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Future Redbirds Season Review: Memphis Redbirds (AAA)

This is the last post in a multi-part series reviewing the 2014 season for each of the Cardinals minor league clubs. To catch up on the other posts in this series, visit the Future Redbirds hub.

Memphis Redbirds

Record: 79-64

Three Year Park Factor: 94 (Pitcher Friendly)

Another solid year for Pop Warner's club in Memphis, which is now fully owned by the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Overlord Humphrey, Ben Godar, and I were able to catch this club the opening set of the year in April, in Iowa, in freezing cold, rainy weather.  Of course, the outfield at that time featured Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Oscar Taveras in the outfield so the crap weather was worth it to see those three in person fresh out of Spring Training.  Yet, none of the three would end up in the running for player of the year, which goes to another Memphis outfielder who took the playing time freed up by Taveras' promotion in the second half and ran with it...

Player of the Year

Tommy Pham, CF, 26

390 .324 .395 .491 .167 9.7% 20.8% 132

This was Pham's eighth season in the Cardinals organization after being drafted in the 16th round clear back in 2006.  That's two World Series wins ago.  The top prospects in the Cardinals organization when Pham entered it were Adam Wainwright, Colby Rasmus, and Jamie Garcia.  Hell, Daryl Jones is on that list too and only the real denizens of the VEB 1.0 will remember when we wouldn't have traded Daryl Jones for a starting pitcher, despite the ugliness that was the 2007 Cardinals rotation.

Pham's long been the prototypical tool bucket: runs well, plays average or better defense at every position in the outfield, can hit for average and power, good approach and a healthy walk rate to go with it -- he's a five tool guy when healthy.  Health, of course, has been a serious concern: Just two minor league seasons with more than 400 PA's, and both of them came half a decade ago in A ball.  Pham likely would have gotten 400 this year were it not for the outfield depth at the start of the season, and this was the year that he finally put it all together (yes, that .397 BABIP is a bit of a problem, but stop being a negative ninny) and posted the season that all of us in the Cardinals prospect nerd-dom thought he had in him.

The question, of course, is what that's going to mean for Tommy Pham's career.  After the Oscar Taveras tragedy you rarely heard Pham's name in conversation and then club then traded for Jason Heyward. The likelihood of Randal Grichuk not making the opening day roster is slimmer than Peter Bourjos on a soup diet, and with Jon Jay and the aforementioned Boujos still on the roster along with Matt Holliday that's five outfielders the Cardinals are already likely to carry -- Pham would make six.  Barring injury or a trade, Pham is going to be back in AAA next year. Here's hoping he can stay healthy for another full season and post a repeat of his 2014 success.

Players to Watch:

Stephen Piscotty, RF, 23

If you've gathered anything from the talk of Piscotty at VEB you'd probably sum his 2014 up in one word: Underwhelming. But let me throw a few peripheral numbers at you:

  • LD%: 23.8%
  • 32 doubles to go with 9 home runs = 42 extra base hits
  • K%: 11%
Pretty good right?  To paraphrase Dennis Green: "He was who we thought he was."  High contact, low strikeout, line drive hitter who has plus gap power and occasional home run power.

Piscotty was basically the same hitter last year that he had been the two years prior at the lower levels, just with an ISO about 40 points below his career average in the minors.  I would consider that to be a blip more than a telling red flag: He put up a .185 ISO in the pitcher friendly Florida State League at the beginning of 2013 and the Memphis park that he played his home games in this season is one of the toughest on hitters in the entire minor leagues over the last three seasons.

In conclusion: I'm not worried.  This dude can hit, and his plus arm and good instincts in the OF will make him at least an average defender.  He's going to be fine -- lets give him one more season to work the kinks out though.

Here's Xavier Scruggs against AAA LHP in 2014:

154 .350 .403 .686 .336

That's really all you need to know.  Scruggs kills left handed pitching, has his whole career, and in 2014 finally got his strikeouts under control enough in the second half of the season (just a tad over 19% in the second half) to put the ball in play with authority on a regular basis. The Mark Reynolds signing really hampers his chances of making the big league club out of Spring Training, but Scruggs will get the chance to build on his second half of the season and showcase his talents for a possible mid-season trade or a call-up if someone gets hurt.

Tim Cooney, LHP, 23

Cooney is one of those good/bad kind of pitchers.  On the nights where he's got his good stuff and the matchups are favorable, he can be dominant.  On the nights where he doesn't have his good stuff and the matchups aren't favorable he can get beaten up pretty badly.  One thing is for certain though: No pitcher in the Cardinals organization, other than maybe Nick Petree, is going to rely on good defense as much as Cooney will on his trips to the bump.

He doesn't have overwhelming stuff, but his plus command an ability to change speeds can keep hitters off balance enough to get a lot of weak balls put into play that need to be turned into outs for Cooney to be successful.  The 119 strikeouts in 158 innings isn't awful, I just would expect his K-rate to be more Buerhle-esque in the big leagues so his walk rate will need to go back down to where it was in 2013 for him and be backed up by excellent defense in order to have more than a puncher's chance.  The 21 homers he gave up last year seems like a bit of an outlier as he'd only given up 21 in his previous 200 innings in the minors but suppressing the big fly will be key if Cooney is ever going to make a big league rotation.

Tyler Lyons, LHP, 26

Put me on the Lyons bandwagon for the last bullpen spot if John Mozeliak's optimism regarding Kevin Siegrist ends up being misplaced.  Sporting a career minor league K/BB ratio of 3.75 including two straight years at AAA at better than 4/1, Lyons is the type of pitcher you want in the middle innings as far as I'm concerned. Strikes out a far amounts, walks next to nobody, and only gives up an average amount of gopher balls. Dialed up for short stretches it's hard to see how he couldn't be useful for a club that should probably leave Marco Gonzales stretched out as a starter in AAA with all the shakiness among the big league rotation to start the year.

I like Lyons in the bullpen more than in the rotation and I like Marco as a starter more than in the bullpen -- but I liked Joe Kelly in the bullpen and Carlos Martinez in the rotation last Spring and we see how that turned out (MATHENY!!!! /shakes fist/).