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Prospect lists, rookie performance

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At Future Redbirds they're unveiling their yearly Top 20 list of Cardinals prospects—here in the distant past, where I'm writing this post, I only have access to the 20-16 section, but they could well have released the next set by the time you read this. 

I'm especially interested in this year's prospect lists because in 2010 the Cardinals finally graduated several members of the old guard. Looking at FR's Top 20 for 2010, the Cardinals played Jon Jay (12), Tyler Greene (10), David Freese (7), Allen Craig (6), and Jaime Garcia (2), while getting a full season out of the still-eligible Blake Hawksworth (16) and Major League cameos from Adam Ottavino (19), Bryan Anderson (13), and Daniel Descalso (8). 

By (b)WAR the Cardinals' production by players with prospect-list eligibility was 3.4, the positive players' 5.7 brought down primarily by Ottavino and Hawksworth combining for a Lohsian WAR of -2.1. As small as that seems when we spend all offseason hoping for two-WAR guys to slot into league-average roles, it's the Cardinals' highest total in some time.


WAR +WAR -WAR
2010 3.4 5.7 (Garcia, Freese) -2.1 (Ottavino, Hawksworth)
2009 2.0 4.5 (Rasmus, Hawksworth) -2.5 (Motte, Walters)
2008 -2.0 1.3 (Mather, Motte) -3.6 (Boggs, Parisi)
2007 0.7 2.7 (Ryan, Schumaker) -2.0 (Cavazos, Jimenez)
2006 3.7 4.8 (Duncan, Wainwright) -1.1 (Johnson, Schumaker)

This sudden increase in productivity is good news for a Cardinals team that's completely reliant on it in the wake of their decision to build around Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols—Unfortunately for us and them, of course, there's no top prospect to graduate this year, which should end their impressive two year run. The other thing that interests me on this list is just how much overlap there is between the positive rookies of one year and the negative rookies of the next.

It shows just how much a player's deficiencies can be masked in a brief audition, as in Hawksworth's debut as a star set-up man, or how value can vanish in a touted rookie season, as in Motte's debute as an extremely hittable set-up man. Thanks to limited playing time and the very definition of the term we're dealing with small deviations from replacement level. 

At the back of this year's list I expect Allen Craig (-0.1), who remains on some prospect lists, to step forward, especially if Lance Berkman struggles to stay healthy. With Skip Schumaker presumably on some kind of leash, Daniel Descalso is also in a position to jump to the top of the positive list.

As for next year's negative rookies, you'll notice that they're almost entirely pitchers—either pitchers who aren't ready or pitchers who were probably never ready, categorical replacement-level types. If Kyle Lohse goes down Lance Lynn could well find himself on the negative 2010 list and the positive 2011 list; one of the relief prospects, Eduardo Sanchez or Casey Mulligan or Adam Reifer or, god forbid, Francisco Samuel, could also find himself on the roster a little early, which could lead either to a stirring, Mottian debut or a restless, Mottian rookie season. 

My favorite sleeper pick for significant positive contribution in 2011 is Matt Carpenter, who could have a Jon Jay-like debut if Freese's legs continue to betray him. There's a lot in front of him—besides Freese he'd have to pass Craig and Descalso for the interim-starter job—but I can imagine Tony La Russa falling in love very quickly with a disciplined left-handed hitter with doubles power. Past him, I still think Mark Hamilton could be Chris Duncan for about as long as Duncan was, but I don't want to think about any scenario in which the Cardinals have to test that hypothesis.