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Last year’s Cardinals list

The Top Ten

  1. OF Stephen Piscotty
  2. LHP Marco Gonzales
  3. RHP Alexander Reyes
  4. RHP Jack Flaherty
  5. LHP Rob Kaminsky
  6. OF Charlie Tilson
  7. LHP Tim Cooney
  8. RHP Sam Tuivailala
  9. RHP Luke Weaver
  10. C Carson Kelly

1. Stephen Piscotty
Position: RF
DOB: 01/14/1991
Height/Weight: 6’3” 210 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org), #66 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .288/.355/.406 at Triple-A Memphis (136 games)
The Tools: 6+ hit; 5 power; 6+ arm; 5 field

What Happened in 2014: The former first rounder continued his steady rise through the system, putting together a solid showing in the Pacific Coast League while displaying the advanced feel for contact that has thus far defined his prospect profile.

Strengths: Advanced hit tool, ability to barrel; good balance; high level of comfort in box; high-contact bat capable of working line to line; patient approach, not afraid to work deep into counts; will flash loft and pop, particularly against oppo arms; improved actions in outfield; athleticism, work ethic, and progress thus far allows to project glove to average or tick above; easy right-field arm; glowing reports on effort put in and progress made on defensive front.

Weaknesses: Over-the-fence pop yet to manifest with regularity; power profile could be doubles dependent with added import to hit tool/on-base; lacks impact bat speed; continued ability to barrel balls against top-tier arms will hinge on approach and ability to make adjustments; susceptible to lapses in the field; limited foot speed will make further refinement of reads and routes in the field a necessity.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 5; above-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; success through all minor-league levels; advanced feel and approach.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The Cardinals seem to have a never-ending supply of prospects who hit first and do everything else second, and Piscotty fits right in. He’s a stronger play in points and OBP leagues than standard 5×5 formats, due to the potential for strong plate discipline and extra-base potential, but he is ready to contribute in 2015 across most leagues and could hit .290 with 15 homers in time.

The Year Ahead: Regular hard contact is a fixture in Piscotty’s game, though his ability to rack up extra bases, be it by home run or double, will determine whether he reaches his upside as a true first-division right fielder. There is no question the former Stanford Cardinal has the raw strength to drive the ball, and his power will have to be strength and leverage derived since the bat speed isn’t special. That places an increased level of importance on Piscotty’s ability to continue to refine his approach and learn which situations allow for some added length and leverage in the swing. Based on his feel for the craft and the professional manner in which he already puts together at-bats, it would not be a surprise to see him make the requisite adjustments in short order as he finishes baking in St. Louis. The addition of Jason Heyward fills the void in right field left by the tragic loss of Oscar Taveras. Prior to Heyward’s arrival, Piscotty had progressed enough on defense to put himself into the discussion for the Opening Day gig in right field, and has the chops to take hold of the job if the former Brave departs via free agency after 2015.

Major league ETA: 2015

2. Marco Gonzales
Position: LHP
DOB: 02/16/1992
Height/Weight: 6’1” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA)
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org), Just Missed The Cut (101)
2014 Stats: 4.15 ERA (34.2 IP, 32 H, 31 K, 21 BB) at major-league level, 3.35 ERA (45.2 IP, 43 H, 39 K, 9 BB) at Triple-A Memphis, 2.33 ERA (38.2 IP, 33 H, 46 K, 10 BB) at Double-A Springfield
The Tools: 5+ FB; 7+ CH; 5 potential CB

What Happened in 2014: It took Gonzales just 21 starts to breeze through three minor-league levels before making his major-league debut in St. Louis at the ripe old age of 22.

Strengths: Swing-and-miss changeup with silly drop and arm-slot/arm-speed deception; “any count” pitch that elevates effectiveness of overall arsenal; average fastball velocity plays up due to late action and ability to spot; comfortable working both sides of the plate and solid feel for sequencing displayed through minors; curveball en route to solid-average status; can mix in a short slider that should miss barrels; even demeanor, stolid presence on bump; repeatable mechanics and feel should allow for plus command profile; plus makeup.

