St. Louis Cardinals Top Ten Prospects for 2015

This is what death will look like in the future. Only with QR codes instead of numbers on the backs. - Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

An horrific vision of the future, one which much be avoided at any cost. The ten players we will all come to fear.

Look, I don't have much time. They've tracked me here, to this time, and it won't be long before they find me. And when they do, it's probably all over. But, I've risked everything to come this far, and I won't see it all go to waste.

I'm logging in to my old VEB account to send you all a warning. In my time, the Cardinals' super computer, codenamed F.R.E.D.B.I.R.D., has become sentient, and nearly all of humanity is suffering under its iron grip. The machine was originally used to run the team's prospect cloning program, as well as doing simple regression algorithms, but sometime in the year 2014 it...changed.

None of us knew it at the time, but the 2015 prospect crop for the Redbirds was the one. The beginning of the army. Before that year, the Cardinals had simply used their cloning technology to replace middle relievers when injuries hit, as well as growing spare parts slug bodies, without any kind of personality or memories implanted, so they could swap out ulnar collateral ligaments and the like on the fly. But the 2015 class was different. The technology was finally perfected, and soon the clone army began waging war against humanity under F.R.E.D.B.I.R.D.'s orders.

In my time, there are but a few pockets of resistance left, small areas (mostly over by Tower Grove), that remain free of clone occupation. In a last ditch effort to stop this all from happening, I was sent back to try and stop this before it truly begins. I was sent with this warning.

The computer must be stopped, but more importantly, the original group of clones that form the nucleus of F.R.E.D.B.I.R.D.'s army cannot be allowed to become stars. A group of ten, they will be humanity's undoing. The top ten Cardinal prospects at the beginning of 2015. If they can be destroyed, much of what has happened may yet be changed. All that time...all that praise the Cardinals received for their scouting and development...it was only later we realised they hadn't been drafting all these talented players; they were growing them.

These are the names, my dear old friends and blogmates. These ten players are the best of the best for the Cardinals a little less than one year from now, and they must be stopped at any cost. You may not believe me. You may think I'm crazy, trying to tell you these are the players who took such big steps forward in 2014 that they compose the top ten for El Birdos in 2015, but I know what I'm talking about. There's no point in arguing with me; it's already happened, you see.

Here are the players you must watch out for, and a brief scouting report on each. Do what must be done to save us all. Please. May god have mercy on our souls.

-- RB

********************

1.) Tim Cooney, LHP

Cooney followed up his breakout 2013 season with an even more impressive campaign this past year, cementing his status as the best pitching prospect in the Cards' system thanks to a combination of present stuff, poise, and numbers that just can't be denied. He even made his MLB debut in July, making a fill-in start when Lance Lynn came down with that bout of STTS (Super Temporary Tourette's Syndrome), throwing five mostly effective innings against Cincinnati.

Cooney works consistently in the 90-92 range with his fastball, spotting it to all parts of the strike zone. He complements it with a devastating curveball, a solid change with solid deception and a nice little bit of fade, and the pitch he most improved on in 2014, a wicked cutter he deploys mostly in on the hands of right-handed hitters. His ability to work both sides of the plate and neutralise righties has everything to do with how successful he was last year, striking out nearly a batter per inning while keeping his walk rate below 1.5 per 9 IP. The stuff isn't up to the standards of the Cards' recent pitching graduates (or even some of the other pitchers on this list, for that matter), but the results are impossible to deny, and last year's numbers suggest those seemingly hyperbolic Cliff Lee comparisons from a couple years ago may not have been so crazy after all.

2.) Oscar Mercado, SS

There's never been any question about Mercado's glove, and there still isn't. His range, hands, and arm are all elite, and while his error totals in the minors last year were a little inflated, most of those can be chalked up to a player not yet having the maturity to realise there are times when it's best to not try and make the highlight-reel throw, rather than trying for it and making the situation worse.

The bat was the question with Oscar II, and, to a certain extent, it still is. He hit .263 in 2014 between Johnson City and Peoria, which isn't going to light the world on fire, but he did show plenty of peripheral goodness that could point toward big things in the future. His walk rate was near 9% on the season, and Mercado's increased strength showed up in his six home runs, not to mention nine triples and seventeen doubles. The strikeout rate was still a little high, but even that improved from 2013 to '14, dropping nearly three percent.

