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February 10, 2012

Future Shock

Cardinals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System in 20 Words or Less: Jeff Luhnow and Sig Mejdal leave the Cardinals with a much-improved system from previous years, and some international market gains.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Shelby Miller, RHP
2. Oscar Taveras, OF
3. Carlos Martinez, RHP
Four-Star Prospects
4. Matt Adams, 1B
5. Kolten Wong, 2B
Three-Star Prospects
6. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
7. Zack Cox, 3B
8. Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
9. Jordan Swagerty, RHP
10. Matt Carpenter, 3B
11. Ryan Jackson, SS

Nine More
12. Charlie Tilson, OF: This 2011 second-round pick is a speedy center fielder and potential leadoff man.
13. Maikel Cleto, RHP: Scouts are mixed on this power-armed righty; some feel he'd work better in a bullpen role.
14. Adron Chambers, OF: Chambers reached the big leagues last year and should have a career as a nice fourth outfielder.
15. John Gast, LHP: He has impressive velocity for a southpaw, but he needs to refine the remainder of his arsenal.
16. Joe Kelly, RHP: His hard sinker is an outstanding pitch, but it’s also his only plus offering.
17. C.J. McElroy, OF: This third-round pick is a compact athlete with plenty of potential, but he’s quite raw.
18. Cody Stanley, C: Stanley is a plus defender behind the plate with just enough bat to keep scouts interested.
19. Boone Whiting, RHP: He puts up great stats, but he does it with location and a plus changeup.
20. Seth Blair, RHP: Blair, a supplemental first-round pick from 2010, had an ugly pro debut due to control issues, but he still has his stuff.

1. Shelby Miller, RHP
DOB
: 10/10/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, Brownwood HS (TX)
2011 Stats: 2.89 ERA (53-40-20-81) at High-A (9 G); 2.70 ERA (86.2-72-33-89) at Double-A (16 G)
Tools Profile: He’s everything you look for in a right-handed starting prospect.

Year in Review: Dominating the Florida State League and easily handling Double-A hitters has put the top prospect in the system on the verge of the big leagues.
The Good: Miller is an athletic right-hander who can miss bats with two plus or better offerings. His fastball sits at 93-95 mph, can touch 97, and features some wiggle. His power curveball is an out pitch due to its heavy late break and his ability to throw it for strikes or bury it in the dirt. His changeup is average. The righty works quickly and is unfazed on the mound.
The Bad: Miller has a tendency to work the upper part of the strike zone and has some fly-ball tendencies. He can be guilty of overthrowing his changeup. The Cardinals suspended him late in the season for an alcohol-related incident, but it's seen as a one-time mistake.
Ephemera: In 2011, Florida State League batters who led off an inning against Miller went 5-for-46 (.109) with 25 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a star-level starter in the mold of Matt Cain.
Fantasy Impact: He won’t be the first pitcher selected, but he’ll certainly be an early pick.
Path to the Big Leagues: Miller is expected to begin the year at Triple-A Memphis. He could get the call if a spot starter is needed. Otherwise, he's lined up for a September debut.
ETA: Late 2012

2. Oscar Taveras, OF
DOB
: 6/19/92
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: .386/.444/.584 at Low-A (78 G)
Tools Profile: Bat, bat and more bat.

Year in Review: When not struggling with hamstring issues, this Dominican was the most impressive pure hitter in the Midwest League by a wide margin.
The Good: Taveras has an excellent approach for his age, and his swing possesses the rare combination of extreme violence and sublime bat control. While he takes a massive cut, he consistently makes very hard contact to all fields. Once he adds some loft, scouts believe he'll be good for 18-20 home runs. Leg problems limited Taveras in 2011, but he's an average runner with a good arm.
The Bad: Taveras is not especially toolsy, so most of his value is wrapped in his hitting ability. He'll be limited to an outfield corner in the future, so there is some onus on him to find the power in his swing.
Ephemera: In 42 home game for Quad Cities, Taveras went 67-for-151 for an insane .444/.494/.689 line.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a .300+ hitter with 20 home runs annually.
Fantasy Impact: Everyone likes batting averages with power, but find your speed elsewhere.
Path to the Big Leagues: Taveras will likely begin the year in the Florida State League, but if he can stay healthy, he could hit his way to the upper levels around his 20th birthday.
ETA: Late 2013

3. Carlos Martinez, RHP
DOB
: 9/21/91
Height/Weight: 6-0/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Dominican Republic
2011 Stats: 2.33 ERA (38.2-27-14-50) at Low-A (8 G); 5.28 ERA (46-49-30-48) at High-A (10 G)
Tools Profile: He has the best arm strength in the system, and among the best in all of the minors.

