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Just the Right Bullets- the Minors

Ah, good morning! It's so very nice to see you again. How have you been? And the family? Delighted to hear it.

Look, I'm going to level with you all. I simply do not have the time, nor, honestly, the energy to cook up an elaborate intro on this lovely Wednesday morning. Thus, having said that, I shall dive directly in to the subject at hand, and trust that you, the El Vivi Birders reading public, come here for the meat of the content, rather than the flowery window dressing that I typically spend so very much of my time engineering. Anyhow, onward and upward.

Last week, I took a look at some of the Cardinals' best pieces of trade bait at the major league level. this week, I'm going to do the same thing, but focus on those players who are still in the minors. Of course, when it comes right down to it, pretty much every player in the minor leagues is trade fodder to a certain degree, so in order to keep this manageable, I'm going to work with maybe just the absolute most prominent six or eight players. And so, without further ado, here they are, folks. If the Cards make a deal this winter, chances are these are the names that will probably be involved.

Joe Mather- Last week, an astute poster pointed out that Mather probably should have been included in the majors, and he was right. Mather is no longer considered a rookie by MLB, due to the number of major league at bats he took in 2008, thus, one has to consider him as a major league outfielder.

The thing is, to me, Joey Bombs still just feels like a minor leaguer. I still think of him almost purely in terms of his possible future projection, rather than thinking of what he can do for the team right now. Regardless, though, Mr. Bombs is a major leaguer, whether he feels like one to me or not.

Mather offers excellent right handed power. His power isn't his only tool, but it is definitely his most notable. It has been said that Mather can play center field if need be, but I don't think that I would want to try and use him as the full time guy out there. Still, a corner outfielder with the kind of power and athleticism that Mather offers is nothing to sniff at. He still struggles a bit with good breaking balls, but showed a willingness to take a walk as he adjusted to major league pitching. I have to say, I think Mather, even with the injury that forced him to shut it down early this past season, offers a very nice value to a team looking for some youth, some defense, and big time pop.

Colby Rasmus- Ah, here's the big one. Whether it's in rumours for Jake Peavy or possibly being dangled for the impact bat that the manager so craves, Colby is the single most discussed prospect in all the Cardinals' system. And really, that is exactly as it should be, seeing as how Rasmus offers something that very few other players in the Cardinal system do: true impact potential.

Colby Rasmus is what is commonly referred to as a five tool player. He can hit, he can field, he can run, he can throw. The man can do it all. What he can't do, though, is get away from the fact that he just had a tough transition to Triple A in his first go 'round. Unfortunately, that also means that his value is probably depressed just a shade, compared to what it was, say, last offseason.

Still, Colby will be in the top 5 or 10 prospects in all of baseball heading into the 2009 season, as well he should. There aren't many teams out there that have a player of this caliber in their system; honestly, Colby is probably the best positional prospect the Cards have had since J.D. Drew. (I know, Albert, but Albert wasn't that big time a prospect. He's just a completely unique situation.)

Bottom line, if you're going to trade a Colby Rasmus, you had better get one hell of a return for him. When you look at the potential that Colby has, combined with the financial flexibility he allows, I personally have to come to the conclusion that there aren't more than a handful of players in all of baseball that would truly return good value for young Mr. Rasmus. Fortunately, it looks as if Mozeliak and the front office realise what they have.

Daryl Jones- Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Of course, we all know that the Cardinals are deep in the outfield, so this shouldn't come as any huge surprise.

Always a bundle of tools, Jones finally began to turn those tools into real production this year. He split the season between High A ball and Double A Springfield, and put up some eye popping numbers. At both levels, he put up on base percentages better than .400; particularly impressive for a player known to have plate approach issues. Combine his ability to get on base with his speed on the basepaths and solid gap type power, and it's easy to dream on players Jones could grow up to be.

Of course, it was the first good year Jones has had in the minors, to be perfectly frank. Teams may be willing to shoot the moon for Jones, looking at his tools and projecting him to be the next Curtis Granderson, but you could also see certain teams being a bit wary of Daryl, hoping to see more of this year's production before they give up anything too very meaningful for him.

Mitchell Boggs- With Jaime Garcia now on the shelf, Boggs probably becomes the Cardinals' best pitching prospect, offering the best combination of proximity to the majors, having already appeared with the big club last season, and projection remaining, with a repertoire that's heavy on power but could become even more impressive with some fine tuning.

The questions with Boggs, to be frank, pretty much all center around the fact that he really only has two pitches. The fastball is nice, with both velocity and movement, and he features a power curve as well, but that's pretty well where it ends. His changeup is iffy, and he throws a slider as well that just flat out doesn't do a whole lot. Even so, Boggs could easily end up a strong presence at the back end of a bullpen if starting doesn't work out. To me, Boggs offers a pretty strong value, particularly for a team looking for a swingman type. Just how much that's worth is an interesting question, of course, but my feeling is that Boggs should bring one very good, but not elite, prospect in return, if the Cardinals decided to move him.

Clayton Mortensen- Remember when we all thought that we would see Mort working out of the St. Louis bullpen by the end of the season? Back in spring training, the buzz was that Duncan had absolutely fallen in love with this tall drink of water, due to a power sinker that just chews up wood bats. Alas, it was not to be, and after being pushed up to Triple A due to injury, Mortensen struggled, lost his confidence a bit, and then struggled a bit more as he tried to right the ship.

