St. Louis Cardinals Top 15 Prospects (2012-13) by Marc Hulet November 12, 2012 I can honestly say that I fell in love with this system while researching it for the Top 15 list. It is one of the most underrated systems in the game and I am a huge fan of the organization’s 2012 amateur draft. The club has a collection of high ceiling arms and bats as well as some potentially useful high floor players. #1 Oscar Taveras (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 20 531 153 37 23 42 56 11 .321 .380 .572 .411 Opening Day Age: 20 2012 Level: AA Acquired: 2008 international FA Projected 2013 level: AAA/MLB I first stumbled upon Taveras in late 2010 shortly before he became a Top 100 prospect contender for prospect analysts everywhere, and have yet to lose my enthusiasm for his future to this day. He’s been criticized in the past for having a unique approach and non-traditional hitting mechanics but he continues to defy odds because they work for him. Taveras will probably never be considered a “patient hitter” but he is also not technically an overly-aggressive free swinger. He just has a natural, innate ability to barrel the ball wherever it’s pitched, not unlike former big league star Vladimir Guerrero. I’ve spoken with others within the game who are also quite taken with the young hitter. “Oscar has always had an unconventional approach at the plate, but from day one he’s had success with it… His approach works primarily due to incredible hand-eye coordination – he takes a very aggressive swing, yet barrels up a high percentage of his swings. Basically, he has the big swing of a power hitter while maintaining the ability to make contact at a high rate,” commented a talent evaluator. Taveras faced some challenges in 2012 with a promotion from A-ball to double-A and pitchers made adjustments against him – trying to get him to expand his strike zone by working him away. The young outfielder adjusted, according to the talent evaluator. “To Oscar’s credit, it didn’t take him long to adjust, and realize that he could use the pitcher’s timidity to work the count in his favor and force them to come to him rather than chase a pitcher’s pitch.” Predictions for Taveras’ future potential at the plate are all over the map but my personal assessment of the prospect would put him at a 50-60 grade hitter with 55-65 power. His base running and fielding has improved significantly but he still has some work to do in those areas and he’ll return to the minors to open 2013 but could be ready for the majors after a few months of triple-A seasoning. Additional Notes Two contacts have projected peak numbers worth sharing for Oscar Tavares. One saw him as a .250 hitter with 35+ home run potential. The other saw the center fielder as a .290 hitter with 25+ home runs annually. Plus, contacts thought he could stick up the middle for now. Either way, he’s the best young position player the Cardinals have produced since MVP candidate Yadier Molina. (Mike Newman) #2 Michael Wacha (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 21 11 2 21.0 8 1 17.14 1.71 0.86 0.58 Opening Day Age: 21 2012 Level: R/A+/AA Acquired: 2012 draft (19th overall) Projected 2013 level: AA/AAA Like Taveras, Wacha is a prospect that has received reports from scouts and talent evaluators that are all over the map. I, personally, would not be shocked to see him have a better big league career than both Kevin Gausman (Baltimore) and Kyle Zimmer (Kansas City) – two college arms taken ahead of the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Wacha is tall and lanky with room to add weight/strength. When I saw him pitch, he showed a smooth delivery with easy velocity. His fastball, which was hitting 96-98 mph out of the bullpen, showed late movement – including arm side run – and he commanded it on the corners. I saw him throw a nasty changeup with good arm speed and outstanding fade, which K’d Top 100 prospect Nolan Arenado of the Rockies. Wacha’s breaking ball remains a work-in-progress. A talent evaluator I spoke with said everyone was surprised with how quickly the young pitcher moved up to double-A and was able to dominate hitters at that level. He also called the prospect’s curveball “a lot better than people were saying. It was plus at times, sitting MLB average.” Wacha’s also reportedly made a great impression on Cardinals coaches and developmental staff. The first round draft pick should spend most of 2013 in the upper minors but could reach the majors “in some capacity” in 2013 with a more defined, contributing role at the big league level in 2014. #3 Shelby Miller (P) Age G GS IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP WAR 21 6 1 13.2 10.54 2.63 42.4 % 1.32 1.85 0.4 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: AAA/MLB Acquired: 2009 draft (19th overall) Projected 2013 level: MLB Until this season Miller had been the Cardinals’ top prospect since being selected in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft. The right-hander’s value has ridden a bit of a roller coaster over the past 12 to 16 months for a variety of reasons, including some maturity concerns. However, the talented youngster re-committed himself in the second half of 2012 and reached the majors for the first time in his career. A scout I spoke with about Miller said he lost some strength in his legs, which he relied on heavily, but improved in that area when he reached the big leagues. It was also noted that Miller has become more of a pitcher and less of a thrower with a legitimate arsenal of weapons. “Hands down his best two pitches are his fastball and curveball… His curveball is a legitimate out-pitch at any level. The changeup he has now surprises me,” the scout said. “He’s learned that he doesn’t need to strike everybody out.” Another talent evaluator was also impressed with the prospect’s development of his repertoire. “Currently, his curve would be ahead of his changeup, but I see the curve as being a plus pitch for him, with the change being at least an average future pitch. The second half of 2012 is when the light bulb went off for Shelby in terms of gaining the confidence to use those pitches and he’s shown the ability to utilize them effectively. With increased experience and confidence, they’ll continue to become a bigger part of his arsenal.” After striking out 160 batters in 136.2 triple-A innings in 2012 as a 21 year old – as well as with the aforementioned improvements he made late in the year – Miller should be ready to assume a full-time role in the Cardinals starting rotation in the coming year. Additional Notes Miller’s rebound from a tough start in Triple-A became one of the feel good stories in minor league baseball for me this year. Given the nasty rumors surrounding his struggles, it was great to see Miller dominate big league hitters for a month. My hope is that Miller and Trevor Rosenthal open the 2013 season as part of a revamped Cardinals rotation. (Mike Newman) #4 Carlos Martinez (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 20 22 21 104.1 91 6 7.94 2.76 2.93 3.45 Opening Day Age: 21 2012 Level: A+/AA Acquired: 2010 international FA Projected 2013 level: AA/AAA Martinez has risen steadily through the Cardinals system, reaching double-A in just his second full season in North America at the age of 20. After dominating the low minors, the right-hander’s strikeout rates dropped noticeably from more than 11 Ks per 9 IP in A-ball to more than 9 K/9 in high-A to 7.32 K/9. It wasn’t a result of poor control, which improved significantly in 2012, but it was more likely due to a lack of command. When I saw him pitch at double-A, Martinez showed an electric fastball that was working in the mid-to-upper 90s with late life but he wasn’t using his secondary pitches very much – even though he reportedly has a very good curveball. A talent evaluator I spoke with had very nice things to say about the secondary offerings. “Carlos’s confidence in his secondary pitches has always led him to use them with frequency, so in that regard he’s more advanced in terms of having a more fully developed repertoire… I think he’ll have three above average pitches by the time he reaches the big leagues.” The comment leads me to believe that Martinez may have been purposely leaning of the fastball in an effort to sharpen his command of the heater. During the game, I also noticed Martinez was an extremely quick worker with no one on base but slowed down, almost to a crawl, with runners on base and worried too much about the base runners. I am a little concerned about his delivery, which does not incorporate his lower half much at all and seems to place a large amount of strain on his upper back/shoulders and arm. I actually preferred his delivery from the stretch, rather than the full wind-up and I think he’ll end up being a long-term reliever unless changes are made (or perhaps they were made after I saw him).The evaluator I spoke with wasn’t concerned, though. “I really think he’ll be fine as far as holding up physically. While he’s not tall, he is athletic and has surprising wiry strength. His mechanics were cleaned up this season, and that has put less stress on his arm.” Martinez should move up to triple-A to begin 