All posts by Jon Doble

Rangers steal Game 2

As I said after the game on Twitter, I expected the Cardinals to lose this one. Just not the way they did.

By all accounts Jaime Garcia should have been lit up by the Texas Rangers offense that can be easily considered to be the best offensively producing team against left handed pitchers in the entire major leagues this season. Instead, Garcia turned in what was probably his best pitching performance since a two-hit complete game shutout that he threw on May 6th against Milwaukee. It was probably in the top-3 of his pitching performances of the year, and if you consider the circumstances around it, quite possibly the best.

In his 7 innings on the mound, Garcia held the Rangers at bay with just 3 hits and a walk, along with 7 strikeouts.

He issued a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler in the top of the fourth that nearly came around to bite him, but he caught Adrian Beltre swinging on strike 3. In fact, Kinsler, who walked and then made it to third on a single by Michael Young, was the only Rangers player to make it past first base until the 9th inning.

Cardinals fans felt like they had to be watching a replay when in the bottom of the 7th of a tie game, Tony LaRussa brought out Allen Craig to pinch hit. Ron Washington, going with the definition of insanity (repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome), brought out Alexi Ogando who Craig singled off of to drive home the go-ahead run in Game 1. With Freese on third this time and Punto on first after a pair of singles, Craig singled to right field again, scoring Freese for a 1-0 Cardinals lead.

At that moment, I felt like Craig had virtually clinched a shot at World Series MVP, if the Cardinals won the series, in just two at bats. It was going to be tough to beat a guy who was 2-for-2 with 2 game winning RBI.

Fernando Salas struck out Mike Napoli in the Rangers half of the 8th. Then Marc Rzepczynski came out and struck out Yorvit Torrealba (potentially ending the talk that he was the better option in Game 1?) and then faced Esteban German again, who grounded out to Albert Pujols.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Cardinals threatened to add an insurance run to the board. Mike Adams got Jon Jay and Albert Pujols to fly out to start the inning, but Lance Berkman followed that up with a single before Matt Holliday walked. Up to the plate came Daniel Descalso, who had been one of the Cardinals’ best clutch hitters earlier in the season, but Adams got Descalso to ground out to second base.

With the 1-0 game, Tony LaRussa went to Jason Motte once again. Once again back in the no-doubles defense (a throwback to the 2009 NLDS Game 2 where Holliday misplayed a ball that resulted in a Dodgers rally and victory), Ian Kinsler popped one up. It was just out of the reach of Furcal as he ranged back and Holliday was a few steps short of catching it. Had he been playing regular depth, Holliday catches the ball without an issue and we have 1 out in the 9th. Instead, Kinsler is standing on first base.

While the next batter Elvis Andrus looked at bunting, Kinsler took off and stole second base. That took the bunt off and Andrus wasted no time in hitting a line drive to Jon Jay for his own single that put the tying run in Kinsler at third base with no out.

On the same play, Andrus was able to advance to second on the throw after a couple miscues by the Cardinals that have resulted in a bit of a furor about it. Jon Jay’s throw was wide of the plate and Pujols had a chance to cut off the play and keep Kinsler at third and Andrus at first, but he missed the ball and it ended up rolling the rest of the way to Molina. More on the furor later.

That misplay ended up being the key ingredient in the Rangers win.

LaRussa went out to the mound to bring in Arthur Rhodes to replace Motte to face the left handed Josh Hamilton. Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to Schumaker in right field that scored Kinsler and advanced Andrus. 1-1, tie game.

LaRussa went back to the mound to bring in Lance Lynn for his first World Series appearance. It was a good move considering that Lynn is far more of a strikeout threat than Rhodes and you don’t want them hitting the ball and scoring the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Michael Young did. He hit a sacrifice fly to Jon Jay that allowed Andrus to score on the tag up.

Lynn then got Beltre to ground out to third base, but the damage was done and the Rangers were up 2-1 with Molina, Punto, and Schumaker due up in the bottom of the 9th with Berkman and Freese already out of the game.

With Rangers closer Neftali Feliz entering the game with his 100 mph fastball, the Cardinals spent the entire inning struggling. He initially struggled to find his command though, walking Yadier Molina. Watching the inning, I felt that Feliz never really regained his command, but despite that, struck out Nick Punto (who failed twice to bunt) and Skip Schumaker. Feliz would then get Rafael Furcal to fly out to right field to end the game and let the Rangers notch one of their own in the win column.

According to MLB.com, Feliz threw all fastballs in that 9th inning, none slower than 97 miles per hour. He is a true flamethrower.

After two games, the series will head to Texas and the Ballpark in Arlington where it’s now become a Best of 5 and the Rangers have home field advantage. The Rangers are the second best home team in baseball and the Cardinals are the second best road team in baseball. Arlington also happens to be an extremely hitter friendly park, so it’s safe to say that we’ll probably see more offense over the next three games than we have.

