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January 7, 2009

Future Shock

Cardinals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Colby Rasmus, CF
2. Brett Wallace, 3B
Four-Star Prospects
3. Chris Perez, RHP
4. Daryl Jones, LF
Three-Star Prospects
5. Jess Todd, RHP
6. Adam Reifer, RHP
7. Bryan Anderson, C
8. Jaime Garcia, LHP
9. Lance Lynn, RHP
10. Jason Motte, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. Niko Vasquez, SS

Just Missed: Mitch Boggs, RHP; Jon Jay, OF; Peter Kozma, SS

Ranking Challenges: Spots one through four are almost too easy, but it's a bit messy from there down. Reifer slots higher than expected based on a pair of crazy reviews from scouts, while a guy like Motte could land anywhere from fifth to completely off of the list depending on who you're talking to.

1. Colby Rasmus, CF
DOB: 8/11/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2005, Russell County HS (AL)
2008 Stats: .556/.667/1.000 at Rookie-level (3 G); .000/.182/.000, .000 EqA at High-A (3 G); .251/.346/.396, .247 EqA at Triple-A (90 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: This elite-level prospect entered the year with a shot at the big-league center-field job, and then got off to a miserable start at Triple-A; any chance of a mid-season rebound was derailed by groin and knee injuries.
The Good: Despite his struggles, scouts still see Rasmus as a future five-tool stud. He offers plus power from the left side, along with good plate discipline and the ability to crush mistake pitches. While his once skinny frame has filled out, he's still a 60-65 runner (on the 20-80 scouting scale), with great base-running instincts, outstanding range in center field, and a strong arm.
The Bad: There are no good reasons for the degree of his struggling early on, with theories ranging from him being a slow starter, to being upset at not making the big-league club out of spring training, to just plain bad luck; but none of them are adequate to explain the depth of his poor performance. He can be a little pull happy at times, and he expands his strike zone whenever he gets behind in the count.
Fun Fact: Rasmus was a superstar in the sixth inning for Memphis, batting .406 with a .656 slugging percentage, but strangely with no walks in 32 at-bats for a .394 on-base percentage.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an All-Star center fielder.
Glass Half Empty: He'll fail to hit for average early on, and despite displaying his power and speed, he'll make a good number of outs.
Path To The Big Leagues: Skip Schumaker did an admirable job last year, but he's no obstacle to a prospect like Rasmus.
Timetable: Rasmus is the center fielder of the future, but he'll likely return to Triple-A unless he has a monstrous spring.

2. Brett Wallace, 3B
DOB: 8/26/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/245
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Arizona State University
2008 Stats: .327/.418/.490, .259 EqA at Low-A (41 G); .367/.456/.653, .307 EqA at Double-A (13 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Arguably the top hitter in college baseball, he had no problem adjusting to pro ball, putting up huge numbers at Double-A just weeks after signing.
The Good: Wallace is an offensive machine. He has a big-league approach, outstanding hand/eye coordination, and above-average power. Defensively, he makes the plays on all the balls he gets to, and has enough arm for the hot corner.
The Bad: His bat is clearly his primary tool. Amateur scouts dubbed him "The Walrus" because of his thick build; he's a very slow runner with poor range at third base, especially when charging in on slowly hit ground balls.
Fun Fact: In the Arizona State media guide, Wallace lists his favorite player as A's third baseman Eric Chavez, which gives him something to aim for defensively.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a number-three hitter who's among the league leaders in batting average and on-base percentage, with 20-25 home runs annually.
Glass Half Empty: His offensive value takes a downturn if he moves to first base, but he's not going to stop hitting.
Path To The Big Leagues: Troy Glaus has one year left on his contract, so if he can stay on the left side, the timing is good; if not, first baseman Albert Pujols isn't going anywhere, which makes Wallace outstanding trade bait.
Timetable: Wallace will stay at third, and will likely return to Double-A to begin 2009.

