Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – St. Louis

Contention often breeds desperation in Major League General Managers, and amidst a divisional race last July, Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak may have been guilty of just that. Mozeliak tipped his hand near the trading deadline, trading away Brett Wallace, Clay Mortensen, Chris Perez, Jess Todd and Shane Peterson for Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa, committing the Cardinals window of championship opportunity to as long as this current brand of veteran stars allots it. Bringing Holliday back into the fold for seven seasons was not a luxury but a necessity — with little left in the farm system, this is a team that will simply ebb and flow as Holliday and Albert Pujols do.

And number 28, who if you haven’t heard, “hits that triple, double, single, that smooth home run.”

As poor a state as the Cardinals minor league system currently stands — and it’s a shockingly shallow group of players — credit where it’s due: the St. Louis opening day lineup will have six homegrown starters. And while half of them feel like second-division starters (David Freese, Skip Schumaker, Brendan Ryan), the presence of Pujols and Colby Rasmus overshadows a lot of the organization’s other shortcomings. Assuming they can re-sign Pujols, and I truly believe it is going to happen, the Cardinals have three very talented hitters under control for the indefinite future. Not many teams can boast such a thing.

The rest of the team’s future seems a little more definite, as a lot of money looks to come off the books after 2012: Kyle Lohse, Yadier Molina, Ryan Ludwick, and some combination of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright (depending on their respective options). This buys the scouting department some time to rebuild this farm system, as replacements aren’t needed for three years. It certainly lends for patience in regards to top prospect Shelby Miller‘s development, and the raw first-round pick needs it. Miller has great potential, but his secondary stuff must come a long way.

While the process for procuring and developing stars promises to be a slow process, I do expect the Cardinals to continue to fill holes with cheap, low-ceiling, homegrown options. For example, Tony La Russa’s acceptance in opening positions for David Freese and Jaime Garcia as his third baseman and fifth starter, respectively. I do like Garcia, a guy that has legitimate sink to every pitch he throws. It’s very possible he’ll be the Cardinals third-best starter as early as this season. If Garcia does falter, it won’t be long before Lance Lynn is ready to replace him in the back of the rotation. Freese, I’m not so excited about. Neither his walk or strikeout rates inspire me enough to believe he’ll hit, and I know his defense won’t be a help. It’s hard not to wonder if dealing with Allen Craig‘s brutal defense at third base, while retaining some offense from the position, isn’t the better option.

The bullpen is another place that will be ripe with homegrown players as long as Pujols and Holliday eat up forty percent of the payroll. Four of the seven relievers slated to open the season in St. Louis are products of Cardinals minor league affiliates. Each of them succeeds in different ways, from big velocity (Jason Motte) to a lot of movement (Mitch Boggs). But there is more on the way, like Eduardo Sanchez or Adam Reifer or, maybe even Adam Ottavino. The scouting team clearly knows that the production of relievers is important to what they do, as both their third (Joe Kelly) and fourth (Scott Bittle) round picks last season were college relievers.

With the development of superstars out of the way, at times it feels the scouting department becomes complacent and seeks out only high-floor players that will produce marginally above replacement level. This is not a great way to run a team; I much prefer swinging for the fences on guys like Rasmus and Shelby Miller. Not thinking about what will surround Albert, and instead thinking about what will complement him, is a much better way to ensure long-term success.

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6 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – St. Louis”

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  1. cpebbles says:

    I know he wasn’t great in his limited time last year, but scouting reports and his minor league numbers all point to Freese being a league-average defender at 3B. Throw in the offensive projections and he figures to be a league-average player, so what’s not to like?

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    • Samuel Lingle says:

      Yeah, I don’t really get the assessment on Freese vs. Craig.

      Last season in AAA they both posted identical .225 ISOs. Freese struck out a bit more than Craig, 22.7% vs. 18.2%, but he also walked more, 9.8% against 7.1%. Granted Freese had a smaller sample of at-bats, but his previous season in Memphis saw him posting a higher ISO with a bit lower K rate and a few less walks. Either way, the difference in their bats seems pretty minimal. Maybe Craig can hit for 10 points higher average but their power and OBPs will be similar, and the difference in Freese’s defense should be fairly significant.

      I’m not entirely sure what scouting reports have to say about these guys except that Craig is supposed to be a pretty good hitter. Maybe there’s something not in the numbers in regards to that, but with defense in mind I think you have to go with Freese, right?

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  2. Zach says:

    Agree with everything in the article except the categorization of Schumaker & Ryan as “second-division” starters. If Ryan plays in 130+ games this season, he wins a gold glove. If he can again trend towards the .300 mark, he is a decidedly above-average shortstop. Schumaker’s transformation from outfielder to second baseman is nothing to sneeze at – if he can somehow play average defense and again hit .300 in front of Rasmus & Pujols, he becomes an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. I don’t think there are too many teams out there who wouldn’t want Schumaker or Ryan in their lineup

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Ryan is the best of the bunch, surely. I think hoping for Schumaker to be average defensively is a little pie-in-the-sky, but I understand your optimism.

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  3. Brett says:

    Neither/nor, either/or.

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  4. Samuel Lingle says:

    The Cardinals definitely have gone for a more high-floor/low-ceiling approach in recent years, but it seemed like that changed last season. I’m not sure if it has to do more with the talent we have on the major league team or simply what was left in the farm system when Lunhow took over. The system was maybe worse off before then, and since we’ve produced guys like Rasmus and players like Wallace who netted us elite talent.

    Seems like they have gone after some more high ceiling guys, taking more risks recently like Miller, Bittle, and the ill-fated Wagner Mateo signing. Not sure how much difference having Mateo would have made in the rankings, but it would have given the Cards another legit prospect, at least. Either way it shows that they’re willing to spend a bit more and be a bit more aggressive finding high upside talent, now that they’ve built a base for the system, so hopefully that can help turn things around in another year or so.

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