Carlos Martinez is between the Cardinals' rotation and 2014 Top Prospect lists

Dilip Vishwanat

For various unknowable reasons, Carlos Martinez has become the St. Louis Cardinals other top prospect.

In the St. Louis Cardinals' defense, Carlos Martinez is younger than Michael Wacha. Just two months, but it would have at least given them something to say when it came time to explain how Wacha's promotion was to the rotation, and a cause for both celebration and hand-wringing, while Martinez's had been to the bullpen, and then to the back of the bullpen.

When it comes time to explain how monumentally crowded and weird the Cardinals' rotation was through the first half of the season, that will be the example you want to use: Carlos Martinez, one of the top prospects in baseball, was called up at 21 and not only didn't make the rotation but on several occasions sat in the bullpen for days at a time. Eventually he was sent down, and fell behind not only Wacha but Tyler Lyons, John Gast, and Joe Kelly on the depth chart of a team that was fully prepared to start Tyler Lyons and John Gast.

The Cardinals are an enormous and well-run organization, so it's probably not appropriate to say that Martinez has been lost in the shuffle—they know where he is, and he's probably there for a reason. It isn't that he's been left behind, either; he's in the AAA rotation, and if the Cardinals need to pull someone else from there he's probably as likely as Wacha to get the call, so long as they're both still pitching well.

He just hasn't been used yet. In a season that's seen the Cardinals squeeze everything they can out of so many of their pitching prospects—not just Miller and Lyons and Gast but Seth Maness and the parade of relievers, Keith Buler and Michael Blazek and Kevin Siegrist—Carlos Martinez is the lone prospect who's been under-utilized.

It's a luxury, I guess, and one the Cardinals are just barely able to provide themselves. Martinez has more professional experience than Michael Wacha, but he actually threw fewer innings last year; 104, spread out across 22 tentative starts, compared to 113 college innings and 21 professional ones for Wacha. Before this season, he'd gone seven innings in a start once in his career.

And now—well, now he's done it twice, as of the dominant start Joe Strauss saw on Sunday.

Which leaves us wondering just where Martinez is in the Cardinals' plans right now, having returned to the rotation and pitched well. Strauss infers that he's ahead of Wacha from the Cardinals' willingness to put him in a five-man rotation more often, although Derrick Goold has a different explanation. Meanwhile, Joe Kelly and even Tyler Lyons are probably ahead of both of them, in any short-term situation.

It could be that Martinez's initial promotion—coming after an abbreviated spring training and with a clear reluctance to get too used to having him around—said more about the Cardinals' desperation in the moment than it did Carlos Martinez. Whether it did or didn't, I think it's probably the best way to understand the Cardinals' Carlos Martinez situation. Just forget he was ever a dust-gathering member of the bullpen, and watch him total up strikeouts in AAA Memphis, and wait.

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