The 2019 Cardinals season was the team’s best since 2015. They finished with a 91-71 record and made the playoffs for the first time in four years. Despite being knocked out by the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals in the National League Championship Series, it was still a very successful season — at the Major League level, anyway.
Every year, Baseball America publishes a ranking of the aggregate records of each of the organizations in the MLB. This means that they compile the records of Minor Leagues affiliates of every team and combine it with the record of the big league team in order to find the overall record of the whole organization.
According to Baseball America the top three organizations in 2019 were the Tampa Bay Rays (428-319), Los Angeles Dodgers (416-324), and the Texas Rangers (382-301). On the other hand, the bottom three organizations were the Cincinnati Reds (336-413), St. Louis Cardinals (334-412) and the Los Angeles Angels (282-404).
This is not a great sign for the Cardinals. Only two affiliates made their respective playoffs - the MLB Cardinals and the rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals; Johnson City went on to win the Appalachian League. Triple-A Memphis also had a decent season. The team struggled immensely in the first half of the season, but finished strong, going 31-12 in their final 43 games. This is a positive sign for the Cardinals in the near future as they have a stock of (near) MLB-ready prospects that can be ready to contribute to the team next season and in the future. However, AA Springfield, A+ Palm Beach, and A Peoria struggled in their respective leagues. Much of this was due to ineffective pitching and the Cardinals sought to remedy this issue with a pitching-heavy draft.
This lack of success throughout the rest of the organization can be seen as a marker of a declining level of talent among prospects. While the Cardinals do not have a weak farm system by any means, they need to draft well in order to replenish a stock they frequently pull from. The Cardinals have always been good at promoting from within in order to build their team. Nevertheless, there appears to be a talent gap in the middle levels of the minors, but there are strong prospects to be found across these levels. Dylan Carlson tore through Springfield en route to a late-season promotion to Memphis, while Nolan Gorman reached Palm Beach this season and posted above-average numbers.
Even though player development is the primary goal of the Minors winning is still important. It can be important for prospects to play in as many playoff games as they possibly can until they reach the big leagues. It is important for players to be put in big situations so they can become comfortable with them down the road in bigger situations. Obviously, the postseason is a much bigger deal in the Majors. However, there is not better way to train for clutch situations than to be consistently exposed to them. Better teams also win more, so an organization with a losing record generally has a weaker prospect crop.
It will be important for the Cardinals to hit it off with their draft picks over the following years to rebuild their depth and return to their overall winning ways. This was an uncharacteristically below-average year for the organization, and things should be on the rise in 2020.