Top 15 Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals

The depth within the minor league system is still not where it needs to be for the organization to be considered among the best in baseball. However the club has infused some exciting talent into the mix in recent years. The Cardinals minor league system is definitely one to watch in the years ahead as it boasts some high-ceiling talent and a plethora of hard-throwing relief arms.

1. Shelby Miller, RHP
BORN: Oct. 19, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round, Texas HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

One of the top arms available in the 2009 draft, the hard-throwing Texan can fire his heat up into the mid-to-high 90s and it has excellent movement. Miller’s fastball is so effective that he has to be encouraged to use his secondary pitches, both of which show flashes of brilliance: a curveball and changeup. Although they have potential, Miller needs to command them better. His plus velocity allows him to safely work in the upper half of the strike zone but it would be nice to see the fly-ball pitcher generate a few more ground-ball outs. After splitting 2011 between high-A and double-A, the right-hander should move up to triple-A where he’ll face a stiff challenge by facing an increased number of strong fastball hitters. Miller has the ceiling of a No. 1 starter and he could be pitching in St. Louis by the end of the ’12 season.

2. Oscar Taveras, OF
BORN: June 19, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 9th

I was one of only two prospect analysts among The Big 5 (FanGraphs, Baseball America, Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, and John Sickels) to rank Taveras among the Cardinals’ Top 10 prospects prior to 2011, so it was exciting to see him continue to develop as hoped last year. Taveras generates good power that could eventually lead to 20+ home runs at the big league level, but he also has the ability to hit for average. He led the Midwest League with a .386 batting average in 2011 (thanks in part to a .440 BABIP). Taveras has a knack for making good contact and he struck out just 15% of the time, while also showing improved patience (9.2 BB%). He’s still rough defensively but could develop into an average right-fielder. After posting a wRC+ of 187 in low-A ball as a 19 year old (and also hitting above .300 in the Arizona Fall League), he could make quick work of high-A and see double-A by mid-season.

3. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
BORN: July 20, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, Texas HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th

Jenkins is my pick for breakout Cardinals prospect for 2012. His fastball already sits in the low 90s and touches 95-96 mph but there could be more velocity there if he can fill out his slender frame even more. The organization made some tweaks to his delivery upon turning pro and he’s still getting comfortable with it. He’s also switched from throwing a slider to a curveball so look for his strikeout rates to increase as he begins to master the pitch (He already shows a good feel for it). His third pitch is a developing changeup. Jenkins will pitch half the 2012 season as a teenager and should spend it at the low-A level.

4. Carlos Martinez, RHP
BORN: Sept. 21, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th

Martinez, 20, generates outstanding velocity from his 6′ tall frame. His fastball regularly touches 100 mph and sits in the mid-90s. His fastball generated a ton of ground balls in 2011 while he was pitching in low-A ball but his fly-ball rate increased significantly when he moved up to high-A ball because he struggled to command the pitch. His repertoire is rounded out by a curveball and changeup but both need significant work to become go-to pitches. Martinez has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter but he could end up as a high-leverage reliever if his secondary pitches don’t come around. He should return to high-A ball to begin the 2012 season.

5. Zack Cox, 3B
BORN: May 9, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round, University of Arkansas
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

The Cardinals’ first pick of the 2010 draft, Cox was considered one of the top pure hitters available. He proved that by hitting more than .300 and reaching double-A in his first full pro season. Although he should hit a stout .280-.300 as a big leaguer, there are questions about his power potential. His isolated power rate was just .139 after his promotion to double-A but he does show solid gap power and that could improve as he gains experience and learns better pitch selection. There are also questions about Cox’s ability to remain at third base due to modest range and so-so foot work. Some have suggested a move to second base but he’s not the most agile. A corner outfield spot might make more sense, although range could become an issue again. The former first rounder could receive an opening day assignment to triple-A and will soon be breathing down the neck of incumbent third baseman David Freese.

6. Kolten Wong, 2B
BORN: Oct. 10, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round, University of Hawaii
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Although he stands just 5’9”, Wong generates good gap power from above-average bat speed and a strong base. He projects to hit for average because he uses the whole field and has a strong eye at the plate. The left-handed hitter got off to a fast start to his pro career by hitting .335 with a strikeout rate of just 10.8% in 47 low-A games in 2011. Wong could potentially nab 15-20 bases in a full season with slightly-above-average speed. Defensively, he is a solid second baseman with good range, solid actions and a strong arm. If the organization wants to be aggressive with Wong, he could open 2012 in double-A. If not, high-A would be the most likely destination.

7. Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
BORN: May 29, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 21st round, Kansas community college
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Rosenthal is a unheralded gem unearthed by Cardinals scout Aaron Looper at a small Kansas community college. The right-hander has an exciting mix of power and ground-ball tendencies. His heater ranges from 90-95 mph and he works his sinker in the lower half of the strike zone. He also features a sharp slider and a developing changeup, which will be key to keeping him in the starting rotation. If Rosenthal can develop his secondary pitches and stick in the starting rotation then he could develop into an innings-eater. He tired late in 2011 and his numbers would have been even better had he not posted a 7.13 ERA in five August starts. The right-hander will move up to high-A ball in 2012 but could reach double-A by the end of the year.

8. Matt Adams, 1B
BORN: Aug. 31, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 23rd round, Slippery Rock University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

The current heir apparent to Albert Pujols at first base, Adams will face a stiff (impossible) task in trying to live up to the legend. Adams, 23, received a fair bit of attention in 2011 because he slugged 32 home runs at the double-A level while also finishing the year with a .300 batting average. A left-handed hitter, he still has some work to do against southpaws, though, and he hit just .250 in the Arizona Fall League. He may ultimately need some time at triple-A before he’s ready to play every day at the big league level. Originally signed as a catcher, Adams is still refining his defensive game at first base, although he should be at least average at the big league level. He has a large frame and will have to watch his conditioning.

9. Eduardo Sanchez, RHP
BORN: Feb. 16, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2005 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th

As stated in last year’s Cardinals Top 10 list, I’m a pretty big fan of Sanchez and he looked mighty impressive in 30 big league innings in 2011. The right-hander used his plus fastball and nasty slider to post a strikeout rate of 10.50 K/9 but his 4.50 BB/9 rate showed that he still has a ways to go in terms of harnessing his pitches. If he can improve his control, Sanchez has a chance to be a closer at the Major League level. He has a small frame and shoulder soreness ruined the second half of his season so durability is a concern entering 2012. If he’s healthy, though, Sanchez will be a key cog in the Cardinals’ bullpen.

10. Jordan Swagerty, RHP
BORN: July 14, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, Arizona State University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 10th

Swagerty was the closer at Arizona State University but the Cardinals organization has been toying with the idea of developing him into a permanent starter. He held both roles in 2011 but looked best when coming out of the bullpen. Swagerty pitched at three levels last season, topping out at double-A. His fastball sits in the low-90s and touches 95-96. His second-best pitch is a slider and he’s made strides with his changeup. The Texas native shows above-average ground-ball tendencies to go along with his excellent strikeout rates. The right-hander should open 2012 back at double-A but he could easily reach the Majors if he’s left in the bullpen. St. Louis could have a very nasty bullpen by 2013 with the additions of Swagerty, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez.

The Next Five

11. Joe Kelly, RHP: I’ve always admitted to being a huge Kelly fan because of his intriguing mix of fastball velocity and ground-ball rates. Drafted out of the same school, UC Riverside, as fellow ground-ball specialist and organization-mate Marc Rzepczynski (acquired last season from Toronto), Kelly needs better fastball command if he’s going to make good on his potential. He also needs a better weapon against left-handed hitters.

12. Ryan Jackson, SS: A slick-fielding shortstop, Jackson has actually hit a little better in pro ball than expected. He already flashes big league defensive skills but his bat will likely relegate him to a utility role at the big league level, although he could potentially spend a few season playing everyday for a second-division club. Jackson hit very well in the Arizona Fall League (.342/.438/.500) and should open 2012 in triple-A.

13. Lance Lynn, RHP: A former first round draft pick, Lynn was a fairly unexciting inning-eating starter in the minor leagues. His fastball sat in the 88-92 mph range and his secondary stuff was good-but-not-great. Shifted to the bullpen part way through ’11, Lynn’s fastball jumped into the mid 90s and touched 97-98 mph. He enters 2012 with a lot of potential as a high-leverage with his fastball-curveball combination.

14. Matt Carpenter, 3B: Already 26, Carpenter has turned himself into a solid prospect after being selected out of Texas Christian University as a fifth-year senior. He has the ability to hit for average but his power potential is below-average for a third baseman and his best hope for playing time at the big league level, especially with St. Louis, might come from a utility/pinch-hit role. His defense is average at the hot corner.