Finally, to discuss the aftermath of the play in the top of the 9th. This morning Jeff Passan wrote a piece about Pujols’ leadership after the loss, or lack thereof. Apparently by the time the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse opened up to the media, Pujols had showered and left. So had Berkman, Holliday, and Molina. The four of them leaving their younger teammates to answer questions about what went wrong in a heartbreaking ninth inning collapse.

This experience illustrates exactly what I’ve been saying about Pujols and the Cardinals for the last few years, really since the 2009 season. Pujols is not a leader, well maybe a (9, 1) leader on the managerial grid. He is very much let’s his work ethic and on field performance speak for him. He’s not the type of leader who will help motivate the players around him. There are stars in sports who are great players, and then there are stars in sports who elevate those around them. Pujols is the former. A guy like Peyton Manning is the latter.

But the issue becomes as well, that as long as Pujols is a Cardinal and as long as he is the highest paid and longest tenured player on the roster, nobody is going to potentially step on his toes and step up to take that role. As we heard during the 2006 run to the playoffs, it was Jim Edmonds who stepped up to motivate the team. Edmonds was the veteran, he had the paycheck and the tenure to do it.

The second thing is that there is a seeming divide between the veterans and the younger players. Colby Rasmus was a big illustration of this to me. Pujols was quoted as saying that he’d talked to him maybe 2-3 times the entire time they played together. So basically, what Pujols just said is that he spends at least 162 days a year with 12 guys, they played together for two and a half years (almost 450 games) and they only talked 2-3 times? I know Rasmus keeps to himself, but really?

I have zero problem with Pujols snubbing the media. As many have said as we’ve had fan forum debates on it that the players owe the media nothing unless outlined in Major League Baseball rules.

Where my problem lies is that he left his teammates holding the bag, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard this story about Pujols.

My problem is that you can bet your tail that if Pujols had hit a walk off grand slam that he would have stayed to make sure every reporter’s questions about it got answered while he basked in the glow of success with that trademark grin on his face. On the other hand, when he fails and a misplay by him ultimately costs the Cardinals the game, he cuts out early and leaves his teammates to answer questions about the tough loss.

When you don’t have players who have each other’s backs, you create poison in the locker room. This sort of thing is the #1 reason why I feel the Cardinals have underperformed over the last three years. Team psychology during the season, and even more so the playoffs, is a critical thing. Passan asked a remaining Cardinals’ player about why Pujols left and he shrugged his shoulders and dodged the question about how he felt about it. I have a feeling his response would have been something to the effect of, “It is what it is.”

This kind of thing can be the catalyst that breaks a team. And if it does, that is all on Albert Pujols for hanging his teammates out when he should have been the one to accept his failures and man up to them to set the example for the rest of his teammates. That’s what being a leader and a man is all about.

I hope the team proves me wrong on Saturday night by going out and getting another win.

Cards take Game 1

What elbow problems? Chris Carpenter silenced the doubters who suggested that his elbow injury might limit his ability to shut down the high powered Texas Rangers offense on Wednesday night. When it was all said and done, Carpenter allowed just 5 hits and walked 1 over 6 innings. Two runs were all that the Rangers managed to put on the board, those on a one runner on mistake that Mike Napoli crushed in the top of the 5th.

The tone of the night was set early. Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the game. Kinsler, one of the two 30-30 guys this season, was caught by Yadier Molina after Elvis Andrus whiffed on an attempted hit-and-run. And it didn’t even look like Molina tried. It seemed effortless.

The Cardinals offense got the action going in the bottom of the 4th. Rangers starter C.J. Wilson had his moments, but was mostly inconsistent from the mound. That was illustrated by a pitch that bounced well before the plate and hit Albert Pujols in the shin. Then Matt Holliday doubled to give Lance Berkman an RBI opportunity in his second plate appearance of the World Series. With men on second and third, Berkman singled to right field allowing Pujols and Holliday to score easily. 2-0 Cardinals.

The Rangers answered quickly in the top of the 5th. Adrian Beltre singled to right field himself. Then a mistake to Mike Napoli was parked in the right field bleachers. That quickly evened it up, 2-2.

It was Allen Craig, pinch hitting for Chris Carpenter with two out in the bottom of the 6th, that broke up the tie game. David Freese hit a one-out double and then Nick Punto was walked to put men on first and second with the pitcher’s spot due up. This was to make Tony LaRussa pull Carpenter and go to the bullpen. The gamble is, of course, that the pinch hitter does nothing.

Tony LaRussa went with the hook and sent Allen Craig up to the plate with two outs in a tie game in the World Series. No problem with pinch hitting or coming off the bench or the pressure situation, Craig hit a line drive down the line that Nelson Cruz nearly caught with a slide. The ball bounced out of Cruz’s glove, allowing Freese to come around to score the go-ahead run. The Cardinals were now up 3-2 with 9 outs remaining, as us UCBers on Twitter have taken to tracking games by.

