Youngsters in Spring Training

As Spring Training Winds down and all the Cardinals’ fans are itching for Opening Day let’s take a look back at how our youngsters did in Spring Training. The future of the Cards will include many of these guys, so it’s always nice to know the names, what they bring to the table and how close to the majors they are.

Keep in mind it is a small sample size, but many of these players got exposure against legit major league players so that counts for something.

The Good:

1) Matt Carpenter (3B) – Unless you have been in a cave all of Spring Training you have heard the other “Carps” name quite a bit in ST. A guy I feel could be a productive 3B for a long time in the bigs. He only tore up his roughly 50 AB’s in ST and almost won a reserve spot on the big league roster. Though he got beat out by Descalso (who we will talk about below) you got to see a player who is very close to MLB ready. He needs to work on his defense and show consistency against the higher minors competition. I personally see Carpenter being the choice if Freese were to go down for an extended period of time. He brings a high OBP, solid average and good doubles power to the table.

2) Daniel Descalso (2B/3B) - We got a glimpse of Descalso late last year and he looked like he belongs. In ST he did nothing to change that perception. Ultimately he won the reserve utility job over Carpenter which I feel was the right move. Descalso will provide a slightly above average defense at 3B or 2B and lefty bat off the bench. He is a fringe 2B starter long term but if Freese needs a day off or Skip struggles we might see Descalso a few times a week. Will be curious what happens with him once Punto is healthy.

3) Adron Chambers (OF) – A guy I am higher on than most as many see him as a 4th OF prospect. He continued off his 2010 success showing he can play with the big boys. He had a respectable average but his OBP and defense were outstanding in ST. With a logjam of outfielders he might not see the bigs until a Sept callup but if he continues to grow in the upper minors his speed and defense combo will be ready to contribute as early as mid-year.

4) Pete Kozma (SS) – We all know the story of Kozma as our #1 pick in 2007 as we let Porcello pass us by. Kozma has been extremely erratic in the minors since being drafted. The key with Kozma is consistency. If he can show his all-around game is much more consistent (which IMO is more mental than anything for him) then he can stay on the prospect map. In his limited time in ST he did show a few flashes of not giving up on him. Not sure he will be a starting shortstop in the bigs but he might be able to move over to 2B and play well there. This is a critical year for Kozma to show the Cards brass he is still worth believing in.

5) Zack Cox (3B) – Our 1st round pick from last year’s draft and being called the most advanced hitter in the draft will put a little pressure on you to move quickly. If he is nervous he sure isn’t showing it. All reports out of camp was he showed up early and stayed late and was willing to listen to the coaches and veterans to get a better understanding on how to improve. This type of attitude and approach goes a long way with coaches, veteran players, and fans. He will give you many things that Carpenter will give you with an advanced eye at the plate, good doubles power, and a solid OBP. Keep an eye on the first full year of pro ball for Cox.

6) Fernando Salas (RP) – A guy that has been a closer throughout his minor league career showed he is MLB ready right now. Though he will most likely get optioned as Brian Augenstein has also been lights out as they battle for the final bullpen spot. His stuff is not lights out but he maximizes his arsenal with a GREAT feel for how to get guys out. I see him as more of a 7th or 8th inning guy in the bigs that will always outperform his stuff. Probably the first reliever called up this year.

7) Lance Lynn (SP) – His stats in ST won’t blow you away but he showed he can get big league hitters out and have a fairly strong K rate. All positive signs. Probably the first SP that will be called up from the minors if the need arises.

8) Eduardo Sanchez (RP) – I consider him to be the closer of the future. He is a step below Salas as far as being ready for the bigs but it’s a small step. If he dominates for half a year in the upper minors he will be ready by mid-year if the need arises. Once he arrives he will most likely stick for good.

9) John Gast (SP) – A lefty from the 2010 draft class that has continued to impress since signing. I wasn’t sure he was starter material out of the draft and I think the jury is still out… though he is doing more and more to prove me wrong which is just fine with me!! Still a few years away but a guy to keep an eye on.

10) Ryan Jackson (SS) – A slick fielding SS that was knocked as a fringe hitter. He showed last year he could hold his own with the bat as long as he has the glove. With a solid year and if Kozma falters he will certainly become the best SS in the system. Impressed in camp to get the eye of the staff.

11) Adam Reifer (RP) – In his limited work in camp he showed the ability to get hitters out with a good K rate. I see him being another back of the bullpen pitcher for us which is one of our systems’ greatest strengths. A year and a half away.

