Can Oscar Taveras crack the Opening Day roster?
With four World Series appearances in the last decade, the St. Louis Cardinals are baseball’s closest thing to a dynasty.
However, rather than procuring talent during the offseason like most large-market franchises, the Cardinals continue to produce winning teams the old-fashioned way: by developing players.
That being said, a strong case can be made that the Cardinals would not have reached the postseason—let alone the World Series—if not for their impressive young arms.
Using 12 rookie pitchers during the regular season, the Cardinals led the major leagues (among rookies) with 308 games pitched, 36 wins, 541 strikeouts, a 3.25 FIP and, most importantly, a 6.7 fWAR (via FanGraphs).
Even after the graduation of top prospects Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha to the major leagues last season, the team’s prospect pool is still loaded with an ideal mixture of high-ceiling and high-floor talent.
Three of the team’s top-ranked prospects from last year, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez and Kolten Wong, are still in the mix for 2014. Martinez and Wong both saw time in the major leagues after the All-Star break and ultimately secured spots on the team’s postseason roster. But because neither exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched, both players' rookie seasons carry over into 2014.
Taveras, on the other hand, was limited to only 46 Triple-A games last year due to an ankle injury sustained in May that led to season-ending surgery in mid-August. Even though there’s a realistic chance he will open the 2014 season back at Triple-A, expect the 21-year-old to make up for the lost time with an eye-opening rookie campaign.
As for pitchers, the organization doesn’t boast as many flame-throwing studs as it did a year ago, but that’s not to say it’s thin on arms.
Beyond the aforementioned Martinez, the Cardinals house one of the more exciting pitching prospects below A-ball in right-hander Alex Reyes. Like so many of the great arms to rise through their system in recent years, the 19-year-old possesses a special combination of athleticism, arm strength and pitchability. However, given the state of the team’s big league rotation, don’t expect it to rush him up the ladder without reason.
The Cardinals’ prospect pool also has a deep collection of left-handed pitchers, including both of its 2013 first-round draft picks Marco Gonzalez and Rob Kaminsky.
And for those of you hoping to identify the next Cardinals prospect to overachieve and carve out an everyday role in the major leagues, then look no farther than outfielder Stephen Piscotty. After his strong showing last season between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, followed by an equally impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League, the 22-year-old may not be long for the minors in 2014.
Here’s a look at the St. Louis Cardinals’ top 10 prospects for the 2014 season.
DOB: 12/02/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 175 pounds
Drafted: Second round, 2011 (New Trier HS, Ill.)
Charlie Tilson, the Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2011, missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing shoulder surgery; he improved in all facets of the game last year in response to an aggressive assignment directly to Low-A Peoria for full-season debut; resuscitated his prospect stock in a big way.
The left-handed hitter has sneaky top-of-the-order potential, with a line-drive swing, mature approach and plus speed; bat speed is slightly above average; present feel for working counts and using the entire field; Tilson’s wheels should help him amass plenty of doubles and triples; the level nature to his swing isn’t conducive for hitting home runs, but he should be able to sneak a few out to the pull side.
Tilson’s speed and strong defensive skill sets should give him a chance to stick in center field; explosive athlete who gets excellent reads and can close on the ball in a hurry; above-average range plays up thanks to his instincts; arm is only down tool but still suitable for a career in either center or left field.
Ceiling: Second-division regular
DOB: 07/14/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 200 pounds
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2012 (Westview HS, Ore.)
One of the younger players in the 2012 draft class; 6’2”, 200-pounder is physically strong but not especially athletic; has started to grow into his frame over the last year.
Right-handed hitter employs a forceful swing; drives his hands through the baseball with authority; above-average to plus bat speed thanks to strong wrists and forearms; mature (and consistent) approach for a player of his age and experience level; too much pre-pitch movement with his hands that will need to be simplified next season; rarely walks or strikes out—just lots of hard contact; big-time untapped power potential.
Carson Kelly has a fringy projection as a third baseman due to his below-average range; flashes a good glove for his age and has more than enough arm strength for the position; also received draft consideration for his low-90s fastball off the bump; converted to catcher during fall instructional league at request of organization; some concern that adjusting to the new and strenuous position will impact his offensive development; if it all comes together as hoped, Kelly could be one of the team’s top prospects at this time next year.