With Carpenter out of the game, LaRussa called upon Fernando Salas for his first choice out of the bullpen. While Adrian Beltre grounded out to start the inning off, Salas quickly found himself in trouble with a Nelson Cruz single and a Mike Napoli walk. Was the bullpen starting to show it’s first cracks from it’s heavy use in the National League Championship Series? That was the question at the forefront of Cardinals’ fans minds as LaRussa made the walk out to the mound to bring in left hander Marc Rzepczynski to face the left handed David Murphy.

In a counter move, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington went to his bench with Craig Gentry, a right handed hitter to eliminate the lefty-lefty matchup. It didn’t matter. Rzepczynski would use 7 pitches and strike out Gentry and Esteban German who pinch hit for Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando.

To start the 8th inning, in came Octavio Dotel. He got Ian Kinsler to ground out and then struck out Elvis Andrus before Tony trotted back out to the mound with another change. In came left hander Arthur Rhodes, in his first World Series (ironically matched up between the two teams he played for this year), to face Josh Hamilton. He got Hamilton to fly out to center field and we were on to the 9th. Three outs remained between the Cardinals and a Game 1 win and early lead in the World Series.

In came the pitcher who just happens to typically come in in the 9th inning of games when it’s a save situation, Jason Motte. Some teams would call him the closer. Motte slammed the door shut on the Rangers, keeping his impressive streak of playoff performance alive. Motte has faced 25 batters over 8 innings of work this post-season and has allowed just 1 base runner.

Carpenter becomes the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a quality start in the playoffs since himself. That would be that complete game shutout that he hurled in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series against Philadelphia.

There was some debate about whether Ron Washington managed his game properly or whether he was trying to out-manage LaRussa. Personally, I think Washington managed the game well. The worst part of it was really that he took a few gambles that didn’t pay off.

First, running on Molina in the top of the first was a huge gamble. It can be a huge momentum turner but, while Kinsler has some speed and steals bases at a better than 86% clip, if you mess the play up you end up turning the tables. In the end, Chris Carpenter gets out of lead off hit and the St. Louis crowd explodes.

Second, walking Nick Punto in the 6th was designed to get Chris Carpenter out of the game. Now, granted Punto did hit .350 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position this season, but I think you need to go after him. For one, you can be sure you’re getting only a base-hit if he gets a hit, after all he’s only hit 14 home runs in 11 major league seasons. Making the Cardinals bullpen work is one of the keys to the series for me for the Rangers, but with Allen Craig being the first man off the bench in those situations, I don’t (intentionally) walk Punto to force that. Especially when Carpenter wasn’t all that sharp tonight. Plus, you may have seen a pinch hitter anyway if Punto had reached.

The third is one that many others have questioned, using Esteban German to pinch hit with two on and two out in the 7th rather than Yorvit Torrealba. While Torrealba hit just .256 against left handed pitchers like Rzepczynski, German (who has hit .292 against left handed pitchers in his career) hadn’t taken at at bat since September 25th. I think Washington made the right decision there. You have to expect that each player on your bench can equally perform to their averages whenever you want to use them.

Trying to take the crowd out of it early and trying to get the Cardinals to use their bullpen, both are things that you’ve got to do to win while on the road. You hope you can catch a reliever on a bad night and capitalize on a mistake. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it didn’t work out for them.

Winning Game 1 puts the Cardinals at a huge advantage as far as history shows. In 13 of the 16 World Series’ in the Wild Card era, the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series. When the home team wins Game 1, they’ve won the series every year since 1993. Good news for the Cardinals, but while history shows it will be a difficult road for the Rangers, it’s never over until it’s over.

Game 2 will matchup the Rangers’ Colby Lewis against the Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia.

Lewis is 1-1 in two postseason starts for the Rangers this season. He threw six one-hit innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-3 win, unfortunately that hit was a solo home run. Against the Detroit Tigers just over a week ago, he allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings in a 5-2 loss. In the final two months of the season, Lewis was 4-2 with a 5.23 ERA, which could bode well for the Cardinals.

Only 5 current Cardinals have faced Lewis before. Lance Berkman has 13 plate appearances against him, hitting just twice. Gerald Laird is 3-for-8, Nick Punto is 0-for-1, Ryan Theriot is 2-for-2, and Albert Pujols is 1-for-1.

Garcia is 0-2 in three starts for the Cardinals in the playoffs. He allowed just 1 run in 4.2 innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, a game the Cardinals won, but was given a quick hook when the fifth inning began shaping up like that of Game 1 where Prince Fielder hit a go-ahead home run off of him. The advantage for Garcia is that he will be pitching at home, where he is a much more confident pitcher. Garcia finished the season off going 3-2 with a 4.58 ERA in the final two months of the season.

