Palm Beach Storylines

James Ramsey points to the sky a lot in pictures. - Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

The Palm Beach Cardinals (high-A) have a fun group of hitters who have been performing well, an underrated starting pitcher, and a left-handed reliever who has been outstanding to date.

This group of hitters at Palm Beach has made for very gratifying DFR writing, as all of the major cast members (Ramsey, Piscotty, Garcia, and Walsh) have either met or exceeded expectations. The team seems a little light on pitching to me, but Sam Gaviglio deserves more attention and Lee Stoppelman has been crazy good.

Can James Ramsey keep this up?

James Ramsey's professional debut did not make for a good first impression. First, we were underwhelmed when the Cardinals made him the 23rd overall pick in last year's draft. Then we were confused about how he was able to demand such a large signing bonus as a college senior. And so it was pretty easy to get down on Ramsey when he performed so terribly (.309 wOBA, .086 ISO) in his first turn at Palm Beach.

How quickly things can change. Ramsey has met the new season by combining a terrific walk rate (15.7%) with an above average strikeout rate (15.7%) while sprinkling in a few extra base hits for good measure (4 doubles, 2 triples, and 1 home run). His patience is in line with 2012 but his strikeouts have decreased by eight percent. All of that adds up to a stellar .472 wOBA in 70 plate appearances. It could be only a matter of time before he gets promoted to Springfield, assuming he keeps this up once he returns from the DL (hamstring).

How does Stephen Piscotty look in right field?

Stephen Piscotty committed 22 errors in 36 games at third base for Quad Cities, and so he was moved to RF upon his arrival to high-A. Defensive troubles aside, Piscotty impressed in 2012 by rarely striking out (10.5%) and hitting for a high average, though his power may have been a little on the light side considering his new position as a corner outfielder. PIscotty's first 56 plate appearances for Palm Beach have included more power (3 home runs and 3 doubles) and more contact (only 3 strikeouts). Chris King of Baseball Prospectus saw him play recently and came away very impressed (subscription only) with both his offensive and defensive play.

Can Anthony Garcia strike out less?

Prospect lists were split on Anthony Garcia. While he did not appear on top-10 lists at Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus, or FanGraphs' top-15, Garcia snuck inside the top-10 for both lists featured at SB Nation (Minor League Ball and Future Redbirds). Garcia's .879 OPS for Quad Cities sounds especially exciting when you consider that the Midwest League's average OPS was .705 in 2012. Opinions on Garcia probably diverge when the conversation turns to his strikeout rate, which spiked upon reaching single-A last season (24.1%). His arrival in Palm Beach has brought a new season but old result in that he leads the team in home runs (4), isolated slugging percentage (.246), and strikeout rate (27.7%). The good news is that he's age appropriate for his league (21 in high-A) and still has time to make adjustments.

Does Colin Walsh's just-swing-harder tactic have staying power?

Colin Walsh is such an intriguing prospect to me. Prior to the 2012 season, Walsh decided to start swinging harder and immediately increased his isolated slugging percentage by 75 points in a repeat season at Quad Cities. Even better, his strikeout rate (15%) stayed the same and he continued to walk at a well-above average rate. Then the organization gave him the now-standard-treatment of being converted from the outfield to second base. Since then, he's been striking out a little more often (28.2% in the AFL and 21.7% so far in high-A), but those are small samples, so let's hope they don't point to a larger trend of being exploited at higher levels of competition. Even while making less contact, his wOBA has stayed near .400, so he's still been enjoying positive results when he does put the ball in play. I profiled Colin Walsh last October, so click here if you're interested in reading more about him.

How many ground balls can Sam Gaviglio generate?

In his first full season, Sam Gaviglio displayed two noteworthy skills. He limited walks (5.3% BB-rate) and kept the ball on the ground (58%). Even if he missed Future Redbirds' top-20 prospect list, these two skills were enough to convince azruavatar that he should have been included. Factor in his average ability to miss bats (20% K-rate), and you get a very appealing strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.77. We'll see if he can do it again at a higher level where he has seen a dip in strikeouts, increase in walks, and ten percent fewer ground balls in 22 innings thus far.

Might the system develop a left-handed reliever?

The Cardinals have reliably produced homegrown relievers for many years now. And when they don't have an obvious relief candidate, they have skillfully dropped future starting pitchers into the bullpen (e.g. Wainwright, Lynn, Rosenthal). However, the Cardinals' farm system has not been able to produce a left-handed reliever lately, hence the trade for Marc Rzepczynski, experiments with Raul Valdez, Arthur Rhodes, Brian Tallet, Brian Fuentes, J.C. Romero, and the eventual three-year deal given to Randy Choate.

Enter Lee Stoppelman. Not only does he have a pretty fantastic name for a pitcher, but he also posted eye-popping numbers last season in Batavia after being drafted in the 24th round. Stoppelman struck out 35% of the batters he faced in 34.1 innings while only walking 5%. He didn't surrender any long balls and only allowed three earned runs all season. He's continued to punch out 30% of batters faced in his first twelve innings at high-A.

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