12) Shelby Miller/Carlos Martinez (SP) – The two most exciting prospects in our system didn’t disappoint in camp. Both are still a few years away and Miller is ahead of Martinez from a timetable perspective. They both show top of the rotation stuff so all they need is experience. It says a lot when the coaches, veteran players and front office stops what they are doing to watch you throw a bullpen. That happened for both of these guys this spring.

The Bad:

1) Tyler Greene (SS/2B/OF) – Most have seen Greene play and not impress over the past year or so. His only saving grace is he is showing a decent ability to backup Colby Rasmus in CF and give a RH compliment (per se). His abilities always outshine his performance and I just don’t see this working out. If he is still on the big league club by mid-year, I will be surprised.

2) Mark Hamilton (1B) – An older prospect trying to do anything to get a chance in the bigs. With Albert Pujols in front of you, that is a tough task! Anyone thinking Hamilton might be able to take over the starting 1B if Pujols leaves via FA after the season is kidding themselves. The one thing he brings to the table is power and a lefty. That rings no better than a power bat off the bench long term. Not impressed.

3) Francisco Samuel (RP) – A Futures Game participant a few years ago still can’t get his control on the mound. His stuff is impressive but if you can’t throw strikes you will never make it. He still has a long way to go in that realm.

4) Joe Kelly (SP) – I like Kelly long term as a starter but he showed he is still a ways off from being ready… which shouldn’t be surprising. Some think he is better suited for the bullpen but I still see a back of the rotation starter. I was hoping to see a little better performance in ST though.

5) Maikel Cleto (RP) – The pitcher we received from the M’s for Brendan Ryan. The book on him is power arm but rarely knows where it’s going. That held true in camp as he still has a lot of work to do and might never make it.

Overall, we had plenty of bright spots from our youngsters in camp that shows we have hope for some guys over the next few years to contribute. Will be great to watch some of these kids grow this year from the lower minors to making that big jump to AA.

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Cardinals’ Approval Ratings: Preseason

I am now ready to begin taking entries for the Cardinals’ Approval Ratings for the Preseason Ratings. You can choose to answer just one, two, or all the ratings and questions. The players are divided based on management, position player, pitchers, minor leaguers, and then some questions about the Cardinals.

The form will take entries until next Thursday evening around 9 pm eastern time. At that point I’ll compile the results and you will likely see a post about it on Friday morning before the season opener against San Diego.

Here you go: Link

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Batista earns his spot

According to B.J. rains of Fox Sports Midwest, the Cardinals have notified Miguel Batista that he will be placed on the 25 man roster prior to opening day.

For Batista, 40, it means that he will remain a Cardinal. He had a clause in his contract with the Cardinals that would have allowed him to be released next week in the event that he didn’t make the roster.

I expected Batista to be named to the team because of his strong spring, in which he’s allowed just two runs over his 9+ innings, and because of his versatility to spot start and be a long reliever. The Cardinals’ 40 man roster is currently full, but a spot is expected to be created by adding Adam Wainwright to the 60 day disabled list to free up a spot.

That leaves Fernando Salas and Bryan Augenstein to battle over the final spot in the bullpen. Both have pitched well, but I would figure that Salas is the leader in the contest because of his experience with the team. However, depending on the situation with Brian Tallet and whether he needs to go onto the disabled list could put both of them on the roster. However, Tallet said that he expects to be ready to go by the middle of next week. It will definitely be a situation to watch.

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UCB Project: 2011 Postseason Preview

As this month’s United Cardinal Bloggers network project draws to a close, I take a look at the post season. You can check out the other UCB members’ posts at the site, but for me you can look at my previous predictions here on the site. I’ve done the AL East, Central, and West, along with the NL East, Central, and West. All that’s left is the playoffs.

In last season’s World Series, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in five games. For the Rangers it was their first World Series appearance. For the Giants, it was their first since 2003 and the first World Series appearance since 2002.

A lot of times the winner of a playoff series is difficult to pick. It’s even more difficult to pick seven months in advance when the small sample size of the playoffs depends more greatly on who is healthy and who is hot. I’m not going to let a little thing like that stop me!

American League Divisional Series
Based on my predictions, the divisional series’ should be the Boston Red Sox against the Texas Rangers. The Red Sox, on the offense of new additions Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez take a step back into the playoffs and then power their way past the Rangers in the first round. Despite solid seasons from their rotation, the Rangers just don’t have the necessary offense to hold up against the Red Sox. Adrian Beltre was a nice addition to the Rangers offense, but he is notorious for putting up career years in contract years, much like he did last year. I expect Red Sox in four.

