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Does the Jason Heyward trade tell us anything about the state of the Cardinal farm system?

In a word? Yes.

Is this guy the reason Tyrell Jenkins was expendable?
Is this guy the reason Tyrell Jenkins was expendable?

Any time a sports team makes a trade for a significant asset, much of the analysis is spent analyzing both the player that was traded for and the parts that were given up to get him. Over the last 4 days the staff at VEB has done an excellent job of diving into the details of the trade itself, the value of the longer negotiating period with free-agent-to-be Jason Heyward, and Craig's piece this morning highlights what a realistic Heyward contract extension might look like if one is indeed completed prior to opening day of the 2015 season.

Now that the dust has settled on the players in the actual deal itself, what does that indicate, if anything, about the state of the current Cardinal farm system as viewed by the front office?

Starting pitching is the lone position of depth within the organization.

Most anyone who follows the Cardinals on more than a casual basis knows this already, but it was made much more evident this week.  Trading a 24 year old former top ten prospect and a 22 year old with significant upside indicates a lot about where Mozeliak and company view the rest of the pitchers in the organization.  We know that Alex Reyes and Rob Kaminsky are likely to be among the top fifty prospects in baseball when the lists start to trickle out in late January, and we'll get to them in a moment.  What does this trade say about the rest of the organization's pitching depth?

  1. Clearly the club likes the potential that both Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales demonstrated in a limited number of starts in 2015. By moving Shelby Miller, Mozeliak has opened up a rotation spot for one of those two pitchers to fill this coming spring.
  2. The club is confident that Boone Whiting, Tyler Lyons, Tim Cooney, Nick Petree, and Mike Mayers can provide the back-of-the-rotation depth that the club will need if someone in the current rotation goes down with a significant injury.
  3. That the club views the high upside pitching depth in the lower minors as good enough to deliver solid pitching prospects in the medium term to the big league level.
I've been reviewing the farm system for a series of posts on it this winter and I can say that I would agree with that three pronged assessment.

I would also agree with this:

There isn't a legitimate high-upside bat anywhere in the current farm system.

This is demonstrably true and any layman can easily discern it by going to the Cardinals page at Minor League Central for players under the age of 25 and sorting by wOBA.  I'm still high on Stephen Piscotty as an elite bat-to-ball hitter who may yet develop some power, but most of the big bats the Cardinals had have graduated to the big leagues and there just isn't much behind them until you get to the Rookie or Short Season leagues.  Randal Grichuk has potential, as well, but neither he or Piscotty profile to be a hitter similar to what the club thought Oscar Taveras was going to provide.

When the 4th best hitter in your farm system by wOBA was traded for two months of Justin Masterson, that's not a indication of how great Justin Masterson is, it's an indication of how poor the bats in your farm system are.

That's not to say that there aren't some guys that couldn't come out of the woodwork at the top levels.  The Cardinals might very well get productive plate appearances in the big leagues from Tommy Pham, Xavier Scruggs, Jacob Wilson, or Cody Stanley.  But none of those players is likely to make an all-star game even once or put up Ryan Ludwick's 2008 season out of nowhere -- they just don't have that kind of pedigree offensively.

It's very easy to see why the Cardinals felt they had to make a trade for a legitimate big league bat to fill the hole left by Taveras' tragic accident a few weeks ago: There's simply nobody on the horizon that can capably play there at an above average level offensively, and it's a big reason why the club should be serious about offering Heyward a contract extension as soon as possible. Matt Holliday will be around for likely just two more seasons, maybe three if his option is picked up. The only players that might be ready to fill his role from the farm system are Vaughn Bryan and Rowan Wick.  That's more than enough motivation to get Jason Heyward signed long term immediately.

The Cardinals player development group is more optimistic about how quickly Alex Reyes and Rob Kaminsky will be ready for the big leagues than previously thought.

This I'm much less sure of, because I don't know that the first two things aren't enough motivation by themselves to ship off Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins for a young, elite corner outfielder.  There are still 6 pitchers for the current rotation in 2015 (7 if you think the club will be getting anything from Jaime Garcia) and 5 of them will be under team control through at least 2017 (Wainwright, Wacha, Lynn, Martinez, Gonzalez).  There is no immediate or medium term need to develop a legit ace from within the farm system in the next few seasons and even the most optimistic forecast for Kaminsky and Reyes would put them in the big leagues no sooner than 2016 anyway.

I do think that the progress of those two pitchers in Peoria this season made Tyrell Jenkins more expendable than he might have been otherwise.  If both Reyes and Kaminsky had struggled or taken a step backward from a development standpoint in 2014, Jenkins becomes less of a trade chip and more someone you might actually need in the medium term to fill a rotation spot.

The emergence of Frederis Parra stateside probably didn't hurt either and neither did the Cardinals pitching heavy 2014 draft -- but those pitchers are much farther away and much bigger risks than anyone in a full season league.

I wouldn't be shocked to see Reyes and Kaminsky get pushed a bit more this season if results continue to be well above average -- a mid-season push to AA is certainly not out of the question give the talent and the space at the top two levels that the Heyward trade made possible.