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Odds & Ends: Marvel, Miller, Martinez, Maness

The Cardinals still need to graduate players like Seth Maness to the majors but the new era of Cardinal prospects is upon us. Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez aren't just good players. The Cardinals are graduating their superstars now.

Mike McGinnis

I'm going to see Iron Man III today. For those of you unfamiliar (and I hope that is no one), this will be the 6th movie in the Marvel era that is part of The Plan.

Marvel's had their characters released in some really terrible movies. Think Daredevil and The Hulk. Just some real butchering of the characters. Marvel wised up though. They put a man by the name of Kevin Feige in charge of the big picture. Different directors still handle each movie (Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black) but Kevin Feige remains the guiding force for the overarching themes of the shared universe, how the characters intersect and what characters are introduced.

So, as I mentioned, Iron Man III will be the 5th movie in this new sequence including Iron Man I, Iron Man II, Captain America, Thor and The Avengers. After The Avengers, Marvel and Feige are entering what they call Phase II of the plan. They've mostly moved beyond the origin movies. Now they work through a handful of sequels: Iron Man III, Captain America: Winter Solider, Thor: The Dark World. There will still be a new movie or two in Phase II (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant Man) but it's a different feel to the movies and the universe as it expands beyond its beginnings.

What we're seeing this season from the St. Louis Cardinals is their equivalent of Phase II. When the farm system was rebuilding it was rebuilding depth as much as pursuing top end talent. The need for guys like Daniel Descalso, Shane Robinson and Tony Cruz was evident. A farm system bereft of replacement level and league average means a GM has to pursue pricier veterans on a yearly basis. The Cardinals graduated a handful of league average or better players in phase I as well. David Freese, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig and Jon Jay have all been important regulars contributing to the team's success.

What comes next is different though. The Cardinals transition into a phase where they try to do two things at once. The lower end regulars still need to graduate to the majors on a regular basis. Seth Maness and Matt Adams still need to be there and produce but there's a new caliber of prospect on it's way. The top three pitching prospects (Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez) all find themselves in the majors. Oscar Taveras is not far behind.

The Cardinals have managed to recharge their farm system and rejuvenate their major league team without any major deconstruction. There was no fire sale in the style of the Marlins. The question is whether they can mesh the more elite talents into the team to further grow on the success they've experienced thus far. This is the Cardinals phase II of the prospect plan. The rest has just been an appetizer.

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The Shelby Miller experiment continues. It's not dissimilar from the experiment that the Reds are conducting with Tony Cigrani. The hypothesis is that a player with two plus pitches can be a starter with just those pitches.

On Friday, Miller pitched 6 innings striking out 5 and walking 1. In that outing, he threw 106 pitches. 81 fastballs, 24 curveballs and 1 lonely changeup. This is not outside the norm for Miller in 2013.

Overall, he's thrown 623 pitches this season. 98% of them have been either a fastball or a curveball. Miller ranks in the top 5 in fastballs as a percentage of pitches thrown (joined by Lance Lynn). It's uncharacteristic for starting pitchers to be so reliant on two pitches. Miller's impressive FIP - 2.97 - further adds to the unusualness of the situation. Conventional wisdom is that starters need more than two pitches to get by. Miller is doing more than just getting by at this stage.

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Carlos Martinez threw 14 pitches in his debut: 9 fastballs, 4 sinkers and 1 curveball. Only one of his sinkers was under 94 mph. His average fastball velocity was 97.5mph.

What's scary is how this has become the new normal for the Cardinals. Jason Motte and Trevor Rosenthal regularly sit in the upper 90s in relief. It's an embarrassment of riches for the Cardinals as they walk out high octane arm after high octane arm.

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Friday's game also included the appearance of a less heralded starter: Seth Maness. He only threw 6 pitches. All were strikes. That's Maness' game. Always be working in the zone. Strike throwing, control artists aren't known for thriving in the majors but Maness' control is exquisite.

The question with Maness will be whether players decide they can wait for their pitch since they know they won't get walked. Can they continue to foul off the more middling offerings until Maness makes a mistake and then punish that mistake. So far in the minors, no one has been able to do that.

Maness threw 247.2 innings in the minors. During that time he walked just 18 batters. He actually allowed more home runs (20) than walks in the minors. While he carried a middling 6.3 K/9, that still makes for a 9:1 K:BB ratio because of how stingy he is with free passes. That makes for a FIP in the low 3s for his time in the minors, which would suggest that, again, no one was able to sit on his stuff.s