Playoff Rookies in Review: St. Louis Cardinals

Prior to playing on the biggest stage in professional baseball almost all ball players must take the long bus rides, live off late-night fast food runs and toil in the near obscurity that can be minor league baseball. For some players on the 2012 playoff clubs those memories are a little fresher than for others. With work well under way on the 2012-13 Top 15 Prospects lists at FanGraphs – due to begin in early November – I thought it might be fun to look back and see what I wrote about those players during the previous three annual prospect reviews. Below are excerpts from what was originally written.

No longer Albert Pujols‘ club, the Cardinals 2012 roster consists of a number of young players developed internally. The organization does an outstanding job of balancing higher-priced veterans with (often complementary) younger contributors. The strong in-house development has been very evident on the pitching staff during the club’s playoff run and post-season success.

Joe Kelly, Right-Handed Reliever : Kelly – who really doesn’t look like a guy that possesses a mid-90s fastball – has been one of my biggest man-crush prospects over the past three years and I’m more than a little excited to see him succeeding at the big league level – and play a role in the Cardinals’ playoff success.

2011 (Ranked 3rd overall): “I’m probably a little more aggressive in my ranking of Kelly than other Top 10 lists, but the right-hander has an impressive mix of fastball velocity (92-97 mph) and excellent ground-ball numbers (65% in 2010)… Kelly also has a long arm action and lacks deception, which could help explain the lower strikeout numbers. It remains to be seen if Kelly will be a long-term reliever or starter but I’m hoping the organization gives him a chance to start.”

2012 (Ranked 11th overall): “I’ve always admitted to being a huge Kelly fan because of his intriguing mix of fastball velocity and ground-ball rates. Drafted out of the same school, UC Riverside, as fellow ground-ball specialist and organization-mate Marc Rzepczynski (acquired last season from Toronto), Kelly needs better fastball command if he’s going to make good on his potential. He also needs a better weapon against left-handed hitters.”

Lance Lynn, Right-Handed Pitcher: Lynn rode a rollercoaster during his minor league career, going from first round prospect to almost falling off the map to being one of the more promising young players on the big league roster – thanks mainly to a big jump in velocity.

2010 (Ranked 1st overall): “Lynn doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he has a solid repertoire that he commands well, he does a relatively nice job of pounding the strike zone (this slipped a bit in double-A) and he’s a big, strong, durable guy. The right-hander doesn’t really project as a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he should be a solid No. 3 guy who could pitch a few years at the level of a No. 2.”

2011 (Ranked 7th overall): “Lynn has the potential to develop into a durable No. 3 or 4 starter. He’s a big, strong athlete, although his fastball has just average velocity in the 88-92 mph range. It has excellent sink, in part due to the downward plane that Lynn gets on his pitches… He’ll likely return to triple-A for 2011 but Lynn should be ready to serve as an emergency injury fill-in at the MLB level.”

2012 (Ranked 13th overall): “A former first round draft pick, Lynn was a fairly unexciting inning-eating starter in the minor leagues. His fastball sat in the 88-92 mph range and his secondary stuff was good-but-not-great. Shifted to the bullpen part way through ’11, Lynn’s fastball jumped into the mid 90s and touched 97-98 mph. He enters 2012 with a lot of potential as a high-leverage with his fastball-curveball combination.”

Jaime Garcia, Left-Handed Starter (2nd): The oft-injured Garcia is once again on the sidelines but I thought I’d include him because he was always one of my favorite players. Although he’ll be no help to the club during the playoffs – and possibly for quite some time – Garcia did make 20 starts during the regular season.

2010 (Ranked 2nd Overall): “A number of top pitching prospects in the system have been derailed by injuries and Garcia has been no different… Along with his solid repertoire, the southpaw is also an extreme ground-ball pitcher and that continued in ’09 as he posted a 62.4 GB% in 51.0 combined innings. At the very latest, Garcia should be helping out the Cardinals by mid-2010.”

Shelby Miller, Right-Handed Starter: Miller’s 2011 season ended poorly and he did not make many fans with his early 2012 results, either. However, the right-handed redeemed himself with a late-season surge that included his first big league promotion. Miller has been used sparingly during the playoffs but he’ll feature prominently on the 2012-13 Top 15 prospects list.

2011 (Ranked 1st overall): “Miller certainly has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the organization and he’ll open 2011 in high-A. The right-hander should spend the majority of the season there but he’s talented enough – despite his age – to see a late-season promotion to double-A. He should be ready for regular MLB action in 2013.”

