Top 10 Prospects: The St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals
2010 MLB Record: 86-76 (2nd in the NL Central)
Minor League Power Ranking: 22rd (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Shelby Miller, RHP
Acquired: 2009 1st round (Texas HS)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.5

Notes: Miller, 20, has a good pitcher’s frame and he does a nice job of staying tall in his delivery. He throws with a low three-quarter arm angle. Miller occasionally has his front foot land a little too far toward third base, which causes him to throw across his body as well as cause command issues. A good athlete, he needs to work on consistency with his delivery. He held his own in low-A ball in 2010 as a teenager by displaying good control (2.85 BB/9). Miller posted a 2.42 FIP while missing a lot of bats (12.08 K/9). He produced an average number of grounders (46%). His repertoire includes a fastball that touches 96-97 mph, a good curveball, and a changeup. 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.

2. Zack Cox, 3B
Acquired: 2010 1st round (University of Arkansas)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Notes: The Cardinals organization gave Cox $2 million to sign as a draft-eligible sophomore out of the University of Arkansas. He projects to be a good hitter with a quick bat and solid line-drive power, which should develop into 20-homer power over time. Cox rocks back and forth in his stance but keeps his feet quiet. He’s quick to the ball and shows good hip rotation. He does need to stay a little taller in his stance as he occasionally leans out over the plate. Defensively, he shows quick hands but could stand to improve his foot work and range at the hot corner. He has a strong arm. There have been some questions raised about Cox’s ability to stick at third base and some have suggested a move to second base. The left-handed hitter could reach the Majors fairly quickly but it may take a few years for his power to fully develop.

3. Joe Kelly, RHP
Acquired: 2009 3rd round (UC Riverside)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: 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). Despite some success (3.31 FIP), the 22-year-old was left in low-A ball all season long. He split time between the rotation (18 starts) and the bullpen (8 relief appearances) and was a closer in college (He was drafted out of UC Riverside, the same school that produced Marc Rzepczynski, who also has above-average ground-ball rates). Kelly does struggle with his command and control. He also doesn’t strike out as many batters as you would expect (8.01 K/9) given his velocity. He throws with a low three-quarter or sidearm slot. The right-hander does throw a little across his body at times. Like Miller, he lands with his foot a little too close to third base, which causes extra movement on his pitches but hurts his control. 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.

4. Carlos Matias, RHP
Acquired: 2010 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: DSL
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Notes: Matias is a raw prospect but he was an exciting sign for the organization that isn’t known for investing a lot of money into the Latin market. The club gave him $1.5 million. The right-hander has a big-time fastball that can touch the upper-90s with good movement. He also has a raw curveball and changeup. Matias has good control for his age. He’s not a big pitcher- just 6’0” but he has large hands and his frame has room to fill out. He throws with a high three-quarter arm slot and has a loose frame and fairly clean delivery, which should help his body hold up to his big-time velocity. The 19-year-old pitched in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 and over-matched his competition with a 1.79 FIP and strikeout rate of 11.90 K/9. Opponents hit just .144 against him. Matias should open 2011 in low-A ball.

5. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
Acquired: 2010 supplemental first round (Texas HS)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Jenkins was nabbed out of a Texas high school with a supplemental first round pick in 2010. He has a tall, skinny, projectable frame. A good athlete, especially while fielding his position, the right-hander utilizes a high leg kick and his delivery has some effort in it. He throws a good fastball that can touch the mid-90s. He also has a curveball and changeup, both of which he’s learning to command. Jenkins currently throws his breaking ball with a slightly higher arm slot than his fastball. After signing, he pitched just three innings in rookie ball. He’ll likely move slowly through the minors but his good fastball could help him dominate hitters in the low minors, as long as he can command the pitch. The organization hasn’t had the best drafts in recent years but I was a big fan of their first three selections in 2010.

