a few reasons. Whiting does not project to have an impact on the Cardinals' roster this year despite pitching in Triple-A last season. He is close to the majors, and pitched pretty well in Triple-A, but as he has risen through the minors his walks have gone up while his strikeouts have decreased. Unless Whiting can improve on his 3.41 BB/9 from Triple-A, it will be difficult for him to stick in the majors.

Joe Schwarz: Greg Garcia was ranked No. 12 on the Future Redbirds Top 20 list and No. 15 on the VEB Community Top 20 list. I just don’t see it. I completely understand that he has hit at every level of the minors and plays a premium position in shortstop. However, he eerily reminds me of other Cardinals minor league shortstops of the recent past. He turns 25 years old this season, and in my opinion, his days as a prospect are dwindling. Can he be a successful utility guy for St. Louis in the future? You'd better believe it, especially now that he plays in the outfield periodically. I just feel there were at least 20 better prospects in the system than Garcia.

Ben Humphrey: My choice for most surprising high ranking (i.e., most overrated) has batted for the following line during his professional career: .246/.303/.371. He has also failed at the position he was drafted to play and, this season, is being moved to a position that is completely different in every way. And yet this player is a top-ten prospect according to just about everyone except for Cardinals645. I'm talking about Carson Kelly, who is moving to catcher (the single most difficult defensive position in the game) as he enters the third year and second full season of his professional career. This is a rather radical move for the Cardinals and Kelly, one that seems motivated in part by the organization's judgment that he won't be able to hit at a level that plays anywhere but as a defense-first backstop. This means Kelly is going to have to learn his new position quickly and ultimately become a good defensive catcher to have much (if any) value. Kelly is still rather young–2014 will be his age 19 season–so he's got time to learn and develop. But even after taking his age into consideration, I don't understand the Kelly love given the difficult course he must now navigate to become a big-leaguer.

MOST SURPRISING LOW RANKING

Joe: Patrick Wisdom was ranked No. 17 on the VEB Community Top 20 list and unranked on the Future Rebirds Top 20 list. I have Wisdom as the Cardinals' No. 13 prospect right now. His batting average and strikeout percentage both need work, but his glove at third base puts him in a good position moving forward. The Cardinals drafted three third basemen in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft (Stephen Piscotty, Wisdom, and Kelly), but only one remains at the position–Wisdom. Derrick Goold rates Wisdom as the best defensive infielder and the best infield arm in the St. Louis farm system. Those two characteristics combined with solid home run pop will go a long way if he is able to make more contact.

Craig: Some players have good ceilings. Some players are close to the majors. Tim Cooney has both of these factors going for him. Last year at age 22 in Springfield, Cooney struck out 125 hitters in 118 1/3 innings. That's really good. Even better, he walked just 18 hitters. And he's left-handed. In addition to his 2.57 FIP, Cooney reads Fangraphs. That should be worth a couple spots on its own.

Ben: I am also surprised that the VEB Community didn't rank Cooney higher in its Top 20 list. No. 10 is way too low. But I also think that the Future Redbirds Top 20, which has Cooney in the fifth slot, should have him higher. I thought I was going to be staking out a fairly radical position on Cooney until RB outflanked me on the Looney for Cooney™ spectrum by ranking the southpaw second overall. To me, Cooney is the No. 3 prospect in the St. Louis system as we sit here in the first week of March.

MOST SURPRISING INCLUSION

Ben: I believe that Mike O'Neill is a perfect snowflake. His .328/.435/.405 batting line is downright mythical. O'Neill is like a white pegacorn. (I've been working on a poem–okay, it's actually a song even though I can't play an instrument and am not in a band–entitled "Mike O'Neill's Batting Eye," that may or may not analogize him to a flying unicorn.) O'Neill is the type of talent oddity that makes tracking the minor leagues so much fun. Despite the place O'Neill holds in my heart, I recognize that he is not a top prospect. At least not a top 20 prospect. He shouldn't be on these lists. I don't think his punchless high-OBP profile will translate to the majors. But this doesn't mean that I won't be pulling for him to prove me completely and utterly wrong. Such a turn of events would make a wonderful final verse to my poem (or song).

Craig: Zach Petrick is not necessarily a poor choice. He has pitched well in the minor league system, but only has 13 starts above Low-A. He is older than both Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha. It is difficult to project Petrick into the big-league rotation at any point in the future, making him a likely reliever. While it is possible his stuff could play up in the bullpen and make him an elite reliever, it is not clear that will be possible which is what pushed him off my list. He is a solid pitcher and could contribute in the next few years, but I do not see the ceiling or proximity to the majors to rank him ahead of other similar pitchers.

Joe: I don't think Greg Garcia is a top 20 Cardinals prospect for the reasons I gave above for him being ranked too high.

MOST GLARING EXCLUSION

Joe: I am extremely surprised that Lee Stoppelman did not make the Future Redbirds Top 20 list. I realize relief pitchers generally aren't considered top prospects, but Stoppelman is about as sure a bet (crosses fingers since he is a pitcher) as you'll find when it comes to a relief prospect making an impact in the big leagues. Stoppelman was No. 12 on my list, and I think he could play a role in the St. Louis bullpen as early as this season. Many people view him as merely a LOOGY, but I see him as much more than that. If the Cardinals didn’t already have Rosenthal, Motte, Siegrist, et al, I could see Stoppelman being the fireman in the future because he is successful against both lefties and righties. Stoppelman has faced 277 right-handed batters in the minors and has struck out 99 of them for a 35.7 K%. His BB% versus righties is a tad high (10.8%), but I believe he will be able to cut back on this, especially after being at big-league camp this season. I look forward to tracking Stoppelman's development and cannot wait to see him on the mound at Busch Stadium in the very near future.

