Three Year Park Factor: 104 (Hitter friendly)
If Palm Beach was lacking high ceiling talent this year, the Springfield club was entirely void of it after a notably May injury and a July trade. Not that there aren't good players here, but most profile as big league utility players, a backup catcher, and some bullpen arms -- not exactly a bunch of players to get excited about.
Player of the Year:
Jacob Wilson, 2B/3B, 24
I don't know that I have much more to say about Wilson than what RB wrote about in this post a month ago, other than to say that I don't feel Wilson's bat has near the upside that Craig's did. Wilson isn't the line drive hitter that Craig was in the minors and while he's got a similar approach and can drive the ball well the opposite way, I just don't see his power profile holding up as well as Craig's did when he sees some better pitching next season in AAA. Given his ability to play both 2B and 3B at an average level defensively, however, he won't need to be the 130 wRC+ hitter that Craig was to make an impact in the big leagues, especially for an organization as short on right handed hitting infielders as the current Cardinals are.
Wilson hit .305/.366/.519 in the hitter friendly Texas League after a pedestrian .298/.358/.397 in the pitcher friendly Florida State League in the first half of the year. The Springfield line was a .403 wOBA in the Texas League, so even relative to league that was solid -- but the .337 BABIP with a below average line drive rate doesn't inspire confidence, especially since Wilson's career minor league BABIP at the lower levels of the minors was a paltry .270ish coming into this season. Wilson's .214 ISO at Springfield was also a career high, and a good 40 points above his career .172; he did post a .205 in a full season at Peoria in 2013 (a tough home park for sluggers), so that number isn't just a Hammons Field creation.
If his balls in play average corrects to around .320 as a true talent level, Wilson certainly has major league upside -- I'm just not convinced that 2014 wasn't a total mirage given his age relative to league and his previous struggles in the lower minors. A good start at Memphis in 2015 would help to assuage those fears somewhat, so lets just wait and see, shall we?
Players of Note:
Cody Stanley, C, 25
Left handed hitting catcher, left handed hitting catcher, left handed hitting catcher.
Ok, got that out of my system.
The 2014 season featured Stanley finally showing the type of player that many thought he would be when the Cardinals took him out of UNC Wilmington in 2010: A solid backstop with some average pop and good contact ability at the plate and good speed for a player who makes his living behind the dish. Thirteen steals at an 80% clip, a .355 wOBA, and an improvement in walk rate were all good signs for Stanley's development -- the fact that he couldn't get promoted to AAA at age 25 was not.
Rule 5 eligible and left unprotected, Stanley could very well be with another organization by the end of the week. Which means I'll have to focus more of my attention on Jose Godoy than he probably deserves at this point in his career come spring.
Aledmys Diaz, SS, 23
So hard to tell what we've got here at this point, with just 125 PA's under his belt and a back injury that limited him for most of the last three months of the season. It's quite clear he can hit: .291/.311/.453, and I'm less concerned about the 1.6% walk rate than others are, simply because he's an aggressive hitter and got a lot of good pitches to hit during the month of April, the only full month he played in 2014.
Scouting was mixed on his defense: Most everyone agrees that he has the arm to play SS, but the range and footwork are a concern. That may make a move to the hot corner likely at some point in the future, which is why it's important for his bat to play up, although you could do a lot worse than Diaz as your utility infielder for 6 years in the big league given his ability to at least be servicable at SS and play the other two positions well.
I don't think he's a superstar, but hell, he's not even had 200 PA's stateside and 6 seasons of control left so there's plenty of time for him to break out yet.
Sam Tuivailala, RHP, 21
The former third baseman turned a lot of heads this year by continuing to strike out better than 35% of the hitters he faced while moving up to the A+ and AA level -- enough to get him a cup-of-coffee with the big league club and a 40 man roster spot in September as the Cardinals prepared for the stretch run to the playoffs.
That 100 mph heater is his best weapon, but his breaking ball is excellent too, which led to him striking out more hitters than reached base against him last season (97 K's, just 79 baserunners). That's what you like to see from a guy who profiles as setup or closer material. With the addition of Jordan Walden and Matt Belisle to the big league pen, Tooey should get all of 2015 to develop the better command he'll need against big league hitters, but I'd anticipate him being one of the first guys called up should a reliever spot come open next season.
Brian Walton over at TheCardinalNation.com has an excellent interview with Springfield manager Mike Shildt in which they cover all aspects of the player development process for the Cardinal organization, including the developing of relief pitchers, which is a bit of a new science in the minors that's been developed over the last decade or so to groom pitchers for big league bullpen roles, rather than just transitioning them there after they had been starters or split-game pitchers in the minors. Two portions are free, the other five parts are behind the paywall, but the whole thing is worth a listen if you're a prospect nerd like myself.
That said, look at these K% for the Springfield bullpen in 2014:
Thomas is the only one below 25% and he more than made up for that by being the only guy to walk fewer than 8% of batters faced among that group -- and he still struck out nearly 30% of the hitters he faced on the year when you add in his stints in Peoria and Palm Beach.
Other than Tooey, who we covered already, nobody here is under the age of 24, with Berg and Thomas being the old men at age 27 and 26 respectively. That said, I don't much care: If those guys can provide reliever depth to the big leagues for a couple of seasons by being hard throwing and deceptive, I'm more than willing to cut them loose at age 30 when they hit arbitration for the first time. Sure beats having to find the Pat Neshek's of the world by rolling the dice come every spring.