Ceiling: Backup catcher/platoon player
DOB: 9/2/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 5’11", 191 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2013 (St. Joseph Regional HS, N.J.)
Rob Kaminsky lacks physical projection at 5’11", 191 pounds; repeats his smooth and polished delivery with ease; utilizes strong lower half to create downhill plane; creates considerable deception by staying closed until last possible moment before exploding toward the plate; left-hander works from a high three-quarters slot and features a consistent release point for his three-pitch mix.
Fastball sits 88-92 mph and will max out a few ticks higher; smooth and balanced delivery causes fastball velocity to play up; important that he works on downhill plane, as the pitch lacks significant movement; commands it to both sides of the plate against right- and left-handed hitters; isn’t afraid to attack the hands.
Curveball is a potential plus-plus offering; power breaking ball with tight spin in the 78-82 mph range; excellent pace and late downward bite; thrown from same release point as fastball; difficult to recognize out of his hand; legitimate feel for the pitch; throws it any count; adept using it as an out-pitch; knows how and when to bury it to induce whiffs.
Kaminsky uses his changeup sparingly; registers in the mid-70s and is thrown with fastball-like arm speed from same release point; turns it over well to create some fade and sink; development of pitch will be crucial towards mid-rotation projection.
Potential for plus command of three-pitch mix; high baseball IQ gives him knowledge of how to sequence his offerings; outstanding present feel for locating fastball-curveball mix; understands how to attack hitters and make adjustments during the second and third time through the lineup.
Ceiling: No. 2/No. 3 starter
DOB: 12/19/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 195 pounds
Drafted: Third round, 2012 (Wake Forest)
The 6’3”, 195-pounder features a fastball that sits in the low 90s with late run to the arm side; adept at attacking hitters on both sides of the plate with the pitch; left-hander’s cutter represents another advanced offering, registering in the upper 80s with late glove-side slice.
Tim Cooney’s changeup is arguably his best secondary offering; tends to play up thanks to the deception in his delivery and fastball-like arm speed; projects to be at least average, and he already demonstrates an impressive feel for using it in relation to fastball; 23-year-old also has a curveball in his arsenal, though it’s his least advanced offering; doesn’t project to be more than a usable option at the highest level.
Cooney knows how to pitch and exploit hitters’ weaknesses; secondary arsenal leaves something to be desired and will need refinement before; combination of handedness and command should be enough to get him to the major leagues late next year.
Ceiling: No. 4/No. 5 starter; long reliever
DOB: 08/29/1994 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 185 pounds
Signed: Dominican Republic (2013)
The 6’3”, 185-pound right-hander is one of the more intriguing pitching prospects yet to reach a full-season level; plus athlete with a projectable frame and room to add strength; showed foundation of an efficient and repeatable delivery last season during pro debut; creates heavy downhill plane by working from high three-quarters slot; highest ceiling among pitching prospects not named Carlos Martinez.
19-year-old sits comfortably in the 92-95 mph range with his fastball; pitch enters the zone on a steep plane and is difficult to lift; was gunned as high as 96-97 mph this summer; long arms allow him to get serious extension toward the plate and effectively work toward the top of the zone.
His curveball is filthy and only going to get better; right-hander throws it with power from same high slot, creating tight spin and devastating two-plane break; legit swing-and-miss offering with outstanding pace that he can also throw for a strike early in the count; very impressive command considering his lack of professional experience; changeup lags behind fastball-curveball, though his feel for the pitch steadily improved over the course of the season; potential above-average pitch at maturity, possibly even more.
Ceiling: No. 2/No. 3 starter
DOB: 2/16/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 185 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2013 (Gonzaga)
Undersized at 6’0”, 185 pounds; underrated athleticism; clean, consistent delivery that involves minimal effort; keeps lower half in line with target; little wasted movement; smooth arm action with some natural deception.
Fastball sits comfortably in the 88-92 mph range; sustains velocity deep into starts; command helps the pitch play up; advanced command and smooth delivery allow him to sneak up on opposing hitters; pitch features some arm-side action.
Present above-average offering; commands pitch well throughout strike zone; comfortable using it to pitch backwards and burying it out of the zone to induces whiffs and/or weak contact; feel for when to add and subtract from pitch; throws a tall variation with consistent shape and pace in the mid-70s; also features a tighter version with better rotation and more downer bite in the 78-82 mph range.