2012 (Ranked 1st overall): “Miller’s fastball is so effective that he has to be encouraged to use his secondary pitches, both of which show flashes of brilliance: a curveball and changeup. Although they have potential, Miller needs to command them better. His plus velocity allows him to safely work in the upper half of the strike zone but it would be nice to see the fly-ball pitcher generate a few more ground-ball outs… Miller has the ceiling of a No. 1 starter and he could be pitching in St. Louis by the end of the ’12 season.”

Trevor Rosenthal, Right-Handed Pitcher: Ken’s long lost brother has seen his value explode exponentially. Just one year ago the right-hander spent the entire year in A-ball; now he’s blowing away some of the best hitters in the major leagues during the playoffs.

(Ranked 7th overall): “Rosenthal is a unheralded gem unearthed by Cardinals scout Aaron Looper at a small Kansas community college. The right-hander has an exciting mix of power and ground-ball tendencies… If Rosenthal can develop his secondary pitches and stick in the starting rotation then he could develop into an innings-eater. He tired late in 2011 and his numbers would have been even better had he not posted a 7.13 ERA in five August starts.”

Allen Craig, Utility Infielder/Outfielder: Craig hits for average, power and plays a multitude of positions so it’s evident how valuable he’s been to the big league club. He’s been even better than advertised, as his minor league numbers hinted at a successful big league career but not to this degree.

2010 (Ranked 4th overall): “The hot corner has been a bit of an issue for St. Louis in recent years but the organization has a few prospects on the cusp of the Majors that are capable of playing third base. Craig is often overlooked but the 25-year-old infielder has quietly slugged 20+ homers in three straight seasons, while hitting above .300… After spending the majority of his minor-league career at the hot corner, Craig spent more time (71 games) in left field at triple-A. He also played 42 games at first base and just 13 at third base. He could be given consideration at third in the spring, but his value to the club may lie in his versatility.”

Matt Carpenter, Utility Infielder/Outfielder: Perhaps the second coming of David Freese with a little extra versatility, Carpenter had a nice offensive season for the Cardinals but he’s struggled to find playing time during the 2012 playoffs. He should be a great role player moving forward.

2012 (Ranked 14th overall): “Already 26, Carpenter has turned himself into a solid prospect after being selected out of Texas Christian University as a fifth-year senior. He has the ability to hit for average but his power potential is below-average for a third baseman and his best hope for playing time at the big league level, especially with St. Louis, might come from a utility/pinch-hit role.”

Daniel Descalso, Utility Infielder: Descalso had a poor offensive season but fell victim to a low BABIP. Some hope can be gleaned from his impressive line-drive rate – as well as his ability to competently backup four infield positions.

2010 (Ranked 6th overall): “Descalso, like Craig, could offer a lot of roster flexibility with his ability to play multiple positions… Descalso’s numbers have been pretty inconsistent over his career; he’s shown flashes of hitting for average, as well as flashes of hitting for power. Because he’s done neither consistently, he could end up as a utility player. If the 23-year-old infielder can improve, though, he could be the long-term answer at second base, as he hits both left-handers and right-handers equally well.”

David Freese, Third baseman Freese, a late-blooming cult hero, just keeps getting better. He helped shoulder some of the offensive burden during that regular season that was dispersed with the loss of Pujols. Freese has also been one of the Cardinals’ best playoff hitters not named Carlos Beltran.

2010: (Ranked 8th overall): “Freese is getting a little long-in-the-tooth for a prospect, but he signed out of college as a senior so he had a late start to his career. Injuries prevented him from seeing more time in the Majors but he hit above .300 at every level that he played at this past season… The right-handed hitter has shown a consistent ability to hit .300 in the minors, but he’s also been aided by some solid BABIPs. He might not be so lucky in the Majors, but that remains to be seen. All signs point to Freese being given the first shot at the third-base job in St. Louis in 2010, although Mark DeRosa could end up back with the Cardinals.”

Peter Kozma, Utility Infielder Kozma’s overall playoff numbers do not look overly impressive but he’s had some key walks and hits (including three of his five hits going for extra bases). His successful small-sample-size regular season numbers and key playoff moments are going to cause a lot of people to overrate Kozma but he’s not really all that close to making the off-season Top 15 prospect list for the organization despite the fact he’s retained his eligibility.

2010: (Ranked 10th overall): “The former first round draft pick is currently living on reputation right now after hitting just .216/.288/.312 in 407 at-bats. After posting an .096 ISO and stealing just four bases, he needs to start doing something well if he’s going to avoid the dreaded utility label.”

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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