Weaknesses: Struggled with consistent execution during major-league debut; at times predictable use of changeup, particularly against right-handed hitters; fastball velocity leaves slim margin for error; aggregate package places premium on command profile and precision in execution; limited ceiling; not overly physical; lacks putaway breaking ball.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Development will be less of an issue for Gonzales’ short-term fantasy value than the traffic jam that is the Cardinals’ rotation. The lefty will likely spend most of 2015 in the bullpen, where he’ll likely be just an NL-only option, but were he to make the rotation in 2016 or beyond, he could provide strong ratios (especially WHIP) with a modest contribution in strikeouts.

The Year Ahead: Gonzales had his share of ups and downs during his cup of coffee, but generally impressed both as a starter and out of the pen. Despite lacking an impact breaking ball, Gonzales has been able to keep left- and right-handed hitters at bay throughout his short pro career thanks to advanced feel and a prime change piece. Gonzales will have the opportunity to compete for a spot in the St. Louis rotation to start 2015, but with a robust collection of starters set to return next spring, the lefty could be forced to the pen or back down to Memphis to begin the season. In order to firmly establish himself as a reliable option in a major-league rotation, Gonzales will need to find more consistency in his curveball and become less predictable in certain counts and situations. There is enough balance to the arsenal, and enough command in the profile, for evaluators in and out of the organization to continue to peg him as a future rotation mainstay. The consensus view is that the remaining open items left on the developmental front should be addressed over the natural course as he logs major-league reps. The ease with which Gonzales took to relief work at the end of 2014 affords the Cardinals organization the luxury of considering him for a bullpen assignment if there isn’t room in the rotation to start the 2015 season, a role in which he could continue to smooth out the edges while providing value to the big club.

Major league ETA: 2015

3. Alexander Reyes
Position: RHP
DOB: 08/29/1994
Height/Weight: 6’3” 185 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2012, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #4 (Org), #98 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 3.62 ERA (109.1 IP, 82 H, 137 K, 61 BB) at Low-A Peoria
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 6+ potential CB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2014: Reyes surprised Midwest League evaluators with erratic stuff and a larger-than-expected trunk when he showed up in Peoria, but ended the season in dominant fashion holding hitters to a .195 average over his final 11 starts while racking up 11.7 strikeouts per nine over that same span.

Strengths: Power arsenal that could fit comfortably into the front of a big league rotation; potential double-plus fastball that comfortably works in mid-90s velo band at present; elite arm speed; power curve that often played to plus in second half; improved feel for changeup; easy arm and second-half repeatability allow for fringe-plus to plus command projection.

Weaknesses: Body went backward between 2013 and 2014; needs to embrace full spectrum of development, including conditioning and non-arsenal related mound work (fielding/controlling running game); erratic first-half performance reinforced delta between present profile and realization of potential; changeup still lags behind other offerings; foundation for good command but needs to prove second-half strides represent true step forward.

Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter with late-inning fallback

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to advance past Low-A ball; early-season struggles add to risk profile.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Dynasty leaguers are always higher on low-minors arms with sharp risk/reward profiles than they should be, and Reyes is just another example of this. Sure, the ceiling is there for a SP2 with big strikeout totals if things break right, but Reyes still falls into the flier category given his lead time and potential pitfalls.

The Year Ahead: Depending on when you caught Reyes this past season you might have seen a future bullpen arm, a future Opening Day starter, and everything in between. The good news is that you could not ask for a more encouraging end to the season than he provided, with the young power arm running off 11 strong starts that blended top-shelf swing-and-miss stuff and drastically improved control, if not command. Had that caliber of performance defined his 2014 there would be a strong case for his being the top prospect profile in the organization. He will be tasked with improved conditioning in the offseason and a continued focus on rounding out all aspects of his game this upcoming spring. Next up on the developmental journey is a High-A assignment in 2015, where another step forward could see Reyes establish himself as one of the minors’ truly elite arms.

Major league ETA: 2017

4. Jack Flaherty
Position: RHP
DOB: 10/15/1995
Height/Weight: 6’4” 205 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, Harvard-Westlake HS (Los Angeles, CA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: 1.59 ERA (22.2 IP, 18 H, 28 K, 4 BB) at complex level GCL
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 6 potential CH; 6 potential SL; 5 potential CB

What Happened in 2014: After winning over SoCal area scouts on the bump thanks to a broad arsenal and advanced feel, the former North Carolina commit was popped 34th overall in the June draft and impressed in limited pro exposure.