6. Seth Blair, RHP
Acquired: 2010 supplemental 1st round (Arizona State U)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: Did Not Play
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: Blair had a nice junior season of college, and the Cardinals organization grabbed him with a supplemental first round pick. He was a highly-touted prep pitcher, too, but signability caused him to slide deep into the draft (He’s represented by Scott Boras). Blair throws with a low three-quarter delivery and there is some effort to his actions. He also utilizes a long stride. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid-90s but he struggles to command it. Blair also has a curveball, changeup and occasional slider/cutter. He didn’t pitch after signing, but he should open 2011 in low- or high-A ball. He has the potential to develop into a solid No. 3 starter.

7. Lance Lynn, RHP
Acquired: 2008 supplemental 1st round (U Mississippi)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AAA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: 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 throws with a low three-quarter arm angle. His repertoire also includes a good slider, changeup and an occasional curveball. Lynn spent all of 2010 in triple-A and he posted a 4.43 FIP with 164 hits allowed in 164.0, so he hardly dominated the competition. His strikeout rate was also modest at 7.74 K/9. 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.

8. Eduardo Sanchez, RHP
Acquired: 2005 non-drafted free agent (Venezuela)
Pro Experience: 5 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA/AAA
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 2.0

Notes: Sanchez projects as a high-leverage reliever who could eventually serve as the Cardinals’ closer. The right-hander throws with a three-quarter arm slot and displays impressive, easy velocity. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can hit the upper 90s. He commands the heater well but struggles with the consistency of his slider, which could develop into a plus pitch. Sanchez’ value is diminished somewhat by his small frame but there isn’t much effort in his delivery, which should help him stay healthy. He’s displayed solid ground-ball rates in his career and he split 2010 between double-A and triple-A. He produced goods strikeout numbers in triple-A (10.33 K/9) but struggled with his control (4.00 BB/9) against advanced hitters. The 21-year-old prospect should be ready to make his MLB debut at some point in 2011.

9. Oscar Taveras, OF
Acquired: 2008 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: The 18-year-old Taveras gives the organization another impressive Latin prospect on the Top 10 list. He made his North American debut in 2010 and was ranked as the fourth-best player in the rookie Appalachian League by Baseball America. Overall, he hit .327/.367/.531 in 211 at-bats and displayed good power (.204 ISO). Taveras hits with a wide stance and needs to get his front foot down quicker. His swing gets long at times but he shows good bat speed. He also keeps his hands in a good position to help his avoid hitting with an upper cut. There is still some loop to his swing though, which could probably be eliminated by leveling out his shoulders and lowering his back elbow. His frame still has room to fill out.

10. Jordan Swagerty, RHP
Acquired: 2010 2nd round (Arizona State U)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: Did Not Play
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 1.5

Notes: Seth Blair’s teammate at Arizona State was also nabbed by the Cardinals organization. Swagerty could be a fast-moving reliever. He has a low-90s fastball that touches the mid-90s, as well as a plus curveball. He throws with a short, quick arm action and a tight, compact delivery. He utilizes a long stride as to finish off his max-effort delivery. Everything about his delivery screams reliever, so Swagerty will likely remain in the bullpen. He didn’t pitch after signing but should open the year in low- or high-A ball and could reach double-A by the end of the season. He should settle in at the MLB level as a set-up man or closer.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

18 Responses to “Top 10 Prospects: The St. Louis Cardinals”

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  1. Kool says:

    Enough RHP you think? I was never too high on Cox. He can hit, but I’ve never seen any power out of him. 20 home runs sounds very hopeful to me. I also don’t think he’ll stay at third.

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    • deadpool says:

      20 HR isn’t really that big a stretch. I don’t think he’ll turn in more than that, but gap power at Baum stadium in Fayetteville is HR power in 90% of college stadiums.

      The only thing he’s missing at 3B is footwork, he gets good reads and throws well, he’s athletic enough. Even if he does change positions he’d be above average at 2B and his bat would profile as even better from that position.

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    • Purple_Haze says:

      I think the reason the Cards put him at third was because they wanted him to move quickly and weren’t sure how he would stick at second (I wish they’d try him there, though). He isn’t going to be the greatest defensive third baseman in the world but I think he’ll be about average there.