Year in Review: This much-hyped international signee did not disappoint early on in his stateside debut, but he scuffled after moving up to High-A.
The Good: Martinez's fastball is electric. He sits in the mid- to upper-90s and touched triple digits on several occasions. He will flash a plus curveball with plenty of depth, and he’s an aggressive pitcher who goes after hitters.
The Bad: Martinez has a smallish frame and plenty of effort in his delivery, a combination that has many scouts projecting a future in the bullpen. His curveball comes and goes, and he can be guilty of overthrowing the pitch. His command can waiver.
Ephemera: Midwest League left-handed batters hit just .109 (7-for-64) against Martinez, yet Florida State League lefty hitters touched him up for a .307 (23-for-75) mark.
Perfect World Projection: It's easy to dream on Martinez as a stud starter, but many scouts project a bullpen role for him, particularly as a closer.
Fantasy Impact: He should have value in either role.
Path to the Big Leagues: Martinez will remain a starter for now and get another crack at High-A batters in 2012.
ETA: 2014

4. Matt Adams, 1B
DOB
: 8/31/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/230
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 23rd round, 2009, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
2011 Stats: .300/.357/.566 at Double-A (115 G)
Tools Profile: This 23-year-old has plenty of power, and he can flat-out hit.

Year in Review: This first baseman proved 2010's surprise performance was for real by making a two-level jump and earning Texas League MVP honors.
The Good: Adams has plus-plus power, but it comes from his size more than his swing. He's a pure hitter who focuses on contact and lets his strength work for him by launching rockets to all fields. He also projects to hit for a high batting average. He has hit at every level, and scouts have gone from writing him off as a late-pick organizational player to a potential big-league force. The Slippery Rock product is good at picking throws out of the dirt at first base.
The Bad: Adams is well over his listed weight of 230 pounds, and he’s sluggish on the basepaths and in the field. He'll need to improve his plate discipline; he swings at too many pitches and finds himself behind in the count too often.
Ephemera: None of the 18 players selected out of Slippery Rock have reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a middle-of-the-order run producer.
Fantasy Impact: It’s above average, even for a first baseman.
Path to the Big Leagues: Albert Pujols’ departure transformed Adams' future in St. Louis from non-existent to the club’s first baseman of the future. He'll spend most of 2012 at Triple-A Memphis and compete for the everyday job in 2013.
ETA: Late 2012

5. Kolten Wong, 2B
DOB
: 10/10/90
Height/Weight: 5-9/190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011, University of Hawaii
2011 Stats: .335/.401/.510 at Low-A (47 G)
Tools Profile: There’s nothing star-level here, but Wong has a little bit of everything.

Year in Review: The Cardinals’ first-round pick was even better than advertised in his pro debut.
The Good: Wong’s ability and infectious energy make him fun to watch. He's a small, compact athlete with an excellent approach and a lightning-quick bat. He has enough leverage in his swing to hit 10-15 homers per season. His average speed plays up due to his instincts. He has excellent instincts and fundamentals at second base.
The Bad: While it's hard to find weaknesses in his game, Wong doesn't have any star-level tools, either. His size doesn’t allow for much projection in his game.
Ephemera: Wong hit .660 during his senior year at Kamehameha High School and never hit less that .500 in any of his four varsity seasons.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average everyday second baseman.
Fantasy Impact: Most of this second baseman’s value will be in his batting average, but he won't be a total slouch in other categories. He’ll deliver double-digit home runs and stolen bases.
Path to the Big Leagues: Wong could have a development path similar to 2010 first-round pick Zack Cox; he could begin the year in the Florida State and move up to Double-A at midseason.
ETA: Late 2013

6. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
DOB: 7/20/92
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, Henderson HS (TX)
2011 Stats: 3.86 ERA (56-63-13-55) at Rookie (11 G)
Tools Profile: There’s not much in reality, but Jenkins has as much to dream on as any arm in the system.