Only 2 current Rangers have faced Garcia before. Coincidentally, their two backup catchers. Matt Treanor, who was just added to the roster for the World Series is 1-for-4 against Garcia with 3 strikeouts. Yorvit Torrealba is 0-for-2.

The question for Garcia and the Cardinals is how will he handle the Rangers. According to ESPN’s Team Stats, the Rangers led the league with a .282 batting average against left handed pitchers and were second in slugging percentage at .459. Garcia also struggles against left handed hitters, allowing them to hit .308 with a .418 slugging percentage. The Rangers have a premier left handed hitter in Josh Hamilton. They also have David Murphy who has had a great postseason so far.

This is the game that I predicted to be a slugfest. Unfortunately, I think the Rangers are better suited for that type of game and will win Game 2, taking us to Arlington tied up at 1 game a piece.

The game is once again scheduled for an 8:05 pm Eastern start on FOX.

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can find me on Twitter as well, @jondoble.

A tale of two starters

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Chris Carpenter v. Roy Halladay. While it may be the Game 5 pitching matchup for the National League Divisional Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, it also shows the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, a quick thought indicates three Blue Jays draft picks pitching in NL Divisional Series’ (Shaun Marcum in Milwaukee would be the other).

Drafted in the first round of the 1993 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris Carpenter was fresh out of high school. He was joined in the Blue Jays’ minor league system two years later by Roy Halladay, who was also drafted in the first round as well. Carpenter and Halladay were supposed to be the Blue Jays’ 1-2 punch in the rotation, with Carpenter as the #1, as they flew to success in the American League East.

Going into the 2002 season their hopes were high. The 26-year-old Chris Carpenter and the 24-year-old Roy Halladay were poised to take over their roles at the top of the rotation. With Luke Prokopec and Brandon Lyon as young guys set for the rotation, the team had high hopes for their pitching staff and an offensive lineup that included Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Shannon Stewart, and Vernon Wells.

Hinske would win the American League Rookie of the Year that year, hitting .279 with 24 HR and 84 RBI.

Halladay, in his first full season in the major league rotation, would post a 2.93 ERA and 19 wins for the Blue Jays.

Carpenter, who won 11 games in 2001 with a 4.09 ERA, was the team’s opening day starter and was supposed to be their #1 starter. Instead, he started just 13 games in 2002. He hit the disabled list three times for shoulder issues. He would have shoulder surgery in September that ended his season and would cut into his 2003 season. When Toronto removed him from their 40 man roster, they offered him a minor league deal with incentives. Chris Carpenter declined.

Chris Carpenter

The Blue Jays loss was the Cardinals’ gain. The Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter to a contract for 2003 with an option for 2004 in the hopes that he’d be ready for midseason of 2003. The Cardinals paid him the major league minimum, but apparently were one of the few teams that were willing to give him a major league contract. Shoulder problems, as a pitcher, can typically be a death sentence. Hence, the Blue Jays’ action to remove him from the roster.

Carpenter would miss all the 2003 season, but he would show his potential in 2004 as he posted a career year. He wasted no time establishing himself as the Cardinals’ ace. He started 28 games and won 15 of them with a 3.46 ERA for the Cardinals as he helped lead them to a 105 win season. The Cardinals would make their first World Series appearance since 1987, but Carpenter would miss it. Again with arm problems, this time a nerve issue in his right bicep.

In 2005 he established himself, not just as the Cardinals’ ace, but as one of the best pitchers in the National League as he posted a 2.83 ERA, had a 21-5 record, led the league in complete games, and won the National League Cy Young Award.

Since he donned a Cardinals uniform for the first time, he has been the pitcher the Blue Jays expected him to become. Unfortunately those injury issues would reappear as Carpenter made just 5 starts between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Cardinals, however, remained loyal to him. And why not? In his time in Cardinal red, Carpenter is 95-42 with a 3.06 ERA. He’s been a three-time All Star and finished in the top-3 in Cy Young voting three times.

After twirling a 2 hit shutout of the Houston Astros on the final night of the regular season to put the Cardinals into the 2011 Major League Baseball Playoffs, Carpenter started Game 2 against Cliff Lee on short rest. Unable to settle in on the mound, Carpenter allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks over 3 innings. The Cardinals, however, were able to come back and win the game. With a Game 4 win last night, the Cardinals set up this matchup of former Blue Jays.

Roy Halladay

After that 2002 season, Roy Halladay wasted no time taking over that top spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. In 2003 he would lead the major leagues with 22 wins and 36 games started. Combined with his 3.25 ERA and he would win the first of his two Cy Young Awards.

In 2004, he developed shoulder issues. The problem was discovered to have existed through most of the season due to a preseason workout regimine. That would explain his 4.20 ERA in 21 starts, the worst season of his major league career.

In 2005, Halladay would again miss a portion of the season. This time it was a line drive that broke his leg shortly before the All Star break that would force him to miss the remainder of the season.