More Top Prospect List Analysis

Ben: I'm a sucker for J-Rods, even if they're a bit old to fall head over heels for. Jonathan Rodriguez has been in the Cardinals system since 2009 and the first baseman is entering his age 24 season. Yet Rodriguez has only made it as far up the organizational ladder as High-A Palm Beach. For his minor-league career, Rodriguez is a .269/.371/.466 batter. Rodriguez has a good batting eye (12.4% career walk rate) and hits for power (.197 career ISO). I'm surprised he didn't make a top 20 list and am looking forward to seeing how Rodriguez's bat plays in the Texas League this year.

Craig: Sam Tuivailala did not make any of the top prospect lists put out by VEB. It is not difficult to see how he has gone slightly under the radar. Tuivailala has only pitched 48 1/3 innings since making the switch from third base and has yet to rise above Low-A. He has managed only a 5.03 ERA in his time thus far, but his FIP last season in Peoria was just 2.41. Tuivailala struck out 50 hitters in just 35 1/3 innings pitched. Still just 21 years old, Tuivalala has a chance to become an elite reliever for the Cardinals similar to previous position players like Trevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte.

PROSPECT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN THE MAJORS THIS YEAR (NOT NAMED WONG OR TAVERAS)


Craig: I already wrote about Cooney above, but I'll expand on that because, outside of Wong and Taveras, Cooney has the best shot of impacting the Cardinals in 2014. After the rotation battle shakes out, either Carlos Martinez or Joe Kelly will be the Cardinals' fifth starter with the other going to the bullpen. Tyler Lyons is likely to be sent to Triple-A to be the nominal sixth starter in case of injury. If the Cardinals make it through the first two months of the season without needing that sixth starter, there is a solid chance that Cooney will have eclipsed Lyons by that point, which means he will get the call-up to St. Louis should there be a need in the rotation.

Other Cardinals Farm System Analysis

Ben: Craig and I disagree about Boone Whiting. In fact, Whiting was second on my list for the most surprising low ranking. Wherever you rank Whiting on your prospect list, he is the pitcher in the best position to have a season-long MLB impact. The same day general manager John Mozeliak announced that the Cards were shutting Garcia down due to shoulder issues, the organization also promoted Whiting (and Kurt Heyer) to big-league camp. While Whiting's high-80s fastball is not prototypical for a reliever, it remains to be seen whether its velocity will experience an uptick when throwing in shorter relief appearances. Even with his high-80s fastball, Whiting has notched Ks at each level he has pitched. This is due to his filthy change, a swing-and-miss pitch that makes the righty a decent matchup against righthanded and lefthanded batters alike. I think Whiting wins one of the relief corps slots this spring and ultimately displaces Seth Maness in manager Mike Matheny's bullpen pecking order.

Joe: For the reasons I gave above, Lee Stoppelman is my choice for the Cardinals prospect not named Wong or Taveras most likely to have an impact in the majors this season.

UNDER-THE-RADAR PROSPECT TO WATCH

Joe: Kurt Heyer made only one top 20 list (No. 11 on RecsHudler’s list). In hindsight, I am kicking myself for not including him as one of my top 20 Cardinals prospects. Less than two years after being drafted, Heyer is already in big-league camp, albeit due to an injury to Jaime Garcia. Heyer's numbers in his first full professional season were solid, and I only expect them to get better this year. He is a student of the game and is soaking in every minute of his opportunity in Jupiter right now. Springfield fans will enjoy watching Heyer pitch this season. He is a proven winner, and the Cardinals love that about him.

Craig: Vaughn Bryan could have easily remained off my radar entirely until Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus ranked him No. 10 in the Cardinals system earlier this season. Bryan has incredible talent, but is a boom or bust prospect. This season could go a long way in telling us whether he will be a future star or one of many players who simply cannot hit enough to reach the majors. He's an intriguing prospect, but one to temper the enthusiasm for until the results show up on the field.

Ben: David Popkins is a corner outfielder, which is pretty boring. There isn't the hope (however unrealistic) that he might stick in center field or third base. Popkins is a switch-hitter, though, which is pretty exciting. Popkins attended UC-Davis, where he hit .322/.419/.473 for his career despite only managing a .276 BA his senior year. No one drafted Popkins in the 2012 amateur draft. The Cardinals then signed him as an undrafted free agent. Popkins batted .353/.431/.490 in just 58 rookie-ball PAs that year before being promoted to Batavia where he hit just .243/.333/.392 and seemingly turned into a pumpkin. But last year, Popkins hit .317/.377/.463 for Palm Beach, which was good for a 140 wRC+. Popkins's walk rate could be higher, but his name is Popkins and he's a switch-hitter, so I'm letting that and his age slide. My hope is that Popkins is assigned to Double-A Springfield out of camp so we can see how this switch-hitter with a Dickensian name takes to the Texas League.

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