I'm writing this article ahead of time, on Tuesday evening, watching Joe Kelly throw what might be his last start of the season, as hopefully Jaime Garcia will be on his way back soon. Sitting here, trying to come up with something I can write up ahead of time that will be interesting without knowledge of how this game turns out even as we're all engrossed in watching this team do that zombie shuffle down the stretch that seems to be the signature move of El Birdos circa late aughts early teens.
Hmm. Joe Kelly. You know, he was kind of an under the radar guy, come to think of it. A guy I've liked for awhile, even back in college. (I'm really proud of the fact both Ryan Jackson and Kelly came out of that single post. To have two players from one draft preview post make it to the major leagues as Cardinals has to be the luckiest piece of prognostication I've ever come up with.) Which, of course, puts me in mind of other under the radar kind of guys who might be kicking around the system right now.
Which brings me to...this year's sleeper prospect list. I did it way, way back in March, then updated the list in mid-June (on another day I was writing a post ahead of time, as a matter of fact; something about not being a prisoner of the moment, I suppose), but at the time one of the players on the list had yet to even begin his season, and several others were very early into their 2012 performances. So, it seems to me that now, two months later on, it might just be time to update the list yet again.
Anthony Garcia, OF -- Very happy with this pick. Garcia didn't feel like a sleeper to me coming in; thanks to the outstanding coverage of the Cards' minor league system over at Future Redbirds -- and my own proclivities for following the minors in general -- Garcia's name was somewhat well know to regular DFR readers. However, to the world at large, Garcia was still very much a shadowy, unknown figure in short-season ball.
Well, consider 2012 his coming-out party. A very rough start to the season has given way to an .862 OPS, a .509 slugging percentage and 16 home runs kind of campaign, which should put him solidly on the map of players to watch. It's not all roses for Garcia; his walk rate has fallen and his strikeout rate is worryingly high in his first taste of full-season ball, but the power numbers are very real and very good, especially considering he's still fairly young for his league. He may have come into the season as a sleeper, but he should end it solidly on prospect lists.
Keith Butler, RHP -- One of my favourite relief prospects in the Cards' system currently, Butler has had an interesting season. He started solidly in April, dominated in May and June, but has fallen completely apart in August.
For the season, his numbers are still solid, with a 3.73 FIP (not bad at all for Hammons Field), and right about a strikeout per inning. The bad: that strikeout rate is way, way down from what he did in High A (he struck out 35% of the hitters he saw in Palm Beach last year, versus 22% this season), and he's been much more hittable than in the past, allowing more hits than innings pitched for the first time in his career. I still like Butler, but he's showing why the jump to Double A is such a tough one, particularly in a place like Springfield.
Tyler Lyons, LHP -- Lyons hasn't had the easiest go of things in the Pacific Coast League in terms of ERA, but the underlying numbers say he's really pitched very well this season. A 9.87 K/9 and a K/BB ratio of nearly 5:1 are both outstanding numbers. The home runs are a little high, but that's quite likely a function of the league he's playing in; the PCL is notoriously hitter-friendly. (Though Memphis' park is one of the few that isn't in the launching pad category.)
There's over a run difference between Lyons' FIP and ERA; 3.37 and 4.52, respectively. He appears to be the victim of some bad luck, and when you really look at the stuff he controls, I have to say Lyons has put himself solidly in the mix for future duty in St. Louis, possibly as early as next season. He's done it quietly, as most of his career has been so far, but it's tough to overstate just how well he has competed in his first taste of Triple A.
Ryan Copeland, LHP -- It's been a lost season for Copeland, who was diagnosed in Spring Training with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Thankfully, he appears to be on the road back, and actually got into a few games in late July at the lowest levels of the system. He headed back to Extended Spring Training for more rehab work a the end of July, which isn't ideal; still, to see him just on the comeback trail is encouraging.
Kevin Jacob, RHP -- The big right-hander with the big fastball and the big control problems has not been particularly effective this season. He was sent down to EST back in May to try and iron out his control, but it hasn't quite taken just yet. Pitching for Batavia since the opening of short-season play, Jacob has pitched somewhat better, to the tune of a 3.35 FIP, but that's largely due to a 0% home run rate. He's still walking hitters at over a 13% clip, and his strikeout rate just hasn't been high enough (22%), to really make up for it. On the upside, he's getting more groundballs, so perhaps that combined with the lack of long balls is an indicator he's keeping his pitches in the lower reaches of the strike zone more effectively. Still very much a project is Mr. Jacob.
