Andy mentionedthe MLB.com's updated ranking yesterday of the Cardinals top 20 prospects and I'd like to discuss them a little bit.
First, a caveat:
Arguing about published baseball prospect rankings is the equivalent of comic book fanboys arguing if Thor could beat Hulk in a fight.— Christopher D. Long (@octonion) July 27, 2013
First of all, Thor all the way, he's got a hammer that no one else can pick up!
1) Taveras - no doubt about this
2) Wacha and 3) Martinez are a toss-up at this point and as Andy says "My hunch is that people who weight character and makeup will favor Wacha and those who stick to the stats will favor Martinez."
4) Kolten Wong - still no problems here
5) John Gast - this is where the top 20 takes an extreme right turn. They moved John Gast up to 5 from 10 at the beginning of the year. As a reference, Future Redbirds ranked him 17th and Gast is currently out for potentially another 12 months (and to their credit they mention this in Gast's writeup) after recovering from a lat strain. The lat is in the shoulder region, I'm told. Gast isn't quite as good as his sterling 1.16 ERA in AAA this year and isn't quite as bad as his 5.10 ERA in AAA last year. Not a bad player, probably a major league reliever or end of the rotation guy as a "pitchability" (there's that word again) lefty. Tyler Lyons has way better numbers this year and last, likely has better stuff and does not (I repeat does NOT) appear on MLB.com's top 20. John Sickels at Minor League Ball has Gast at 15, which feels more appropriate.
6) Michael Blazek - MLB.com prospectors have loved Blazek, they had him at 11 before the season and moved him up accordingly as graduations cleared a lot of the preseason top 10 out. Again, Blazek is a good pitcher, I'm not ripping him, but he's likely a bullpen arm and I don't think he's an impact closer type, so the top 10 should have players that are going to make the most impact down the line and in most cases, a bullpen arm is not going to do that.
7) Tyrell Jenkins - "The Lord of Flowers" Jenkins got lapped by both Gast and Blazek, but despite who the players are above him, I don't think that 7 is a bad spot for him. He's continuing to come along slowly and even as some of the prospect sheen is starting to wear off of him, he continues to move up leagues. His upside continues to tie him to the top half of the Cardinals rankings but he is also currently injured with another lat injury (that's in the shoulder).
8) Marco Gonzalez - This seems about right for the Cardinals 1st 1st rounder in 2013, but I'm slightly surprised that he and Kaminsky aren't back to back.
9) Carson Kelly - He's probably placed right as he's still only a teenager and in A ball at Peoria. No huge numbers yet, but the tools are there.
10) Stephen Piscotty - Piscotty torched the normally pitcher-friendly Florida State League and got moved up to AA, his place in the top 10 is secure and he could be easily seen as top 8 when the season is out, so I have no problem with this ranking.
11) Rob Kaminsky - Kaminsky at this point is ranked behind Gonzalez this much due simply to draft position and he will continue to be ranked this way until each of them get a full year under their belts at least.
12) Charlie Tilson - Tilson lost all of his 2012 to shoulder surgery and still needs games before we know where to put him on the list. He was unranked by Future Redbirds in the preseason.
13) James Ramsey - Ramsey made MLB.com's preseason list, while he didn't make Future Redbirds'. With the graduations, it probably isn't suprising to see him in the top 20, although 13 may be a little aggressive as MLB.com certainly takes into account his draft status as a 1st rounder. He's also tore the cover off the ball this season, which has really helped him.
14) Seth Blair - I really can't rant too long about Ramsey with this player listed at 14. Seth Blair? The pitcher with 2013 being the first season in which he's had a BB/9 below 6?! His strikeout and walk numbers are finally on the right side of each other in AA, but he's already 24 and his prospect clock already ran out 1 year after he was drafted. MLB.com had him at 19 in the preseason, which is even more shocking as I'm not even sure what they based that ranking on considering he didn't know where the ball was going. It sure helps to be a former 1st or 2nd rounder in these rankings.
15) Eric Fornataro - This is another one right out of left field, but not for MLB.com who ranked him as prospect number 14 before the season! Fornataro is another right-handed starter turned reliever. He doesn't strike out a ton of guys (6.0 per 9 for his minor league career) and isn't especially good at limiting walks (3.0 per 9 for his minor league career). He's already been to Memphis, but he's 25 and despite throwing 95 and touching 98 out of the pen, he's known as a groundball pitcher. And he's currently just returned from an injury. Best case scenario, Fornataro's a set up guy in the majors, but not someone who should be in a top 20.
16) Jordan Swagerty - Swagerty lost all of 2012 and some of 2013 to Tommy John Surgery. His numbers were sparkling before the injury and he's pitching in relief for Palm Beach as the Cardinals try to get his arm back to full strength after surgery. He was a college closer and pitched a lot in relief in 2011 as well, but signs point to the fact that he can be a starting pitcher and that has more value than guys that are destined for the bullpen and nowhere else (see two players above him).
17) Tim Cooney - Tim Cooney is one of the pitchers in this list that actually has age on his side as a 22 year old already in Springfield. And with a strikeout to walk ratio above 6 this year, Cooney is making a believer out of a lot of people including myself. And again, as a starter, his value should have vaulted above those destined for the bullpen.
18) Breyvic Valera - Valera's value takes a little bit of a hit because he's a second baseman vs. the shortstop we'd all hoped he'd become. He's hitting above average with some good speed on the basepaths and at middle infield, there's a good value there.
19) Patrick Wisdom - Wisdom jumped out of the gates hot last year after being drafted in the 1st round (so MLB.com just HAD to put him on their list) but he's slowed down a bit this year. He's no lost cause, but the strikeouts are up and the hits are down. Wisdom at least is going to stay at 3rd base for the time being.
20) Tommy Pham - Poor Tommy Pham, when they put these rankings out, Pham was a great story, drafted in 2006, finally up to Memphis and knocking on the door of the major leagues after a breakout campaign, but he's since then been sidelined with yet another injury. This is his 4th season ending injury in the last 4 seasons. With tools for days, and the ability to play CF, Pham may never reach his ceiling. Not inappropriate to rank Pham here before knowing his season was over, so I'll cut them that slack.
I write all this up not to rip the prospects in question, I just have an issue with the order that MLB.com ranks them. MLB.com has always ranked their prospects in the strangest order and I hadn't worried about it much, but these Cardinals rankings with a lot of slack in the top of the system with a lot of graduates has caused the MLB.com rankers to simply throw in the towel.
If you want a better ranking of the Cardinals prospects as they stand here at midseason, try John Sickels at Minor League Ball, he's knows his stuff. As an example, here are the players he says have emerged this year:
Some of the mid-range guys have had problems but others have emerged. Outfielders James Ramsey and insane on-base machine Mike O'Neill in Double-A bear close watching next year. Pitchers Keith Butler, Tim Cooney, Boone Whiting, Lee Stoppelman, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Blazek. . .