Year in Review: This high-ceiling right-hander showcased all of his strengths and weakness in the Appy League.
The Good: There are few more athletic pitchers than Jenkins in the minors. He has long levers, but his silky-smooth delivery allows him to throw strikes with an 89-95 mph fastball that should sit more consistently at the upper parts of that range as his game matures.
The Bad: Jenkins remains a very raw product. He'll occasionally show an impressive curveball and has some feel for a changeup, but they're both inconsistent offerings that will require plenty of refinement. He needs innings and repetition more than anything.
Ephemera: Jenkins allowed just one earned run in the first inning over his 11 starts for Johnson City, but had a 4.60 ERA in all the following frames combined.
Perfect World Projection: Jenkins has frontline potential, but he's light years away from his ceiling.
Fantasy Impact: For now, he's a high-risk, high-reward pick.
Path to the Big Leagues: Jenkins will be monitored closely as he makes his highly-anticipated full-season debut at Low-A Quad Cities.
ETA: 2015

7. Zack Cox, 3B
DOB: 5/9/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/215
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, University of Arkansas
2011 Stats: .335/.380/.439 at High-A (42 G); .293/.355/.432 at Double-A (93 G)
Tools Profile: He has an impressive bat, but his other tools fall a bit flat.

Year in Review: This first-round pick got better as the season went on; he reached Double-A in his first full season.
The Good: Cox has a plus hit tool due to excellent pitch recognition and outstanding hand-eye coordination. He uses all fields and began to tap into his average power during the second half of the season. His second-best tool is his plus arm.
The Bad: Cox rarely looks comfortable in the box against left-handed pitching and it shows up in the results; in 141 at-bats against southpaws in 2011, he hit just .241 and didn’t homer. Cox has a thick build and is a below-average runner who can get sloppy at third base.
Ephemera: In 2011, Cox went 4-for-7 with a pair of walks in nine plate appearances with the bases loaded.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday player, but he won’t be a star.
Fantasy Impact: He's going to hit for average, but his numbers in power categories could fall short of normal expectations for the position.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cox will return to Double-A in 2012, and has no obvious path from there with David Freese in the big leagues and Matt Carpenter at Triple-A. He'll have to mash his way to a promotion.
ETA: 2013

8. Trevor Rosenthal, RHP
DOB
: 5/29/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 21st round, 2009, Cowley College
2011 Stats: 4.11 ERA (120.1-111-39-133) at Low-A (22 G)
Tools Profile: This 21st-rounder has a plus fastball and plus control.

Year in Review: Rosenthal was a relative unknown entering the year, but his peripherals were much better than his ERA, as were his scouting reports.
The Good: This righty attacks hitters with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, touches 96, and features a bit of natural sinking action. He throws strikes with all of his pitches, and both his curveball and changeup could become average pitches.
The Bad: Rosenthal's delivery carries his arm across his body and he falls hard to his left side. He can become over-reliant on his fastball, and he needs to refine both of his secondary pitches. The 21-year-old has control, but he needs to improve his command and work both sides of the plate.
Ephemera: Cowley College, a two-year school in Arkansas City, Kansas, has not produced a notable baseball player since 1996, when both Travis Hafner and Junior Spivey were drafted.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a fourth starter, though he has some shot at being a third starter.
Fantasy Impact: He’ll be a solid contributor across the board.
Path to the Big Leagues: Rosenthal will begin 2012 in the Florida State League, where he can put up numbers to get the attention his talent deserves.
ETA: Late 2014

9. Jordan Swagerty, RHP
DOB
: 7/14/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, Arizona State University
2011 Stats: 1.50 ERA (30-18-2-30) at Low-A (5 G); 1.82 ERA (54.1-42-16-52) at High-A (22 G); 2.89 ERA (9.1-8-5-7) at Double-A (9 G)
Tools Profile: Swagerty’s two-pitch mix works better in the bullpen.