Strengths: Advanced feel for four-pitch repertoire; ability to execute and command offerings that belies his age and experience level; fastball plays to average velocity at present but comes with projection and good present command; good feel for off-speed and will flash plus already; comfort with two distinct breaking balls; repeats extremely well; good athleticism; displays aptitude on the bump and takes well to instruction; firm foundation for development puts profile in rarified air for prep arm.

Weaknesses: Profile is heavily reliant on projection in order to reach lofty ceiling; fastball velocity often dipped to below-average range during spring; needs to build up arm strength and durability; highly enticing collection of attributes for developmental staff to work with, but still very much a developmental project; if stuff doesn’t tick forward as expected, will need to fully realize command profile in order for average arsenal to play at highest level.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; complex-level resume; standard proximity risk for prep arm.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Given the lack of pre-draft hype around Flaherty, he’s a name that could be undervalued in dynasty drafts this year and someone who should be off the board within the first 30 picks. His advanced approach could lead to strong initial performance and increased trade value in 2015.

The Year Ahead: Though the presence of Appy and New York-Penn League affiliates afford St. Louis the opportunity to bring players along conservatively, Flaherty may be advanced enough to step right into full-season ball at the outset next year. While lacking in loud present stuff, the value of the profile is predicated on the idea that this core set of attributes serves as a foundation upon which an impact, major-league arm can be built. Evaluators are comfortable projecting at least some growth in the arsenal due to the natural maturation of the body and benefits of pro instruction alone. What sets him apart is the athleticism, body control, and feel that he already displays, all of which should help him implement instruction and tweaks without throwing off other aspects of his game. It is a unique profile for a top prospect to be sure. If you had five of him in your system you could very well be looking simultaneously at a collection of arms that will give you a 2015 Low-A staff without a plus fastball, and one of the most productive 2020 major-league staffs in the game.

Major league ETA: 2019

5. Rob Kaminsky
Position: LHP
DOB: 09/02/1994
Height/Weight: 5’11” 191 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, St. Joseph Regional HS (Montvale, NJ)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org)
2014 Stats: 1.88 ERA (100.2 IP, 71 H, 79 K, 31 BB) at Low-A Peoria
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 7 potential CB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2014: Kaminsky handled a challenging full-season assignment with aplomb, logging 100-plus innings in the Midwest League and averaging over five innings per start while leading all starters in ERA (1.88) and finishing in the top five in WHIP (1.013, 4th).

Strengths: Already capable of filling up the strike zone; fastball can scrape mid-90s and works comfortably in 88-92 velocity band with some arm-side action; curve is a weapon at present with potential to reach double-plus at maturity; tight downward action with heavy spin and depth; changeup showed signs of progress and projects to above average with some fade; competitor on the mound; not tall, but very sturdily built; maintained stuff through starts and over course of season.

Weaknesses: In-zone command can play loose; depth and break on curve can limit entry points for strikes and may be less effective as chase pitch against advanced bats; changeup still a work in progress and needs developmental focus; creates some angle, but fastball generally lacks plane, putting added pressure on curve to change eye level of hitters.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter or late-inning arm

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; Low-A resume

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The fantasy potential is high with Kaminsky if he can take the next step with his changeup, but fantasy owners should realistically view him as an inconsistent SP4 who will get enough strikeouts to tempt you, but give up enough hard contact to frustrate you. Anything on top of that is gravy.

The Year Ahead: Kaminsky sailed through his first full-season test without issue, thanks in large part to the quality of his fastball-curveball tandem. Midwest League bats were generally overwhelmed by the two offerings, as well as the Garden State product’s ability to consistently spot each in the zone, with lots of soft contact resulting. As Kaminsky advances to High-A in 2015 he will need to show further development in his off-speed and a lesser reliance on the curve if he is to continue to prove capable of keeping pro bats off balance through multiple lineup turns. Changeup savant Marco Gonzales has already provided the young southpaw with some pointers regarding the former, and as Kaminsky’s comfort level with the pitch increases he should feel less reliant on the breaker as his go-to change-of-pace pitch. The fastball has a chance to reach consistent plus velocity, but the lack of plane could cause the pitch to play down some even when delivered with precision. In the aggregate, the parts all add up to a potentially valuable asset in a major-league rotation, with just enough projection to leave the door open for an impact outcome. It was a strong full-season campaign for the lefty, but much work remains to bridge the gap between present skill set and rotation stalwart at the highest level.