2013 and could be ready for the majors, in some capacity, by mid-to-late season. Additional Notes On stuff alone it’s easy to foresee Martinez dominating major league hitters. With a mid to upper ninties fastball and a fility curveball he’ll miss bats against any level of competition. However, concerns remain whether the right-hander’s slight build and violent delivery will move him to the bullpen. Further, he’ll need to develop a third offering that he can throw for strikes or batters will lay off his curveball and sit dead red. (JD Sussman) #5 Kolten Wong (2B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 21 655 174 25 10 46 85 26 .291 .348 .404 .341 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: AA Acquired: 2011 draft (22nd overall) Projected 2013 level: AAA/MLB St. Louis currently has a number of players on the big league roster capable of handling second base but none possess the ceiling of Wong, a pure left-handed hitter. A scout familiar with the second baseman said he “does a little bit of everything. The power will surprise you – although it will likely never be plus. He hits to all fields, handles left-handed pitchers pretty well, will bunt for a hit, execute the hit and run, set up pitchers, work counts, take his walks, etc. Probably the toughest guy to find in scouting is a natural hitter – a guy who does the big things as well as the small things well – and Kolten always had that natural feel for hitting.” One of the biggest knocks against Wong has been his defense at second base but, as an amateur, he played catcher, shortstop, center field and second base so he hasn’t had the time necessary to smooth out the rough edges at the keystone. With his determination and athleticism, though, there are few concerns over his ability to become and average to above-average defender. As for Wong’s make-up, the scout added, “He is head and shoulders above his peers in how he handles himself and answers questions, as if he has played 10 years in the big leagues. What many thought was a detriment in his size is what I thought made him so good. He would not be the player he is if he was six feet tall – it is the reason he is where he is, because he has been told “no” or that is too short for so long, that he is out to prove people wrong and why he plays with a chip on his shoulder. It is a really special package.” #6 Trevor Rosenthal (P) Age G GS IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP WAR 22 19 0 22.2 9.93 2.78 53.7 % 2.78 3.09 0.2 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: AA/AAA/MLB Acquired: 2009 21st round Projected 2013 level: AAA/MLB Rosenthal ranked seventh of the Cardinals Top 15 list last year as a starting pitcher with a fastball capable of working in the 91-95 mph range. Fast-forward a year and Rosenthal has moved up one spot – despite a much-improved system – and wowed MLB playoff watchers with a 96-100 mph fastball out of the bullpen. The right-hander’s stuff has improved significantly with a move to the bullpen where he can air it out in shorter stints. While researching this write-up, I watched Rosenthal pitch two innings at the big league level and he sat at 98 mph with his heater and showed two different breaks to his curveball – one very loose that was more of a chase pitch and a tighter breaker that he would back-door over the inner half to right-handed hitters. Because good hitters can catch up to even the highest of high heat, his continued successes will come from being able to change eye levels, so his curve is important to the progression of his heater. Rosenthal’s 2013 role is still undefined and there has been some talk of moving him back into the starting rotation but it remains to be seen if he can continue to throw in the upper 90s with the increased workload. Either way, it appears as though the former 21st round draft pick will be a key cog on a club that is hungry to repeat the successes of 2012. If he gets placed back in the starting rotation Rosenthal could head back to triple-A to work on stretching out for the increased workload and polishing up his secondary pitches. If he stays in the bullpen – my personal preference for him – he’s probably ready to assume a significant role. Additional Notes Before Rosenthal exploded onto the scene with multiple 100 MPH readings in the National League playoffs, he was a lesser known prospect cast in the shadows of Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and even Tyrell Jenkins. This led to shock when a scout of approximately 30 years told me without hesitation that Rosenthal was the best starting pitcher he had scouted in 