Top prospect Oscar Taveras is ready to make an impact in the major leagues.
Widely regarded as the best in baseball headed into the 2013 season, the St. Louis Cardinals’ impressive system is highlighted by the best hitter in the minor leagues, outfielder Oscar Taveras, who garnered MVP honors in the Texas League (Double-A) last year, his age-20 season, after leading the league with a .321 batting average and 67 extra-base hits.
Beyond Taveras, the Cardinals boast numerous, highly-projectable right-handed pitchers in Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, each of whom are on pace to reach the major leagues within the next two seasons. Furthermore, the organization's depth on the mound could also put the team in a unique position to execute a trade at some point during the 2013 season, if the need arises.
With a host of early-round picks in the 2012 draft, the Cardinals' system grew even stronger as they netted four of their top-10 prospects: Wacha, Steve Bean, Stephen Piscotty and Carson Kelly. And that doesn’t even include their first-overall selection, outfielder James Ramsey.
Here's a look at the St. Louis Cardinals' top 10 prospects headed into spring training.
DOB: 7/14/1994 (Age: 18)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 200
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2012 (Westview HS, Oregon)
Scouting Notes: One of the younger players in the 2012 draft class, Kelly didn’t turn 18 until July; 6’2”, 200-pounder is physically strong but not especially athletic; also received draft consideration for his low-90s fastball off the bump; it may take patience, but his bat—more specifically his power—could be worth the wait.
Right-handed hitter batted just .225/263/.399 in 56-game professional debut for rookie-level Johnson City, which, when considering his age and the jump from high school to minors, isn’t particularly worrisome; drives his hands through the baseball with ease; above-average-to-plus bat speed thanks to strong wrists and forearms; lack of experience against quality secondary pitches is obvious, but will improve with experience; too much pre-pitch movement with his hands that will need to be simplified next season.
Will have to work hard to improve defense at the hot corner; average athlete who could gain a step and become more agile with the right training; flashes a good glove for his age and has more than enough arm strength for the position.
Spring Training Forecast: As one of the younger players in the 2012 draft class, Kelly stands to learn a lot from the instruction offered in minor league camp.
2013 Outlook: Given his age and overall rawness, the Cardinals will ease the 18-year-old into action this season with an assignment to Short-Season State College. If he makes the necessary adjustments, Kelly could reach full-season Low-A by the end of the year.
DOB: 1/14/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 210
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Stanford)
Scouting Notes: Spent entire professional debut at Low-A Quad Cities where he showcased the advanced hit tool and plate discipline that made him a supplemental first-rounder; 6’3”, 210-pounder has a highly projectable frame that should allow him to add strength and hit for more power under guidance of big league coaches; bat will hopefully outweigh any ongoing defensive concerns.
A right-handed hitter, scouts loved Piscotty’s refined approach and ability to use the whole field while at Stanford; demonstrates patience at the plate as he works deep counts and seemingly waits for specific pitches; rarely cheats himself and chases offerings, especially offspeed pitches out of the zone; has plenty of gap power but lacks the pop commonly associated with a third baseman; is physically strong and should be able to jump the yard more frequently by adding a little loft to his swing.
Defense will need to improve as he’s not a clean fit at third base beyond his above-average arm; speed and range are adequate at best and he’ll seemingly be forced to rely on instincts; footwork and overall rhythm can be choppy and rushed, and he’ll need to demonstrate softer hands in coming seasons.
Spring Training Forecast: Piscotty will head to minor league spring training as he attempts to make the transition from third base to right field.
2013 Outlook: Once the organization is confident in his ability as a right fielder, Piscotty will likely open the 2013 season at High-A and could conceivably reach Double-A by the end year.
DOB: 9/15/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 190
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Rockwall HS, Texas)
Scouting Notes: A 6’2”, 190-pound, left-handed hitting catcher, Bean quietly possesses one of the higher ceilings in the organization; highly athletic with the tools and baseball IQ to be an impact player in all realms of the game; struggled in rookie-level Appalachian League (.125/.263/.213 in 24 games) before thriving following a demotion to the Gulf Coast League (.320/.424/.400 with 11/8 K/BB in 15 games).
Considering his lack of experience, Bean showcased plate discipline beyond his years in pro debut; pitch recognition is solid, but there’s room to improve regarding secondary pitches; compact and pretty left-handed stroke aided by an up-the-middle/opposite-field approach; present gap power should evolve into slightly above-average pop by the time he reaches major leagues.
Receiving skills are still raw and he drew praise for how he handles pitches; athleticism accounts for impressive agility behind the plate; currently boxes too many balls, but nothing that won’t improve with experience; biggest defensive asset is plus arm highlighted by a smooth arm stroke and quick release; needs to streamline throws with more consistency rather than relying on sheer arm strength.