3. Chris Perez, RHP
DOB: 7/1/85
Height/Weight: 6-4/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, University of Miami
2008 Stats: 3.20 ERA at Triple-A (25.1-18-12-38), 3.70 DERA; 3.46 ERA at MLB (41.2-34-22-42), 3.57 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: One of the top closer prospects in the game, he had little trouble proving himself to be big-league worthy after being called up.
The Good: Perez has the classic closer arsenal, with a 95-97 mph fastball than can touch 99, as well as a heavy mid-80s slider with two-plane break. He also throws on occasional curveball that can wreck a hitters' timing.
The Bad: He often struggles with his command, and it may never rate better than average due to his inconsistent release point. He tends to shy away from lefties, working primarily with his fastball away and consistently getting behind in the count.
Fun Fact: Perez liked the bright lights of the big leagues, putting up a 1.71 ERA in 26 night games, but getting hammered for 11 runs in 15 1/3 innings during the day.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become a major league closer.
Glass Half Empty: Too many walks will hinder his ability to become an elite talent.
Path To The Big Leagues: Perez is done with the minor leagues, and in The Show to stay.
Timetable: With Brian Fuentes out of the picture, the Cardinals are leaning towards a committee-style closer situation to begin the season, with Perez firmly in the mix.

4. Daryl Jones, LF
DOB: 6/25/87
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, Spring HS (TX)
2008 Stats: .326/.406/.476, .278 EqA at High-A (87 G); .290/.409/.500, .279 EqA at Double-A (36 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: After putting up a 600 OPS at Low-A in 2007, everything began to click for Jones, who has as many tools as anyone in the system after Rasmus.
The Good: While LASIK surgery certainly played a role in his improvement, Cardinals brass also point to Jones' strong work ethic. Athletically, he's just a notch below Rasmus, with average power and plus speed supplemented by a patient approach. He's a good baserunner, and his effort is never in question.
The Bad: Jones is still raw in a few aspects of his game. He's still prone to lunging at outside pitches, especially when facing left-handers. He needs considerable work on his jumps and routes in the outfield, and his arm is weak.
Fun Fact: Used in six different lineup slots at Double-A Springfield, Jones was a beast as a leadoff man, batting .360/.396/.680 in 11 games.
Perfect World Projection: He's a future 20/20 outfielder with on-base skills.
Glass Half Empty: As a left fielder, it will be hard for him to become an impact player.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Cardinals' outfield situation is crowded right now, so something will need to change by the time Jones is ready.
Timetable: He'll return to Double-A to begin 2009, and likely won't see the big leagues before 2011.

5. Jess Todd, RHP
DOB: 4/20/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2007, University of Arkansas
2008 Stats: 1.65 ERA at High-A (27.1-18-7-35), 4.21 DERA; 2.97 ERA at Double-A (103-79-24-81), 4.39 DERA; 3.97 ERA at Triple-A (22.2-19-11-20), 4.50 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: The Cardinals' 2007 second-round pick began his full-season debut in an aggressive assignment to High-A, and pitched well enough to finish the year just one step away from the big leagues.
The Good: While Todd can get into the 91-93 mph range with his straight fastball, he prefers to sit in the upper 80s with his sinker and cutter, which both grade up due to their movement and location. He mixes in a good slider along with a solid changeup, and he'll throw any pitch at any point in the count. His short, stocky frame is built for durability, and his clean arm action allows him to maintain his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Some are still turned off by Todd's body-his height and arm angle provide little downward plane on his pitches-and some feel that he doesn't project as well as his numbers would lead one to believe due to his lack of a true knockout offering.
Fun Fact: In each of his two starts against San Antonio (Padres) in the Texas League, Todd fired seven shutout innings while allowing just one hit.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid mid-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: He may have to settle for being more of a number-five type.
Path To The Big Leagues: The back of the Cardinals' rotation is in flux, so the opportunity is there.
Timetable: Todd will begin the year at Triple-A as one of many candidates for an extra starting pitcher should the need arise.

6. Adam Reifer, RHP
DOB: 6/3/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 11th round, 2007, University of California, Riverside
2008 Stats: 2.97 ERA at Short-season (30.1-18-15-41)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: After pitching just a handful of innings in 2007 because of elbow issues, this obscure pick looked like a future closer during his pro debut in '08.
The Good: While staying healthy and making considerable improvements in his mechanics, Reifer displayed velocity he had never reached in the past, pushing triple digits with his fastball while sitting at 95-98 mph. His slider gives him a second devastating offering, and he has a true closer mentality with a fearless approach to the game.
The Bad: His injury history throws up a red flag, and many want to see him pitch like this over the course of a full season before they'll truly believe. He had a tendency to overthrow and struggle with his control.
Fun Fact: Reifer will need just eight major league saves to pass Eric Show and rank second all-time among UC-Riverside alumni, but he'll have a long way to go from there to catch all-time leader Troy Percival.
Perfect World Projection: An intimidating power closer.
Glass Half Empty: This is all just a fluke.
Path To The Big Leagues: Let's get more than 30 innings out of him before we worry about it.
Timetable: Reifer will make his full-season debut in 2009, likely at High-A Palm Beach.