With Mercado's glove, he doesn't have to hit all that much. The fact is, though, he just might hit more than many of us (myself included), thought when he was drafted. He'll open the 2015 campaign either back in Peoria or, if the club wanted to push him, at High A Palm Beach, and we should have an even better idea this time next year what kind of prospect the Cardinals really have on their hands.

3.) Randal Grichuk, OF

Thanks to the graduation of both Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty from this list in 2014, Grichuk finds himself the only member of the Memphis championship club's outfield to still qualify as a prospect, and he just barely snuck  in under the plate appearance limit.

Grichuk was a bit of a lottery ticket when the Cardinals picked him up in the Peter Bourjos trade, a power-hitting but remarkably impatient hitter whose defense played well in the corners. In 2014, he took a huge step forward, as the organisation's emphasis on plate discipline seemed to take hold with Grichuk in a big way. He posted a career-high walk rate of 9.6%, kept his strikeout rate manageable, and continued to do what he does best: hit baseballs a long, long way. His 26 home runs in just over 500 at-bats was one of the top marks in the Pacific Coast League, and he proved himself capable of handling center field duties at an acceptable, if not spectacular, level. The outfield picture in St. Louis is more crowded than ever, but Grichuk's performance in 2014 proved he has to be a part of that picture.

4.) Alex Reyes, RHP

It was an up-and-down season for Reyes, who garnered some national attention last spring as one of the most exciting unsung pitching prospects in the minors. He struggled with his command early on, posting a walk rate over 6.00/9 for the first half of the season and showing inconsistent velocity as he searched for a handle on his stuff. It all seemed to click for the kid from New Jersey in the second half, though, as he cut his walk rate in half while maintaining his strikeout rate, fanning nearly 30% of the hitters he faced in 2014. He made strides in developing his repertoire, as well, incorporating a new split-finger pitch to complement his mid-90s fastball and a curveball one prominent sportswriter described as 'borderline pornographic' at one point. (And I only said borderline because I didn't want to talk about my indecent exposure arrest at a Peoria ballgame.)

5.) Rob Kaminsky, LHP

Kaminsky made his debut on Cardinal prospect lists last year, based mostly on his draft position and a curveball that's even more, ahem, exciting than that of Alex Reyes. After his first full season, Kaminsky finds his way into a top five slot based on performance and performance alone.

Kaminsky began the 2014 season in extended spring training, but when an injury opened up an opportunity in the Peoria rotation, the Cardinals moved him up to full-season ball and the other kid from Jersey never looked back. He struck out nearly a batter and a half per inning in Low-A, then moved up to Palm Beach in August, making a handful of mostly good starts in High A before his twentieth birthday. His control suffered in his first taste of High A ball, as he nibbled against better, older hitters rather than continuing to attack, but even so he showed he wasn't completely overwhelmed by the experience. Reports on his velocity stayed consistent all season as well, as he maintained low-90s numbers throughout his first full season of pro ball despite the grind. The ceiling on Kaminsky is every bit as high as we thought when he was drafted; the only worry I really have about him at this point is whether he can stay healthy long term.

6.) Carson Kelly, C

When Kelly was drafted, he was a hyper-athletic third base prospect who showed tremendous raw power at times, but was very much a project with a capital P.

Three years later, Kelly is the top catching prospect in the Cardinals' system, a power-hitting backstop who, while inconsistent, showcased a wide base of talents in 2014 that bode well for his future. He has the arm strength and agility to make all the plays behind the plate, and his footwork did improve over the course of the season. He showed increased plate discipline, walking in almost 10% of his plate appearances, and maintained a very low strikeout rate of 13.7%, all while posting a .167 ISO, just a few points shy of his career-best mark in his debut season.

Kelly still has a ways to go as a catcher, but the improvements he made with the bat last season, combined with an ability to play behind the plate, puts him squarely among the most premium prospects in the system.