Spring Training Forecast: Bean will head to minor league camp where he’ll surely benefit from working with the team’s coaching staff.
2013 Outlook: Despite his early struggles last summer, Bean is a solid candidate to open the year in extended spring training before making his full-season debut at Low-A.
DOB: 7/20/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 192
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010 (Henderson HS, Texas)
Scouting Notes: At 6’4”, 192 pounds, Jenkins is still more of a raw athlete than pitcher at this point; has developed slower than expected since signing, which isn’t surprising given his lack of mound time as a prep; battled shoulder fatigue and a strained lat during the 2012 season and will need to improve offseason training and conditioning; lean, athletic frame is highly projectable, as is his smooth, whippy arm; high release point may need to be tweaked in order to improve his overall command.
Fluid arm action results in a mid-90s fastball that explodes out of his hand; struggles to locate the pitch and get ahead in counts; breaking ball can be too loopy at times and doesn’t draw as many whiffs as it should; feel for his changeup has improved, though there’s still a long way to go in terms of commanding his full arsenal.
Spring Training Forecast: Jenkins will participate in minor league spring training where the Cardinals will gauge his overall health and likely tweak his mechanics.
2013 Outlook: Provided that last year’s injuries are no longer an issue, Jenkins will likely open the year in extended spring training before making the jump to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (High-A).
DOB: 7/1/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 195
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Texas A&M)
Scouting Notes: At 6’6”, 195 pounds, Wacha has an ideal pitcher’s frame that should allow him to add strength without sacrificing athleticism; was dominant in his professional debut after signing, registering a 0.86 ERA, 3.4 H/9, 17.1 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 over 21 innings; fanned 17 batters in eight innings upon reaching Double-A.
Despite his lankiness, Wacha repeats his delivery well with minimal wasted movement; fastball was clocking mid-to-upper-90s this past summer out of the bullpen; more of a low-to-mid-90s guy as a starter; changeup continues to be his best pitch and could be a legitimate plus-plus offering by the time he’s big league-ready; was repeatedly criticized for lack of a true third pitch at time of draft, but curveball was much better than expected in pro debut and flashes potential to be an average-to-above-average pitch, significantly improving the chances he reaches his ceiling as a No. 2 starter.
Spring Training Forecast: Heading into his first major league camp, Wacha will receive his share of mound time early in the spring and could jump on the fast track to the majors if he dominates as he did during his professional debut last summer.
2013 Outlook: Considering that he reached Double-A last season and has proven to be more advanced than originally expected, Wacha may not be challenged until he reaches the major leagues—which is a legitimate possibility during the second half of the 2013 season.
DOB: 10/10/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 5’9”, 190
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 (Hawaii)
Scouting Notes: A rare second-base-only first-round draft pick, the Cardinals selected Wong in 2011 for his overall polish both on the field and at the dish; potential top-of-the-order, left-handed bat capable of hitting for average and getting on base; high baseball IQ allows him to make quick, in-game adjustments which should aid his success as a major leaguer.
Left-handed hitter understands the strike zone and drives the ball from line-to-line with a direct bat path; may need to simplify his load/timing mechanism, but it hasn’t hindered his production thus far; hit tools projects to be above-average while his power should be good for 10-15 home runs per season; doesn’t possesses typical up-the-middle speed, but is a smart baserunner who knows how to swipe a bag.
Defense at second base is nearly big league-ready; have never been impressed by his range at the position, but he compensates with true instincts and a good first step; hands and actions are smooth and consistent, though he needs more refinement backhanding ground balls; lack of arm strength limits him to a career at second base.
Spring Training Forecast: With an impressive spring training, Wong has an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster as the Cardinals’ everyday second baseman.
2013 Outlook: After a solid season at Double-A in 2012, Wong is nearly big league ready and shouldn’t take long to reach the major leagues.
DOB: 5/29/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 190
Drafted/Signed: 21st round, 2009 (Cowley County Community College, Kansas)
Scouting Notes: Rosenthal enjoyed a stellar breakout campaign that saw him begin the season in the Double-A rotation and finish as a main cog in the Cardinals’ bullpen; registered a 2.97 ERA, 6.4 H/9 and 7.9 K/9 in 94 innings at Double-A before promotion to majors; put himself on the national radar with lights-out performance in 2012 postseason: allowed two hits and two walks while recording 15 strikeouts in 8.2 innings; highest ceiling is as a starter, though he may be back in the bullpen in 2013.
As a starter, the right-hander’s fastball sits in the mid-to-upper-90s with lots of sink and arm-side movement; delivery is rather stress-free relative to his power arm; will sit in the high-90s and routinely hit triple-digits in shorter, bullpen stints; breaking ball is a second plus pitch with late, wipeout break out of the zone; changeup is an average offering that he’ll need as a starter, but somewhat unnecessary as a late-inning reliever.
