The 2013 MLB amateur draft has really come out of nowhere (or at least it seems that way to us), but that doesn’t mean we’re not excited. Tomorrow morning we will preview the draft from the Cardinals’ point of view and take a look at what picks the organization has, what players might wind up donning the birds on the bat, and whatever else we feel like discussing. For today, however, it seems appropriate to take a look at the state of the farm system as it currently stands.
The Cardinal farm system has never been as stacked as it is right now; multiple authorities were willing to anoint the St. Louis system as the best in the game before the start of the 2013 season, and the mileage the big league club has gotten out of these guys this spring has done little to convince us those experts weren’t correct. Top prospects like Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez have already made their MLB debuts, while Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal have already become integral parts of a team that sports the best record in the game. It’s a very good time to be a Cardinal fan, so forgive us if this examination of the minor league system’s depth feels a whole lot like a gloating victory lap.
The big name when it comes to Cardinal infield prospects is second baseman Kolten Wong, a diminutive 22-year-old who disappointed a bit at Double-A Springfield last season but has overcome a slow start to post good results for Triple-A Memphis this time around. Wong has hit for average and even a bit more power than you’d expect (.483 SLG), and he should be above average at the keystone. One of the five best prospects in a stellar system, he could fill a valuable role for the big league team before too long. Then again, what would the team do with the ridiculously good Matt Carpenter?
Carson Kelly, an 18-year-old third baseman drafted last summer, still has plenty of work to do but entered the season as the eighth best player in the system according to FanGraphs. Kelly has only managed a .602 OPS at A-ball. Matt Adams, he of car-shaped body and thunderous bat, has at least partially made good on his prospect status as a mashing bench player at the highest level. Ryan Jackson already has a stellar defensive reputation and he’s off to a hot start at Memphis. The 25-year-old is hitting .325/.390/.448 with three homers and three steals, and that’s production enough to go ahead and give him a shot over Pete Kozma and his sub-.600 OPS. Why the organization is so committed to Kozma is beyond us.
Greg Garcia‘s lofty OBP from a year ago garnered him a bit of attention, but his bat has disappeared since making the jump to Triple-A. He’s already 23 and probably doesn’t have much of a future as a big leaguer. Steve Bean, a young catcher, was taken early on with one of the million draft picks the Cardinals had last June, but he has yet to debut at low-A this season. Patrick Wisdom, yet another 2012 draftee, may not stick at third or hit for average. Still, he’s clubbed nine homers thus far in A-ball, so he may have some more growth in him.
Any discussion of Cardinal outfield prospects, or Cardinal prospects in general, begins and ends with Oscar Taveras. Recently moved to the number one slot in all of baseball by ESPN’s Keith Law, Taveras famously swings often and swings hard. Those Vladimir Guerrero comps seem super lazy, but everything we’ve read and occasionally seen here in Springfield makes us think they’re fairly accurate. Only 21, Taveras’ first Triple-A season is on track after a tough first few weeks, as he’s now hitting .317/.351/.480 with four long balls and a handful of steals. He should be ready to take over right field if and when Carlos Beltran departs, and it’s been a Rasmusian half-decade since we were this excited about an offensive prospect.
Beyond Taveras, things are a little less impressive when it comes to outfield depth. James Ramsey was a nominal first round pick last season, but we’re not entirely sure why. The commonplace reasoning is of the “high floor” variety, but Ramsey’s tools seem more “all floor” than anything else according to many scouts. He isn’t likely to ever start for a major league club as good as St. Louis, but then again maybe he’ll prove us wrong. Ramsey did rake at High-A Palm Beach to the tune of a .361/.481/.557 line, but the 23-year-old has struggled much more since his promotion to Springfield. Stephen Piscotty‘s swing may have been marred by Stanford coaching, but he seems much more comfortable now. He’s putting up an .828 OPS at HIgh-A and has already converted to the outfield full-time. Adron Chambers still draws walks, but he isn’t anything to get excited about. We’d like to tell you he’s nothing to sneeze at, but go ahead, sneeze at him.
Now this is where the Cardinals have earned their stripes. The organization is absolutely rife with pitching prospects, and we’ve already seen a number of them in St. Louis this season. Shelby Miller has delivered on the promise his 2012 debut suggested, and he currently leads the National League in ERA and sports a strikeout rate of more than a batter per inning. Michael Wacha has made two starts despite just being drafted a year ago, Carlos Martinez looked dominant at times out of the bullpen, and no one stands a chance at touching anything Trevor Rosenthal throws up there. Even lesser names like John Gast, Seth Maness, and Tyler Lyons have gotten a chance to show the world what they have–and don’t have–on a very public stage.
With Miller and Rosenthal firmly in the parent club’s plans this season, let’s start with tall-ass Michael Wacha. Wacha’s stuff, most prominently his breaking ball, has been called into question when scouts discuss his upside, but experts claim his curve has improved a ton in 2013. Keith Law went so far as to bump Wacha up to his top 25 prospects in the game, while FanGraphs listed him as the second-best youngster in the system before the season started. Wacha is still most likely a mid-rotation starter, but now his upside could put him in competition with fellow Cardinal stars Adam Wainwright and Miller. Carlos Martinez dominated out of the bullpen (save for one rough outing against the Rockies) in his first eight MLB innings, but the team has sent him back to the minors to get more work in as a starter. He has front-end stuff if he doesn’t suffer another injury or wind up in a flame-throwing bullpen instead.
John Gast has made three solid-enough major league starts already, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily part of the long-term plan. Gast’s stuff isn’t all that exciting, but he could still become a viable back-end option with a relatively low strikeout rate. Tyrell Jenkins still has a big fastball and can’t legally drink yet, but the results haven’t caught up to the raw ability that has kept him on Cardinal-related prospect lists the past couple of years. He has been a bit better when it comes to run prevention in 2013, as he’s posted a 3.99 ERA across nine starts so far. Still, he isn’t missing bats and his walk rate is way too high–he has a long way to go before the Cardinals have to worry about further overcrowding at the highest level.
It’s nice to be able to lose Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Jake Westbrook for extended periods of time and know you’re covered. The exemplary job done by John Mozeliak and his incredible staff has enabled an amount of security we never before imagined possible, and this is a trend that appears to be continuing for the foreseeable future.