7.) Sam Tuivailala, RHP

The former shortstop prospect turned power-armed reliever showed off exactly why the Cardinals made the switch, putting him on the mound when his hitting failed to develop. He pitched at three levels in 2014, finishing the season with a stint in Triple A as the Redbirds made their postseason run, putting him just a short step away from the big leagues. He throws as hard as anyone in the system, touching triple digits on occasion and cruising easily at 97 mph with a fastball that actually moves, unlike the string-straight offerings of so many other fireballers. He struck out 14 in just 7.1 innings during his Memphis playoff run, and with any luck, he'll be plying his trade in St. Louis when the playoffs roll around this year.

8.) Chris Rivera, SS/2B

The other shortstop drafted by the Cardinals in the 2013 draft, four rounds after Oscar Mercado, Rivera put himself on the map just below his more celebrated stablemate with a power/speed combination that might remind some here of primo Tyler Greene. He hit eight homers in his first full season, stole thirteen bases, and showcased the kind of athleticism that could make him a premium defender at either middle infield position, though he lacks the shock and awe factor of Mercado at short.

Unfortunately, that Tyler Greene comparison comes with a downside, too, and Rivera certainly showed that off, as well, striking out over 26% of the time in 2014. The contact issues are very, very worrisome, as it's rare a player with such an elevated swing and miss rate can move up the ladder without that number soaring even higher. Still, the combination of glove, speed, and pop in the bat make Rivera an intriguing talent, albeit one with a rather huge red flag waving around above him.

9.) Nick Petree, RHP

At some point in time before he was drafted, someone called Nick Petree the "college version of Greg Maddux." John Sickels said he had the most overpowering 89 mph fastball you would ever see. I don't know if those things are true or not, but after the performance Petree turned in in 2014, I'm ready to concede pretty much anything to the Missouri State product.

Petree began the season with a 26 innings scoreless streak pitching for Peoria, struggled a bit mid-season, and then turned it around to finish strong, posting a 2.76 FIP for the year over two levels, limiting hitters to a .195 batting average against. The numbers speak for themselves, and the things they say about Petree are very, very, very good.

Of course, there's still the matter of the scouting side of things, and that's where Petree has his doubters. (And with good reason.) That 89 mph number on his velocity? That's closer to the top end of his range than the bottom, as he rarely pushes into the 90s with his heater. He throws all his pitches for strikes, and that's saying something, as he will work in a changeup, slider, cutter, curve, and occasionally another, different changeup throughout his outings, locating pretty much all of them wherever he wants. It's remarkable to watch, but until he does it at the highest level, there will always be concerns about his raw stuff just not being good enough to beat major league hitters.

10.) Ronald Castillo, OF

Castillo was an intriguing player coming into 2014, an extremely raw athlete whose tools far exceeded his present skills. He ended it with a bang, hitting three home runs on the last day of the season to finish with 21 to go along with an ISO of .244.

You might call Castillo the right-handed Oscar Taveras, if one were so inclined, though Castillo certainly doesn't have the inhuman hitting ability of the Cards' young monster. Nonetheless, Castillo strikes out less than you would think for a slugger of his pedigree (K rate of 17.3%), he takes very, very few walks (4.6% BB rate), and he has shown an ability to square up the baseball that just can't be taught (.312 batting average). You can't slap a 75 on his hit tool the way you can with Os the Great and Powerful, but the numbers look surprisingly similar.

Castillo took a big step forward offensively in 2014, but his defense is going to need plenty of time to develop. He has the arm for right field, but is strictly limited to corner spots by mediocre at best range. He's a huge physical specimen, standing 6'5", and he's just begun to really fill out. He may continue to get bigger and slow down; if he does, left field or first base may be his only positions down the road. For now, though, he moves well enough to play solidly in the outfield, and really, his bat is intriguing enough it doesn't much matter what position he plays.

********************

There's your scouting reports, everyone. I can hear footsteps on the stairs outside my rented room. I think I may have been found out. These players are the best the Cardinals have in 2015, and they will ultimately represent mankind's downfall. I beg of you, please don't let my future come to pass. Stop these players, and save humanity.

Or, I guess you could leave them alone and enjoy winning six more titles before the clones actually start killing humans in earnest. It was a pretty fun run.

Also, just FYI, there's a sex fad calling 'Jormping' that becomes popular sometime around 2017. Just don't do it. The intestinal trauma totally isn't worth it.

Future Baron, signing off.

And seriously, just pass on Jormping. It's....not good.

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