For his next four years in a Blue Jays uniform, Halladay was solid. He went 69-33 from 2006 to 2009 along with a 3.11 ERA. He threw over 220 innings in each of those seasons. You can’t ask for much more of a workhorse than what Halladay gave the Blue Jays.

After the 2009 season, the Blue Jays knew they weren’t going to be able to retain Halladay through his free agency at the end of the season and ultimately traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for some prospects.

The Blue Jays

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they were never able to capitalize on their 1-2 punch. Carpenter spent the good part of his career in a Cardinals uniform and Halladay never had the right supporting cast around him.

The Blue Jays won 87 games in 2006 and finished second in the American League East. That was their best season through that run.

The organization is now working on 18 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. Their last time, 1993, they won the World Series.

As a young Canadian kid (though I was living in North Carolina at the time), I’d been raised with the Toronto Blue Jays. Joe Carter was my favorite player. I can still remember my parents letting me stay up past my bedtime to watch the games of that World Series (heh, I just aged myself). Then what else happens, but Joe Carter going deep with a walk-off three run home run to win the Blue Jays’ second consecutive World Series.

The NLDS

Back to 2011. Here stands Chris Carpenter as the de facto ace for the Cardinals without Adam Wainwright. On the other side stands Roy Halladay, the ace of a staff full of aces. At stake is a berth in the NLCS and a chance at the 2011 World Series.

For the Blue Jays, it was supposed to be Carpenter and Halladay giving them the chance at the World Series, but now they face each other, pitching for other teams, trying to get them there instead.

How things can go so wrong.

Cardinals prepare for playoffs

What fans didn’t give up on the Cardinals season? You had a good portion who mailed in the Cardinals’ chances when it was announced that Adam Wainwright was due to have Tommy John surgery. Another portion who called it quits after a sweep by the Dodgers in August left the Cardinals 10 games out of the NL Central race. Yet another who saw the writing on the wall after walking away from a September series with the Brewers 8.5 games out of the Central and 6 games out of the Wild Card.  Then me. Who decided it was all over on September 26th after they lost in extra innings to the Astros.

We all know what happened next.

Injuries plagued the Braves down the stretch as they lost their top two starting pitchers, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, for the month of September. Many call it a choke, but just realize how many fans considered the Cardinals’ chances over when Wainwright was injured. Imagine if we lost Carpenter too.

Game 1 is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 5 o’clock in Philadelphia. Kyle Lohse will be on the mound and he carries a career record of 3-4 with a 3.43 ERA against the Phillies, but all three wins come at Citizen’s Bank Park. Beyond the Cardinals and the Rays, Lohse is best against the Phillies. This season, he’s 1-1 with a 1.76 ERA against the “other” red team. In his only start at Citizen’s Bank Park this year he threw 7.1 innings and was tagged with just 1 unearned run. That was just about two weeks ago.

Game 2 looks to be Chris Carpenter working on just three days rest from his dominating two-hitter against Houston on the final day of the season. The move would set him up to go in Game 5 if need be.

For the Cardinals, you have to think positive about their chances, or at least I do. This season they’ve gone 6-3 against the Phillies, 9-9 against the Brewers (5-1 in last two series’ against them, and 4-3 against the Diamondbacks. So they are .500 or better against each of the other playoff teams in their league. The only other team in the playoffs who can say that is the Tigers.

The Cardinals have some definite question marks with Matt Holliday and Rafael Furcal. However, you don’t lose much performance with Allen Craig on the field and defense is priority number one for the Cardinals at short stop, Nick Punto and Daniel Descalso can provide that well enough.

The interesting news today was that Kyle McClellan will likely be left off of the NLDS roster for the Cardinals. The club said that he has been suffering from a condition they called “dead arm.” Also the news that both Edwin Jackson and Jake Westbrook will not only make the roster, but be available in relief. Color me surprised.

Now, I didn’t know that McClellan was having arm issues, but he has been struggling with performance lately. I figured Edwin Jackson was going to get a start. Meanwhile Westbrook has struggled a bit lately and I expected him to be the one left off the roster in favor of a position player.

If I had my way, it would be a position player who brought some speed to the table like Tyler Greene or Adron Chambers. And honestly, having them both would be a benefit to this team. And instead of Westbrook, I’d be bringing along Eduardo Sanchez. I’m much more confident in Sanchez’s ability to get the job done out of the bullpen in a high leverage situation than I am about Jake Westbrook, who would be making his first relief appearance since April 19, 2004.

But, I’m not the manager (though I’d love an opportunity, Mr. Mozeliak give me a call!)

Either way, I’ll be glued to my couch and the TV as I root on the St. Louis Cardinals with everything I have over what I hope will be a prolonged playoff run.

Jon’s 2011 Cardinals All-Prospect Team

This is a post that I was interested in writing for quite some time. I’ve taken notes and considered my options. Some people do top prospect lists, like today you will find that this month’s UCB project is for us to do a top-7 prospects list. Instead of that, what I really wanted to do was identify my favorite player in the Cardinals’ system at each position in an All-Prospect team. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, many of these players are still a year or two away.