Year in Review: This 2010 second-round pick impressed as a starter, but he moved quickly through the system when returned to his college role as a late-inning reliever.
The Good: Swagerty combines two power pitches with outstanding control. He sits in the low 90s with a fastball that can touch 95; he uses it to get ahead in the count to set up a plus-plus slider that comes in hard and features heavy tilting action. His delivery is a bit unorthodox, but his arm action is clean and smooth.
The Bad: Swagerty is not the most physical of pitchers, and will likely always work better in relief. He has a changeup, but its development is well behind his other offerings.
Ephemera: Among the forty-seven 75th overall picks in draft history, Scott Radinsky is the all-time leader in both wins (42) and saves (52).
Perfect World Projection: He could be a fourth starter or a set-up man.
Fantasy Impact: It’ll be solid but unspectacular as a starter, and he’ll be good but without saves as a reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: Swagerty will likely return to Double-A in 2012, but his role there is still a bit up in the air. If he stays in the bullpen, he could reach the big leagues as early as September.
ETA: 2013

10. Matt Carpenter, 3B
DOB
: 11/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 13th round, 2009, Texas Christian University
2011 Stats: .300/.417/.463 at Triple-A (130 G); .067/.263/.133 in MLB (7 G)
Tools Profile: The TCU product doesn’t have many tools, but he doesn't make outs.

Year in Review: This on-base machine kept doing his thing at Triple-A and made a brief big-league debut.
The Good: Carpenter is one of the toughest outs in the minor leagues. He never swings at a pitch outside of the zone, and rarely strikes out. He utilizes a quick, compact swing to lace line drives in every direction. He's a max-effort grinder who gets the most out of his tools.
The Bad: Carpenter's value revolves around his offensive prowess. He's a poor runner, below-average defender, and his arm is merely average. He's hardly a singles hitter, yet he lacks the kind of power normally associated with the hot corner.
Ephemera: Players selected with the 399th overall pick in the draft have hit 167 big-league home runs. Terry Steinbach, who did not sign as that selection in 1980 by the Indians, hit 162 of them.
Perfect World Projection: He won’t be a star, but he’ll be a solid, everyday third baseman.
Fantasy Impact: It’s nothing special, but Carpenter has more value in leagues where on-base percentage counts.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, his only hope in St. Louis is staying hot and waiting for David Freese's annual disabled list stint. Even then, he needs a change of scenery to get a real look.
ETA: 2013

11. Ryan Jackson, SS
DOB
: 5/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2009, University of Miami
2011 Stats: .278/.334/.415 at Double-A (135 G)
Tools Profile: He’s a plus defender who is starting to figure some things out with the bat.

Year in Review: The glove-first shortstop showed some signs of life at the plate in his first season at the upper levels.
The Good: While Jackson is not a fast player, he's very quick; he has outstanding instincts and reactions at shortstop to go with soft hands, a plus arm, and outstanding actions. He's an instinctual hitter who waits for his pitch, has a decent feel for contact, and gap power.
The Bad: Jackson's numbers always look better due to his ability to hit left-handers hard; his platoon splits are a bit troubling. He can't afford to lose a step because he'll have little big-league value if he can't play on the left side of the field.
Ephemera: Jackson hit at least .323 in three different months of the 2011 season, but he hit just .208 in May and August combined.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an everyday shortstop, with the floor of a nice utility player.
Fantasy Impact: It’s nothing special, but he'll have extra value in sim leagues where defense matters.
Path to the Big Leagues: Jackson will move up to Triple-A in 2012. He could be caddy in the big leagues in 2013 with eyes on the full-time gig once Furcal's two-year deal is up.
ETA: 2013

The Sleeper: Lance Jeffries, a 2011 10th-round pick, is a rough-around-the-edges project with an electric bat and well above-average speed.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/86 or later)
1. Shelby Miller, RHP
2. Jaime Garcia, LHP
3. Oscar Taveras, OF
4. Carlos Martinez, RHP
5. Matt Adams, 1B
6. Kolten Wong, 2B
7. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
8. Eduardo Sanchez, RHP
9. Lance Lynn, RHP
10. Zack Cox, 3B

Needless to say, the Cardinals are not a young team at the big-league level. Garcia's 2011 showing was more indicative of his true talent; while he's hittable, his ability to throw strikes and get ground balls makes him a number-three starter. Sanchez was outstanding out of the bullpen early in the season; he’d rank higher if his season hadn’t been cut short by shoulder problems. Lynn found a home in a relief role and should be effective there for years to come.

Summary: The Cardinals’ system is, in many ways, fascinating one. While Miller is a no-brainer as the system’s top prospect, scouts have mixed reviews about the abilities and upside of nearly every prospect below him. My rankings could be right or wrong, but there is no question that this system has improved significantly.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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