The St. Louis Cardinals have upgraded their farm system in a major way the past two seasons. Just last year Baseball America ranked their club 29th out of all 30 major league teams. They received a relatively small bump up to being ranked 24th earlier this season after the Cardinals drafted Zack Cox, Tyrell Jenkins, and saw the beginning of the rise of a now highly touted prospect by the name of Carlos Martinez. In 2012, it’s entirely possible that the Cardinals will receive a consensus Top 10 ranking.
Below is an updated depth chart for the top position player in the Cardinals system for each respective position. Due to length, I’ve broken it down into two parts, the second of which will be posted tomorrow. For each player, a breakdown of their skills is included in addition to other information and statistics that I found interesting in their stance with the big club and their current league.
Shelby Miller: Shelby Miller is one of the consensus top prospects in minor league baseball and is the crown jewel of a system that has seen its pitching talent gain substantial depth. The Cardinals were lauded when they chose Miller with their first-round pick in the 2009 draft after he dropped due to signing demands. The flame-throwing righty impressed in his full-season debut at Quad Cities by eliciting superb command out of high school. His stock rose from there as he displayed a high 12.08 K/9 ratio and dominated hitters in the Midwest League.
Miller started off this season in Palm Beach and continued to display impeccable numbers by overwhelming Florida State League hitters with a mid-90’s fastball that has shown good movement. In just 9 starts, the Cardinals promoted Miller to AA Springfield in an aggressive move to put him on a more even level with his competition. While posting solid numbers and maintaining a good BB%, Miller has seen his strikeout numbers drop noticeably by nearly 13% since his promotion. Miller had become increasingly reliant on his fastball and less so on his curveball (reports recently showed that he threw it as few as 5 times during a start). The coaching staff made it a point to stress mixing in both his curve and changeup before his last two starts in an attempt to allow him to refine the pitches to where he’d be more comfortable throwing them on a consistent basis. That conversation led to Miller giving up just 1 hit over 6 innings, despite walking 3 batters.
One thing for certain is that Miller will have to start mixing in his secondary offerings more often if he wants to maintain success as he graduates to the majors. Despite a 2.66 ERA between Palm Beach and Springfield, he won’t be able to consistently overpower major-league hitters by throwing 90% fastballs during a start. Because of that fact, he may be slightly further away to the majors than some here would like to think, but there’s no reason he can’t be a viable part of the rotation by the beginning of 2013 at the latest.
Bryan Anderson: Bryan Anderson exploded on the scene after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2004 Draft. After a solid debut in Johnson City, Anderson went on to post impressive numbers in his first full season as a professional hitter at Quad Cities. His wRC+ of 127 was 2nd among full-time catchers who posted 300+ at-bats in the Midwest League and ranked 19th overall for position players. He also displayed good patience with a BB% just under 10% in 2006 and has roughly maintained that number throughout his career. He reached AAA at age 21, which didn’t temper expectations.
Whatever doubts that were aroused early on in Anderson’s career stemmed from questions about his ability to effectively remain behind the plate defensively as he climbed through the system. None of those doubts were exactly answered, as reports came back shaky at best about slight improvements in his defense. Red flags also began to rise when Tony La Russa passed him up for several promotions when opportunities arose to join the major league club. La Russa has been very reluctant in the past at having a back-up catcher who doesn’t project a defense prowess behind the plate.
Anderson has failed to improve enough offensively in his minor league career to indicate that he’d make it as a regular starter in the major leagues. Since getting his first taste in the Pacific Coast League in 2008, he has failed to produce a wRC+ that surpassed league average. This season, Anderson ranks in the bottom half of catchers who have at least 250 plate appearances in offensive production. A line of .281/.356/.409 is certainly nothing to scoff at as a starting catcher, but with a bad reputation defensively and showing no real improvement on the offensive side of things, Anderson has the ceiling of a back-up in the majors and will most likely only reach that goal with another club.
Matt Adams: Let’s get the basic stats out of the way. Matt Adams is leading the Texas League in slugging percentage for batters who qualify with at least 300 at-bats. Adams is also showing the most raw power with an ISO of .291, which is 20 points above the 2nd place power hitter. He’s sitting 6th in the Texas League with a batting average of .322, which has dipped a bit in the past month and a half. Good luck isn’t factoring too much into his batting average, as a .340 BABIP is somewhat sustainable with his line drive rate and home run power. If there’s one knock against him this year it’s that his BB% is a bit low for a power hitting first baseman at 8.3%, but he’s hitting so well that it hasn’t hurt his value. He also isn’t striking out at an erroneously high rate, which helps to indicate that his bat projects well in the future.
Adams is a big bodied first baseman who burst into view with an impressive showing between Johnson City and Batavia after getting drafted in the 23rd-round of the 2009 Draft. He understandably didn’t receive a lot of attention initially because of the fact that he’s a first baseman and was only producing in short-season ball. However, he has started to get national attention this season, most notably from ESPN’s Keith Law who has stated that he believes in his bat and may make his Top 100 Prospect list for next season.
Matt’s future with the Cardinals depends almost solely on what happens with Albert Pujols. If they re-sign Pujols that means Adams is a valuable trade chip to add another piece to the major league club. If Pujols leaves via free agency, Adams is the heir apparent who has an ETA of sometime in 2013, assuming the Cardinals don’t use the money and go after a guy like Prince Fielder. If they value Adams highly, I would assume that they would take on a short-term guy for a year at first (ala Berkman) and then allow Adams to transition into that role when he’s ready.
From all indications, Adams has 25+ home run potential with the ability to hit for a high average and become a solid-regular first baseman.
Kolten Wong: The Cardinals selection of Kolten Wong in this year’s draft was both jeered and heralded. His detractors didn’t see a plus tool in his arsenal and wondered why the Cardinals took him as high as they did with their first pick. His supporters saw a plus bat with average-to-solid-average tools across the board.
One thing that Wong has made clear in his debut is that his bat plays. Wong ranks 3rd in wRC+ for starting second baseman with at least 150 at-bats. It’s a sample size and initial stats in A-ball should be taken with a grain of salt, but the biggest positive is that he’s gotten off to a hot start directly out of college. The second most positive item to look at is that he’s striking out at just a 9.9% clip (his current rate would give him 55 strikeouts in 500 at-bats), and while his 8.8% BB% isn’t anything more than average, it’s good enough to show that he’d maintain a solid OBP sitting at the top of the order. His slash line of .327/.385/.497 would look very shiny climbing up through the system and would allow the Cardinals to finally have an offensive-minded second baseman who projects to remain at that position.
Let’s get one thing straight, however, Wong will have to rely on his bat to rise through the system. While hardly a liability at second base, he isn’t a defensive wizard. He doesn’t display above average speed and his SB:CS ratio of 5-to-5 indicates that he still has a bit to learn running the bases. Wong doesn’t project to have a plus tool outside of his bat, and he’ll have to prove that he has that capability rising through the system to quiet his main detractors. There are plenty of reasons so far to be optimistic, and the Cardinals would benefit greatly going forward in finally developing the middle infield talent that this team has lacked for quite some time.
Please note that all statistics were compiled on August 10th.