Historically, the gap between second and third base has been a really hard one for the Cardinals to fill from the farm system. The only notable above-average shortstops that have come from the Cardinal farm system in the last 75 years are Garry Templeton and
Frankie Frisch Marty Marion, and the latter barely makes the 75 year cutoff. It's long been a position that the Cardinals have filled from outside the organization either via trade or free agency...or just started a really awful player there when they couldn't do either (see Kozma, Pete).
The current crop of Cardinal farm hands manning the position isn't anything to write home about either. There's no Troy Tulowitzki here. Heck, there might not even be an Edgar Renteria. But in my time studying the Cardinal minors (going back to at least 1993) I can't think of another crop of guys that had so much potential -- even if the club did have to spend a few million bucks and 20% of their top ten picks in the last a draft to acquire them. Let's look at how they stack up against each other and what their prospect grades likely are at this point in their careers:
1. Aledmys Diaz (B)
No surprise that the newly acquired Cuban tops the list: He's the most talented of the bunch and also likely the closest to having an impact on the big league club. He's not a top 100 guy in baseball at this point and probably sneaks into the Future Redbird top 10 if we re-ranked the players after the signing, so I think a B rating is fair, if not even a little bit of a push. The questions surrounding his defense are the big concern to me as I think his bat is easily good enough to play in the big leagues -- just not at 3B, which might be his likely destination should the glove fail to hack it in the middle infield. If nothing else, this ranking demonstrates just how good an investment that $8M was: When you can bring in the best player at a position in your entire farm system for $8M over four years (and maintain a full 6 years of control) you should probably do that every time you get the chance.
We'll get our first glimpse of game action today, and I like the fact that the club seems to be pushing him hard this spring in terms of competition -- let's see what he's made of physically and mentally and then find a spot for him in the minors.
2. Greg Garcia (B-)
Quick question: What do you get when you play average defense and hit at every level of the minors? You get an organization that keeps trying to replace you with players who might not be any better than you are, and spending $8M to do so. I think it's clear at this point that the Cardinals don't think the Garcia can be an everyday SS and the assumption would be that it's the defensive component that is lacking (which is saying something from a club that's likely to deploy Daniel Descalso as its backup SS to start the season). I'm not sure what else Garcia needs to prove, but I think it's likely that he's going to have to do it in the service of getting traded somewhere else to get a shot at playing in the big leagues. Which is too bad, because I think he could be a very valuable utility infielder in the big leagues -- certainly better than Descalso. The phrase "starting SS on a bad team, utility infielder on a good team" was thrown around by scouts when talking about Diaz and I think it applies to Garcia as well.
3. Oscar Mercado (C+)
The Cardinals supplemental pick out of high school a year ago has a glove that's likely ready for the big leagues right now and an above average arm to pair with it. The question is whether the bat will ever catch up to those other tools. This spring has been eye-opening in that regard, as Mercado has hit safely in nearly every game he's played so far in minor league camp, with a couple of multi-hit games as well. He's probably never going to hit with much power, but if you're making an Edgar Renteria comp, this is probably your guy, and he's probably better on defense than Edgar was too.
Mercado is a long, long ways away though, likely starting in either extended spring training until the short season leagues start with a possible promotion to Peoria if things go well. Perhaps his good spring will get him the starting job at Peoria right out of camp -- but as we saw with Carson Kelly last year, that might not be the best thing for his offensive development, and the bat should be dictating his promotions to higher levels at this point.
4. Edmundo Sosa (C)
I've never seen him play, never seen a prospect video of him, and only have some very cursory and vague scouting reports to go off of, but I can't help liking Sosa quite a bit if only in terms of what his ceiling might be. He's super young, has good size, and has shown some solid power in limited at bats in the admittedly talent poor (especially in terms of pitching) Dominican Summer League. It's one thing to hit tape measure shots against 85 mph fastballs -- it's another to do it against real professional quality pitching, even at the low minor league level.
I put Sosa here as a bet on his ceiling and tools only, and reserve the right to drop him like a bad habit if he comes stateside and falls on his face. That said, if Mercado is a long ways away, Sosa is on another planet in terms of development -- probably a good 5 seasons away at minimum.
5. Chris Rivera (C)
I'm rounding out my top five with Rivera based on personal preferences only: I like the kid. A lot. I think he's got a lot of potential as a player, perhaps more potential than Mercado does with the bat in his hands, and his defense was rated among the best in his draft class and was one of the more highly touted players at age 16 and 17 before some struggles against better competition tanked his value. Considering how well the Cardinals have done with mid-round draft picks as of late and the strength of the development staff, Rivera has an excellent chance of reaching his ceiling and I think that's probably a big league regular if things go right. I like the tools and the work ethic and think his swing and frame are more likely to develop some gap power than Mercado's is -- the 5 homers in 145 PA's last year certainly speak to that.
There are rumors he's getting moved off the position and sliding over to the keystone (another black hole in terms of Cardinal minor league talent at present, since they keep moving all the second baseman to the outfield) and I think that speaks to his offensive ability and how quickly the organization thinks he could promote since moving to 2B could get him more playing time rather than being stuck behind a bevy of low minors SS that can't really play anywhere else.
Juan Herrera: Came over from the Indians in exchange for Mark Rzepczynski. Excellent glove that was ranked as one of the best in the Penn league last year. Needs to hit.
Alex Mejia: Has had a solid spring and the bat could carry him, but he seems ripe for a position change after the Diaz signing, as Aledmys will likely get a lot of starts at SS that would have gone to Mejia. Goold has compared his bat to that of Allen Craig, so you can see the potential, just hard to see him reaching it at the SS position now.
Someone else in the low minors might make some noise this season and get noticed, but these are the players that have the most current potential to make an impact on the big league club in the short term. It's a motley crew, with Garcia or Mercado having the highest floor of anyone here, but high ceilings abound among this group with impact potential both in the field and at the plate.