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How will another season in Triple-A impact St. Louis Cardinals prospect Stephen Piscotty's development?

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How will another season in Triple-A impact Stephen Piscotty's development?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

When St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak was asked whether the Cardinals, with an aging core, need a prospect to step up and establish himself as a core player, the man known for Mospeak gave a blunt assessment in the affirmative. Looking at the St. Louis farm system today, there aren't many impact position talents, let alone near the big leagues. The prospect closest to the majors and perhaps most likely to make an impact once he arrives is outfielder Stephen Piscotty, the No. 3 prospect in the St. Louis system according to Baseball America and No. 1 per Baseball Prospectus.

The Cardinals selected the Stanford third baseman with the 36th overall pick in the June 2012 amateur draft. Over three seasons with the Cardinal, Piscotty posted a .341/.390/.466 line in 767 plate appearances. The Cardinals signed Piscotty in mid-June for a $1.4 million bonus and dispatched the first-rounder to their Low-A Midwest League affiliate at the time, the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Piscotty played his first professional game on June 28, going 0-for-4 against the Cedar Rapids Kernals. But a rough opener didn't foreshadow Piscotty's performance in his debut pro season. In 237 PA over 55 games, Piscotty batted .294/.376/.448 (.377 wOBA). For the MWL, which hit .254/.326/.379 collectively in 2012, Piscotty's hitting line was a healthy one.

Fangraphs has Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) for major-leaguers and prospectus, but wRC+ differs for the minors as compared to the big leagues. Whereas MLB wRC+ is park-adjusted, minor-league wRC+ is not. The minor-league wRC+ is scaled so that league-average is 100. Every point above 100 is a percentage point above average; every point below a percentage point lower than average. In 2012, Piscotty posted a 134 wRC+, which means his batting production over 237 PA was 34 percentage points better than the MWL average.

Given the excellent hitting start to Piscotty's pro career, the Cardinals understandably saw no need for him to return to the MWL. St. Louis assigned Piscotty to High-A Palm Beach out of spring training in 2013. After 264 PA in 63 games, Piscotty owned a .292/.348/.477 (.375 wOBA, 134 wRC+) line that looked awful similar to his MWL line. That earned him a promotion to Double-A Springfield and the Texas League, where Piscotty tallied 207 PA over 49 games and hit .299/.364/.446 (.360 wOBA, 129 wRC+). After that, Piscotty finished 2013 in the Arizona Fall League, where he turned heads with a .371/.430/.506 (.430 wOBA, 158 wRC+) over 100 PA in 23 games.

The prospect watchers took notice of Piscotty's consistent production as he moved from one level to the next. During the 2013-14 offseason, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 70 prospect in all of baseball in their top-prospect list. MLB.com placed Piscotty 98th overall. Baseball Prospectus slotted him in the 66th spot.

After making a name for himself among prospect hounds in 2013, Piscotty made an impression with the Cardinals brass during spring training in 2014 with a .342/.426/.579 line over 38 PA. Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on how Piscotty had left his mark with manager Mike Matheny:

Matheny said he was "fighting" for Wacha making his club last year out of spring training before amending it to "there was a lot of discussion.

"Obviously, there's not a fit for Stephen right now, but I would say that's the only difference," said Matheny. "We have an outfield that has some very talented players.

"But the way Stephen went about his spring and how he showcased himself, it's very similar (to Wacha). Every spring you have one of those guys and Stephen has been so more than anybody else."

Despite hitting very well during springtime exhibitions, Piscotty never had much of a chance to make the big-league roster out of spring training. The Cardinals assigned him to start the year in Memphis. That's where Piscotty spent the whole season, playing in 136 games for the Redbirds and totaling 556 PA. It was the first time in Piscotty's pro career that he played in more than 63 games in a league and took more than 264 PA.

Minor-leaguers don't have the tools available that major-leaguers do. There isn't much video of opponents to dissect. According to Ty Kelly, the scouting reports aren't all that great either. Instead, the players probe their opponents' weaknesses through playing one another. Randal Grichuk's ability to make adjustments based on how Springfield was attacking him in the intimate Texas League, per the reporting of Derrick Goold at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is one of the reasons the Cardinals were keen to add him during the 2013-14 Hot Stove.

With this in mind, I was keeping my eye on Piscotty in 2014. Even though the Pacific Coast League, with four divisions and 16 teams, is more expansive than the Texas League, I was interested to see how the former Standford standout adjusted to pitchers who might get to know him a bit better than the opposition he faced in his short stays with the Quad Cities, Palm Beach, Springfield, and in Arizona.

Piscotty didn't perform badly in Memphis last year—not at all. He posted a .288/.355.406 (.342 wOBA, 100 wRC+). But the lack of power was somewhat concerning, especially when paired with the power outage in St. Louis (which isn't his fault). The 100 wRC+, which is good for exactly league-average, was underwhelming. Who is to say if it was a failure to evolve to his opposition's tactics or a bit of bad luck playing while calling home a relatively pitcher-friendly park in Memphis?

Regardless, a disappointing 2014 campaign for Piscotty allowed 18-year-old Magneuris Sierra to win the St. Louis organization's minor-league position player of the year award, after just 223 plate appearances in the Florida Gulf Coast League. Piscotty's unspectacular showing last year also appears to have stalled his climb up the organizational ladder. The corner outfielder is all but certain to open 2015 in the same place he did 2014: Triple-A Memphis. It'll be interesting to see how Piscotty adjusts, if at all, and how that manifests itself in his batting line.