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October 15, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

How the NLCS Squads Were Built

by R.J. Anderson

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Kevin Goldstein has moved on to a greener pasture, but we’re bringing back one of his postseason staples to illustrate how the four League Championship Series squads were built.

St. Louis Cardinals

Astros fans should take solace in the Cardinals’ success. Yes, it sounds weird. But no other remaining team rivals the Cardinals for self-sufficiency. St. Louis drafted five of its eight positional starters, and developed another by acquiring him before he reached the upper minors. The Cardinals have gone outside the organization for its stars, but the role players are almost entirely from within. 

Catcher
Yadier Molina (Draft, 2000)

Tony Cruz (Draft, 2007)

The Cardinals selected Molina in the fourth round, a few picks after the Indians drafted Arkansas southpaw Cliff Lee and the Royals popped Rutgers outfielder David DeJesus. Molina never dominated minor-league pitching, yet he breezed through the system and made his big-league debut at age 21. At first an offensive liability, Molina has transformed into a middle-of-the-order asset. Always great behind the plate, Molina’s offensive gains have made him one of the league’s best players over the past two years.

Cruz, a 26th-round pick, joined the organization as a third baseman. He tried catching in 2008 and took to the position, eventually surpassing top prospect Bryan Anderson on the organizational depth chart. Cruz is a defense-first backstop and uses his strong arm to control the running game, though he rarely plays because of Molina. 

Infield
Matt Carpenter (Draft, 2009)

Daniel Descalso (Draft, 2007)

David Freese (Trade, 12/07)

Pete Kozma (Draft, 2007)

Skip Schumaker (Draft, 2001)

A 13th-round pick from Texas Christian University, Carpenter earned prospect status due to his mature approach and line-drive tendencies. A third baseman by trade, Carpenter expanded his defensive palette to include first base and corner outfield in order to get into the lineup. Descalso had to hit in order to reach the majors, and hit he did once the Cardinals made him a full-time second baseman. Kozma is the only first-rounder of the bunch. His inability to hit earned him the bust label; or had, until his recent hot streak at the plate. Schumaker was an organizational soldier without a 200-plus plate appearance season in the majors until age 28. He’s enjoyed four since.

Freese earns the spotlight because Monday’s Game Two will mark the 26th postseason game for him with the Cardinals. Jim Edmonds, who along with Luke Gregerson went to San Diego for Freese, played in 26 regular season games with the Padres. In defense of the Padres, not many saw Freese becoming an eventual World Series MVP. A ninth-round pick out of the University of Alabama, Freese was typically old for his leagues and his defense raised questions about his long-term viability at the hot corner. Scouts always liked his raw power and approach, however, and the Cardinals showed faith in his ability to hit by skipping him past Double-A. Freese has rewarded the Cardinals for their belief in him. 

Outfield
Carlos Beltran (Free agent, 12/11)

Adron Chambers (Draft, 2007)

Allen Craig (Draft, 2006)

Matt Holliday (Trade, 7/09)

Jon Jay (Draft, 2006)

Shane Robinson (Draft, 2006)

In the post-Pujols aftermath, the Cardinals used some of their budget room on Beltran. He blistered the ball in the first half (.296/.382/.542), but slumped through the second half (.236/.302/.440). Chambers played defensive back in college before the Cardinals selected him in the 38th round. His speed and athleticism provided hope that he could transition to baseball, and he has to an extent. With each passing year, the trade that landed Holliday in St. Louis looks better and better. None of the players sent to Oakland—Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson, and Clayton Mortensen—ever contributed with the A’s. Both Jay and Robinson were 2006 draft picks, and both play decent-sized roles for the Cardinals now. In that sense, St. Louis did well.

Craig played shortstop as a freshman at UC Berkley. Since then, he’s slid down to the other end of the defensive spectrum. While Craig’s inability to field a position put further emphasis on his bat, he could always hit. Craig overcame an at-times overly aggressive approach to hit for average and power throughout the minors. With another season like the one he put up in 2012, we could be talking about Craig as one of the best hitters in the NL— not bad for an eighth-round pick. 