Tyler Rahmatulla, 2B/3B -- Rahmatulla tore Low A ball up, posting a .934 OPS in his first taste of full-season ball. Then he went to Palm Beach, and things...haven't worked out quite as well. He's currently OPSing .502 in the Florida State League. Ouch.
On the other hand, his strikeout and walk rates have remained largely unchanged, and his BABIP is sitting right around .200. So his misery could be largely batted ball luck, I suppose. Then again, there's also the possibility he just isn't hitting the ball hard at all, which is going to lead to some ugly BABIPs. Either way, the move up has been brutal, and we'll have to see where his dichotomous season lands him in the postseason rankings.
Christopher Edmondson, OF -- Edmondson's OPS this season is .684. His ISO is .102. He's a left fielder. Those things do not add up to a successful formula. Sigh.
Lance Jeffries, OF -- Jeffries has a weird line. Like really weird. We all knew he was a raw player coming in, but he hasn't really played like a raw player. Honestly, I don't know exactly what he has played like.
Jeffries' season OPS stands at .680 currently; that OPS is composed of a triple-slash line that looks like this: .218/.377/.303. See that on-base percentage? It literally doesn't make any sense. He walks a ton. The only problem is, he strikes out even more; his K rate is a ghastly 37.1%. He hasn't shown much power to scare pitchers into not pitching to him, so it appears as if he may be just taking literally everything. It's...inexplicable, to be honest.
He is kind of ridiculously fast; Jeffries is 10 for 13 in steal attempts. Considering he's only been on base 57 times, that's pretty impressive. Oh, and he's been hit by a pitch 8 times this season in just 151 plate appearances. (He was hit by 6 last season in 147 PAs.) So what he have here is a player who can not seem to hit professional pitching just yet. And yet in spite of it he finds some way, any way, to get on base at a pretty good clip.
Jeffries is still one of my favourite players in the system, if only because of his local ties. But I have to admit, I'm scratching my head a little bit at the profile his numbers paint this season. He's a hell of a long way from a finished product, though, so for now I'm just going to keep watching him.
Of the names to watch way back in that original list, Adam Ehrlich is having a really nice season. He looked good in rookie ball, got promoted and just blew the doors off Johnson City, and has recently been bumped up to Palm Beach (temporarily), due to an injury to Cody Stanley. I liked Ehrlich a lot when the Cards drafted him, but he's come out of the gates like a man possessed.
Kyle Hald is having a really solid season as well; he's pitched at two levels so far this year and has posted FIPs below 3.00 at both stops. His claim to fame is a crazy low walk rate; he's currently walking exactly 1.5% of the hitters he sees in Palm Beach. He also rolls up the grounders at a nice pace; perhaps he ends up something resembling the 2009 version of Joel Pineiro? A man can dream, right?
As for the third name on the to-watch list, Leobaldo Pina has actually played quite well also. He's putting up a .715 OPS, but doing it playing in the Dominican League. Those numbers don't mean a whole lot of anything, unfortunately. Still, Pina is just 18 years old right now; he's one of those guys who is so far off he may not even belong on a sleeper list to begin with. But, regardless of the level, he isn't striking out a ton, his walk rate is solid, and he's 6'2" and 160. Kid's got some growing to do, is what I'm saying.
It's late enough in the minor league season I feel fairly comfortable calling this list done. The players have done most of what they're going to do this year, barring some playoff craziness a la Jaime Garcia 2009 or Lance Lynn 2010. The seasons are, for the most part, already successes or failures. And I feel pretty good about my picks.
As I'm sure you can tell, I'm finishing this Wednesday, having been unable to get it done last night in a timely fashion. Shocking, I know. Anyway, if that was the last start we see from Joe Kelly, I'm perfectly happy with it. It was a good game overall. Just as good, the Pirates got stomped by the Dodgers. The Wild Card race, as much as I despise that second spot, should be very, very exciting. And could be the only chance our boys in red have this year.
I'll see you all again next Wednesday. Maybe a chat thread. I'm not sure yet; it will depend on how much time I can carve out.