Somewhere between Shelby Miller being named the fifth starter out of spring training and Kevin Siegrist morphing into a viable bullpen option, the farm system became the pipeline the Cardinals always dreamed of, but did that leave minor league games a lot less interesting? Half of Future Redbirds' top-twenty prospects have already played for St. Louis this season, and six are either still there (Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, Seth Maness), on the DL (John Gast), or out of the organization (Maikel Cleto).
With Oscar Taveras on the disabled list again (sad violin) and Tyrell Jenkins having joined him (back strain), I can see how one might believe there isn't much to keep an eye on, but that would be a mistake. Just in case you fall into this category, I thought I'd provide a quick rundown of the intrigue mounting at each level.
For the sake of brevity - the word count on this post is creeping ever closer to 1500 and I'm no where near finished - I've decided to split this up into a two-part series with the next installment appearing next week. Otherwise, I'm tempted to skip over players worthy of mentioning. I'll cover the top three levels of the system today and the lower three (Peoria, State College, and Johnson City) next week.
Memphis' six man rotation has some really interesting talents who the Cardinals may need to rely on later in the season depending on what happens at the trade deadline. Four of the six starting pitchers (Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Tyler Lyons, and Boone Whiting) ranked in our top-twenty prospects. Three of them have already made their major league debut.
Should the Cardinals need help in the rotation soon, Carlos Martinez could be the next call. In his first eight starts in triple-A (41 innings), Martinez has a 1.98/3.13 ERA/FIP and 57% ground ball rate. It's been good to see the organization continue to project him as a starting pitcher despite some pundits' belief that he's destined for the bullpen. His numbers have argued otherwise all throughout the minors.
Michael Wacha has been less dominant but his 2.71/3.85 ERA/FIP is still pretty good. That he has generated so few grounders (35%) makes me wonder how much he has been using his fastball down there. Wacha has found mixed results in his first two starts after being demoted from St. Louis. While he's punched out fifteen batters and walked just one in 10.1 innings, he's also allowed sixteen hits and seven runs, so he probably still has some learning to do down there.
Tyler Lyons has made three starts since being demoted to Memphis. In twenty-two innings, he has struck out twenty-two and only allowed three runs on five hits and four walks. Boone Whiting has not pitched as poorly as his ERA suggests, but his slight downturn in strikeouts (23%) and increase in walks (11%) has been enough to cut his K/BB in half relative to his career.
Memphis' infield houses three more of our top-20 prospects in Kolten Wong, Greg Garcia, and Ryan Jackson. While
capable all-star second-baseman Matt Carpenter has made us less anxious for Kolten Wong's arrival, it's nice to know he's reasserted himself after fading in the second half last season. And then there's Greg Garcia and Ryan Jackson, both of whom could presumably out-hit Pete Kozma right now, though they may or may not be as sure-handed in the field as Pete Kozma, depending on who you ask.
Tommy Pham is playing baseball again, just like we hoped he would. Pham has totaled two hundred plate appearances for the first time since 2010 when he initially took double-A by storm. Finally healthy, Pham earned a promotion to Memphis after picking up where he left off three years ago by posting a .400 wOBA in Springfield. He has yet to surge in Memphis but he's on the field now, which means he has a chance, and that's all we've been asking for these past several years.
Lastly, the minor league veterans stationed at Memphis have been more than just roster-filler. In terms of isolated slugging, Jamie Romak and Brock Peterson rank first and fourth in all of the Pacific Coast League (PCL). Peterson leads the PCL with twenty home runs while Romak's seventeen homers are tied for second. Their age makes them easy to dismiss, but if the Cardinals find themselves wanting to add right-handed power options to the bench, could they do much better via trade without parting with valued prospects?
Springfield is where some of our better position player prospects are stationed. Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey both earned call-ups after successful turns in Palm Beach. Piscotty has already hit two home runs and two doubles in less than forty plate appearances for Springfield. Piscotty hasn't walked much in his minor league career, but I'm encouraged by his ability to hit for contact (10% K-rate) and generate extra bases (15 homers, 33 doubles, and 3 triples in 539 plate appearances). Meanwhile, Ramsey has been holding his own at Springfield for a longer period of time with overall production (.343 wOBA) that is sixteen percent above league average despite an increase in strikeouts (25%).
Did you know that we have our very own three-true-outcome (TTO) hero in Xavier Scruggs? Scruggs either strikes out (32.1%), walks (15.1%), or hits a home run (6.7%) in more than half of his plate appearances. In fact, his TTO percentage (54%) leads the Texas League.
In what could be his last chance at starting, Seth Blair is doing something he's never done before, which is walk fewer batters than league average. Blair deserves credit for lowering his walk rate from twelve percent (career) to seven percent, but his overall numbers are still pretty underwhelming (4.81/4.39 ERA/FIP), so it's natural to wonder how the 2010 compensation pick for Mark DeRosa might fair if used in shorter bursts out of the bullpen.
Tim Cooney's peripherals are out-pacing his results as his 2.87 FIP is much more appetizing than the 4.19 ERA. Cooney is pairing a very low walk rate (5%) with above-average strikeouts (24%). It's fair to wonder if he can continue to miss so many bats given more modest rates (below 20%) at Batavia and Palm Beach though he has now pitched more innings at Springfield than any other level. If I'm not mistaken, Cooney has been the fastest moving non-Wacha starting pitcher from 2012's draft class.
Palm Beach Cardinals
Anthony Garcia has turned a corner. That much is clear, as I wrote last week. In June, Garcia smashed seven home runs, eight doubles, and one triple in seventy plate appearances, which was good for an eye-popping .450 isolated slugging percentage. Garcia's offense has been stifled by an abysmal May and Palm Beach's harsh conditions at home (.591 OPS compared to .873 OPS on road). Overall, Garcia's production has been slightly above league average, so it will be interesting to see if he can rally throughout the rest of the season.
Other intriguing offensive names include Starlin Rodriguez and Colin Walsh. Rodriguez has rebounded offensively after being demoted from Springfield, where he struggled to meet league average expectations. Interestingly, the Cardinals decided to shift him from second base to center field upon his return to Palm Beach. The guy playing second base? Colin Walsh, who the Cardinals are pushing at the position even though he used to play third and the outfield. Walsh has lost some power this year but remains valuable thanks to a strong walk rate (14%) and above-average contact (15% K-rate).
Zachary Petrick, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, has been converted to a starting pitcher. The results have been outstanding so far, as Petrick has pitted fifteen strikeouts against just one walk in sixteen innings over his first three starts. Petrick earned a promotion from the bullpen by striking out nearly thirty percent of the batters he's faced while walking fewer than five percent, both of which are elite rates.