It’s amazing, really, how quickly this system has turned around from being one of the worst in baseball to having some very intriguing talent in the upper levels of the minors. As recently as 2005, the club had arguably the worst system in the game. Now, it’s easily in the upper half of the talent pool – when compared to the other organizations’ talent – and tops in the NL Central.
I’ve written about Colby Rasmus a few times in the past couple of months (Including this 2008 minor league wrap), so I will be brief. He is the top prospect in the system and is close to being MLB-ready. However, the club has a number of talented outfielders standing in his way right now although he could easily push them aside with an outstanding spring training.
I also wrote a recent article discussing the third-base situation in St. Louis, with incumbent Troy Glaus’ injury creating an opening for the first few months of the season. David Freese likely has the inside track on the job. Brian Barden is another option, although he could get a look at second base now that Adam Kennedy has been released. Talent-wise, 2008 No. 1 draft pick Brett Wallace is the best third-base option, and his bat is almost MLB-ready. However, his defensive abilities are shrouded in question marks and I just don’t think he’s ready to play third at the Major League level – yet. Long-term, he is a first baseman.
Prospects Chris Perez and Jason Motte both have a shot at opening the 2009 season as the club’s closer – although Ryan Franklin may have the inside track after he saved 17 games in 2008. Perez has been groomed as a potential closer since he signed out of the University of Miami in 2006. He saved seven in 41 games for the Cardinals last season. Motte is a converted catcher who can throw heat with the best of ’em. Despite his inexperience, he held his own during his MLB debut last season by allowing five hits, three walks and striking out 16 in 11 innings.
Jess Todd was a reliever in college but the organization stretched him out and he took to starting like he had been doing it his entire life. The former second-round pick pitched at three levels last season and finished the year at Triple-A. At that level, Todd allowed 19 hits in 22.2 innings with 11 walks and 20 strikeouts. He may need a little more seasoning after seeing his 2008 FIPs increase with each promotion, from 1.52 to 4.22 to 5.32.
There are a couple of other starting pitchers in the upper levels of the system who have the potential to help out in 2009. Clayton Mortensen gets overlooked at times, but the right-hander was selected 36th overall in the 2007 amateur draft and has put up solid minor league numbers (although he’s been a little too hittable). He split 2008 between Double-A and Triple-A. He struggled a bit at the senior level, after seeing his K/BB rate drop from 2.18 to 1.36. Adam Ottavino had a forgettable year after posting a 5.23 ERA (4.95 FIP) at Double-A. He also allowed 133 hits in 115.1 innings with a walk rate of 4.06 BB/9. Left-hander Jamie Garcia made his MLB debut in 2008, only to suffer an elbow injury and he’ll be lost for all of 2009.
With Yadier Molina behind the dish in St. Louis, the club doesn’t really need another catcher, but Bryan Anderson is on the cusp of making his MLB debut. The 22-year-old prospect has been a hit-machine in the minors, with a career average of .306 in four seasons and more than 1,200 at-bats. He hit .281/.367/.379 in 235 Triple-A at-bats after beginning the 2008 season in Double-A and hitting .388. Anderson, though, is not a great defensive catcher so being a back-up would not suit him, as it would allow his defense to get even rustier. He could get a look at second base (he’s fairly athletic for a catcher).
Daryl Jones’ baseball skills are finally catching up to his raw athleticism. The outfielder reached Double-A last season and hit .290/.409/.500 in 124 at-bats. Overall, he stole 24 bases and showed the potential to hit 20 home runs. He showed improved patience at the plate in 2008, which bodes well for his future since his speed will be his best attribute until he grows into his power. He could be ready for the Majors by late 2009 or mid-2010.
Peter Kozma was considered an advanced prep player when he was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft. His pro career has been solid but unspectacular and he currently looks like a future utility player. Kozma hit .284/.363/.398 in A-ball in 2008. He received a brief promotion to High-A and hit just .130 in 24 games.
Lance Lynn was a supplemental first round pick in 2008 and had a solid debut in short-season ball (1.65 FIP in six games) before finishing the season with two starts in A-ball. Lynn showed solid control at both stops and could move quickly in 2009; he may even start the year in High-A ball. He doesn’t blow the ball past hitters, so Lynn will need to rely on mixing his four pitches: a low 90s fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.
An 11th round selection from the 2007 draft, you can add Adam Reifer‘s name to the list of potential closers – although he’s further away than Perez or Motte. Reifer has battled injury problems but showed high-90s velocity in 2008. In short-season ball, Reifer smoked the younger opposition and allowed just 18 hits in 30.1 innings. He also posted a strikeout rate of 12.16 K/9, but struggled with his command: 4.45 BB/9.
Up Next: The Chicago White Sox
These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.