Monthly Archives: January 2011

State of the Cardinals Farm System – Part 3

In Part 1 and 2 we looked at the overall systems pitching and outfielders respectively. In Part 3 we will focus on the infielders. Overall we have some attractive infielders but most of them play the same position – 3B. We are lacking on talent up the middle and 1B is always hard to predict since many big league 1B came up playing another position. Let’s jump right in.

Rating System:
5 Birds – The elite of prospects. These prospects will be stars in the bigs AND have enough body of work in the minors to justify the top rating. From a category perspective this would be a rare rating if the system had quite a few 5 Birds Rating Pitchers. Basically the elite of elite in a category.
4 Birds – Prospects that will have a solid body of work in the minors and will be above avg players in the bigs OR prospects with the upside of a 5 Birds Rating but not enough service time in the minors to justify the rating. From a category perspective this would be a category with a number of 4 and 5 Birds Ratings players. It would require a balance of depth and stardom.
3 Birds – Prospects that will be a regular in the bigs but won’t be a significant piece to the ball club. These prospects won’t be All-Stars nor will they be top of the rotation or middle of the order players. From a category perspective this would be a middle of the road category with few 4-5 Birds Rating players and plenty of 2-3 Birds Ratings.
2 Birds – Prospects that will be role players in the bigs. These prospects will bounce around from AAA to the bigs and most likely will play for many franchises over the years if they are fortunate enough to stick around. From a category perspective this would be many role/utility type players in the category with little to no star power.
1 Bird – Prospects that will be career minor leagues and may get a cup of coffee in the bigs. From a category perspective this is the ultimate insult. If you get a 1 Bird in any category you basically have very few players in the category that could even be role players in the bigs.
Infielders:
Star Power – 2.5 Birds
Depth – 2.0 Birds
Overall – 2.5 Birds

Overall we are lacking solid depth in the infield. We have a few exciting guys that play 3B (Zack Cox and Matt Carpenter) and both are not that far away. They are also the only 2 infielders in my Top 20. Looking past those 2 I have 5 other infielders ranked between 21 and 30: Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson (SS), Daniel Descalso (2B), Mark Hamilton (1B) and Niko Vazquez (3B). Matt Adams (1B) just missed out on my Top 30. Out of this group of players none projects to be a 5 Birds talent and only Cox would get a 4 Birds rating. Carpenter is probably a 3.5 Birds rating and everyone else is 2.5 Birds or less. Needless to say it’s hard to get excited about this category as a whole. There has been talk of Cox giving it a try at 2B if that gets him to the bigs quicker but I just don’t see it working out. Carpenter could be on the fast track if he gets off to a hot start and Freese either falters or gets injured. I wouldn’t say it’s crazy to think we might see Carpenter as early as mid-season. Descalso has a chance to stick in the bigs starting in 2011 and be an avg 2B. So if Skip falters you could see plenty of the left handed hitting 2B this year. Hamilton is stuck behind Pujols but got a taste at the end of 2010. Unless we lose Pujols to FA Hamilton won’t be in the plans for the Cards. The rest of this group won’t get a look in 2011. The only other player that has a chance to get a Sept callup is Kozma since he is already on the 40 man. Let’s hope that the Cards look for infield depth and star power in their 2011 venture into the draft and IFA process. It would be great to have a SS prospect to get excited about as it has been a long time.

My favorite Cardinals picture

I take another quick break from my NL Central Previews for a thought about my favorite picture. Many may recognize this moment. This was Albert Pujols’ home run off Brad Lidge in the top of the 9th in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Now, it was a game winning moment and ultimately the Cardinals lost the series, but the range of action in this picture is amazing.

Lidge is knelt down, watching the ball fly out of the park. Pujols struts and admires his home run having not even left the batter’s boxes. The home plate umpire is still in his crouch. Looks of dismay on the faces of Astros fans. The lone Cardinal fan with his arms raised in victory. All the while, Brad Ausmus is already asking the home plate umpire for another ball.

It is one of my favorite Cardinals moments. What’s yours?

UCB Project: Five Headlines of 2011

This month’s project comes from the mind of Tom at CardinalsGM. He suggested that we jot down five headlines that we expect to happen during the coming year. Not necessarily what we want to happen, but what we think will happen. You can check out the other United Cardinal Bloggers’ five headlines of 2011 at the UCB site.

So in my first project participation of 2011 with the United Cardinal Bloggers, I’ve worked on the five headlines that I expect to see in the coming 11 months of baseball.