15. Maikel Cleto, RHP: Another hard-throwing relief prospect, Cleto pitched at four levels in 2011 and also made his big league debut, although he struggled. The right-hander can pump his fastball up into the high-90s and even tickle triple digits. Like a lot of young flame-throwers, he struggles with his control and doesn’t command his pitches – which also include a slider and changeup – on a consistent basis. A starter during his entire career, Cleto could really take off if he’s moved permanently to the bullpen.

SLEEPER ALERT: Charlie Tilson, OF: Tilson was the subject of mixed reviews as the 2011 draft approached but St. Louis saw enough of his to take him in the second round and sign him for more than $1 million. He’s a premium athlete who should develop into a strong defensive center-fielder. Tilson has good speed and could nab 30 bases at the big league level. Like many speedsters his power potential is below average but he’s shown gap power.

One scout familiar with Tilson had this to say: “For me, the biggest thing he needs is reps, reps, and more reps. He’s a cold weather state guy who played football in the fall. With him focusing on baseball year round it can only help his overall game.

“He’s an athletic player with an advance approach for a high school kid and the bat speed has always been evident. Scouts that got in there late saw that he was in fact a 70 runner. [He also] showed average arm strength and playmaking ability in center field. And he tops it off with having 80 makeup. [Tilson] will be a guy others gravitate around.”

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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I can’t figure out why Jenkins would rank over Martinez. Martinez is not a perfect prospect, but other than the 4″ of height Jenkins has on him they have the exact same drawbacks and Martinez’s stuff and results are better.

Not a huge quibble, but other than a smaller desire to flip Cox and Wong that’s the only real issue I have.


Martinez has eye-popping velocity, a good breaking pitch, and………. Guys with two good pitches and generously listed at six feet tall who look like they’re working harder than most on the mound have a place in baseball, and typically it’s in the bullpen.

He and Jenkins are night and day, once you get past the lone comparison that they’re teenagers with command issues and no fully formed third pitch, which describes virtually every teenage pitching prospect.


Martinez has a funky stride but I don’t see any special effort to his delivery. And I didn’t say they are the same pitcher, just that every thing you can knock Martinez for, other than height, is also a strike against Jenkins. I’ll take 5 MPH and a point of FIP over 4″ of height.


I can knock Martinez for a lot of stuff that I can’t knock Jenkins for, like Martinez not having a changeup to keep hitters off his flat four-seam fastball; like Martinez walking a lot of hitters when he jumped from A to high-A because he doesn’t have control of his pitches; like the size thing; like his mechanics are not smooth and Jenkins’ are excellent.

Jenkins needs time to prove those things can be knocks against him–the latter two, he will always be the bigger, more athletic and Martinez will never fix that. Jenkins is already working on a chageup, his mechanics are good, and he’s an athlete rather than a thrower. Those things all work overwhelmingly in his favor. A year from now if he’s been jumped to high-A and his BB rate explodes and he can’t even flash a decent changeup, we can talk. But Martinez has already hit those way stations and failed to impress. He’ll repeat high-A, probably for a full year, and if his mechanics don’t improve and his command doesn’t improve (and without the former he won’t get the latter) then next year the question might be “Where did Carlos Martinez go?”


Keith Law on Martinez’s third pitch: “He’ll flash a plus changeup that he turns over very well.”

Not to say he is right and you are wrong, but to point out to cpebbles what about Martinez led you to rank him so much lower than fellow scouts. You don’t like a changeup that some others do.


Pedro Martinez might be shorter, but that doesn’t mean he is a worse pitcher than Curt Schilling. Josh Beckett might have a better changeup than Aroldis Chapman, but that doesn’t mean Chapman is a ladies’ man. Daniel Bard might have a better beard than Jamey Carroll, but that doesn’t mean Bryan LaHair can’t become a productive major leaguer. The left leg might be shorter than the right, but that doesn’t mean the telephone poles are on fire.

You have been served.


But Marc, how many guys in single-A (especially teenagers) have a reliable third pitch? I don’t think guys like Miller and Moore did at that age (and level) unless I’m much mistaken. In fact I think you could still argue that Miller’s change isn’t much more than a show-me pitch. I think your concerns about CMart’s size and frame are valid, though.