And so, with the Minor League playoffs pretty much done, I shall begin.

C Tony Cruz (.262, 4 HR, 25 RBI in 45 games at AAA Memphis) – Tony Cruz is my catcher. The 25 year old 26th round draft pick made a mark for me this season in his limited playing time in St. Louis. When Gerald Laird went down with an injury, it was Cruz that stepped into his shoes as the backup catcher and got the job done, hitting .258 in 34 appearances with the big league club. He got a September callup and I would place him as the odds on favorite to potentially be the full-time backup catcher next season for the Cardinals. It would be a cost savings over Laird and Cruz has proven himself both with the bat and the glove. The fact that Carpenter and Cruz were paired up and were successful speaks volumes about Cruz and puts him ahead of Bryan Anderson on my list.

1B Matt Adams (.300, 32 HR, 101 RBI in 115 games at AA Springfield) - Matt Adams made a name for himself this year in the Cardinals organization. He backed up a strong single-A season last year at Quad Cities with an even stronger season for the double-A Springfield team. At 23, Adams has shown that he can flat out hit. He was named the Texas League Player of the Year this year. For the Cardinals, Adams’ emergence means one of two things for the Cardinals. He provides a solid backup option in the event that Albert Pujols opts for free agency and another team. We have a slugging first baseman in the minors who can hit and while he’s not superman with the glove at first base, he is serviceable there. But if Pujols returns, he provides a valuable trade chip that many teams may be interested in acquiring, especially if he continues smacking the ball in Memphis next year.

2B Kolten Wong (.335, 5 HR, 25 RBI in 47 games at A Quad Cities) - Kolten Wong was the Cardinals’ first round draft pick this year and quickly established why the Cardinals viewed him so highly. He showed that he had an advanced bat for single-A and hit his way to a .335 batting average and featured an on base percentage over .400. While lower level numbers don’t mean as much because they are playing lesser competition, he has impressed me more than the other players. Pete Kozma had been moved to second base in Memphis and they demoted Donovan Solano to Springfield to get them both more playing time. To me, that means that neither is predicted to have much of a future in St. Louis. His defense left a little to be desired, but that can be attributed early on to adjusting to the game, the league, and the change in lifestyle. Most players improve as they develop.

SS Ryan Jackson (.278, 11 HR, 73 RBI in 135 games at AA Springfield) - Jackson had a solid year for the Cardinals and might be their solution at short stop in a couple years. He experienced a little bit of a breakout year in 2011 showing up with some power that he hadn’t previously shown at any level. Over the last few years his defense has been stepped up as well, which advances him ever closer to the major league roster. Jackson isn’t special, but he does seem to have the tools required to be a solid short stop. Those are in high demand in the major leagues today.

3B Zack Cox (.306, 13 HR, 68 RBI in 135 games between A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield) - Zack Cox was the Cardinals’ 2010 first round draft pick and got his chance at the Arizona Fall League last year. Viewed as a rather advanced hitter, Cox has been a bit of a slow starter after each promotion. However, that hasn’t stopped him from turning in solid numbers overall. Cox is projected to have a bit more power than he’s shown, but from what I’ve read he is focusing more on getting hits and becoming a pure hitter rather than focusing on hitting for power. I love that approach. Plus, he showed up early for spring training this year to get some extra work in before the big names showed up. That plays nicely to Cardinals fans who enjoy a good, hard working player. With a major league contract already given to him, Cox burns up options every year he heads down to the minor leagues, so the team has incentives to get him to the majors as soon as possible.

LF Andrew Brown (.284, 20 HR, 73 RBI in 107 games for AAA Memphis) - Andrew Brown was one of the Cardinals’ minor league hands to get his first taste of major league action this year as he appeared in 11 games for the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he failed to really make a mark on the team, hitting just .182 during his time up. Brown can flat hit and from what I hear he has a gun for an arm. He’s got the power (no breaking into song, please). Though that arm might be better suited to right field, for some reason he has played infinitely better in left field. Why? Who knows. All I know is that the guy can hit and won’t usually embarras you with his defense. What more do you want?

CF Adron Chambers (.277, 10 HR, 44 RBI in 128 games for AAA Memphis) - Mr. Chambers is an exciting young talent for the Cardinals in the outfield. While he doesn’t have the star of a Colby Rasmus, Chambers has displayed the necessary tools to play at the major league level. He can hit for average, has a solid OBP, some speed, and plus defense. All that combines to a solid player who can truly play all three outfield positions. The only problem for him? He hits left handed, so he’s not going to make a mark as the right handed outfielder to spell Jon Jay in the outfield next season meaning that the Cardinals would prefer another player to fill the fourth outfielder role. I like everything that Chambers brings to the table, plus he has a cool sounding name.

