The Cardinals organization stands alone in terms of scouting and developing players.
It’s rare for an organization to be blessed with a seemingly endless supply of internal talent—unless you’re the St. Louis Cardinals, that is.
Over the last decade, the Cardinals have become the model organization within Major League Baseball, funneling countless players to the majors every year thanks to scouting and player developments that each rank as the best in the game.
This past season, the team used 12 different rookie pitchers during the regular season, the group collectively posting a 36-22 record with a 3.17 ERA, 8.79 K/9 and 2.99 BB/9 over 553.2 innings.
The Cardinals opened even more eyes in the postseason when they captured the National League Championship with a starting rotation and bullpen comprised of young (and mostly rookie) arms, including Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha.
However, on the other side of the spectrum were teams such as New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers who received minimal contributions last season from their respective prospects. As a result, each team relied heavily on free-agent signings.
Here’s a look at the teams expected to be in a similar position in 2014.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees were forced to challenge their prospects this past season due to an endless string of injuries at the major league level. While it didn’t result in hasty call-ups of non-MLB-ready prospects, it did prevent many of the team’s young hitters from progressing as hoped.
Each of the Yankees’ four top young hitters received their first extended tastes of Double-A this past season.
Catcher Gary Sanchez (right) appeared in only 23 games at the level but fared the best of the group with a .744 OPS and eight extra-base hits. Outfielder Tyler Austin spent the entire year at the level and posted a .717 OPS with 24 extra-base hits, but he battled a wrist injury and played in only 83 games.
Outfielder Slade Heathcott, the team’s once highly touted first-round draft pick in 2009, also spent time on the disabled list (surprising, I know) and struggled to establish rhythm at the plate. The 23-year-old still held his own with a .738 OPS, 37 extra-base hits and 15 stolen bases in 103 games.
Outfielder Mason Williams was the last to arrive at Double-A, joining the team for the final month of the minor league regular season. The 22-year-old didn’t respond favorably to the new level, batting .153/.164/.264 with 18 strikeouts and one walk in 17 games.
As was the case in 2013, the Yankees shouldn’t expect to receive contributions from their pitching prospects next season. They have several high-upside arms in right-hander Rafael DePaula and left-handers Manny Banuelos and Ty Hensley; however, they aren’t close to reaching the major leagues. In fact, both Banuelos and Hensley failed to throw a pitch in 2012 due to respective elbow and hip injuries.
Expect the Yankees to address their needs for the 2014 season via free-agent signings or even a trade involving some of the aforementioned prospects.
Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels have yet to recover from their 2012 trade that sent shortstop Jean Segura and right-handers John Hellweg and Ariel Pena to Milwaukee in exchange for the rental of Zack Grienke.
Heading into the 2013 season, third baseman Kaleb Cowart was considered as the team’s top prospect coming off a breakout full-season debut. However, the 21-year-old struggled to adjust to Double-A pitching, batting .221/.279/.301 with 27 extra-base hits and a 124-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 132 games.
The hope was that Cowart would be ready to take over in late 2014 and be ready for an everyday gig the following year. However, that seems less likely after the Angels recently recently acquired David Freese.
The team’s other highly regarded position prospects are in a similar situation. Second baseman Taylor Lindsey (right) could be ready for the major leagues in late 2014; however, he’s blocked at second base by Grant Green, who’s blocked by Howie Kendrick. At first base, slugger C.J. Cron is blocked by both Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo.
Basically, the only way any of the three aforementioned prospects will see significant playing time in the major leagues will be due to injury or a trade.
The Angels’ outlook on the mound is even bleaker.
The team literally has no starting-pitching prospect capable of making an impact in the majors next season. Their top young arm, at least in my opinion, is right-hander Mark Sappington, their fifth-round draft pick in 2012. However, he has just 25.2 innings at Double-A under his belt heading into the 2013 season.
And while they house several promising bullpen arms in right-handers R.J. Alvarez, Mike Morin and Cam Bedrosian, as well as left-hander Nick Maronde, none are immediate options to handle the late innings.
Don’t get me wrong—the Angels do have some interesting prospects. It's just that they are either very young or lack a favorable long-term projection at the present. While that’s obviously not a bad thing, it won’t help them in 2014.
Despite having multiple first-round picks in both the 2011 and 2012 drafts, the Milwaukee Brewers failed to land the impact prospects that their system desperately needed. However, they have added a few intriguing bats over the past two seasons, including outfielders Tyrone Taylor, Victor Roache and Mitch Haniger (right), catcher Clint Coulter and third baseman Tucker Neuhaus. They also acquired first baseman Nick Delmonico from the Orioles in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez prior to the 2013 trade deadline.
On the other hand, the Brewers have struck out repeatedly in drafting pitching prospects. While Jimmy Nelson will see significant time in the major leagues next season, he’s not a guarantee to remain a starter due to the effort in his delivery and inconsistent command. The team is also still waiting on 2011 first-rounders Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley to become something other than organizational arms.
The Brewers have an intriguing collection of talent, but they shouldn’t receive significant contributions from their young players until 2015. That said, it’s doubtful that the organization will target and sign a major free agent this offseason. So, expect the Brewers to attempt to extract everything they can from their prospects in 2014.