2012 as we were watching uber-prospect Taijuan Walker (Mariners) in person. To be honest, I found it difficult to believe the scout’s claim Rosenthal posessed a 97 MPH sinker, but he was spot on. (Mike Newman) #7 Stephen Piscotty (3B/DH) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 21 237 62 18 4 18 25 3 .295 .376 .448 .377 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: A Acquired: 2012 draft (36th overall) Projected 2013 level: A+ Piscotty was the Cardinals’ third selection in the 2012 – behind Michael Wacha and James Ramsey – and was taken 36th overall. He was an ideal pick for the organization, which makes good use of statistical analysis – along with traditional scouting – and values past performances (including strong results in both college and summer leagues). Mostly a third baseman as an amateur, Piscotty moved to right field part way through the college season and I was told that’s his likely role in the Cardinals organization, not because they feel he can’t play there, but because they think he’ll be an excellent defensive outfielder and have other third base options with plus defensive potential. When I saw Piscotty play very early in his pro career he was DHing so I did not get a look at his defense. At the plate, he showed a slightly open stance but could stand to have a more pronounced load. As well, his swing is almost all in his hands and arms, and using his lower half more might help him improve his power. His frame definitely has room to add weight/strength, as well. He showed very quick hands at the plate, pulling them in to attack a ball on the inner half. A talent evaluator I spoke with said Piscotty has an advanced approach at the plate, controls the strike zone well and has good pitch recognition. “He’s a professional hitter… probably the most complete hitter (in the draft).” That same evaluator said he has no concerns over Piscotty’s ability to generate power because he creates good back spin on the ball. He said it’s only a matter of time before his power shifts from gap strength to over-the-fence pop, placing a future 50-55 grade on his power and 60-65 grade on his hit tool. Look for him to play in high-A ball in 2013. #8 Carson Kelly (3B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 17 225 47 10 9 10 33 0 .221 .259 .394 .294 Opening Day Age: 18 2012 Level: R+ Acquired: 2012 draft (2nd round) Projected 2013 level: A- The Cardinals organization was thrilled to get Kelly on Day 2 of the amateur draft in 2012 – considering him a first-round talent – and handed him $1.6 million to forego a commitment to the University of Oregon. The 18-year-old third baseman was a tough player for a lot of teams to get a read on due to a short baseball season made even more brief by rain outs. A talent evaluator I spoke with said Kelly may have the highest ceiling of any player taken by the Cardinals during a very strong draft. That same person told me the youngster was a confident, mentally-tough kid with great make-up. His swing was likened to that of San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey. At the plate, Kelly possesses plus power potential and didn’t strikeout as much as a typical power hitter – made all the more impressive by his inexperience. The talent evaluator I spoke to about Kelly said his defense should become more than average over time thanks to a strong arm, good hands and quick feet. “He still has some development to go through because he’s so young but what he did (in his debut)… was so impressive.” #9 Tyrell Jenkins (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 19 19 19 82.1 84 5 8.74 3.94 5.14 3.47 Opening Day Age: 20 2012 Level: A Acquired: 2010 draft (50th overall) Projected 2013 level: A+ One of my personal favorite arms in the system, Jenkins missed time in 2012 due to shoulder soreness but still managed to make 19 starts in A-ball. He possesses a good fastball – which was working 92-94 mph when I watched him – as well as a very good curveball. He’s also very athletic and projectable. One good comp I heard for his body and delivery was the Pirates’ James McDonald. Jenkins has a clean delivery with little effort, resulting in easy velocity. He uses his legs prominently in his delivery. When I saw him, he was rushing his delivery, throwing off his mechanics, which resulted in decreased command. When everything was working, he was down at the hitters’ knees with his fastball and getting swings-and-misses with the breaking ball. When he signed out of a Texas high school Jenkins was considered raw because he was a multiple-sport star – and was also a quarterback recruit at