Major league ETA: 2018

6. Charlie Tilson
Position: CF
DOB: 12/02/1992
Height/Weight: 5’11” 175 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2011 draft, New Trier HS (Winnetka, IL)
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2014 Stats: .237/.269/.324 at Double-A Springfield (31 games), .308/.357/.414 at High-A Palm Beach (89 games)
The Tools: 5 potential hit; 6 run; 6 field; 5+ arm

What Happened in 2014: Tilson showed well in the Florida State League, including notable added strength, before being promoted to Double-A Springfield and struggling some while pressing at the plate.

Strengths: Speed is a weapon; ability to leverage speed in the field and on the bases; covers good ground on the grass; arm is an asset in center; hit tool progressing with potential to play at the top of a big-league lineup; power projects to play from gap to line, pull side; speed to rack up doubles; impressive developmental progress over relatively short time frame after missing significant time early in career.

Weaknesses: At present speed serves as masking agent for underdeveloped reads in the field and on the bases; needs to refine overall approach to max out raw tools; limited power projection; at times overly aggressive at the plate, particularly in second half and after promotion; needs to continue to refine approach to more effectively grow hit tool.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; reached Double-A; unrefined game; significant injury to non-throwing shoulder caused missed season in 2012.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: No one will confuse Tilson with a fantasy superstar, but speed is valuable, and although he hasn’t put up gaudy stolen base numbers in the minors, there’s potential for him to be a 25-30 steal guy in full-time action. There just won’t be much that accompanies it.

The Year Ahead: Tilson continues to make developmental progress as he works his way toward St. Louis. There is a lot to like in the profile, with the in-game improvements realized over the past two seasons the most encouraging aspect of the center fielder’s game. As a cold weather amateur, it would have been easy for a missed full season, and all the pro reps that go with it, to sidetrack Tilson’s development. But the physically gifted former second rounder has worked hard to maintain an admirable pace, with positive reports manifesting from evaluators both inside and outside of the organization. He’ll start 2015 back in Springfield where the focus will remain on incremental improvements across the board. Improved reads and routes in the field, as well as reads and jumps on the bases, will bolster his foundational value, while an improved ability to drive soft stuff away to the opposite field with more regular authority will simultaneously strengthen the hit tool and allow for a more robust tally of two-baggers via the gap and the line. While the home run power might be limited to the pull side, it should be more than enough to keep arms honest. Tilson is one developmental step away from solidifying himself as a safe bet to provide major-league value, and there is enough upside here to envision a future two-hole bat with potential to impact the game in every facet.

Major league ETA: 2017

7. Tim Cooney
Position: LHP
DOB: 12/19/1990
Height/Weight: 6’3” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2012 draft, Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC)
Previous Ranking: #9 (Org)
2014 Stats: 3.47 ERA (158 IP, 158 H, 119 K, 47 BB) at Triple-A Memphis
The Tools: 5+ change-up; 5 fastball; 5 curve; 5 short slider/cutter

What Happened in 2014: Another year, another level, and another solid showing for the former Demon Deacon, who averaged over six innings per start for Triple-A Memphis despite striking-out almost two fewer batters per nine.

Strengths: Big and durable; broad arsenal with solid command profile and feel for each offering; changeup can play above average; fastball has some life and works to all quadrants despite average velocity; can create angles; mechanics work and repeat well; mature approach.

Weaknesses: Aggregate arsenal lacks impact; fly-ball tendencies and average arsenal will leave small margin for error against major-league bats; sequencing and command less effective in producing strikeouts at Triple-A than in previous pro showings; lacks deception; strikeout rate likely to tick down further at major-league level.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter

Realistic Role: High 4; no. 5 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Cooney lacks the upside to be of interest in most mixed league formats, as even in 14-16 team leagues he’s likely to be near replacement level at best. One of these years, he’ll be an NL-only FAAB superstar though.

The Year Ahead: Cooney is ready for the challenge of major-league lineups but finds himself queued up behind a full complement of capable arms at the major-league level and an equally refined and more impactful profile in fellow lefty prospect, Marco Gonzales. That makes the pen the most likely point of entry, where Cooney’s ability to eat innings could provide value in a swingman capacity and his success against same-side bats could make him an option as a lefty-centric, middle-inning option. While the feel and the command are impressive, Cooney allows too much contact to project more than a back-end future. All the same, it’s a profile certain to provide major-league value in some capacity and he is ready to start the final phase of his development at the major-league level. The odds have Cooney returning to Memphis to start the 2015 season, but there’s a chance he breaks camp with a bullpen assignment in St. Louis and in any event should begin his major-league career at some point next year.

