Oscar Taveras set the world on fire last year and figures to be in St. Louis very soon.
It is a hard time to be a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. After winning the World Series in 2011, the team came within one game of being able to defend their title last year and boasts the best system, top to bottom, in all of baseball.
There is almost an embarrassment of riches for the Cardinals right now. The big league team is stacked, particularly in the lineup, with maybe one weakness that doesn't have an immediate fix (shortstop), and some rotation question marks.
But even with those questions in the rotation, magnified by the absence of Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals have two electrifying arms capable of stepping in right away and being more than just innings-eaters.
And by the way, we waited as long as we could to mention that the Cardinals have the best pure hitting prospect in baseball.
Oscar Taveras found the power in his swing last year, to go along with his incredible bat speed and plate coverage, and at just 20 years old, should see the big leagues this year.
Going over the Cardinals' system, there are at least 10 players who project as big league regulars with plenty of high-ceiling talent to be much more than that. This franchise is stacked and ready to make another run at a championship in 2013 because of their depth.
Here is a full look at the Cardinals' farm system heading into 2013, including a look at the top prospects, the prospect who will make an impact in St. Louis this season, a breakout prospect and what to expect.
Note: All stats and ages courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted
Don't take Shelby Miller's "drop" to No. 2 in the organizational rankings as a slight against him. The No. 1 guy is really, really good.
No. 1 Oscar Taveras, Outfielder
124 G, .321/.380/.572, 153 H, 37 2B, 7 3B, 23 HR, 94 RBI, 42 BB, 56 K, 10 SB (Double-A)
Taveras is the best pure hitter in the minor leagues right now, though it won't be long before he takes his immense talents to St. Louis and hits in the middle of that already potent lineup. He has a vicious swing but manages to control it so well that nothing gets by him.
Because his bat speed and plate coverage are so good, he can hit any pitch anywhere on the plate and drive it into gaps or over the fence. He always had great power potential and finally showed it off last year, hitting six more home runs last year alone than he did in his first three years.
He has played some center field in the minors, but his profile fits best in right field where he will have great range and his strong arm will play well. Taveras will be one of the best players in baseball and an MVP candidate at his peak.
No. 2 Shelby Miller, Starting Pitcher
27 G (27 starts), 11-10, 136.2 IP, 4.74 ERA, 138 H, 78 R (72 ER), 24 HR, 50 BB, 160 K (Triple-A)
6 G (1 start), 13.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 9 H, 2 ER, 0 HR, 4 BB, 16 K (MLB)
Ignore Miller's overall numbers from Triple-A last season, because they aren't indicative of what he looked like at the end of the year. The first half of 2012 was a struggle because an offseason diet program caused him to lose a lot of weight and his stuff suffered as a result.
However, after getting back into the swing of things later in the season, Miller posted a 2.88 ERA with 70 strikeouts against just seven walks in 59.1 innings after the All-Star break.
Miller works with a hard, moving fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a sharp curveball he has a great feel for. His changeup is still coming along, though he got a better handle on it as the season moved along.
Still one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Miller has the upside of a No. 1 starter and will be a fixture in the St. Louis rotation very soon.
No. 3 Trevor Rosenthal, Starting Pitcher/Relief Pitcher
Age: 22 (Turns 23 on May 29)
17 G (17 starts), 8-6, 94.0 IP, 2.78 ERA, 67 H, 33 R (29 ER), 6 HR, 37 BB, 83 K (Double-A)
3 G (3 starts), 15.0 IP, 11 H, 7 ER, 1 HR, 5 BB, 21 K (Triple-A)
19 G, 0-2, 22.2 IP, 14 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 7 BB, 25 K (MLB)
A breakout star last postseason. Rosenthal exhibits everything that the Cardinals have done right in the drafting and development department over the years. He was a 21st-round draft pick from a community college in Kansas and, as Derrick Goold of Baseball America (subscribers only) noted, was taken by an area scout who saw him throw one inning.
Rosenthal has already been worth more to the Cardinals than his draft stock would indicate, but there is a lot more left in his right arm than what they saw last October.
As a starter, which he should get the chance to be this season, Rosenthal works in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and a devastating curveball that was on display in the postseason. His changeup will determine how high his ceiling is, but it has the potential to be an above-average pitch.
Rosenthal does tend to lose command of his pitches within the zone, which makes him very hittable. But he made great strides late last season and could end up being a No. 2 starter.
No. 4 Carlos Martinez, Starting Pitcher
7 G (7 starts), 2-2, 3.00 ERA, 33.0 IP, 29 H, 12 R (11 ER), 10 BB, 34 K (High-A)
15 G (14 starts), 4-3, 2.90 ERA, 71.1 IP, 62 H, 27 R (23 ER), 6 HR, 22 BB, 58 K (Double-A)
Martinez and Rosenthal are 1 and 1A behind Miller in the Cardinals' system among pitching prospects.
Even though Martinez doesn't have ideal size for a pitcher—he is listed at 6'0" and 165 pounds—but his arm is one of the best in the minors. He has an electric fastball that he can ramp up to 100 with one of the smoothest deliveries in baseball.
His curveball and changeup took steps forward last season, allowing him to start showing more of that potential he has had since signing with the Cardinals in 2010. His command and release point are still inconsistent.