Rotation
Chris Carpenter (Free agent, 12/03)

Kyle Lohse (Free agent, 3/08)

Lance Lynn (Draft, 2008)

Adam Wainwright (Trade, 12/03)

The original Carpenter signing might be the best free-agent deal in club history, or at least the one with the highest return on investment. After injuries and ineffectiveness led the Blue Jays to quit on their former top draft pick and prospect, the Cardinals signed Carpenter to a deal worth the big-league minimum. Carpenter fulfilled the promise signified by his power sinker and curveball combination, and became a Cy Young candidate almost overnight.

Lohse carries a similar story. A former 29th-round pick, Lohse fell out of favor with multiple teams because his results rarely matched his stuff. At various points, teams acquired Lohse for Zach Ward and for Matt Maloney. The Cardinals signed Lohse in spring 2008, and again Dave Duncan worked his magic. Lohse is now enjoying a career season heading into what could be his final crack at free agency. St. Louis popped Lynn with the 38th-overall pick in the draft, but he could have gone higher if not for a so-so junior season. Wainwright, meanwhile, was the big catch in the J.D. Drew trade. 

Bullpen
Mitchell Boggs (Draft, 2005)

Joe Kelly (Draft, 2009)

Shelby Miller (Draft, 2009)

Jason Motte (Draft, 2003)

Edward Mujica (Trade, 7/12)

Trevor Rosenthal (Draft, 2009)

Marc Rzepczynski (Trade, 7/11)

Fernando Salas (NDFA, Mexico, 2007)

Boggs used to be a fastball-slider starting pitching prospect before the Cardinals sent him to the bullpen. Kelly, Miller, and Rosenthal for that matter, all remain present starting pitcher prospects. Miller is the best of the trio, and has top-of-the-rotation aspirations. Mujica and Rzepczynski are products of deadline trades. General Manager John Mozeliak acquired Mujica for Zack Cox this July and Rzepczynski (along with Edwin Jackson) in the Colby Rasmus trade last July. The Cardinals purchased Salas’ rights from Saraperos de Saltillo of the Mexican League.

Originally a 19th-rounder out of Iona College in New York, Motte spent the first three years of his professional career behind the plate. Like with most the catcher-to-closer stories (i.e. Troy Percival, Joe Nathan, etc.), Motte made the transition because he couldn’t hit a lick. Motte’s days behind the plate are still evident in the rawness of his pitching mechanics. 

Totals
Draft: 16
Free Agent: 3
Trade: 5
Waiver Claim: 0
NDFA: 1
Rule 5: 0

San Francisco Giants

Unlike the Cardinals, the Giants acquire their role players from other organizations while developing their own stars. Brian Sabean receives plenty of heat for his questionable free-agent signings, but the man can find cheap talent in the draft, on the waiver wire, and in the freely available talent dumpsters. 

Catcher
Buster Posey (Draft, 2008)

Hector Sanchez (NDFA, Venezuela, 2006)

The fifth-overall pick in 2008, Posey slid to the Giants due to bonus concerns. San Francisco selected Posey and paid him a $6.5 million signing bonus. After spending his days at Florida State playing everywhere, including on the mound, Posey focused on becoming an above-average catcher. Sure enough, Posey’s tools—including a quick bat and a plus-plus arm—have led him to develop into one of the best players in the league within five years of being drafted. Posey is the favorite to win the NL MVP award.

Sanchez jumped to the majors at the age of 21 in spite of limited Triple-A experience. To Sanchez’s credit, he’s held his own. His strong arm has yet to result in above-average caught-stealing rates, and his offensive game is a little shallow, but he’s a suitable backup. 

Infield
Joaquin Arias (Free agent, 12/11)

Brandon Belt (Draft, 2009)

Brandon Crawford (Draft, 2008)

Aubrey Huff (Free agent, 1/10)

Pablo Sandoval (NDFA, Venezuela, 2003)

Marco Scutaro (Trade, 7/12)

Ryan Theriot (Free agent, 1/12)

Arias is known as the infielder the Rangers chose to acquire over Robinson Cano in the Alex Rodriguez trade. After disappointing in Texas and New York, Arias returned to the majors this season and may have found his niche. It took Belt about a year and a half to go from unnoticed fifth-round selection to the Giants’ top prospect. Crawford is another collegiate pick from the middle-early rounds. He’s a stellar defensive shortstop, but one with serious questions about his bat. He did hit better in the second half. 