7. Bryan Anderson, C
DOB: 12/16/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2005, Simi Valley HS (CA)
2008 Stats: .388/.412/.525, .271 EqA at Double-A (19 G); .281/.367/.379, .249 EqA at Triple-A (73 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: A sweet-swinging catcher who got off to great start in the Texas League, he slowed down a bit in his first exposure to Triple-A pitching.
The Good: Anderson is an instinctual hitter with a quick bat who combines good pitch recognition and plate coverage, and he's expected to maintain high batting averages and on-base percentages in the majors.
The Bad: Anderson's ability to spray line drives to any part of the field is where most of his value lies, and his single-plane swing is not conducive to power, nor does it project for any. He's a solid receiver, but his arm is a tick below average, leaving him prone to being victimized by the running game.
Fun Fact: Simi Valley is also the high school that produced Jeff and Jered Weaver.
Perfect World Projection: He'll pan out as a second-division starter.
Glass Half Empty: There's not enough offense here to play every day, and not enough defense to be a backup.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's blocked: Yadier Molina is signed for the next three years, with a reasonable option for 2012.
Timetable: For now, Anderson will begin the year back at Triple-A in order to get him consistent at-bats. If he starts off hot, he could become a trading chip at the deadline.

8. Jaime Garcia, LHP
DOB: 7/8/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 22nd round, 2005, Sharyland HS (TX)
2008 Stats: 2.06 ERA at Double-A (35-26-16-41), 3.62 DERA; 4.44 ERA at Triple-A (71-74-26-59), 5.71 DERA; 5.63 ERA at MLB (16-14-8-8), 5.62 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: He's a highly regarded lefty who made a solid return from elbow problems, pitching well in a big-league relief role before the elbow flared up again, which ultimately led to Tommy John surgery.
The Good: Garcia is a ground-ball machine, with his heavy 89-91 mph sinker featuring late drop-off-the-table movement. His curveball generates just as many grounders, as it tends to break down or out of the strike zone. He gets strong marks for his mound presence, works efficiently, and understands what kind of pitcher he is.
The Bad: Garcia had a history of elbow problems even before the surgery, so there's still some concern about his long-term outlook. His control has always been somewhat messy, and he can't afford the step backwards that is often associated with Tommy John recovery. His changeup has never been more than merely usable.
Fun Fact: Batters facing him in the Texas League with the bases empty in 2007 went 11-for-71 (.155) without an extra base hit.
Perfect World Projection: When healthy, he looked like a solid third or fourth starter.
Glass Half Empty: He just had major surgery, and has a history of elbow issues.
Path To The Big Leagues: He's temporarily been taken off of the chart.
Timetable: Garcia will likely miss all of 2009 while recovering. If he can bounce back to form, he'll once again be on the verge of a big-league job.

9. Lance Lynn, RHP
DOB: 5/12/87
Height/Weight: 6-5/250
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of Mississippi
2008 Stats: 0.96 ERA at Short-season (18.2-12-4-22); 2.25 ERA at Low-A (8-8-2-7), 6.75 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The Ole Miss ace fell out of the first round due to a down junior year, but he still earned $938,000 as a supplemental first-round pick and had a strong pro debut.
The Good: While Lynn is a massive, imposing presence on the mound, his game is more about changing speeds and hitting his spots. He has excellent command of an average-velocity fastball which he uses to set up two breaking balls; scouts prefer the slider to the curve. His changeup is another solid offering, and he has a good understanding of when to use it. He doesn't have a great deal of stuff, but his size and clean mechanics allow him to maintain a sufficient level throughout the game.
The Bad: Lynn is pretty much a finished product, so there's not much room for growth. He'll need to watch his weight as he matures in order to maintain his athletic delivery.
Fun Fact: A sixth-round pick by the Mariners in 2005 out of Brownsburg High in Indiana, he went 16-0 with a pair of saves in 18 games as a senior, while also hitting .400 with 14 home runs.
Perfect World Projection: He's a durable fourth starter.
Glass Half Empty: Not enough stuff to start, but enough command to be an innings-eating reliever or swingman.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's probably too early to worry about it, but he could move quickly.
Timetable: Lynn is a highly polished talent who is ready for an aggressive full-season assignment in the High-A Florida State League.