      I hear a lot of people who aren’t high on Zach Cox because he’s not exactly the type of prospect people get excited about. He’s likely to have batting average driven OBP, he has more gap type power than home run type power and he doesn’t have the frame of a super-slugger. But this is not Brett Wallace 2.0. I think Cox has a much better swing and 1B isn’t even in the picture right now, the way it was when Wallace was drafted.

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  2. Purple_Haze says:

    Wow, you must love Joe Kelly. You’ll be happy to know that the organization is pretty committed to him as a starter right now and I think he’s likely to do better in his second season in the rotation (he tired out toward the end this year)

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  3. ms says:

    How is “estimated peak WAR” calculated? Is it just a guess at current perceived upside?

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  4. CardsFan says:

    Marc – Matias, long-term, is he a starter or reliever for you?

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  5. Bad Bill says:

    So not a Matt Carpenter believer, I take it?

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  6. Marc Hulet says:

    I think it’s way too soon to make a decision on Matias. I’d put Carpenter is the 15 range.

    No magical calculation for Peak WAR.

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  7. JWO says:

    Excellent write-ups. I’m struck by how the bulk of the Cardinals talent is buried in the low A / high A level right now. I think both Matt Carpenter and Nick Additon deserve some attention, but I agree with most of your assessments. Thanks for putting this together.

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  8. Dillinger says:

    This peak WAR stuff is a little wacked. “touching” a certain velocity isn’t relevant with starters. Lynn will sit at 88 and pretty much never hit 92.

    Lynn profiles as an innings eater type that will likely sport a career 4.7 FIP. #5 starter.

    Shelby and Matias are legit. Kelly isn’t dominating low-A so I’m not optimistic.

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  9. Mick says:

    Marc, quick question unrelated to the current thread…When/what rank will the Braves be posted up?


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  10. Easton714 says:

    Marc, are the technical observations in the summaries yours or did you get them from somewhere else? I am just trying to understand where they come from.

    This list is pretty surprising…in terms of both inclusions and exclusions.

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  11. Marc Hulet says:

    Observations are mostly mine… I get opinions from others so I have an idea of what to look for… if I agree, I write about it, if not I don’t. If I see something that others haven’t mentioned to me, I go ahead and write about it. I don’t always do that, though, because I only see each player a handful of times at most so things change throughout the season (player’s are hurt, so they change their motion or swing… or players make adjustments from coaches, etc).

    It will be a little while before Atlanta gets posted.

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  12. Lanidrac says:

    So is Daniel Descalso inelgible because he got a September callup? I don’t see how he fails to make this list otherwise.

    Allen Craig also (barely) failed to reach MLB Rookie status last year, although I can understand how 124 MLB plate appearances last year could disqualify him.

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  13. Vision says:

    Zach Cox is not a 2B’man. Lacks the feet and agility around the bag. He’ll develop into an average 3B’man.

    Lynn started throwing his four weaker at the end of the year and sat 92-95 with that pitch. He likes to throw the pitch up in the zone, which will lead to more K’s, but also more HR’s. Busch represses HR’s though. He’s a valuable guy to have for a team such as the Cards.

    Players who control the strike zone and grind out at bats like Carpenter does holds more value than indicated here. I’ve always been higher on him than mainstream.

    I’m lower on Swagerty than this suggests. He’s a max effort reliever with a 7th inning ceiling. It looks like the Cards are giving him a chance to start, but his delivery will make that hard. Wish the Cards had taken Cole here or over Tuivalala.

    Kelly is too high on this list. His GB% is elite, so that bodes well, but he’s undersized big hit and that’s a large enough chance to knock him down as a reliever.

    System is improving, and continues to pump out extra OF’s and relievers. That holds more value than common perception, but they need to start developing more impact bats.

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  14. UncleDoug says:

    A friend that follows the Cardinals closely said that they had and excellent 1st base prospect in the minors. Was suprised that I did not see any 1st Base prospect listed only at 3rd base?

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  15. John says:

    You are referring to Matt Adams. Plus power profiles at the position; lower walk rate is somewhat offset by good contact. I was a little surprised he did not make the list certainly over Swagerty.

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    • John says:

      Not that I don’t like Swagerty. But I think a position player with Adams’ power tool holds more value than a guy whose ceiling is setup/closer.

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