Spring Training Forecast: Along with Miller and a host of other organizational arms, Rosenthal will audition for the final spot in the team’s starting rotation with a return to the bullpen serving as a fallback option.
2013 Outlook: After dominating as a starter at Double-A last season, followed by an equally impressive showing as a late-inning reliever, Rosenthal’s too good to open the year in the minors. So expect him to at least lock down a spot in the team’s bullpen to open the 2013 season.
DOB: 9/21/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 165
Drafted/Signed: April, 2010 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: The 21-year-old opened the season at High-A before landing on the disabled list with shoulder tendonitis. Martinez was promoted to the Double-A Springfield starting rotation upon his return and experienced no lingering issues, as he registered a 2.90 ERA with 58/22 K/BB in 71.1 innings with sharp command.
Undersized at 6’0”, 165 pounds; limited physical projection; high-effort delivery; power arm; lightning-quick arm action; ball explodes out of his hand; pitch trajectory is inconsistent; release point varies.
Plus fastball in the mid-90s with some sink; pumps four-seamer in the high-90s; should be able to touch triple digits in shorter stints; secondary pitches are still on the raw side, but flash above-average-to-plus potential; curveball is a hammer when he’s throwing it from a consistent release point; plus changeup is a major asset given his excellent velocity and blinding arm speed.
Spring Training Forecast: Martinez will participate in his first major league camp this spring and could potentially audition for a call-up later this season.
2013 Outlook: Once his visa issues are resolved, Martinez is likely ticketed for a return to the Double-A starting rotation. But given his electric arm and feel for his arsenal, the right-hander could work his way up the ladder and potentially reach the major leagues by September.
DOB: 10/10/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 195
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009 (Brownwood HS, Texas)
Scouting Notes: Regarded as one of baseball’s top pitching prospects headed into the season, Miller had a frustrating first half at Triple-A Memphis. He left too many fastballs up in the zone without effectively mixing in secondary pitches.
After posting a 7.91 ERA in June, the right-hander finally turned and registered a 2.91 ERA in August with a 53/4 K/BB. Called up to the major leagues in early September, Miller was impressive out of the Cardinals bullpen, and he held the Reds to one hit over six innings in his only big league start.
Rhythmic and repeatable delivery; power pitcher who pounds the zone with fastballs; explodes toward the plate following a modest foot strike; still needs to work down in the zone with more consistency; good finish; loose arm action.
Fastball is actually pretty straight, but it’s one of those rare swing-and-miss heaters that draws whiffs at 92-95 mph; commands the pitch well throughout the strike zone; works inside to both right and left-handed hitters; curveball will need to get sharper, but offers a difficult look when thrown off his well-located fastball; with more refinement, his low-to-mid-80s changeup could emerge as a viable weapon next season.
Spring Training Forecast: Miller enters spring training as the favorite to break camp as the team’s fifth starter.
2013 Outlook: Barring an unexpected bad spring, Miller should open the season at the backend of the Cardinals’ starting rotation.
DOB: 6/19/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 180
Drafted/Signed: November 2008 (Dominican Republic)
Overview: The best hitter in all the minor leagues, Taveras was named the MVP of the Texas League last year in his age-20 season. He led the Texas League (Double-A) with a .321 batting average and 67 extra-base hits. He has all the makings of a future superstar with an outstanding hit tool, plate discipline beyond his years and unparalleled barrel-to-ball ability.
A left-handed hitter, Taveras employs a powerful yet balanced swing; keeps bat head in the zone for an extended period of time; strong hands and forearms; always gets head through the zone; extends arms; successful even when forced to muscle the ball; began to tap into his power last season against advanced competition; 25-plus home run potential; lift to swing; ball has carry; extra-base machine; hits same-side pitching; makes loud contact to all fields; comfortable hitting any pitch in any count; doesn’t walk a ton; strikeouts will always be minimal given his pitch recognition and excellent hand-eye coordination; base-running can be overaggressive.
Capable of playing all three outfield positions; has seen a majority of time in center field; nothing flashy, but makes the plays; solid actions; slightly above-average range; tracks ball well; bat profiles best at whatever position will get him in the lineup; average runner; routes in the outfield have improved over the last year.
If there’s one hitter I believe can make a successful jump from Double-A to the major leagues, it’s Oscar Taveras. Get excited, folks.
Spring Training Forecast: Entering his third spring training with the Cardinals, Taveras will attempt to break camp with the parent club and could force the organization’s hand with a strong performance.
2013 Outlook: Taveras’s bat is ready for the major leagues, however, he lacks a clear path to playing due to the presence of Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran at both corner outfield positions. Therefore, he’s likely to spend a month or two at Triple-A before ultimately hitting his way into the Cardinals’ starting lineup.