10. Jason Motte, RHP
DOB: 6/22/82
Height/Weight: 6-0/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 19th round, 2003, Iona
2008 Stats: 3.24 ERA at Triple-A (66.2-64-26-110), 3.84 DERA; 0.82 ERA at MLB (11-5-3-16)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This converted catcher struck out nearly 15 batters per nine innings at Triple-A, and then dominated in a brief late-season stint in the majors.
The Good: Motte's game is pure power, as he unleashes blistering fastballs that sit at 96-98 mph and can reach as high as 100. Because he was a catcher, his throwing motion pulls his hand behind his head, which adds a little deception to the pitch. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and wants the ball in key situations.
The Bad: As great as Motte's fastball is, it's also his only plus pitch. He also has a decent slider, but he tends to overthrow it and flattens the pitch out. His control is no more than average, and his fastball is straight and tends to be up in the zone.
Fun Fact: Understanding the rivalry well, Motte made three of his 12 big-league appearances against the Cubs, firing 2 2/3 scoreless innings with six whiffs.
Perfect World Projection: A put-away late-innings reliever.
Glass Half Empty: He needs a second pitch to avoid ending up as more of a middle-relief type; big-leaguers can hit a 99 mph pitch when they know it's coming.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's possible that his trip has been completed.
Timetable: Motte goes into the spring with a solid shot at earning a bullpen job, but the Cardinals are considering getting him more time at Memphis to work on his secondary offerings.

11. Niko Vasquez, SS
DOB: 2/26/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, Durango HS (NV)
2008 Stats: .317/.416/.462 at Rookie-level (55 G); .128/.205/.154, .065 EqA at Low-A (11 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: He looked much better than a third-round pick in his pro debut.
The Good: Multiple scouts who saw Vasquez last season noted that they were shocked to find out he was a third-round selection, with one stating, "there are first-round picks I've seen in this league with far less ability." His tools are at least average across the board, and he's an adept hitter who makes consistent hard contact and already showcases gap power. His has good instincts at shortstop to go with his soft hands and an average arm.
The Bad: Vasquez has a slightly stocky build that some feel doesn't bode well for his staying at shortstop, and he's currently only an average runner. His pitch recognition needs improvement; Midwest League pitchers were able to carve him up and expand his strike zone with a steady diet of breaking balls.
Fun Fact: A baseball powerhouse in Nevada, Durango high also produced current Cardinals star Ryan Ludwick.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid everyday shortstop.
Glass Half Empty: If he can't stay at shortstop, he profiles as merely average at second base.
Path To The Big Leagues: There's nothing to worry about until near the end of Barack Obama's first term.
Timetable: Vasquez will be the starting shortstop at Low-A Quad Cities in 2009.

The Sleeper: A small, skinny right-hander with a lightning arm, Francisco Samuel combines 97 mph heat with a nasty slider, and he could be poised for takeoff if he begins throwing more strikes.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Colby Rasmus, CF
2. Brett Wallace, 3B
3. Chris Perez, RHP
4. Daryl Jones, LF
5. Jess Todd, RHP
6. Adam Reifer, RHP
7. Bryan Anderson, C
8. Jamie Garcia, LHP
9. Lance Lynn, RHP
10. Jason Motte, RHP

Second verse, same as the first. Nobody is going to confuse the Cardinals with a young team, although this year's bullpen could change that.

Summary: The Cardinals have slowly built one of the better systems in baseball. It's not loaded with elite talent, but it is deeper than most, with prospects at nearly every position and as many as eight players making a legitimate argument for the 9th through eleventh spots on this list.


Up next: the San Diego Padres.

---

Cards VP of Scouting and Player Development Jaff Luhnow joins Brad Wochomurka as we check in on the Top 11 Prospect Lists at BPR.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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