Huff is in his third and final year with the Giants, and serves as a blemish on Sabean’s post-championship offseason. Scutaro looked dead with the Rockies, yet came back to life once the Giants acquired him at the deadline. Theriot signed to serve as San Francisco’s Scutaro. He failed. Sandoval looked like the catcher of the future for the Giants not too long ago. His plus arm and bat made throwing him behind the plate a tantalizing idea. The rest of Sandoval’s game was too raw to harness the nuances of catching, however, and the Giants moved him to third base where he could rake without disruption.

Outfield
Gregor Blanco (Free agent, 11/11)

Xavier Nady (Free agent, 8/12)

Angel Pagan (Trade, 12/11)

Hunter Pence (Trade, 7/12) 

Here’s an odd factoid. Both Blanco and Nady were signed as minor-league free agents after parting ways with the Nationals. Blanco is around for his glove, Nady for his bat. San Francisco added Pagan in what amounted to a challenge trade when they dealt Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez to the Mets. After electing to not re-sign Carlos Beltran, Sabean upgraded his lineup by trading for Hunter Pence at the deadline.

Rotation
Madison Bumgarner (Draft, 2007)

Matt Cain (Draft, 2002)

Ryan Vogelsong (Free agent , 1/11)

Barry Zito (Free agent, 12/06)

Dick Tidrow’s fingerprints are all over the rotation, particularly with Bumgarner and Cain. The Giants paid Bumgarner, who was a two-way star, $2 million to sign out of high school after concerns about his delivery and signability caused him to slip to 10th overall. Between the draft and pitching in the World Series as a 21-year-old in 2010, Bumgarner experienced a loss and subsequent regain of velocity.  Cain was another projectable high school arm, with the stuff and intangibles to become a front-of-the-rotation starter. Both Bumgarner and Cain have broken though and became just that.

Vogelsong and Zito were both free-agent signings, but that’s about all their acquisitions share in common. Vogelsong washed out of the majors and went to Japan before returning, struggling some more, and then resurfacing from the depths of irrelevancy in 2011. Zito signed for enough money to buy his own ocean and open a Dubai-style underwater hotel named Depths of Irrelevancy.

Bullpen
Jeremy Affeldt (Free agent, 11/08)

Santiago Casilla (Free agent, 1/2010)

George Kontos (Trade, 4/12)

Tim Lincecum (Draft, 2006)

Javier Lopez (Trade, 7/2010)

Jose Mijares (Waiver claim, 8/2012)

Guillermo Mota (Free agent, 12/11)

Sergio Romo (Draft, 2005)

The Giants signed Affeldt after the Reds refused to use him in high-leverage situations. He’s been in San Francisco for four seasons now, and three of them have been good to great. Casilla joined the Giants after being released by the A’s. He gained fastball velocity and traded in his changeup for a curveball; this season, he served as the Giants closer. The Giants swapped Chris Stewart for George Kontos in the spring. Kontos profiled as a middle reliever thanks to a low-90s fastball and slider combination.

Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares were acquired in a pair of maneuvers deemed odd at the time. Sabean traded Joe Martinez and John Bowker to the Pirates for Lopez, who has since pitched much better than he had pre-trade. Sabean claimed Mijares off waivers, and the Royals, despite Mijares’ contract status and performance level, allowed him to go without requiring compensation. Mota and Romo are on the opposite ends of the stuff spectrum. Mota should get better results than he does with a low-to-mid-90s sinker and circle changeup. Romo dropped to the 28th round because scouts were unsure if his smoke-and-mirrors would translate to professional ball.

And then there’s Lincecum, whose postseason stay in the bullpen has whetted the appetite of those enamored with his closing potential pre-draft. 

Totals
Draft: 7
Free Agent: 10
Trade: 5
Waiver Claim: 1
NDFA: 2
Rule 5: 0

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

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