RF Oscar Tavares (.386, 8 HR, 62 RBI in 78 games for A Quad Cities) - The 19 year old Tavares is young and that’s good. The Cardinals kept him in Quad Cities because they felt he had more things that he needed to work on refining before he got promoted, at least that was the official story. The unofficial one might be that they were having trouble dividing up playing time at Springfield and Memphis for outfielders because of their depth of solid talent there. Tavares is a bright star though, even with an adjusted batting average he won the league batting crown. He also got the majority of his playing time in RF this season and has played all three outfield spots. As he develops the next couple seasons his true potential will become clearer, but early response says that he could be a top of the order hitter, much like the guy I moved him for.

SP Shelby Miller (11-6, 2.77 ERA in 25 starts between A+ Palm Beach and AA Springfield) - At 20 years old there is no more exciting prospect in the Cardinals system than Shelby Miller, and I’m sure most would agree. If Miller puts the work in, there is almost no doubt that he will be a top level major league pitcher if he can put it together. After a suspension for violating team rules, Miller will need to work to stay away from off the field problems as well or that could further derail his speed through the Cardinals’ system. Through his time this season, Miller got promoted and got better, something that doesn’t necessarily always happen and didn’t happen to his fellow top prospect Carlos Martinez. If he keeps working on mixing up his speeds and his pitches his success will continue.

RP Jordan Swagerty (5-3, 1.83 ERA in 12 starts and 24 relief appearances between A Quad Cities, A+ Palm Beach, and AA Springfield) - Swagerty was one of the Cardinals’ big four picks from last season that saw them really begin to change their methodology when it came to selecting draft picks. While signability and cost was a factor in years previous, the Cardinals went after who they thought was the best talent and paid them what they needed to. While Swagerty started the season starting in the minor leagues, the organization moved him to the bullpen in order to limit his innings. There, he showed that he was more than capable. While he may be able to transition back into the starting role and the team will likely do that, his future role may be that of a reliever if he stays with the Cardinals organization. With the near future of the rotation looking to be Wainwright, Garcia, Miller, and Martinez that leaves one spot open that many other players will have first chance to claim. He’s moved through the system pretty quickly and has me excited about him.

The Cardinals have a lot of talent down in the minor league system. That’s a huge change from where they’ve been in recent years. While there is now a handful of top level talent in guys like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Zack Cox, there are plenty of other guys who deserve note as well but won’t get the touting of the national media. Just because they don’t doesn’t mean they aren’t good. In fact, Matt Holliday never made a top prospect list before he broke out in the major leagues and we all know how great a player he is. The lists really mean nothing.

In the end most of the guys in the minor leagues have the necessary tools to be successful in the major leagues. It is a matter of opportunity and then putting it all together when they get there. Some guys capitalize on their opportunities, like Jon Jay. Others, like Tyler Greene, struggle to lay claim to a major league roster spot despite having it all figured out in the minor leagues. The Cardinals need to work on developing opportunities for these guys, more so than they have in the past because we actually have a solid system with true talent now.

Looking at 2012: Part 3

It’s tomorrow! Well, maybe not. I’m continuing the “Looking at 2012″ series that I began nearly three weeks ago before life got crazy for me. In part one, I overviewed the Cardinals biggest question and some of the decisions that they’ll have to make in the offseason. In part two, I talked about players with contract options and what I think the Cardinals will do and ought to do with them. Now in part three, I will talk about some of the young talent that we expect to contribute to the 2012 Cardinals.

We can start with the two that we already expect to be starting everyday for the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. Those would be David Freese and Jon Jay.

Despite a couple injuries as a result of being hit by pitches, Freese stayed healthy this season. Freese has surpassed last year’s appearances and he has managed to duplicate his batting average, small drop in his on base percentage, but he is hitting for more power which provides some interest for the Cardinals going into next season if he can continue developing. It’s very possible that Freese turns into a guy who will flirt with .300 and hit 20 home runs a season. In today’s MLB that’s a pretty good player. Only 24 players in the majors have hit more than 20 home runs this season. Only one of which is a third baseman. Looking at the stats, Freese could potentially slot in as one of the top-5 third basemen in the major leagues next season.

Meanwhile Jon Jay has proved himself capable of playing everyday for the Cardinals. After going into a slump immediately following the trade of Colby Rasmus, much like he’d done in 2010 when the Cardinals dealt Ryan Ludwick to play him everyday. There was question whether he could handle that. He has, as he has hit .309 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. A decrease in his OBP has me a little concerned, but he’s gotten over the initial hump of the pressure and has become the player in that position we expected him to be when the Cardinals decided they could trade Colby Rasmus.

The other two guys that deserve consideration are Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso.