I'm still very high on Mortensen, personally, but I think his trade value is a little bit iffy at the moment. Yes, he was in his first professional season and reached Triple A, but he was also a college senior when he was drafted, so he was older than most of his class already. His numbers at Memphis are ugly, with a nasty K/BB ratio that suggests a definite habit of nibbling when the going gets tough.

Most likely, Mortensen doesn't have enough value right now to make it worth moving him. Anything you could get would likely be pennies on the dollar when you look at his potential, rather than his less than stellar numbers this year. I don't think you can move him right now; instead, at least give him time to try and get established in Triple A before you even consider a deal involving this young man.

Jess Todd- Also known as Gozer the Gozarrian and, simply, the Destroyer, Jess Todd stomped through the minors this year like a a giant marshmallow nightmare as he made his way from afterthought in his college rotation to big time pitching prospect.

Todd blew through three levels of the minor leagues in 2008, and looked mighty impressive doing so. Teams love that kind of fast riser career arc, and by most accounts, Todd has the stuff to succeed at the highest levels, with an array of cutting, sinking, and straight fastballs to go along with a plus slider and a nasty little changeup.

In fact, probably the only things that keep Todd from being a big time prospect
 are his size (5'11"), and his delivery. His mechanics are definitely funky, and it's entirely possible that his delivery may limit him to a bullpen role down the road. Still, of all the Cards' prospests this season, Todd may have garnered the most buzz. That's certainly worth something in the trade market. How much, I'm not willing to speculate exactly, but he's certainly not anything to sneeze at.

Adam Reifer- One of the Cardinals' late round, 'upside' picks in last year's draft, Jeff Luhnow called Reifer the sleeper of the draft. So far, Luhnow looks like a friggin' genius on that one.

Pitching for short season Batavia, Reifer struck out over 31% of the hitters he faced this year. Just as importantly, he walked a little under 12%. Even more important than either of those things, though, is the fact that he managed to stay healthy this season. After suffering through elbow problems his junior year of college, Reifer looks to be back on track, as he remained sound all year.

When he's on, some scouts have gone so far as to rate Reifer's fastball a pure 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and his slider at least a 70. I don't care what level a guy plays at, the stuff doesn't lie. He even has a nasty little changeup, though he doesn't throw it all that often. There isn't much of a track record on Reifer, so he's probably not all that valuable at the moment. If he continues on the way he has so far, though, expect to see his name begin popping up all over prospect lists in the very near future.

Jason Motte- You only need to know one thing about Motte: 101.

That's the speed his fastball was repeatedly clocked at this year. He may not have much else going for him, but Motte can still throw the ball through a brick wall. Never have too many of those guys on your team.

Of course, other teams know perfectly well about Motte's less than impressive secondary pitches, and will probably hedge their bets accordingly. Still, there was talk of Motte for Ohman during the season, and I'm absolutely thrilled the Cards didn't pull the trigger on that deal. Moving a guy with Motte's stuff at the end of the game for a LOOGY just doesn't make much sense. He can probably do better for the Cards than what he could bring in trade. I fully expect them to hang on to Mr. Motte.

David Freese/ Allen Craig- I'm sticking these two together because, honestly, I'm not sure there's a better way to approach them. Both are third base prospects. In most organisations, a couple of prospeccts like these might look at the impending FA of Troy Glaus and assume that means there will be more opportunity to play ball, even start, than any of them ever expected there would be.

However, in the Cardinals' system, there just happens to be an elephant in the room; well, a Walrus, at least. Brett Wallace, the Cardinals' first round draft pick this season, is moving along at a ridiculous pace, and will likely push Freese and Craig both for playing time very, very soon. Sadly for them, they simply can't stand against the bat of the Walrus. Even is he can become just an adequate defender at third base, that really leaves no place for Freese and Craig to go; unless, of course, that place is in another organisation. Both players have outstanding bats, with Freese probably having the overall better base of tools, particularly when it comes to defense.

Overall, I think that at least one of the two of Freese and Craig almost has to be traded this offseason, if only to help ease the logjam of third sackers the Cardinals have at the top levels of the minors. There are only so many roster spots at Triple A, and nearly all of the Cards' minor league third basemen belong there.

Bryan Anderson- And so we come to the other big fish on the list. The only catcher on this list, Anderson presents us with a unique skillset.

Look, most of us know the story on Anderson by now. He bats from the left side. He hits over .300 pretty much by rolling out of bed. His defense is moving in the right direction. In short, Bryan Anderson is a special talent, and his value is pretty special as well.

For most of the time that Anderson has been in the Cardinals' system, I've been a staunch opponent of moving him. Catchers who can do the things he can are just too rare for me to be comfortable with him being shipped out. However, it is more and more obvious as time goes on that Anderson probably isn't going to get too very much of a chance here in St. Louis, rightly or wrongly. Yadier Molina is firmly entrenched, and Anderson simply has too much value to stick him at backup catcher. It seems the only way to get the proper value from his skills is, unfortunately, to trade him.

That makes Anderson officially the best trade piece the Cardinals possess. And he is a good one, make no mistake.

I think those are probably the best bullets the Cards have, at least in the minors. There are others, of course, but I don't think the others are nearly as attractive as these players right here. Even these, though, the cream of the crop, still have significant questions attached to many of them. If anything, this should serve to illustrate, quite succinctly, that even though the Cardinals' farm system has made absolute quantum leaps forward under Jeff Luhnow's skilled stewardship, there is still a long way to go before the Cards have a system the like of Boston, or Tampa Bay, or even the Atlanta ballclub. Can the Cardinals afford to make a big time deal? Of course they can. The question is, should they?