Easily his best current offering; plus pitch with the chance to add a grade as it continues to develop; turns it over nicely at 75-78 mph with significant arm-side fade; potential swing-and-miss offering at the next level.
Plus pitchability; commands fastball throughout strike zone; challenges hitters both laterally and vertically; changes speeds very well and generates excessive off-balance swings; legitimate feel for pitching; goes after every batter with a sound approach; doesn’t deviate from strategy; knows how to make in-game adjustments.
Ceiling: No. 3/No. 4 starter
DOB: 01/14/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 210 pounds
Drafted: First-round supplemental, 2012 (Stanford)
Stephen Piscotty has a highly projectable frame; interesting blend of athleticism and strength; excellent instincts and high baseball IQ helped him make a smooth transition from third base to right field last season; reads the ball well off the bat and takes direct routes; capable of making the highlight-reel play; plus arm strength is a clean fit at the position.
6’3”, 210-pounder is a smart hitter with a mature approach; consistently uses whole field, stinging the ball from line to line; demonstrates patience at the plate as he works deep counts and waits for specific pitches; rarely cheats himself and chases off-speed pitches out of the zone; hit tool will continue to be underrated until he reaches the major leagues; potential .275-plus hitter at maturity.
22-year-old has plenty of gap power but lacks the pop commonly associated with a first-division corner outfielder; swing lacks lift after the point of contact; there is some doubt as to whether Piscotty will ever offer enough power to be an everyday player; his hit tool will likely get him to the major leagues, but the development of in-game power may ultimately determine whether he becomes more than a fourth outfielder at the highest level.
Ceiling: Second-division regular
DOB: 10/10/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 5’9”, 185 pounds
Drafted: First round, 2011 (Hawaii)
ETA: 2014 (Debuted in 2013)
Potential top-of-the-order left-handed bat capable of hitting for average and getting on base; 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 against major league-caliber secondaries; hit tool projects to be above average, while his power should be good for 10-15 home runs per season; doesn’t possess typical up-the-middle speed but is a smart baserunner; high baseball IQ allows him to make in-game adjustments, which should aid his success as a major leaguer.
Defense at second base is big league-ready; I’ve never been impressed by his range at the keystone, but he compensates with good instincts and a true first step; hands and actions are smooth and consistent; can be weak and tentative to the backhand; lack of arm strength limits him to a career at second base.
Projection: Second-division regular
DOB: 9/21/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 185 pounds
Signed: April 2010 (Dominican Republic)
ETA: 2014 (Debuted in 2013)
Undersized at 6’0”, 165 pounds; limited physical projection; right-hander boasts ridiculous arm speed that’s drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez’s; he possesses an explosive four-seam fastball that registers in the upper-90s as well as a heavy sinker that comes in a few ticks slower.
His slider is his preferred secondary offering, thrown with power in the low 80s; pitch is a sharp-breaker that dives out of the strike zone at the last moment; legitimate out-pitch and bat-misser.
The 22-year-old’s mid- to upper-80s changeup was considered his best weapon in previous years thanks to his ability to replicate the arm speed of his fastball; pitch was used significantly less after carving out a role in the Cardinals bullpen; will be vital to his success as a starter next season, especially for neutralizing left-handed hitters; combination of his arm strength and feel for pitching gives Martinez the potential to be a dynamic, front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
Ceiling: No. 2 starter; occasional All-Star
DOB: 6/19/1992 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 200
Signed: November 2008 (Dominican Republic)
Left-handed hitter who employs a powerful yet balanced swing; keeps bat head in the zone for an extended period of time; strong hands, forearms; always gets head through the zone to achieve favorable point of contact; outstanding plate coverage; successful even when forced to muscle the ball; has 25-plus-home run potential; lift to swing generates carry to all fields.
Hits same-side pitching; makes loud contact to all fields; comfortable hitting any pitch in any count; doesn’t walk a ton and strikeouts will always be minimal given his pitch recognition and excellent hand-eye coordination; base-running can be overaggressive and even reckless;
Capable of playing all three outfield positions; has seen a majority of time in center field but will likely assume a corner spot in the major leagues; solid actions; slightly above-average range; tracks ball well; was an average runner before ankle injury this past season; routes in the outfield have improved over last two years, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Ceiling: First-division regular; potential All-Star