An odd headline today at the P-D's baseball portal: Cardinals place eighth in another publication's prospect rankings! But for anyone who remembers Carmen Cali's mythical mid-90s fastball or the John Gall years, the Cardinals breaking into the top ten organizations according to Baseball America is cause for dancing in the streets, or a fist-pump at your desk.
Much is made, now, of the transformational 2005 draft, which produced Colby Rasmus, Chris Perez, Tyler Herron, Daryl Jones, Bryan Anderson, Mitch Boggs, and the immortal Wil Pujols, so I thought it might be edifying to take a look at what the Cardinals' top ten prospects looked like that year. And it was, in the same way that people who had serious drug problems in the sixties go around visiting high schools and telling bright-eyes youths not to make the same mistakes they did.
1. Anthony Reyes -- 15th Round, 2003
... I don't want to talk about it. It should be said, at least, that Reyes was not considered a weak number one prospect; this Cardinals list got hammered not for its front-line talent but for what passed for prospects as soon as you got down past five, as you'll see in a minute. That was a gorgeous AA line he put up, with no minor league experience, and he would continue to flash absurd K:BB ratios all the way up through the minors to the part I don't want to talk about.
2. Adam Wainwright -- acquired from Braves
2004, you'll remember, was Wainwright's first year in the system; I can remember looking at a top prospects list leading up to 2004 with Wainwright on it—the only Cardinals rep, of course—and thinking that that was all well and good, but they still couldn't do it themselves. Then he went and had this truncated, unattractive Memphis debut after having three years in a row that could pass, superficially, for really nice MLB lines.
Up until the moment he became an excellent relief pitcher I remember being unconvinced that he would ever do anything; his struggles upon moving from Atlanta to St. Louis seemed inevitable and unalterable.
Alright. Up to this point this seems like a passable system. Reyes was an extremely exciting pitcher with vague injury concerns, and Wainwright, the year before, was among the best pitching prospects in the league. They're not quite Colby and the Fat Man, as far as one-two prospect punches go, but they'll do. This is the part of Space Mountain where it seems like you're just coasting around leisurely and then all of a sudden there's a huge cliff:
3. Blake Hawksworth -- draft and follow, 2001
That's right. The Cardinals' #3 prospect in 2005 was a guy who pitched two games and then tore his labrum. Hawksworth's position on the valuable prospect <--> cool name continuum wasn't quite so lopsided at this point, but this is the kind of guy that the New Look Cardinals are apparently no longer reliant upon—Jaime Garcia is, according to Derrick Goold, no longer a top ten prospect. The Old Look Cardinals just had nobody else. The nobodies continue:
4. Chris Lambert -- first round pick, 2004
No charts, Spreadsheet Boy! No charts!
Oh, god, this is—it's really awkward. If you've been reading me long enough you might be aware of a problem I had with my host last year, wherein some unpatched server vulnerability led to Chris Lambert's ghost possessing my website and hijacking discussions about rotation construction and promised site updates.
We had a nice thing... if you like terror!
He goes away if you just avoid eye contact. Anyway... he's probably here to talk about how his corporeal form, doomed to haunt mid-sized American cities for the rest of eternity, made a few appearances for the Detroit Tigers last year after a pretty nice season with the Toledo Mudhens.
It's two words!
Right—the Toledo Mud Hens. Anyway, in 2004 Lambert, that rare mix of unpolished stuff with college age, had nine good starts with Palm Beach and looked to be a pretty decent first round draft choice. His starring role in the 2004 Draft Debacle wouldn't be realized until later, and—
Are you done? I've really gotta get going.
Oh. Well, uh, I guess. You're not going to boast about your win against the Twins, or anything?
I'm the swingman... of spook! No, I really have to get going. I just wanted to say congrats on the VEB gig, and, ah, I'll be haunting you later. The phone call was from inside the house, and all that. Take care.
5. Stu Pomeranz, second round, 2003
Stu Pomeranz was a weird, weird prospect. This was probably his best year, but for the next two he made prospect lists because of one attribute, and one attribute alone: he was really young for his league. Here, at least, he was striking people out, but in 2005 he made an ill-advised leap to AA, where he stagnated for two years, and even though he was basically pitching like Joel Pineiro the whole time he made the lists because he was struggling in AA instead of thriving in the Midwest League.
I like Tyler Herron, who at this very moment is struggling to make the top thirty in Goold's public polls right now, more than I ever liked Pomeranz, but they're similar kinds of prospects. And this guy was fifth.
You'll notice we haven't seen a position player yet. These next five guys are what passed for depth underneath that great MV3 team. They're best taken all at once.
6. Swingman with a minor league innings streak
7. Utility infielder
8. Inexplicably successful slugger with no minor league track record
9. Toronto Blue Jays talisman and AAAA outfielder
10. LOOGY with a fastball that could go 95 mph but only if nobody was looking at it.
We've come a long way.