With four World Series appearances in the last 10 years, the St. Louis Cardinals are baseball’s closest thing to a dynasty.
However, rather than procure talent during the offseason like most large-market franchises, the Cardinals continue to produce winning teams the old-fashioned way: by developing players.
This year, the team’s World Series roster is comprised of 18 homegrown players (those drafted or signed by the organization), including six rookie pitchers who combined to post a 2.74 ERA with 451 strikeouts in 443.1 innings during the regular season (6.5 fWAR). Of those 18 players, five are holdovers from the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series-winning team.
This is a way of thinking that we have in St. Louis and in our clubhouse and throughout our organization, an expectation of winning, an expectation of professionalism that comes with that winning, and doing things the right way...And that's been taught and bred over the years from guys like Red Schoendienst, like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith -- all of these great Hall of Famers that you've grown to love. We are very blessed in St. Louis to have those guys in the red jackets around, and we still feel their presence there. We still feel their lessons.
While the Cardinals will continue to represent the perfect model for player development, there are two other teams that stand to receive significant contributions from their homegrown talent next season, many of whom will be reaching the major leagues for the first time.
The Diamondbacks called up two of baseball’s top pitching prospects during the 2012 season in Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer. Though neither player posted eye-opening statistics or earned a spot in the starting rotation, they both showed impressive stuff and flashed their respective upsides.
However, concerns about Bauer’s coachability and overall makeup led to him being dealt to the Indians during the offseason as part of a three-team trade with the Reds. Skaggs, meanwhile, had an up-and-down age-21 season at Triple-A Reno and once again struggled in a brief exposure to the major leagues. Making seven starts over parts of three months, the left-hander registered a 5.12 ERA with seven home runs allowed and a 36/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38.2 innings.
The good news is that the Diamondbacks’ next wave of top-notch pitching prospects is on pace to reach the major leagues next season, a group led by right-hander Archie Bradley, who ranks as baseball’s No. 4 overall prospect.
Beyond Bradley, the organization should also receive contributions from right-hander Zeke Spruill and left-hander David Holmberg, both of whom received their first tastes of the major leagues this past season. Meanwhile, southpaw Andrew Chafin made significant strides with his command this year at Double-A Mobile and could conceivably see time in The Show next season as either a starter or reliever.
The Diamondbacks also house future closer Jake Barrett, the team’s third-round pick in the 2012 draft. Boasting an electric fastball-slider combination, the right-hander registered a 0.36 ERA with 14 saves in 24 games following a second-half promotion to Double-A and should make an impact on the team’s major league bullpen at some point during the 2014 season.
Leading the way was outfielder A.J. Pollock, who quietly posted a 3.6 fWAR thanks in part to strong defensive metrics. The same can be said about shortstop Didi Gregorious (1.4 fWAR), who was acquired during the offseason in exchange for Bauer. And the team’s collective fWAR total would have arguably ranked as the best in the game had it not been for Adam Eaton’s injury-plagued and disappointing season.
As a result of falling out of the playoff hunt a bit earlier than expected, the Diamondbacks were able to audition third baseman Matt Davidson and middle infielder Chris Owings, their top position prospects, over the final months of the regular season. Both youngsters responded well to the challenge, as Davidson posted a .768 OPS in 87 plate appearances and Owings a .742 OPS in 61 plate appearances.
More importantly, the 22-year-olds played well enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the team’s 2014 Opening Day roster.
Like the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates’ roster is loaded with homegrown talent. From Andrew McCutchen to Pedro Alvarez to Neil Walker to Starling Marte, the organization has patiently developed its impact talents over the years—and now it’s finally reaping the rewards.
This past season the Pirates enjoyed both their first winning campaign and first postseason win in 21 years. Suffice it to say that things are looking up in the Steel City.
However, a strong case can be made that they team wouldn’t have been as successful if not for the performance of its rookie pitchers.
After making his major league debut on June 11, 22-year-old Gerrit Cole (2.7 fWAR) went on to amass 10 wins and post a 3.14 ERA and 100/28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117.1 innings spanning 19 starts.