As long as Martinez can learn to repeat his delivery and his offspeed stuff takes a step forward, he could pitch in St. Louis this season and has the upside of a No. 1 starter.
No. 5 Kolten Wong, Second Baseman
126 G, .287/.348/.405, 150 H, 23 2B, 6 3B, 9 HR, 52 RBI, 44 BB, 74 K, 21 SB (Double-A)
Wong is not a high-ceiling player, but all he does is hit wherever he goes. He is not great as a defensive second baseman, though he has made strides in the last two years to at least be good enough.
The bat is what will carry Wong to the big leagues. He doesn't have much home-run power because his swing is so short and compact and, at just 5'9", 190 pounds, he is small. But because he controls the strike zone so well, he should hit for a high average.
On the bases, Wong is more instinctual than fast. He knows how to read pitchers and take an extra base when the situation calls for it. Given the Cardinals' issues at finding a second baseman, Wong could be up sooner rather than later.
Current Houston GM Jeff Luhnow played a huge role in the Cardinals' success.
If you want to know why the Cardinals are so good year after year, and could withstand the loss of Albert Pujols last year and still rank first in baseball in on-base percentage (.338) and fifth in runs scored (765), look at the depth they have built.
Having the talent at the big league level is great, but as we all know, injuries are going to happen and you need to have players capable of stepping in at a moment's notice without suffering a significant drop.
Most teams aren't able to do that for one reason or another, but the Cardinals are as deep in talent as anyone in baseball. The system was in great hands for years under Jeff Luhnow, who worked in the organization from 2003 to 2011 before being hired as Houston's general manager in 2012.
They have done great work drafting and developing talent, like Allen Craig and Yadier Molina, acquiring talent, like David Freese from San Diego, and on the international market, where players like Oscar Taveras, have come from
This franchise has had no weaknesses when bringing in high-impact talent to the system over the years, which is why they are able to compete for and win championships year after year. This is the best and deepest system in baseball.
Trevor Rosenthal lit up radar guns out of the bullpen last postseason, but his future could be in the rotation.
If Shelby Miller's shoulder wasn't acting up on him, he would get the nod here. If Oscar Taveras wasn't part of a crowded outfield group, not to mention just 20 years old and able to take advantage of more seasoning in Triple-A, he could also get the nod.
Instead, even with their top two prospects waiting in the wings this season, the Cardinals are going to get the most impact from a prospect fans know really well thanks to last year's postseason run.
Trevor Rosenthal dominated out of the bullpen last October. He actually dominated throughout September, with 15 strikeouts and just 12 baserunners allowed in 13 innings, but didn't get on the national radar until the postseason.
Rosenthal pitched 8.2 innings in the playoffs, recording 15 strikeouts and allowing just two hits and two walks without giving up an earned run. His fastball would often hit 100 mph and he backed it up with a knockout curveball.
However, despite his success out of the bullpen, Rosenthal should be given a chance in the rotation. He is competing to be the No. 5 starter coming out of spring training. Even though his spring has not gotten off to a good start, with five earned runs allowed in five innings, he has all it takes to start.
Spring stats are meaningless anyway, so trying to use them as a determining factor is a waste of time. Rosenthal brings a big fastball, hard slider, sharp curveball, easy delivery with great arm action and command, particularly of the fastball, to the table.
Even though the Cardinals might value him more out of the bullpen, Rosenthal has the makings of a No. 2 starter.
It is tempting to look at Stanford hitters and get scared off. The coaching staff at the school is known for preaching contact above all else, which is not a bad strategy but doesn't take advantage of the talent its players have.
When the Cardinals drafted Stephen Piscotty in the supplemental round of last year's draft, it was with the understanding that they would have to work on his swing in order to get him to tap into some power that he wasn't able to show off in college.
However, even with the lack of power, Piscotty was one of the best and most advanced hitters in last year's draft class. He has such a strong command of the strike zone and ability to work counts that he should be able to hit for average and get on base.
There is power to be found in Piscotty's bat. He doesn't need to be completely re-tooled in order to tap into it.
The Cardinals are reportedly (via Derrick Goold of Baseball America for subscribers only) going to move Piscotty to right field this season. That does add more pressure on his bat—specifically his power—to perform.
Because Piscotty is such a good, natural hitter, he should be able to make enough adjustments and have average power numbers at his peak.
Even though the Cardinals' system is loaded right now, there are a lot of players they need to start see making some progress.
Tyrell Jenkins is still one of the most exciting arms in the system, and has yet to turn 21, so there is still a lot to love about him. But he has had command problems throughout his career and needs to make some adjustments with his conditioning and delivery to reach his ceiling.
Carson Kelly, a second-round pick last year, is just 18 years old and has tremendous upside as a power-hitting third baseman. He will get his first taste of full-season ball at some point this season, but he is years away from the big leagues.
Aside from natural development and a few steps forward, it is hard to see a lot that you can pick apart from the Cardinals' system right now. They have big impact players at the top ready to contribute in the big leagues as soon as the season starts.
Then, as you move down the chain, there is young, high-ceiling talent on the way. Players like Kelly, Patrick Wisdom and Seth Maness were all drafted last year and have shown themselves to be potential everyday players.
Star power close to the big leagues and depth is what every franchise strives to find from its system. The Cardinals have that, and it will help them compete in 2013 and beyond.