Azru note: We put this together about a month ago and then I let it languish in the drafts. It took a while to put together but the depth of the subject required it. You might not find some sleepers that we’ll wind up discussing next year; guys like Jonathan Edwards or Tommy Pham but we’ve covered a pretty hefty gauntlet in this post. The Cardinals have a lot of depth in their minor league outfield. If some of this reads a little dated, well, roll with it.
azruavatar: The Cardinals have a gift for drafting outfielders. Jeff Lunhow started things off in 2005 with the draft of Colby Rasmus in the first round. A true blue chip prospect, he’s been the poster child for the farm system for 3 years now. Obviously the best prospect in the system (it’s really not close in my opinion), the question remains where his 2009 season will begin. When talking about the outfield, Rasmus is the obvious place to start. Pull out your crystal balls and tell me what you see for Colby in 2009 and beyond.
roarke: I think we see Colby as a productive major leaguer this season. I was a little surprised that KG thinks he will start in Memphis, because I was thinking the opposite: unless he has a dreadful spring he will start the year with the big club. I don’t expect him to put up superstar numbers right away, but I can see him putting up a very solid line in 2009 and then really take off in 2010. He has always taken a little time to adjust to each level and I think the same will hold true in the big leagues. Once he gets over the unfamiliarity, though, I think he’ll be outstanding. My worry, like I said in the Top 20 list, is with how the club treats him – my hope is that LaRussa gives him a little latitude and a fair helping of playing time.
azruavatar: Tony deserves credit for saying the right things as of late — even if later actions don’t match with his comments — about Rasmus and “pushing” him at the big league level. It’s obviously crowded at the big league level with returning lefthanders Rick Ankiel, Skip Schumaker and the right handed Ryan Ludwick. Brian Barton, now officially Cardinal property, will be in the mix and you’ve got Chris Duncan returning from experimental surgery and Joe Mather returning from a broken hamate bone, which can sap a hitters power. Of those six, Ryan Ludwick is the only one I’d lock in as an everyday starter for the Cardinals 2009 OF. Ankiel may be traded, Schumaker needs to be platooned, Barton is liable to wind up in Memphis and injuries are always unpredictable.
erik: The outfield was one of the strengths in 2008, but none of those players should stand in Colby’s way. You had mentioned Schumaker needs to be platooned, whereas Colby does not and that could clear his path. His career splits in the minors are .278/.364/.490 versus righties, lefties .275/.371/.455 against lefties. He possibly could handle the lead off spot with those high on base averages and his speed, but I’m not sure he would start hitting in that spot right away given the way he tends to starts slow. I just hope TLR shows Colby a little patience in the beginning. I’ll go out on a wild limb and guess Colby will hit something like .240/.320/.400 in the first half before he unleashes the beast in the 2nd half and hits .275/.360/.460 the rest of the way. I know that’s bullish. Even if all he did is produce a .330 wOBA this season, couple that with his plus defense and he’ll be quite valuable this season.
roarke: I feel like a trade is necessary to clear up the logjam, but the problem is that the market for outfielders is pretty weak right now. Ankiel carries the most value because he can play all three outfield positions, but there are a lot of options on the free agent market that marginalize the value of what we have to offer. I’m not sure we should count Duncan in the list of available outfielders, because we really don’t know what we’ve got with him (and surely can’t trade him) until we know that he’s healthy. My preference would be to start the season with Ludwick, Rasmus and Ankiel in the starting spots with Mather and Schumaker on the bench. That relegates Barton to Memphis to go along with a backlog of guys at that level.
azruavatar: Backlog is an understatement. Consider that you’ve got two of the aforementioned headed to Memphis (Barton, Duncan or Rasmus). Add into that legitimate prospects in Jon Jay and potentially Daryl Jones who need everyday at bats. Let’s set aside Jay and Jones for a minute and talk about two less heralded players that will also be vying for those at bats: Shane Robinson and Nick Stavinoha. Most fans should be at least reasonably aware of Stavinoha who saw some time in St. Louis last year. Robinson had a stellar season in AA with a wOBA of .399 hitting for a .352 average and posting a high in ISO (.143). He doesn’t project well being of slight build that doesn’t bode well for power. His Aaron Miles style play may win over fans but it doesn’t make for a very good outfielder.
erik: While you might say both of those players had successful seasons, I’m less than inspired by either of them. I’ll start with Stavinoha: He doesn’t walk. While he showed some gains in power it’s not quite what you’re looking for in a corner OF and at 26, he’s probably maxed out in that department. He doesn’t really field all that well. He hit .337 in AAA, but much of that was due to a fluky .355 BABIP. He’s a pretty much a one dimensional player, so I don’t see him as a fit at the big league level and nor should he stand in anyone’s way of getting playing time at AAA. You can DH him or maybe put him at 1B in Memphis, or hey…Dayton Moore seems to value players of Stavinoha’s ilk these days . Robinson can at least field, throw and run but he is a below average hitter, fluky AA batting average be darned. Robinson bombed in AAA and while on the surface his AFL #’s look OK, they were below average for the league. Both players at their peak project as no more than 5th outfielders.