Major league ETA: 2015

8. Sam Tuivailala
Position: RHP
DOB: 10/19/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2010 draft, Aragon HS (San Mateo, CA)
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2014 Stats: 36.00 ERA (1 IP, 5 H, 1 K, 2 BB) at major league level, 2.57 ERA (21 IP, 18 H, 30 K, 18 BB) at Double-A Springfield
The Tools: 7+ FB; 6 potential CB

What Happened in 2014: The infielder-turned-reliever overpowered hitters with premium gas across three minor-league levels, earning a brief two-appearance major-league debut to close his 2014 campaign.

Strengths: Borderline elite fastball with regular upper-90s velocity and life; only command keeps pitch shy of true “elite” grade; power curve flashes plus and could settle there at maturity; solid development in brief career on the mound; should miss bats immediately; mindset to handle high-leverage situations.

Weaknesses: Two-pitch arm; control and command profile is below average; fastball can flatten when he loses his slot; mechanics not yet second nature; curve can play average or lower when mechanics out of whack; lacks consistency to handle innings of import at present.

Overall Future Potential: 6; above-average closer

Realistic Role: High 5; high-leverage, late-inning arm

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; standard reliever volatility risk.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Tuivailala is a perfect example of why investing in relief prospects in dynasty leagues is inadvisable. In a vacuum, he’d likely be one of the five best “future closer” prospects in the minors, but with guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and the recently acquired Jordan Walden ahead of him, even if he develops perfectly, saves still likely are not in his near future.

The Year Ahead: After showing progress in his new role in 2013, “Tui” took off this summer, showing increased comfort on the mound en route to taking a significant developmental step forward. Because he is still working to maintain consistency in his execution, there is an ever-present risk he can fall out of his mechanics, leading to significant bouts of wildness and a steep fall-off in curveball effectiveness. As he continues to work to refine his craft, he should see a plus curve show up for him with more regularity, which could pair with his upper-90s heater to give him a closer-worthy one-two punch. There is some risk of a regression in stuff, since it is still relatively early in Tuivailala’s career on the mound and evaluators don’t have a deep history to draw upon for the file. But 2014 represents a noteworthy transition from “arm-strength lotto ticket” to “potential shut-down reliever.” With a little bit of faith and projection, you can see “dominant, high-leverage arm” sitting patiently on the horizon.

Major league ETA: 2015

9. Luke Weaver
Position: RHP
DOB: 08/21/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 170 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014, Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: 21.60 ERA (3.1 IP, 11 H, 3 K, 4 BB) at High-A Palm Beach, 0.00 ERA (6 IP, 4 H, 9 K, 0 BB) at complex level GCL
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 6 CH; 5 potential CB

What Happened in 2014: Weaver saw a downtick in stuff during his junior year, leading him to fall to the Cardinals in the back of the first round, with the lanky righty showing some flashes of his former self in limited pro looks.

Strengths: At its best, fastball can reach the mid-90s with boring action; changeup comes with deception and hard, late action; after working upper 80s to low 90s through the spring, saw a slight bump in velocity during short pro outings; repeats well and projects to above-average command; advanced feel for setting up hitters with fastball-change combo.

Weaknesses: Though slight in present build, frame doesn’t project to add much additional bulk; breaking ball has not seen much growth through collegiate career; might not have enough spin in the wrist to get the pitch to play to major-league average; fastball might only play to average or tick above with pro starter’s workload.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-inning reliever

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; has flashed advanced stuff at collegiate level; near null pro resume.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Even with being selected first and being a college arm, Weaver falls behind Flaherty in dynasty drafts as well. In fact, he may be the least attractive fantasy commodity among all true first-round picks in 2014.

