This past season, the September call-ups were as useful for seeing what is in the cupboard as any September that I can recall in recent memory.
The future is looking pretty darn bright, at least from the pitching side of things. Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal showed in their brief stint that they can pitch at the big league level. Joe Kelly was called up in June and also pitched very well for the Redbirds.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak went out during the winter meetings and addressed a big hole in the bullpen by signing lefty specialist Randy Choate to a 3 year/$7.5 million contract.
Mozeliak also sent previous starting second baseman Skip Schumaker to the Dodgers last week for a minor league prospect. So at the moment, the Cardinals haven't decided who will take the second base job. This opens the door for a second-base prospect to find his way to the Major League level in 2013.
Then there is Oscar Tavares, who has hit at all levels so far in his brief professional career. As mentioned, the future is looking bright for the Cardinals when they see what is coming up through their ranks.
As for 2013, here are a few prospects who could make an impact at some point, if not all, of the 2013 season.
Shelby Miller has been touted as the Cardinals top prospect for years. He was rated the eighth-best prospect in baseball coming into 2012. He finally made his debut with the big league club in late 2012. Miller, although having a tough year in AAA, pitched very well at the big league level in his limited time.
He made six appearances, including one start. In his one start, he pitched six excellent innings against fellow playoff team, the Cincinnati Reds, allowing only one hit and no runs in his no-decision. For his six appearances, Miller posted a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched with 16 strikeouts, for a 10.5 K/9 innings pitched ratio.
Miller is ready for a permanent role at the big league level. He will battle for the fifth starter position, along with incumbent Lance Lynn and fellow competitors Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly.
Whether or not he nails down that spot, Miller should find himself on the big league roster to start 2013 pending a massive regression during spring training. No one is expecting that to happen, so Miller should have his opportunity to impact the 2013 season in some role or another.
Every time Trevor Rosenthal took the mound in 2012 whether in September or in the postseason, fans waited to see when he would top 100 mph on the radar gun. It usually didn't take very long into the first batter he faced for smiles to cross Cardinals fans faces as he touched 100 on a fairly regular basis.
The guy can simply bring the heat and proved he should also work his way onto the 2013 roster after making his big league debut in mid-July and coming up again for good in September. Rosenthal seemed to work his way into the late-game equation for the Cardinals during their stretch run to the postseason.
Rosenthal found himself regularly in the game in the 7th inning with Mitchell Boggs taking the 8th and Jason Motte wrapping it up in the 9th.
That combo proved fairly successful in 2012 and I would expect it be in place in 2013. While Rosenthal was a starter in the minor leagues, there is a log jam at the fifth starter position for the 2013 campaign, so I would expect Rosenthal to be a firm fixture in the bullpen.
Rosenthal proved effective in his reliever role in 2012. He posted a 2.78 ERA in 19 appearances with 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings pitched. No doubt Mike Matheny will call on Rosenthal and his fastball again as the Cardinals seek a return to the postseason in 2013.
With Skip Schumaker being shipped out of town last week, the Cardinals have a few options they can consider for the second base job. Daniel Descalso played most often there down the stretch in 2012 and postseason, but hasn't shown a lot of consistency with the bat at the big league level.
Then you have super utility guy Matt Carpenter who spent time at first, second, third, right and left field. Most likely he won't be the full-time guy either. Perhaps if Rafael Furcal is healthy to start 2013, Pete Kozma may find some time at second base.
No one really knows the answer at this point, but with uncertainty comes opportunity. Enter Kolten Wong. The Cardinals drafted the University of Hawaii second baseman with the 22nd pick of the 2011 draft. Wong has played two seasons in the minors and has hit very well.
He has posted a .300 average in his two minor league seasons and showed the ability to get on base with a .363 OBP.
During the 2012 offseason, Wong hit .324 in the Arizona Fall League. The guy continues to prove he can hit and it won't be long before he gets an opportunity to prove it on the big stage.
However, Wong is still a little raw and will probably start his season at AAA Memphis to get some more seasoning. If the Cardinals don't have a pronounced starter at second base by June or so, it would not surprise me at all to see Wong make his debut with the big league club and throw his hat into the ring to be the starter.
Oscar Tavares is the best hitting prospect the Cardinals have, plain and simple. Recently he has been mentioned in an online blog as the 2013 version of Mike Trout. Cardinal fans can only hope.
The guy can simply hit the baseball with authority. He posted a .321 batting average with 23 home runs and 94 RBI in 123 games at AA Springfield. He also had 37 doubles and 7 triples and topped it off with 10 stolen bases.
The outfield situation with the Cardinals is full at the moment with Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran all occupying the everyday spots.
Unless Tavares can come in and have a spring like Albert Pujols did in 2001, who impressed Tony LaRussa so much that he had to find a spot for him. Pujols only spent 2000 in the minor leagues and advanced through all levels available.
It may be a stretch to start comparing Tavares to Pujols, but Tavares has shown all the tools to be a great major league hitter.
Tavares may be special enough to find himself on the roster sometime around midseason should he continue to hit the ball well in the minors. My guess is he'll be at AAA Memphis to start the season, but could very well be pushing for playing time at the major league level by June.