Baylor University. A scout I spoke with said, although he wasn’t polished, certain things came easily to the young pitcher, including a natural wind-up and good balance over the rubber. “It seemed like he was always repeating his delivery… Unlike a lot of raw pitchers, (the Cardinals) didn’t have to build his delivery from the ground floor up; it came naturally to him and he was doing things (he should be) without knowing that he was or should be doing it.” The scout said Jenkins was always a pitcher rather than a thrower, like most amateur hurlers. “He’s one of those guys… you just know you have something special. He’s a really neat kid.” Additional Notes A scouting contact compared Tyrell Jenkins to a young James McDonald (in a good way). To describe a Single-A pitcher as a future big league starter is always complimentary, but I suspect prospect followers would expect a higher profile comp given his name value. In the end, the contact struggled to see how Jenkins’ raw stuff could translate into a front of the rotation arm. (Mike Newman) #10 Matt Adams (1B) Age PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR 23 91 2 0 .244 .286 .384 .292 83 -1.1 -0.2 Opening Day Age: 25 2012 Level: AAA/MLB Acquired: 2009 draft (23rd round) Projected 2013 level: AAA/MLB With the loss of Albert Pujols prior to the 2012 season, many fans thought Adams would get a significant opportunity to establish himself as the everyday first baseman in St. Louis but Allen Craig ended that line of thinking with an outstanding season. The rookie appeared in just 27 games and, while he had his moments, did not force the club’s hand into finding a roster spot for him. After hitting more than 50 home runs during the past two seasons in the upper minors it’s clear that Adams has some big league value but his over-aggressive nature at the plate – witnessed by his 5.4% walk rate in triple-A – hampers his offensive value. I personally saw Adams deposit a hanging breaking ball about 420 feet for a home run at the big league level, and it looked like he hit it off the end of the bat. The first baseman has a smooth swing when he’s not trying to do too much but he presses at times even though he doesn’t need to pull the ball or swing from the heels to hit for power. He can be described as “farm boy strong” rather than muscular so he may age poorly and will have to watch his conditioning. Now 24, Adams is looking at a return to triple-A for a second campaign and may need a trade if he hopes to play regularly in the majors any time soon. #11 James Ramsey (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 22 247 48 9 1 33 59 9 .229 .333 .314 .309 Opening Day Age: 23 2012 Level: A+ Acquired: 2012 draft (23rd overall) Projected 2013 level: A+/AA There was some thought that Ramsey was an overdraft with the 23rd overall selection because he was both a college senior at Florida State University and considered “a tweener” by some when analysing his outfield defensive skills. The Cardinals organization, though, see him as a potential 70-grade center-fielder. A talent evaluator I spoke with agreed with that assessment and said, “He gets excellent jumps in center field, and made more than a handful of highlight plays (in high-A ball). He got better every day.” Ramsey didn’t stand out nearly as much on offense but he was challenged with an assignment to high-A and played everyday despite showing some fatigue during the longest baseball season of his life. Ramsey was known for having outstanding make-up during his college career and that carried over to pro ball, according to someone who saw him play. “He was the first one on the field everyday,” he said, adding that the outfielder also takes instruction well and has the inner strength to overcome adversity. Ramsey will probably return to high-A to open 2013 but could reach double-A before too long. #12 Ryan Jackson (2B) Age PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR 24 18 0 0 .118 .167 .118 .137 -22 0.2 -0.2 Opening Day Age: 24 2012 Level: AAA/MLB Acquired: 2009 draft (5th round) Projected 2013 level: AAA/MLB Known for being a very good defensive college shortstop, Jackson’s big questions surrounded his offensive abilities when he entered pro ball. The organization, though, has to be pleasantly surprised with his offensive contributions and he graduated to the majors in 2012. One talent evaluator took notice of his work with the stick. “Ryan had a solid offensive season, hitting for average and getting on base… He’s shown occasional power, as well. While I don’t think he’s going to be a huge bat guy, I don’t see him being a