The Year Ahead: Weaver’s advanced feel for his changeup was an attractive selling point for a Cardinals organization that places a premium on the offering. Further, evaluators have enough history with Weaver to project a step up in velocity if he is forced to the pen, giving him a relatively high floor and providing some intrinsic foundational value to the profile. For now, the plan is still very much to develop the FSU product as a starter, with the effectiveness of Weaver’s breaking ball and fastball likely to dictate the pace and trajectory of his development. The return of his low- to mid-90s velocity and the establishment of even an average curve could put Weaver on the fast track toward realizing his mid-rotation upside, but at present each of those outcomes continues to exist in the abstract. As much as any profile in the system, 2015 will serve as a opportunity for Weaver to show the Cardinals’ developmental staff exactly what it is they have to work with.

Major league ETA: 2018

10. Carson Kelly
Position: C
DOB: 07/14/1994
Height/Weight: 6’2” 200 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2012 draft, Westview HS (Portland, OR)
Previous Ranking: #6 (Org)
2014 Stats: .248/.326/.366 at Low-A Peoria (98 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential power; 5+ potential field; 6+ arm

What Happened in 2014: In his second spin through the Midwest League, Kelly held his own at the plate and, more importantly, behind it, as the former second rounder made a successful transition from third base to backstop.

Strengths: Good athleticism; significant positive strides made during transitional year behind the plate; arm can be a weapon; raw power could play above average at maturity; shows feel and comfort in the box; puts together solid at-bats with regularity; comfortable leader and plus grades for work ethic and presence.

Weaknesses: Even with strong developmental year, a fair amount of refinement remains to push defensive profile to major-league ready; game calling in nascent stage; some length to release could limit impact of arm strength; raw strength doesn’t show up in game; fails to make regular impactful contact at plate; lacks advanced feel for contact; swing comes with effort and some heave and could limit ability for power to emerge.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular

Realistic Role: High 4; back-up catcher

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; dual development of hit tool and defensive profile could limit full realization of profile.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: With the lead time of developing into a catcher and the questions around his offensive game, Kelly is just someone worth monitoring, and not owning, in fantasy leagues right now.

The Year Ahead: Kelly did everything he had to in 2014, proving the shift behind the plate could work while showing some incremental growth in the rest of his game. With the pressure of the initial position shift behind him, and behind the developmental staff, the focus will now be on developing Kelly’s offensive and defensive profile in tandem. While this challenge is not unique to catchers, the amount of effort generally required to get a prep-level profile from typical entry-level to major-league adequate is far greater on the defensive side for those donning the tools of ignorance. There is inherent risk that while Kelly could project to above-average production both behind the plate and with the stick, the toll of trying to develop both could prevent either aspect of his game from reaching full potential, and at minimum is likely to require a slow and deliberate march up the minor-league ladder. That march should continue with a High-A assignment in 2015.

Major league ETA: 2018

Prospects on the Rise:

1. CF Magneuris Sierra: One of the more entertaining prospects to populate the complex-level GCL, Sierra drew rave reviews for his actions in center field and knack for bringing barrel to ball. The precocious lefty torched Gulf Coast arms to the tune of a .386/.434/.505 slash line with an aggressive approach at the plate. He could see a full-season assignment in 2015 where even a fraction of his 2014 production could firmly plant his name on prospect lists and acquire lists alike. The upside is a plus-glove, plus-run, plus-hit center fielder with the arm to rack up assists if tested. Grab your seat on the Sierra train now; by this time next year it might be standing room only.

2. SS Edmundo Sosa: The young Panamanian shortstop put together a solid showing this summer in the Gulf Coast League at the age of 18, displaying smooth actions in the field and an advanced feel for contact. He has shown some ability to drive the gaps on occasion, but the offensive profile will be average- and on-base-centric, which will require continued refinement in pitch selection and strike-zone awareness. Defensively, Sosa is a strong bet to stick at the six spot with a clean and quick transfer, good footwork, and sure hands, though his arm can be stretched at the margins. He is advanced enough defensively to bypass the New York-Penn League and jump straight to Peoria, where his prospect status could take a significant step forward if he proves capable of holding his own at the plate.

