I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the prospects currently in the Cardinals system and that the Cardinals have developed (or failed to develop) over the past five years or so on a position-by-position basis to take a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the system. The first position we’ll look at is catcher, which has become a strength in the last few years after producing a starter at the major league level and a top prospect that is getting close to the big leagues. The full breakdown of the position is after the jump.
The Cardinals have used the higher levels of their minor league system to store the veteran minor league/emergency big league injury replacement catchers, which is typical for all teams. We have seen a number of the Mike Rose/Cody McKay/Brian Esposito type of guys flow through Memphis the last few years. I suspect that Matt Pagnozzi and Brandon Yarbrough might have that type of career to look forward to. There is certainly nothing wrong with that career, there is a real chance for a guy to get hot for a couple of weeks or so in the majors when he is called upon in an emergency and earn a permanent backup catcher role in the big leagues.
Take a guy like Gary Bennett, for example. He bounced between AAA and the majors from 1995-2001, and then had a pretty solid run at the end of 2001 for Colorado and continued that pace throughout 2002 for the Rockies (.265/.314/.354 in 90 games in 2002 – admittedly this is only “solid” in terms of a backup catcher). Gary hasn’t been back to AAA since 2001, despite having a career line of .241/.302/.328.
Anyway, here are the catchers currently in the Cardinals system:
Bryan Anderson – One of the Cardinals top prospects and only 21 years old. He’s currently holding his own at AAA. I see his upside comparison being something like a lefthanded Paul LoDuca and his downside being similar to Gregg Zaun.
Brandon Yarbrough – Another lefty, but not nearly the hitter that Anderson is. He is supposed to be a good defensive player and is currently playing well for AA Springfield.
Matt Pagnozzi – I loved his  Uncle, but unfortunately Matt hits in the minors the way his uncle hit in the majors: not that great. He is currently toiling as Anderson’s backup in Memphis  as a backup in Springfield.
Gabe Johnson – Gabe is not really a prospect. He’s currently a AAA backup and will most likely remain so.
Steve Hill – Man, Myth and Legend. He is not really a catcher (he doesn’t have any other position either, though), having only caught five games this year and fifteen last season. He can really crush the ball, though.
Arnoldi Cruz – Ostensibly drafted as a third baseman, the Cardinals have been converting him to catcher this year (he has split time almost evenly between third and catcher). He hit well at multiple stops last season, but his bat hasn’t quite adapted to Palm Beach yet. He’s put up a .245/.274/.346 line in 45 games so far. His bat definitely plays better at catcher and his defense has been so-so (5 passed balls in 21 games behind the plate and 10 for 28 in throwing out runners).
Nick Derba – He has really struggled at the plate in Palm Beach and hasn’t shown that he has even the limited offensive upside of Cruz.
David Carpenter – Another catcher struggling to hit at Palm Beach (in limited time). It is difficult to assess what the Cardinals have here, but he is probably an organizational guy to be moved around where an extra catcher is needed until the numbers eventually push him out.
Luis De La Cruz – He’s very young (19) and the Cardinals are still finding out what they’ve got in him. He’s at Quad Cities this year and has thrown out 16 of 42 base stealers.
Casey Mulligan – Another youngster (20), he had a nice season last year at Johnson City last year and has only gotten a few starts at Palm Beach this season. I would imagine that he will get some run once the short season leagues start.
Paul Vasquez – He is splitting time at Quad Cities and not hitting well. At 23 years old, he looks like another organization soldier in the making.
Former Catching Prospects of Note
Yadier Molina – Probably the best defensive catcher in the game and a steadily improving hitter. Yadi was never a highly-regarded prospect, but has turned himself into a valuable major league player. I am hoping for an Ozzie Smith-like career (to a much lesser degree, of course) where his defense justified his presence early on, but later in his career he became a valuable offensive player, as well.
Daric Barton – Daric was never really any kind of catching prospect, but he has turned into a valuable major league player. In fact, I could really see some valid comparisons to Barton for Bryan Anderson. Barton will probably have a bit higher OBP and Anderson probably plays a bit better defense behind the plate, but they are both lefthanded doubles-power guys that were drafted out of high school and have hit for a high average at every stop.
Jason Motte – The Cardinals were smart enough to recognize that Motte had a dynamic throwing arm that could be valuable to the team even if he couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper sack. I look forward to having him in the bullpen with Chris Perez for years to come at the major league level.