The second ALDS puts the New York Yankees against the Minnesota Twins. The last time the Twins won a playoff game against the Yankees was 2004, in fact that was the last time the Twins won a playoff game, period. However, the Yankees inability to truly stabilize that starting rotation during this season, as I expect, will hurt them. Behind C.C. Sabathia there really isn’t anything that’s scary to a team in the playoffs. But the Yankees have an offense that is nearly unrivaled. Meanwhile the Twins are dependent on the heart of their lineup and a pitching staff with no clear #1 pitcher. I expect the Twins to actual win against the Yankees this year, but looking more like Yankees in 5, though it really could go either way.

National League Divisional Series
The first NL series is a rematch of the 2010 NLCS and one of my favorite matchups. There is nothing that I love more than a pitcher’s duel, and it will be the incredible and heralded pitching staff of the Philadelphia Phillies against the incredible and slightly less heralded pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants. But much like last year, I can’t see the Giants getting past the Phillies without the luck they had last year. Do it twice in a row? Unlikely. Philadelphia cruises past the Giants in 3.

The second matchup is the Atlanta Braves against the Milwaukee Brewers. This could be an exciting matchup of itself. With a healthy club, I think the Braves will beat the Brewers but this is one that can go either way. I think the Braves are the more rounded club and have the better management. Braves in 4.

American League Championship Series
So it matches up the Yankees v. the Red Sox in the ALCS once again. Who can forget the epic 2004 ALCS where the Red Sox stole a win in Game 4 and then went on to win the series?  Then they rolled over a cold St. Louis Cardinals team to win their first World Series in 86 years.

But this time, there really shouldn’t be a contest. The Red Sox are a vastly more complete team than the Yankees are and are nearly as good on offense as the Yankees are. Because of that, they should be able to pretty much cruise to a series winner. Red Sox in 6.

National League Championship Series
I have the Braves v. the Phillies in the NLCS. Interesting to note that it’s the two teams from the East in each league and it’s the wild card and their division champion matching up too. I wonder what that means to the balance of power in baseball.

With the aging Phillies lineup, the Braves have an excellent chance to defeat them. I thought the Braves could have gone far last season and they’ve only improved. I expect the Braves to make their first return to the World Series since 1999 when they lost to the Yankees. Braves in 5 as the young guys show their stuff for first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez.

World Series
Red Sox v. Braves. Comparable pitching staffs, I think the Red Sox have the more complete offense. Braves may sneak a couple out, but I expect the Red Sox to win their third World Series in the last decade. Red Sox in 6.

Rookie of the Year
Beginning with the Rookie of the Year award. It’s always my least favorite because you have the flashy guys who get the notoriety and then you usually have some guys turning in great seasons being ignored. Just look at last season’s NL Rookie of the Year. Jason Heyward was the early favorite, Buster Posey jumped onto the scene mid-season, but Jaime Garcia was solid all year. His mid-2s ERA over 28 starts, in my opinion for a pitcher, was far more impressive to me than what Heyward and Posey did, but he wasn’t recognized and was typically just an after thought when people discussed the Rookie of the Year award.

Two rookies I like are Atlanta first base Freddie Freeman and Kansas City infielder Mike Moustakas.

Freeman has gotten the most playing time of any Brave in spring training, but hasn’t done much in the majors yet. Freeman does have a pretty good minor league resume and should get the chance to play first base everyday as long as he can play well. He has the talent, but can he put it together in his rookie year?

Meanwhile, Moustakas will likely start the season in the minor leagues for the Royals, but a mid-season call up should happen for him. With no clear cut challenger in the American League that I can see, it makes him the leader in the category if he can perform with the bat once he makes the jump.

Cy Young Award
Wins don’t make you a lock for the Cy Young. That’s the lesson American League pitchers have learned the last two years as 16 game winner Zach Grienke and 13 game winner Felix Hernandez were the guys who took the trophies home for the American League.

In the AL, I expect it to be Trevor Cahill with 19 wins and taking the Cy Young trophy home. However, there are several guys who can challenge him for it and probably will.

For the NL, I think the hype of Cliff Lee returning to the league will help him become the sixth player to win a Cy Young in both leagues. I see 19 wins from Lee and an ERA in the high-2s.

Most Valuable Player Award
This is really where it gets difficult because it’s so hard to predict. Again, won’t stop me. Though, I think I will probably make some non standard picks.

In the American League, Adrian Gonzalez will get a bright welcome to the American League as he moves from one of the best pitchers parks to a pretty good hitter’s park. I expect his offensive performance to jump, I think he’ll push 40 homers this year and be around 120 RBI while he maintains his nearly .290 batting average.