3. 2B Malik Collymore: Collymore was a 10th round selection out of high school in the 2013 draft and has spent the past two summers in the complexes refining his game. The Canadian prep product took a significant step forward at the plate in 2014, showing much more comfort in the box while better identifying spin and more regularly producing hard contact through his compact right-handed swing. Collymore has natural strength and athleticism, and through his first 16 months of pro ball has made strides improving his overall feel and on-field IQ. There is still a question as to his ultimate defensive home, with opinions ranging from second base, to center field, to left field. Regardless of where he sets up shop in the field, the bat could be impactful if he continues on this developmental trajectory. The Cardinals will likely continue to take it slowly with Collymore, who won’t turn 20 until after the start of the 2015 season, but there is breakout potential here. If you are looking for a sleeper to monitor with regularity next season, this is your guy.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)

1. RHP Zach Petrick: The stuff isn’t loud, but there is a solid baseline here with three average or better major-league offerings including a boring fastball, change, and slide piece, as well as some evidence that there is more in the tank when airing it out in relief. With a full season of Triple-A ball under his belt and no apparent opening for Petrick in the rotation, he could make for an intriguing option out of the pen where his heavy fastball has flirted with the mid-90s in the past.

2. OF Randal Grichuk: Grichuk’s calling card is his plus raw power, and the Texas prep product has shown some ability to get to it in game at the upper levels over the past two seasons. He continues to struggle with same-side stuff, and there is a risk his aggressiveness could be further exploited at the major-league level to the point that there just isn’t enough in the stick to warrant regular time. Defensively it’s a corner profile, though there is enough glove and arm to envision average production out of right field. Grichuk likely fits as a bench bat/platoon option, albeit one with some interesting juice in the barrel. With Piscotty still not on the 40-man, the Cards could elect to delay his promotion long enough to gain the extra control year, leaving Grichuk as an easy favorite to break camp with the big club where he’ll look to build upon a strong finish to his 2014 campaign. He should serve as a capable righty bat off the bench with periodic spot starts when favorable matchups arise.

3. 2B Jacob Wilson: Wilson’s carrying tool is his bat, and throughout his pro career he has hit at every stop along the way. After missing significant time in 2014 following surgery on his left knee, reports this fall have him fully recovered and comfortable, with no expected lingering effects. With fewer than 70 games logged in 2014, Wilson has utilized the Arizona Fall League to get in his work, including reps at the plate and across the infield. Still viewed primarily as a second baseman, his ability to adequately handle the corners could bolster his profile and allow him to carve out playing time in St. Louis in a utility capacity as early as next summer.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)

  1. Jason Heyward
  2. Michael Wacha
  3. Kolten Wong
  4. Trevor Rosenthal
  5. Carlos Martinez
  6. Stephen Piscotty
  7. Marco Gonzales
  8. Alexander Reyes
  9. Jack Flaherty
  10. Rob Kaminsky

Tell me if you have heard this before: the Cardinals possess an abundance of young, controllable players, a collection that runs even deeper than the top 10 list above. The Birds have long been one of the premier identifiers of young assets in the game, and have churned out more first-division talent than virtually any team over the past 10 years. Quite a few names on this list have potential six (or higher) OFP ceilings, while others are primed to become regular contributors at the big-league level. The risk profile for these players is noticeably lower than most organizations, as six of the 10 names on the list have already reached the big-league level.

Yes, I’ve checked four times, and Jason Heyward is still somehow only 25. While the bat has not developed as hoped, his plus-plus defense has helped soften the blow. He still has excellent on-base ability, and sometime soon it could all click, which would make him one of the best all-around talents in the game. Injury woes aside, Michael Wacha has all of the ingredients to be a strong no. 2 starter in his peak years, playing Robin to Adam Wainwright’s Batman. When healthy, it’s reasonable to expect 200-plus innings of high-two and low-three ERAs with the peripherals to match, especially as he continues to refine his breaking ball.

Kolten Wong was hot and cold throughout the year, although his highs and lows might stabilize moving forward. His realistic role is that of a first-division second baseman, and one who can hit at the top of a lineup. Where it starts to get tricky is the Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Stephen Piscotty cluster. Rosenthal didn’t build on 2013 as many had hoped, but the upside remains one of the most effective relievers in the game, with a fastball that grades out to plus-plus at worst. Martinez is easily the hardest to rank on this list, as his future role remains up in the air. As always, the Cardinals have a bevy of rotation options, but despite logging a majority of his major-league innings out of the pen the flame-throwing Dominican could still wind up a starter long term, where he maintains top-of-the-rotation potential. —Jordan Gorosh

A Parting Thought: The Cardinals continue to produce a blend of impact and role profiles throughout the system, with noteworthy talent at each level giving comfort that the pipeline of major-league contributors isn’t likely to dry up anytime soon.

Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses at Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.