roarke: I have to agree with Erik about Stavinoha and Robinson. They both seem like fourth outfielders even at AAA. In other years, when our depth of talent at the position was weaker, they would both be acceptable players at AAA, but it wouldn’t make sense to have them as a roadblock to anyone with serious big league potential. Speaking of potential, does Jones start in Springfield next year just to get him those regular at bats? It might not be a bad idea, regardless of the backlog at Memphis, just to let him reinforce his breakout season a bit before he gets challenged at a higher level.
azruavatar: I’d hope that Jones starts in Springfield. 151PAs in AA isn’t really enough to tell you whether he’s learned what he needed to (but that’s why the Cardinals have scouts). There’s no need to push the issue given the number of players ahead of him. Speaking of Jones, I’ve been a little surprised how crowded his bandwagon has gotten. I had him ranked lower in our rankings but he’s done well with Goldstein, Sickels and McKamey ranking inside the top 5 in each instance. The most common comps that I hear are Carl Crawford and Kenny Lofton, both very good players. Jones had an unsustainable BABIP last season but there’s no denying the talent. What kind of talent do you think he is?
erik: Hard for me to say with a ton of confidence, but include me in on the Daryl Jones bandwagon. To be frank, I think the “it was just one good season crowd” are a bunch of wet blankets! Kidding…kinda. No offense, AZ. I understand the reasoning and agree with it for the most part, but let us dreamers dream! Anyway, the Carl Crawford comp is a rather lofty one. While his BABIP from last season was unsustainable, at least we know he’s squaring up on the ball more. The amount of balls he put in play in the air was higher, both in line drives and fly balls. He showed more power than ever. He showed some improvements in taking walks. I wonder how much of this can we chalk up to his LASIK eye surgery? How bad was his vision before? And why did I not hear about this until recently? Anyway, to answer your question, I think he has the potential to be a perennial 20-20 hitter at the top of the order. What odds would I give of him actually reaching that? Um, ask me next year.
azruavatar: Well, you are likely to get asked next year so keep that in mind! We’ve kind of skipped a legitimate prospect on our way down the outfield depth chart. Jon Jay’s probably used to that by now having played second fiddle to the illustrious Rasmus and now the breakout Jones. He’s not a flashy player but he’s solid in every aspect of the game: hits for average, moderate power, good speed, takes a walk and plays a solid CF. Opinions on Jay seem to vary from fringy 5th outfielder to above average CF. He’s slowly started climbing up prospect lists this year breaking into some top 10s. Slated for Memphis in 2009, I’d expect him to be ready for a bench role no later than mid-2010.
roarke: I like Jay a lot and I think he gets underrated because of the lack of flash. But he has a history of having a solid walk rate and his power has improved with every season. He will probably never hit 25 homers in the big leagues, but if he turns out to be a guy that puts up a .300/.370/.440 line with 15-20 homers and above average outfield defense, that is a valuable player. In our list I compared him to David DeJesus, who I think is underrated because he plays in Kansas City and doesn’t put up flashy numbers, and I think that comp fits very well.
erik: There is a lot to like about Jay. He’s not flashy, but he does have that “grows on ya” quality about him. I’m not sure he’ll smack 20 homers in the big leagues barring a trade to a team with a real hitter’s park, but he did show more power this past season than I came to expect from him. I know Springfield plays that way, but even neutralizing his stats for park and luck and he still had a .141 ISO. He’s overall value is hindered some if he’s not playing center field, but if power is coming from center (Colby) than it doesn’t really matter. He hasn’t seemed to be able to stay healthy for a full season yet, which is another concern. Another level down we have Tyler Henley, who as AZ noted in our top 20 has some similarities to Jay. Both of you ranked Henley aggressively in my opinion, although I cannot say I don’t like him as a player, he’s an interesting prospect. I’d be interested to know what caused the two of you to put him where you did.
azruavatar: I’ll preface this comment with the fact that my first hand experience (video/real life) of Henley is very limited. That said, he’s one of those complete package guys for me that offers average tools across the board but nothing exemplary. He’s got good speed and is a true centerfielder and there’s no reason to think he won’t stick there long term. I like what I’ve seen and read of his plate discipline — last year wasn’t a good indication of his growth in that area but he shouldn’t be entirely dependent on his batting average. The power is never going to be more than average, something like 10 maybe 15 HRs max. I’ve made the Jon Jay comparison before but think of him as the Pete Kozma of the outfield if you’d like. His floor is never making it out of the minors but I’d peg his ceiling as something like .275/.350/.400 with slightly above average defense in the bigs. He’s got a long way to go and the first step will be staying healthy in 2009 at AA.