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baseball analysts' bryan smith weighed in on the cardinal farm system yesterday and went surprisingly easy on the organization:

For years, the Cardinals have floated near the bottom of Baseball America's organizational rankings. Last year, they were dead last. Simply put, Walt Jocketty does not put a lot of stock in minor leaguers, and the team has never had a great number of players from which to trade from. However, it does appear that, with a more college-oriented philosophy, the tide might be changing in St. Louis.

In 2004, Anthony Reyes had a modest start to the season in high-A before dominating the Southern League. And whatever potential he showed that year, Reyes proved to be for real in AAA, as well as limited Major League action last season. While the Cardinals haven't showed a ton of faith to give him a spot yet, they expect very high things down the road. Much further down the road lies much of the rest of the system. The Cardinals are very highly invested in their 2005 draft, which includes Rasmus, Greene, Mark McCormick, and Nick Stavinoha. We'll see how much of this is for real next season, but for the first time in awhile, there is reason for hope.

how much hope? jeff over at Brew Crew Ball has created a program to calculate MLEs, or major-league equivalents (if you're not familiar with the concept, here's a brief explanation), and he was kind enough to run the entire st louis organization for us. the link comes at the end of the post; caveats and qualifications as follows:
  • these numbers are not park adjusted. the cards' triple-a affiliate, memphis, plays in a pitcher's park; the double-a springfield team plays in a hitter's park. weigh accordingly.
  • the numbers are league-adjusted, which means that you can directly compare an MLE batting line from a hitters' league (like, say, the pcl) with one from a pitchers' league (e.g., the eastern league).
  • the lower the classification, the less accurate the numbers
  • the shorter the season, the less accurate the numbers. both johnson city and new jersey play short seasons (60 games or so), so regard those numbers with particular caution.

finally, remember that MLEs are not predictive tools; they don't purport to project what a player will do in the major leagues. but they do translate what a player has already done into a major-league context, so that you can use it to project a player's future just as you might use an actual major-league line.

let's take travis hanson as an example. his power unexpectedly emerged last year at double a; he hit 20 hr and slugged .458, earning a trip to the arizona fall league and a #7 ranking on baseball america's list of the cardinals' top prospects. all promising stuff. but then you check out his MLE, and you're looking at a 24-year-old third baseman with a .239 / .293 / .361 line. a 24-year-old third-baseman who actually compiled that line in the majors -- somebody like, say, the royals' mark teahen -- would not likely project as a big part of a team's future. he still might improve a little bit, but more than likely he goes the way of hector cruz, whose as a 23-year-old 3b back in 1976 put up MLB numbers slightly worse than hanson's MLE. cruz nonetheless managed to last 9 years and 1600 at-bats in the majors, but he never again held an everyday job. travis hanson probably never will, either.

i'm not trying to knock travis hanson, by the way; i'm merely attempting to illustrate how MLEs are intended to be used. at age 24, hanson is near the end of his development trajectory yet is still not a productive major-league hitter. we can take more encouragement from the MLEs for cody haerther. he is only 22 but already (combining his MLEs from palm beach and springfield) capable of hitting roughly .250 in the majors with an ops of almost .700 -- kind of like jeremy reed did last year for seattle at the same age. another player with an MLB line comparable to haerther's MLE was chris burke of houston -- but burke was 25 last year. by the time haerther is 25, he may very well have developed into a .280 hitter with an ops in the .750 to .800 range -- ie, producing at a level somewhere between so taguchi and jay gibbons. or so we may hope.

other batting MLEs of note: j-rod was a truly good hitter last year; john gall was not; chris duncan better step it up if he's gonna have a career (he's now 25); don't know what to make of hector luna. as for rick ankiel, it doesn't look -- well, see for yourself . . .

since pitchers develop so much differently from hitters, their MLEs (like their actual MLB lines) are subject to much interpretation. i'd have thought both reyes and wainwright would post better MLEs than they did; i do like reyes' and ty johnson's opp batting avgs. chris gissell and kevin jarvis both pitched well in 2005, and either might have given the cardinals 25 adequate starts in 2006; i think they've both left the organization. the springfield pitching lines should not be viewed without protective eyewear; even allowing for the park's strong pro-hitter tendencies, those are painful numbers to behold. mark worrell had a very promising year at palm beach; the rest of that staff still has some learning to do.

so, finally, to the numbers -- just click right here. once you get to the tables, if you want to see the actual (ie, un-MLE-adjusted) minor-league numbers for a given player, click on his name and his Baseball Cube page pops up.

jeff bcb, thanks a million -- you are a gentleman.