With some of the Pirates’ veteran starters struggling during the final month of the season, Cole stepped up and helped guide the team into the postseason by posting a 4-0 record and 1.69 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 32 innings over five September starts.
Representing the Pirates’ hottest starter heading into October, Cole was given a pair of starts in the NLDS against none other than the division-rival Cardinals. Although the right-hander pitched well, allowing three earned runs on five hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts in 11 total innings, it wasn’t enough to extend Pittsburgh’s season into the NLCS.
Besides Cole, Justin Wilson emerged as one of the more underrated left-handed relievers in the game this past season. Appearing in 58 games out of the bullpen, the 26-year-old registered a 2.08 ERA in 73.2 innings and proved to be highly effective against both right- (.189 BAA) and left-handed (.200 BAA) hitters.
Now that Cole has established himself in the major leagues, it’s only a matter of time until he’s joined by Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft and current Pirates’ top pitching prospect.
Taillon made 19 starts (20 games) for Double-A Altoona this past season, posting a 3.67 ERA and 106/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 110.1 innings. And as the organization did with Gerrit Cole in 2012, they promoted the 21-year-old to Triple-A Indianapolis for the stretch run, where he registered a 3.89 ERA with 37 strikeouts in six starts.
The 6’6” right-hander has front-of-the-rotation stuff and the chance to make an immediate impact in the major leagues; however, he still needs to improve his changeup and refine his overall command before receiving consideration for a call-up.
Coming up quick behind Taillon on the organization’s minor league depth chart is right-hander Nick Kingham, who is coming off a breakout season at a pair of advanced levels. Splitting the year between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, the 21-year-old posted a 2.89 ERA and 144/44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 143.1 innings.
Though the Pirates didn’t receive significant contributions from any rookie hitters this year, the organization has several promising bats that could debut during the 2014 season.
At the top of that list is outfielder Gregory Polanco, who improved his already highly rated prospect stock this year after an eye-opening full-season debut in 2012.
Opening the season at High-A Bradenton, the 22-year-old made quick work of the Florida State League by posting an .836 OPS with 23 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in 57 games.
As a result of his overwhelming success, Polanco was moved up to Double-A Altoona for the second half of the season. Despite being a younger player at an advanced level, he still posted a .762 OPS with 21 extra-base hits and 13 steals in 68 games. However, what really stands out from Polanco’s time at Altoona this season is that he amassed as many walks as strikeouts (36).
After receiving consideration for a late-season call-up this year, outfielder and first baseman Alex Dickerson could conceivably get a look in the major leagues next season.
The 2011 third-round pick out of Indiana University had a strong full-season debut at High-A Bradenton last season, batting .295/.353/.451 with 13 home runs and 90 RBI in 129 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
The 23-year-old continued to make strides at the plate this past season despite moving up to Double-A, as he batted .288/.337/.494 with 56 extra-base hits (17 home runs) in 126 games.
Although he showed more consistent power against the advanced competition in the Eastern League, Dickerson’s declining strikeout-to-walk rates of 93/39 and 89/27 in each of the last two seasons, respectively, are worrisome.
The left-hander hitter’s ability to jump the yard should at least make him a reserve at the highest level. However, if he’s able to make regular contact and keep the strikeout total under control, then Dickerson could emerge as a second-division corner player for the Pirates.
Last but not least is middle infielder Alan Hanson, who is actually a better prospect than Dickerson but considerably more raw.
Like Polanco, Hanson turned in a breakout full-season debut in 2012 at Low-A West Virginia and earned a promotion to the Florida State League for the 2013 season.
Although he got off to a slow start at the more advanced level, the 21-year-old ultimately settled in and batted .281/.339/.444 with 38 extra-base hits (seven home runs) and 24 stolen bases in 92 games. However, the switch-hitter struggled upon reaching Double-A during the second half, as his batting line dropped to .255/.299/.380 with 26 strikeouts and eight walks in 35 games.
Hanson will head back to Altoona to begin the 2014 season, where the organization will proceed with his development cautiously. He has the upside of an everyday middle infielder in the major leagues and could potentially get the call next season if the conditions are right (such as an injury); however, a 2015 debut seems more realistic at this point.