1. Albert Pujols remains unsigned as Pitchers & Catchers Report.
This one was really my easiest. Right now, both sides are playing a game of chicken (as my Dad put it while we chatted on the phone last night). Neither side wants to be the first to blink so it will very likely come down to the deadline. While my Dad believes that something will get done before Spring Training starts, I am not so sure. I think the possibility of heading into the season without a done deal for Albert is very real and very likely. I feel that if the two sides were that close on a deal, it’d already be done. No deal says they are nowhere near close and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I’ve written on Pujols several times. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cardinals will make a fair offer that compensates him well and probably in the top-3 players in the game. At that point, it will be a measure of how much Albert Pujols wants to be a Cardinal.

Both sides understand how essential it is to bring Pujols back after this season. That is what makes this negotiation difficult for the Cardinals. They are trying to keep it somewhat affordable to them to be able to pay players around him while both sides know that they really need to bring him back because there aren’t very many good options on the list of 2012 potential free agents.

On to the other four after the jump.

2. Waino isn’t bueno anymore, more like perfecto.
Yeah, I’m going to call it which probably automatically means it won’t happen. Last year was the year of the pitcher, but this is the year I’m going to call the Year of Wainwright. In 2009 he lost it to Tim Lincecum. In 2010 he lost it to Roy Halladay. This is the year he puts it all together and it will start with a perfect game sometime in May.

It will be the beginning of a strong year for Wainwright as he will take home his first Cy Young Award.

3. Motte relishing chance to close
It’s a contract year for Franklin and it’s well documented at CardsClubhouse that I’ve never felt that Ryan Franklin wasn’t true closer candidate. He’s a nice stop-gap, but he’s been that stop-gap for three years now. I believe though, that by June, Jason Motte will have established himself as the Cardinals new closer of the future. Making it easier for the franchise to cut ties with Franklin at the end of his current contract.

The organization has placed almost all of their eggs in the Jason Motte basket. His two system rivals who  came through the system with him and actually had closing experience, Chris Perez and Jess Todd, were dealt. The other popular closer prospect in the system, Mark Worrell. I’ve never been in the Jason Motte supporters. I’ve been known to turn games off, expecting a loss, after Motte is brought into games late. However, I’ll say that he impressed me last season with his performance and seems the best internal option to take that role over.

4. Cardinals sweep Brewers to take decisive advantage in NL Central.
I know, I’m not done my preview, but I believe that the Cardinals and the Brewers will be your top-2 teams in the NL Central. Hopefully the clubhouse chemistry changes will work their magic and the Cardinals will once again return to the top in the NL Central. The Cardinals have a history of getting up against the good teams and playing well (or at least Matt Holliday does, more on that at some point this weekend) against them.

The Cardinals will come into the September series against Milwaukee with a 3 game lead in the division with the Brewers able to make it tight through the remainder of the season. However, their bats will be silent while the Cardinals manage to put some runs on the board against the likes of Gallardo, Grienke, and gMarcum (I felt he needed a G at the beginning of his name too, it’s a team unity thing).

5. Phillies and Cardinals to matchup in pitching staff battle.
Wainwright v. Halladay, Carpenter v. Lee, Westbrook v. Oswalt, Garcia v. Hamels. Who woudn’t want to watch that? I’m a huge lover of pitcher’s duels, not only for the speed of those games either. Two pitchers going out-for-out all afternoon in a battle to see who makes the first mistake is just far more entertaining to me than to see an offensive slugfest.

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Leave a comment below and let me know why I’m wrong because, well, I probably am. Considering the last two I still personally highly doubt, but I’m being a homer for once. It happens. I can’t be ‘negative Nelly’ all the time.

Now that you’ve read mine, go read some others! Head over to unitedcardinalbloggers.com to find the links to the rest of the members’ January project.

State of the Cardinals Farm System – Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the overall systems pitching. 2009 and 2010 have done wonders for the pitching prospects. So how about the Outfielders? Well the OF’s are not as attractive as our pitching but there are plenty of exciting and breakout candidate players. Without further ado…

Rating System:
5 Birds – The elite of prospects. These prospects will be stars in the bigs AND have enough body of work in the minors to justify the top rating. From a category perspective this would be a rare rating if the system had quite a few 5 Birds Rating Pitchers. Basically the elite of elite in a category.
4 Birds – Prospects that will have a solid body of work in the minors and will be above avg players in the bigs OR prospects with the upside of a 5 Birds Rating but not enough service time in the minors to justify the rating. From a category perspective this would be a category with a number of 4 and 5 Birds Ratings players. It would require a balance of depth and stardom.
3 Birds – Prospects that will be a regular in the bigs but won’t be a significant piece to the ball club. These prospects won’t be All-Stars nor will they be top of the rotation or middle of the order players. From a category perspective this would be a middle of the road category with few 4-5 Birds Rating players and plenty of 2-3 Birds Ratings.
2 Birds – Prospects that will be role players in the bigs. These prospects will bounce around from AAA to the bigs and most likely will play for many franchises over the years if they are fortunate enough to stick around. From a category perspective this would be many role/utility type players in the category with little to no star power.
1 Bird – Prospects that will be career minor leagues and may get a cup of coffee in the bigs. From a category perspective this is the ultimate insult. If you get a 1 Bird in any category you basically have very few players in the category that could even be role players in the bigs.