Allen Craig has been a polarizing player for Cardinals fans. Many look at his minor league statistics and see a guy who consistently hit .300 with 20 HRs over the last few years. He’s a hitter without a position, but provides solid enough defense in the outfield or at first base. Originally drafted as a short stop, he could also become an interesting candidate at second base going into next season. This season, though missing a large part of the season thanks to a broken knee cap, he played a pivotal role through the first injury to Matt Holliday and was poised to do it again before he got injured. Now he’s looking like the regular left fielder until Holliday returns from his hand injury, if he even does. His stats show a capable player, and I don’t think there’s any reason that he can’t turn into that .300, 25 HR guy that he’s been in the minor leagues. He just needs a place to play and that’s easier said than done.

The other is Daniel Descalso who has played a key role through the season. “Mr. Late & Close” became his nickname as he hits .373 with a .413 on base percentage in Late & Close situations. With a man on 3rd and 2 outs, Descalso hits .357. He has a laser gun for an arm too and has proven himself the perfect guy to spell David Freese at third base and is a solid utility guy around the infield for the team. Personally, I think Descalso could be the solution at short stop for the future. While it’s true that he has a handful of errors there during his small number of chances this season, to me, those seem more like errors that are simply due to inexperience at the position rather than actual inability. He has the potential to be just as good, if not better, than Brendan Ryan, and those who know me know that I am a huge Brendan Ryan supporter.

After looking at the offense, the bullpen is full of young contributors. Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Marc Rzepczynski and Lance Lynn lead the field there.

Fernando Salas closed in 2008 in Springfield, closed in 2010 in Memphis, and earned the closer’s role in St. Louis in 2011. He continued to prove himself a solid closer, but got a little homer happy during the summer which led Tony LaRussa to experiment with Jason Motte in the closer’s role in September. However, that likely has more to do with Motte’s hot streak than Salas’ troubles. While many fans talked about bringing in an established closer through the summer, Salas’ numbers were better than all considered for most of it. He has shown that he is a one inning pitcher though. When I looked the other day, he had roughly a 1.80 ERA in his first inning of an appearance but beyond that he had a nearly 8.00 ERA. Certainly not pretty.

Eduardo Sanchez was another pitcher that provided Cardinals fans with excitement earlier this season while the team was struggling to find reliable bullpen arms. With his wicked slider, Sanchez was fooling major league hitters for two months before going down with what was initially termed shoulder fatigue. After an abbreviated rehab assignment, he hit the disabled list again. He’s rejoined the Cardinals now, but it’s unlikely that he will get a chance down the stretch. The issue with Sanchez was that eventually major league hitters realized that he couldn’t consistently throw the slider for a called strike, so they laid off it and got him into some trouble near the end of his time. With a chance to hit spring training as an expected contender for the 2012 bullpen, Sanchez should be able to work on that slider and figure out what he needs to do. He’s probably the most exciting pitcher the Cardinals have and I think many agree with me that he has the best pure stuff in the bullpen.

Marc Rzepczynski was acquired in the Colby Rasmus trade and provides something that the Cardinals haven’t been able to produce: a quality left handed reliever. However, there is also the potential that he could jump to the rotation eventually as both the Blue Jays and the Cardinals consider him starting material. However, the rotation is set for next year and that means that Rzepczynski is back in the ‘pen for 2012. While Zep has been good this season for the Cardinals, he hasn’t been as dominating, but that could be attributed to being used more often as a regular reliever under LaRussa than he was in Toronto.

Finally, Lance Lynn was a starter for Memphis and Tony LaRussa has said that he has the stuff to be a starter in the major leagues. However, when he was called up to fill a spot in the bullpen he made it his own. He quickly became one of the best pitchers that the Cardinals had in the bullpen and solidified an 8th inning role. That was until an apparent oblique injury. There is no reason to expect that Lance Lynn cannot assume a major role in the 2012 bullpen again.

Now the lesser known guys.

Tony Cruz is definitely someone I can see being a contributor to the 2012 team. He spent a lot of time in St. Louis over the summer, and could be the guy that takes the backup catcher job and potentially position himself to be the successor to Yadier Molina. It’s big that he and Carpenter were paired together a few times over the summer too, with Cruz behind the plate. It would be a cheap way to fill that role and save a few bucks as they attempt to spend to keep some of the starting level talent on the team.

Adron Chambers and Andrew Brown should be putting their names in the hat as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Chambers’ advantage is that he can play all three outfield positions. Brown’s advantage is that he is right handed and has more power. So it really depends which average the Cardinals would like to go, defense and speed with Chambers or right handed and power with Brown. Both are on the cusp of being ready and if we’re looking at a Holliday/Jay/Craig outfield next season, you know that there will be some at bats available in the outfield.

There aren’t a huge number of young guys who I expect to contribute next season. Just those who really made a small mark this season. There is a little bit of a talent gap in the Cardinals minor league system, in my opinion, for about the next year or so. This creates a fairly large question for the Cardinals as they potentially have to deal with injury questions in 2012. Who gets the call to absorb the impact?

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.