In the National League, I think it will once again be an NL Central first baseman, but will once again not be Albert Pujols. In a contract year and helping lead Milwaukee to a playoff berth, Prince Fielder will get recognized as he turns in a year with a batting average in the .290s, just over 40 homers, and just over 110 RBI. It would still be a little bit of a question mark whether Fielder could. Since 1990, only one player has won an NL MVP with a batting average under .300, that was Jimmy Rollins in 2007.

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UCB Project: National League West

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. Over the last four days I have done the AL East, Central, and West along with the NL East. Tomorrow I will look at postseason predictions.

Last season it was the San Francisco Giants that rode their pitching to the World Series, despite being overlooked at nearly every angle. I thought they had a pretty good chance to get past the Braves in the first round, but I doubt anybody really foresaw them beating both Philadelphia and Texas. However, it was the San Diego Padres that collapsed down the stretch that allowed the Giants to get back into the division race and ultimately win the division.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks (75-87)
The Diamondbacks have been a seller as of late, but I like the direction that the team is heading in. They’ve dealt a lot of their talent away in exchange for young pitching, attempting to stock pile pitching talent, much like their divisional rivals in San Francisco. Their new manager, Dodgers legend Kirk Gibson should be a great leader for the team after they’ve struggled in the past few years.

While their direction is good, there are many questions surrounding the Diamondbacks this season. How are they going to fill the gaps on offense? Will their rotation hold up? They have a solid group of pitchers led by Daniel Hudson, who was incredible last season for the Diamondbacks after coming over in a trade. Why Chicago was willing to deal him was a little surprising. The guy who pitched the almost perfect game, Armando Galarraga is also in the rotation.

There is still a long way to go for the Diamondbacks, but they have a good core of talent and have made several steps in the right direction.

4. San Diego Padres (78-84)
The Padres have also been sellers lately. There is a big turnover in San Diego this year too as they’ve slashed payroll. The Padres surprised everyone last season with their 90 wins, but I don’t see them being able to repeat that at all.

They improved up the middle with the additions of Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. They brought Ryan Ludwick back to hit cleanup behind Chase Headley. Other than that, they are pinning their hopes on a couple players who haven’t played well recently in Brad Hawpe and Cameron Maybin. If they break through, then it’d be very easy to win a few more games.

The question for the Padres is whether or not the bullpen can be the same form as they were in 2010 when they were one of the best bullpens in the majors. Also, can that offense provide enough runs to support the pitching staff. Petco is a pitcher friendly ballpark, so pitching can turn the tide, but it will be even more difficult for that offense to score runs because of that.

3. Colorado Rockies (81-81)
The Rockies made big moves in the offseason, locking up both Troy Tulowizki and Carlos Gonzalez to big deals. It’s a good move that locks up two of the best young offensive talents in the National League and recognizes their place as the core of the team. While Todd Helton might be the godfather of the team, he’s not the leader much any more. He’s not the go-to guy in the lineup.

A small amount of turnover for the Rockies, but I don’t see much improvement on the field. Obviously the young players should improve, but the question remains whether Tulowizki and Gonzalez can continue to give 110% knowing that they are locked into big money for years to come. To me, that’s always a question when you give guys a ton of money.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78)
The Dodgers’ ownership is having financial issues as well. When your owners go through a divorce, it’s tough for either to spend money on the team. There was the potential for the team to receive a loan to help it operate through this season, but that was turned down by Bud Selig. That put the Dodgers in rough territory this offseason as they had to be smart with the way they spent their money.

Their biggest move may have been the addition of Juan Uribe. Uribe was a critical part of the Giants’ 2010 World Series team. Jon Garland was another solid move to solidify that bullpen, especially with some of the success that Garland has had in a Dodgers uniform.

Their core remains mostly unchanged, but I feel that that does help them. These guys will know that it’s all on them to get the job done and that reinforcements aren’t likely to come. I expect them to rise to the challenge and compete for the division crown this season.

1. San Francisco Giants (89-73)
Magic is about the only word you can use to describe the Giants’ postseason run. Their team also remained mostly unchanged, but unfortunately they lost two of their biggest pieces. Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria both left to play for other teams after playing instrumental roles in the Giants’ run to the playoffs. They added Miguel Tejada who should help a little bit and hopefully they will get Mark DeRosa back from his injury as well, helping absorb some of that loss.

Their rotation, with Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner cannot be questioned. It is right up there as one of the best top-4 in the league. Also quite cheaper than the Phillies’ top-4. Brian Wilson has had some muscle issues in spring training, but hopefully that won’t nag on into the season. Even if it does, San Francisco is very deep in pitching.

The Giants are a team that relies on great pitching and timely hitting. The pitching is almost a guarantee as long as everyone stays healthy. Can the Buster Posey led offense continue to get timely hits? That will determine their outcome in 2011.

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