Outfielders:
Star Power – 2.0 Birds
Depth – 3.0 Birds
Overall – 2.5 Birds

We don’t have any obvious OF stars in the making. What we do have is plenty of raw toolsy OF’s with potential to be pretty good or better…but many years away. Late in 2008 the Cards signed a 16 yr old OF from the Dominican by the name of Oscan Taveras. 2 years later he is one of the obvious bright spots among our systems OF. In the 2009 draft we snagged an extremely athletic OF in the 6th round named Virgil Hill. Never hurts when both your parents were Olympians! In 2010 we got a few other interesting OF’s including my favorite OF in the system in Nick Longmire. To go along with Longmire we snagged 2 more extremely athletic and raw OF’s in Reggie Williams Jr and Anthony Bryant along with a late rounder with potential in Chris Edmondson. These newcomers join a cast of OF’s that include Tommy Pham, Adron Chambers and Daryl Jones to give some hope to our overall group. Another comeback player to keep an eye on is Tyler Henley who should be ready around Spring Training after missing half of 2010 due to Tommy John. There are no 4 or 5 Birds ranked OF’s but plenty of 2 or 3 Birds with great potential to sky rocket as they mature as players. Toolsy OF’s are hard to predict so only time will tell who will pan out.

NL Central Preview: Right Field

The final position player preview before I hit the pitching staffs of each team. Right field is another corner outfield position where you prefer power, but in addition to the power bat you’d like a power arm to mow down guys trying to take an extra base because of the distance between right field and third base.

The top-3 right fielders in the NL Central could go any way you choose. Homer totals are close, batting averages are close, fielding numbers are close. It’s also another position that has some exciting young talent and at least one wiley veteran trying to prove himself once again.

6. Matt Diaz, Pittsburgh (.250, 7 HR, 31 RBI in 84 games for Atlanta)
Matt Diaz was signed by Pittsburgh to platoon in right field this season with Garrett Jones. Yes, the same Jones I had penciled in as Pittsburgh’s first baseman. However, Lyle Overbay is now the team’s starting first baseman. Jones’ lack luster 2010 would have only put him a position higher than Diaz and he got 2 points for Pittsburgh at first base, the same number as Overbay would have, so it’s a moot point. Still Diaz alone has the potential to be better than Berkman or Fukudome in right field, but I’m working off of established numbers for the most part.

5. Lance Berkman, St. Louis (.248, 14 HR, 58 RBI in 122 games for Houston and NY Yankees)
The veteran of the mix, but he’s still trying to prove himself just like these young guys. For one, Berkman is coming off a horrendous season that saw him traded from his longtime home in Houston to the Yankees for the playoff run. Berkman usually hits much closer to .300 and that’s what the Cardinals are banking on with his signing. Berkman has the potential to be the best right fielder in the division, but he also has the potential to be the worst, and hopefully we’ll get something right up the middle. Also, hopefully he remembers how to wield the glove as he will return to the outfield for the first time since 2007.

4. Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago (.263, 13 HR, 44 RBI in 130 games)
One of the best Japanese hitters to come to the major leagues, Fukudome has been a disappointment for the Cubs. He was the guy that stopped Hideki Matsui’s triple crown run in 2002 with his ability to hit for average and power, however he has really shown neither in the major leagues. Still, 2010 was his best season in the major leagues and he has proven himself as the best defensive right fielder in the NL Central with his .995 fielding percentage. It is a contract year for Fukudome who will have to prove whether he belongs in the MLB or will he return to Japan?

3. Hunter Pence, Houston (.282, 25 HR, 91 RBI in 156 games)
In his fourth season in the bigs, Hunter Pence has been consistent. He’s hit 25 home runs in each of the last three seasons. He’s hit .282 in the last two seasons. What are the odds he can do it again, right? For Houston, Pence might be their top offensive threat in 2011 unless Carlos Lee rebounds from a tough 2010. Still, it’s a sign of trouble for Houston that this is their biggest offensive threat. They have a long way to go in order to rebuild the team to the World Series contender it was in the mid-2000s.

2. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati (.281, 25 HR, 70 RBI in 148 games)
Jay Bruce’s claim to fame might be his six straight hits to start his major league career or the fact that he is one of five players to hit a home run to clinch a playoff spot. But 2010 was a coming out party for Bruce, who may have seen a drop in his power output with the additional games he played, but began to hit, improving his batting average almost 60 points over the 2009 season. The best part about Jay Bruce for Cincinnati, he’s still only 23 years old.

1. Corey Hart, Milwaukee (.283, 31 HR, 102 RBI in 145 games)
Corey Hart‘s claim to fame might be that he and the other Corey Hart both played for Nashville in 2005 in Milwaukee’s minor league system. Talk about confusing, eh? Anyway, another home grown success story for Milwaukee as Hart was drafted in the 11th round by Milwaukee in 2000. He may have taken six years of development before he stuck in the majors, but he has proven himself a quality player, especially after posting a career year in 2010. And Hart just got a three year extension too. He is the second oldest starting player for Milwaukee as he will turn 29 in March, just two months younger than new acquisition Yuniesky Betancourt.

At the end of the position player previews, here are your NL Central rankings:

Milwaukee — 36 pts
Cincinnati — 34 pts
St. Louis — 32 pts
Chicago — 26 pts
Pittsburgh — 24 pts
Houston — 16 pts

Now we’ll address the top-3 (or 4, depending on how much information I can find) starters for each team, their bullpen as a whole, and their closer situation.

State of the Cardinals Farm System – Part 1

As the snow is piling up and temperatures are in the teens in St. Louis it is a perfect time to envision warmer temps and Cardinal baseball! In today’s game with FA’s getting lucrative contracts it is becoming more and more important for teams to build from within to stay competitive. Like most teams, the Cardinals have focused more time, resources and money in scouting and player development in recent years. Today we will take a look at the state of the Cardinals farm system to give a view into tomorrow’s big league players and hopefully some star power. We will break it down by the following categories: Pitchers, Outfielders, Infielders and Catchers. In Part 1, we will focus on the Pitchers Category in the system. I will use a ratings system to assess the overall category and identify key players in each category. Let’s get to it.

Rating System:
5 Birds – The elite of prospects. These prospects will be stars in the bigs AND have enough body of work in the minors to justify the top rating. From a category perspective this would be a rare rating if the system had quite a few 5 Birds Rating Pitchers. Basically the elite of elite in a category.
4 Birds – Prospects that will have a solid body of work in the minors and will be above avg players in the bigs OR prospects with the upside of a 5 Birds Rating but not enough service time in the minors to justify the rating. From a category perspective this would be a category with a number of 4 and 5 Birds Ratings players. It would require a balance of depth and stardom.
3 Birds – Prospects that will be a regular in the bigs but won’t be a significant piece to the ball club. These prospects won’t be All-Stars nor will they be top of the rotation or middle of the order players. From a category perspective this would be a middle of the road category with few 4-5 Birds Rating players and plenty of 2-3 Birds Ratings.
2 Birds – Prospects that will be role players in the bigs. These prospects will bounce around from AAA to the bigs and most likely will play for many franchises over the years if they are fortunate enough to stick around. From a category perspective this would be many role/utility type players in the category with little to no star power.
1 Bird – Prospects that will be career minor leagues and may get a cup of coffee in the bigs. From a category perspective this is the ultimate insult. If you get a 1 Bird in any category you basically have very few players in the category that could even be role players in the bigs.
Pitchers:
Star Power – 2.5 Birds
Depth – 3.5 Birds
Overall – 3 Birds
2009 and 2010 were huge years in boasting the farm system in general and specifically the pitching category. In 2009 the Cards drafted top prospect Shelby Miller in the 1st Round. To go along with Miller we snagged Joe Kelly (3), Scott Schneider (20) and Trevor Rosenthal (21) in the same draft. A year and a half later and these 4 appear to give a good balance or depth and star power to the system. In 2010 we proceeded to continue to put an influx of talent in our system with an exciting International Free Agent (IFA) in Carlos Martinez (Matias) to go along with 2010 draft selections in Seth Blair (1S), Tyrell Jenkins (1S), Jordan Swagery (2) and John Gast (6). These players will go along with a slew of exciting relievers in Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Adam Reifer and Francisco Samuel as well as a few other starters in Deryk Hooker and Lance Lynn. Overall the category has improved quite a bit from a very blah system of pitchers. Still lacking in true star power but the potential is there. Some of these raw players such as Jenkins and Martinez could catapult the star power in the system.