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a tour of the farm

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wainwright can start throwing --- that’s bueno. if all goes well, the post-dispatch says, he will advance to "more aggressive workouts" (throwing off a mound, presumably) after the all-star break, ie on or around july 15; still looks like he wouldn’t be game-ready before august 1, and that might be pushing it --- which is the last thing i want wainwright to do. the temptation is surely there; he’s sick of sitting around, the team needs him, and he’s got a competitor’s mentality. there’s a danger that he’ll try to rush back out there prematurely and pitch through gritted teeth, either risking a reinjury or performing at a diminished level. if i sound like a nervous nellie here, it’s because we’ve seen this sort of thing happen before --- rolen in ’05, mulder and izzy in ’06, edmonds last year. they all tried to play through injuries and / or come back from them too quickly, and in every case it ended up setting them --- and, more important, the team --- back.

get well soon, adam --- but above all, get well.

i don’t write about the minor-league system very often anymore; between Future Redbirds and our own red baron, that territory is very well covered. but i do still pay close attention. coming off the open date, this seems like a good day for me to toss out a few disjointed thoughts about the state of the system.

one exercise i like to do is to gauge how many players are currently in the system who seem likely to have a major-league career that lasts for at least 5 years. in my opinion, a 5-year career is a damn successful one. it doesn’t mean you’re an all-star, but it means you’re more than a warm body --- it means you’ve got enough ability to make a contribution. a system that can routinely produce such players is a healthy one, imho --- yeah, you’ve got to produce some stars too, but if you produce enough 5-year big-leaguers i figure you’ll get your share of stars out of that. if we look back 5 years, to 2003, we find the following prospects in the cardinal farm system who either are, or have a chance to become, 5-year big-leaguers:

    triple A
    so taguchi
    dan haren

    double A
    yadi molina
    skip schumaker
    tyler johnson

    high A
    chris duncan

    short-season A
    brendan ryan
    joe mather

    rookie ball
    daric barton

this list omits demoted big-leaguers who looking for a second chance (e.g., rick ankiel or wilson delgado). it also doesn’t count short-term big-leaguers such as bo hart, john gall, etc etc. taguchi’s a special case, of course --- a japanese free-agent signing, not really a farm-system product. this is a pretty short and unimpressive group of players --- right in line w/ the experts’ opinion back then that the cardinal system ranked among the bottom 3 or 4 in the game. only 4 of the guys seem certain to last for five years --- haren, molina, duncan, and barton. schumaker probably will get there, and taguchi is currently in his 5th year if we want to count him as a farm-system "product." but even if we count him, and everybody else on the list reaches 5 years, that is only 9 players --- out of the 150+ who were in the system at the time.

now let’s take a look at the system today. here are the strongest candidates, in my opinion:

    triple A
    colby rasmus
    bryan anderson
    joe mather
    jaime garcia
    clay mortensen
    mitch boggs
    jason motte
    mike parisi

    double A
    john jay
    jess todd
    tyler herron
    fernando salas
    adam ottavino

    high A
    tyler henley
    daryl jones

    low A
    pete kozma
    brett wallace
    nick additon

i’ll just stop there. this is far from a comprehensive list --- undoubtedly i’ve overlooked somebody, and there are other guys who don’t look like big-leaguers at this moment but will put it together. it doesn’t include guys like mark worrell, who appear to me to be no better than fringe big-leaguers; it also doesn’t include the lower levels of the system, which definitely include some important prospects.

of the players listed above, i have to think no fewer than 4 of the memphis players will go on to have decent big-league careers --- rasmus, anderson, plus pick any 2 pitchers. pick any 5 from the players at double A or below --- mine would be todd, henley, kozma, wallace, and jay. that would make 9 guys --- plus whoever emerges from the rookie levels, plus chris perez and kyle mcclellan (who already graduated to the big leagues this year). conservatively speaking, there might be as many as 15 five-year big-leaguers in the system at this moment --- at least twice the likely haul from the system of 2003. i have no idea whether 15 is a good number or not, relative to other organizations; within this organization, it’s a big improvement over the past.

here’s a quick look at a few guys i’m keeping an eye on who are under the radar:

