Last week, I highlighted some questions to ponder for Memphis, so I thought it worthwhile to extend the exercise to Springfield and, eventually, the rest of the farm system. While Springfield lost two big names in Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong, it still has a promising Carlos Martinez, a tantalizing Thomas Pham, and a slew of under the radar types including Boone Whiting, Starlin Rodriguez, and Mike O'Neill.
How long can Carlos Martinez be contained?
Carlos Martinez's return to double-A seems like a temporary assignment caused by the unfortunate visa issues that delayed his return to the states and prevented him from accepting an invitation to major league spring training. My first post here at the VEB-edition of Future Redbirds focused on Martinez and how Cardinals fans shouldn't forget about him in the midst of all of the other exciting arms graduating to the big leagues.
Despite a short stint on the disabled list for shoulder tendinitis, Martinez was promoted to Springfield last season after improving his peripherals (24.1% K-rate and 7.1% BB-rate) over 33 innings for Palm Beach (high-A). An oddity of a prospect who favored his offspeed pitches, Martinez eventually found the right mix of fastballs and added a sinker that helped generate more groundballs (57.4% for Springfield compared to 48.4% for Palm Beach). While the grounders were encouraging, his strikeout and walk rates fell to league average levels, so room for improvement exists. It will be exciting to see what kind of impact Martinez can have should he get adopted by the major league bullpen at some point this season.
Will Boone Whiting change any minds?
No one seems to be very excited about Boone Whiting. While some of that is due to a 2012 season mostly lost to injury, he continued posting excellent numbers in his return and snuck onto the end of our top prospect list for the second straight season.
Someone with Whiting's stuff - which is basically an outstanding changeup that compensates for underwhelming velocity - better have convincing results. In 35 innings across three levels last season, Whiting posted a 24.4% K-rate and 3.7% BB-rate (2.31/2.29 ERA/FIP), peripherals that were mostly in line with his success at Quad Cities in 2011. He proceeded to strike out 30% of the batters he faced in the AFL. He's just the kind of guy who's going to have to keep producing in order to be taken seriously. So far, so good in 2013. After three starts and 16 innings, Whiting has an ERA/FIP of 1.69/1.83 thanks to excellent strikeout (28.3%) and walk (5%) rates.
What can Starlin Rodriguez do in the Texas League?
We ranked Rodriguez as the Cardinals' 16th best prospect prior to this season. I excluded him from my personal top-20 list because I felt like too much of his success relied on an unsustainable batting average on balls in play. That being said, his isolated power (.142) was well above average for the Florida State League, so it's not like he was just swatting singles. Considering that he plays a middle infield position, I'm ready to admit that I underrated him. The Texas League is a much friendlier run scoring environment, so it will be interesting to see what kind of numbers Starlin can generate there.
Can Thomas Pham stay healthy?
Pham has to be one of the most exciting stories of 2013. We've all been waiting for him to have a healthy season forever. Maybe not literally forever, but he was drafted in 2006, so that's pretty close in prospect years. While Pham has flashed some promising numbers for Springfield, he's only accumulated 393 plate appearances in four seasons there because of injuries that have included his left hand and right shoulder. A heavy dose of skepticism is warranted given his problems staying on the field but his slash line (.299/.378/.523/.901 AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS) for Springfield is too enticing to dismiss completely, especially when factoring in his defense and speed. Pham's extra base hits have included two doubles, five triples, and two home runs in a mere 55 plate appearances thus far in 2013.
Jeff posted a more complete profile of Pham last week. Be sure to read it.
What can Mike O'Neill do at the next level?
Offensively, Mike O'Neill is good for two things: avoiding strike outs (7% minor league K-rate) and walking (15% minor league BB-rate). Those are two very desirable traits but his complete lack of power leaves him with a long and challenging path to St. Louis, especially for a player that's been relegated to corner outfield positions. Start looking at his numbers, though, and it's hard not to be a little intrigued. O'Neill's two skills are advanced enough that his OPS has been consistently elevated above .850 and his wOBA above .400. His ability to keep this up will probably depend on whether or not his success on balls in play remain at usually unsustainable levels. O'Neill is a fun player to root for given his unique tool set and size (5'9''). I'm hoping he defies the odds.