liability in the lineup and think he’ll continue to be a better hitter than most people expect.” Jackson spent most of his time at shortstop while playing in the minors but manned second base at the big league level despite an injury to veteran incumbent shortstop Rafael Furcal. The evaluator commented, “He doesn’t have outstanding foot speed, so he’s not going to wow with the flashy ‘Ozzie Smith‘ type plays defensively, but he’s a very intuitive shortstop who positions himself well and has good reactions to balls off the bat, so he makes a lot more plays than you would expect given the raw foot speed.” Jackson isn’t guaranteed a spot on the big league club in 2013 but I like his potential more than Pete Kozma, who played a large role during the ’12 playoffs. #13 Steve Bean (C) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 18 154 26 8 1 23 43 2 .200 .325 .285 .302 Opening Day Age: 19 2012 Level: R/R+ Acquired: 2012 draft (59th overall) Projected 2013 level: R+ Texas is typically known for developing hard-throwing pitchers but St. Louis hopes to have hit gold with a fast-rising high school catcher from the lone star state. Bean was one of two potentially-plus defenders that St. Louis had on its draft board and the only one that the organization thought could develop a solid bat. As one talent evaluator told me, “He has a chance to be a plus defender who can hit…. He has a deceptively-powerful frame… with pretty good rhythm from the left side (of the plate).” Bean still has work to do on his defense by learning the nuances of the position – mainly because of his youth and inexperience . He’s a good leader, has 1.85-1.9 pop times and “he’s learning to call a good game.” A scout I talked to also mentioned Bean when asked to name an up-and-comer in the system, “He’s got the catch and throw tool going on.” The young backstop will likely open 2013 in extend spring training before moving up to advanced rookie ball in June. #14 John Gast (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 23 28 28 160.2 162 15 7.11 3.08 4.09 3.92 Opening Day Age: 24 2012 Level: AA/AAA Acquired: 2010 draft (6th round) Projected 2013 level: AAA/MLB Gast has been on the prospect landscape for a long time and was considered a top arm when he blew out his elbow during his senior year of high school. Texas took a flyer on him in the fifth round and offered him a decent contract but he chose to follow through on his commitment to Florida State University. After being a top-three-round pick as a teenager, Gast struggled in college and fell to the Cardinals in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. Although he doesn’t have the same ceiling that he once did, Gast still has the potential to develop into a reliable No. 4 starter. One talent evaluator I spoke to said the southpaw has a solid fastball-changeup combination but he’s still working to develop a reliable breaking ball. “The encouraging thing is that his slider improved as the season progressed, so assuming that progression continues…. (it gives) him improved weapons for use as a starter.” Gast’s fastball velocity also improved by 1 to 2 mph between 2011 and 2012 and is now average for a southpaw. I’m told his fastball command is above-average but his changeup remains his go-to pitch, with his slider the distant third offering. “The slider is improving – he’ll flash some really good ones, so it becomes a matter of consistency with that pitch.” #15 Patrick Wisdom (3B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 20 279 68 16 6 31 58 2 .282 .373 .465 .389 Opening Day Age: 21 2012 Level: A- Acquired: 2012 draft (52nd overall) Projected 2013 level: A/A+ The Cardinals liked Wisdom more than some organizations that had concerns over his college junior-year struggles at the plate. The 52nd overall selection has looked good so far for the club, though, as the third baseman posted a 147 wRC+ with 27 extra base hits in 65 games in the New York Penn League — although a college-aged hitter should succeed at that level. A front office official said that Wisdom dominated a number of private pre-draft workouts with teams, which helped convince some clubs to overlook his modest struggles. A contact familiar with the prospect referred to Wisdom as a potential gold glove third baseman. “(He’s) one of the best defenders in the organization… with a plus arm and he’s light on his feet. He’s fun to watch at third base.” He also has a strong arm and is known for having good make-up. With some depth at the hot corner, the former St. Mary’s College player will likely open the year in A-ball at Peoria in the Midwest League.