  • tyler henley, whom azruavatar recently called "the most impressive position player thus far from the 07 draft," has been hurt this year and only has about 150 plate appearances. but his line is impressive for a cf in his first full year of pro ball --- .287 / .356 /.481 in a hitter’s park / league. baseball prospectus translates that into a .256 / .313 / .451 major-league line, ie almost league-average. an 8th rounder out of rice, he plays center field and is said to have a football player’s mentality; think lenny dykstra. i hope we get a chance to see him at double A before the summer is out.
  • the only hitter from last year’s draft class who has hit as well as henley is steven hill, taken in the 13th round out of stephen f. austin. he was good enough to handle full-season competition last year, posting an .816 ops at quad cities; his line at springfield this year translates to .270 / .298 / .470. those are decent enough numbers, but less so when you consider that hill is confined mainly to 1b / corner of; he can catch a little, but not enough (apparently) to play the position full-time. he also has a terrible bb/so split --- 3 walks, 31 strikeouts. unless he learns to catch well enough to hold down that position, his fine hitting (he has an overall OPS of almost .900 since joining the organization last year) probably won’t get him to the big leagues.
  • anybody know anything about marc diapoules? he’s noteworthy to me mainly because the kid has advanced to high A ball at only 20 years of age. he had a decent k/bb and good gb ratio at quad cities; was just promoted to plam beach a week or so ago.
  • FR has been keeping an eye on an even more exciting young pitching prospect, richard castillo, who got to high A at the age of 19. he was pitching mostly in relief there; is now back down at low A to stretch out his arm for starting duty. he came out of the cards’ venezuelan development program and is said to throw a wicked curve; the stats look great so far, but the guy is tiny for a ballplayer (165 pounds). definitely worth paying attention to.
  • mark shorey, a 2006 draftee who advanced two levels last year to reach double A at the age of 22, has heated up w/ the weather. since june 1 he’s batting .333 w/ a slugging avg close to .600. on the season he’s at .292 / .352 / .475; sort of the new cory haerther, a decent hitter who needs to add just a little more power to become an interesting player. i’m keeping an eye out to see if he stays hot the rest of this year.
  • last spring jeff luhnow was excited about a 34th-round draftee out of the university of houston named isa garcia. he had torn up rookie ball in ’06, but the kid struggled at palm beach last year and posted a .653 ops. this year he spent the early months either on the dl or at extended spring training; whatever he did, it agreed w/ him, as he has advanced to double A and is showing improved power at the plate. he still lacks discipline --- just 1 walk in his first 84 at-bats at double A --- but with jose martinez struggling this year and kozma moving slowly through the ranks, the middle infield is wide open at the higher levels. garcia’s taking advantage. probably not a big-leaguer, but you never know.
  • a couple of the cards’ brand-new draftees are off to very good professional starts. niko vasquez, the 3d-rounder, is tearing up the appalachian league so far with a .929 ops --- good power, good batting eye, albeit with a large ## of strikeouts. he is only 19 and has a high ceiling. and the cards’ fifth-rounder, jermaine curtis (3d baseman out of ucla), has a .918 ops in his first 15 games at short-season A. both are exciting players w/ tools.
  • the cards’ next-to-last selection in the draft last month, 49th-rounder adam veres, is off to a nice little start --- 1 walk, 18 strikeouts in his first 11 professional innings. but he has yielded 2 homers . . . . .
  • a pair of former first-round pitchers reached double A this year and are taking their licks. tyler herron got promoted to springfield in may and hasn’t fared so well --- strikeout rate is down, gb/fb is down, hr rate is up. left-handed batters are murdering him (.359 average). adam ottavino struggled mightily with his control early in the year --- walked nearly a batter an inning during the first two months. since june 1 he has cut the walks to 3 a game and maintained an era below 4, but he’s got a lot left to prove.
  • even worse news for a strong-armed pitcher out of last year’s draft. brett zawacki, a high-schooler taken in the 12th round, didn’t pitch professionaly last year and has a 7.24 era so far this year at johnson city. the guy chosen right before him, adam reifer, also made his pro debut this spring; he’s pitching out of the bullpen at batavia and has struck out 10 of the first 25 men to face him. one bad inning has ruined his era, but the foundational numbers look ok so far (it’s only been 6 innings . . . )

that’s all; hope you found something of interest in there. i’ll be back w/ a game thread this afternoon.