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Grading the Performance of St. Louis Cardinals' Top Prospects at Spring Training

Bill Ivie JrContributor IIIMarch 18, 2014

Grading the Performance of St. Louis Cardinals' Top Prospects at Spring Training

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Spring training offers a preview of what the 2014 season holds for the teams around Major League Baseball.  It also gives a glimpse of the future of the organizations as prospects take the field and show off their talents in front of the big league coaching staffs.

    The Cardinals have their share of prospects, and the folks over at Cardinals Farm do a great job of keeping fans up to date on the various players and their production.  Recently, they identified the top prospects in the organization.  Their top five were as follows:

    1. Oscar Taveras
    2. Carlos Martinez
    3. Kolten Wong
    4. Stephen Piscotty
    5. Marco Gonzales

    With that in mind, it is time to grade each of those prospects on their production to this point in spring training.  As Opening Day draws near, the report cards are starting to be handed out.

    Let's take a look and see who's making the grade.

     

    Statistics courtesy of MLB.com and are current through March 17 unless otherwise noted.

Marco Gonzales Receives an Incomplete for His Brief Appearance

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The No. 5 prospect on the list, Marco Gonzales has one major thing on his side: He is young.  A 2013 draft pick, Gonzales was likely in camp with the big league club simply to get some experience in the clubhouse with the veterans.

    Less than a season after being drafted, it would be unfair to grade Gonzales on his production on the field.  He did see action in one game, pitching in less than two innings while walking three batters, surrendering two hits, yielding two runs and ultimately being saddled with the loss.  To say his outing was not the best would be an understatement.

    But for a young man seeing his first action in a big league environment, Gonzales stood proud.  Assigning a grade to such a short stint would be cruel, to say the least.  For now, Gonzales is simply acknowledged for being here and given the grade equivalent of a participation trophy.

     

    Gonzales' current grade: Incomplete

A "B" for Stephen Piscotty Continuing His Success in the Arizona Fall League

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    When the top prospect in the franchise plays at your position, it can be hard to find a way to get your name out there.  Stephen Piscotty simply went to Arizona this past fall to continue his progress and try to show that there was more than one outfielder in the Cardinals system worth talking about.

    While he was there, he found the spotlight that was shining elsewhere prior to that point.  He hit, he ran, he played solid defense and he turned heads.  Piscotty posted a .371 batting average, posted seven extra-base hits, drove in 18 runs and stole seven bases in nine attempts.  He turned a lot of heads and had a lot of attention coming into spring training.

    He wouldn't let the momentum die down, and his performance this spring has been almost as good.

    Piscotty has appeared in 16 spring games for the Cardinals, more than any other hitter.  During that time he has posted four extra-base hits, drove in six runs, hit .346 and scored six runs.  More importantly, he has shown a newfound patience at the plate, drawing five walks and only striking out two times.

    Piscotty continues to push the envelope of a very crowded outfield in the St. Louis system.  With a major league roster that features Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay and Allen Craig, there is little room for many more outfielders on that roster.  Shane Robinson, Stephen Piscotty and Oscar Taveras will continue to compete for the likely single spot left.  

    A logjam may be coming in St. Louis, but Stephen Piscotty has worked hard to deserve the grade that he has earned.

     

    Piscotty's current grade: B

A Surprising "A" for Kolten Wong's Recent Resurgence

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    There has been a lot of concern surrounding Kolten Wong.  The young second baseman has produced at every level throughout his minor league career.  However, during a late-season promotion in 2013, Wong failed to show the world that he was ready to be in the big leagues.

    That frustration seemed to continue into the spring.  As Wong seemed to be crumbling under the pressure, he opened the spring going 0-for-10.  He was seemingly putting too much pressure on himself, and he needed to relax and trust in his ability.

    During team stretching one day, according to multiple reports including that of Stan McNeal of Fox Sports Midwest, Wong suddenly did a backflip from a standing position.  When it appeared some of his teammates had missed it, he did it again.  It was a turning point for the young man, not because he was showing his athletic ability, but because he had relaxed enough to do so.

    The relaxation must have helped.  Wong leads all position players on the Cardinals with a .394 batting average.  He has hit two home runs, driven in eight and scored another eight.  He also leads the team in hits with 13, has one of three triples hit by the team and leads the team in slugging.  

    He is doing everything the Cardinals expected him to do and is showing St. Louis fans that he is ready to be their everyday second baseman.

    Thanks to his resurgence, Kolten Wong earns high marks this spring.

     

    Wong's current grade: A

Another "A" for Carlos Martinez Proving He Belongs in the Big League Rotation

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    It is hard to figure out if Carlos Martinez belongs on a top prospect list or not.  Martinez appears to have served just enough days on the roster last year to lose his rookie status in 2014, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via Twitter:

    @poisonwilliam @LangoschMLB Baseball has him hitting just the mark. Not a rookie.

    — Derrick Goold (@dgoold) March 4, 2014

    Rookie status or not, many pundits still include him as a top prospect.  The list at Cardinals Farm that is being used to determine the top five prospects places him second.  Prospect or not, the man known as C-Mart or Baby Pedro has brought his electric fastball to spring training and is showing everyone why he is being considered for the starting rotation this season.

    Martinez has held opposing batters to a paltry .147 batting average this spring, striking out five hitters and walking just two.  He has only allowed two runners to cross the plate in his three starts.  

    He has struggled to keep his pitch count low, allowing him to only pitch a total of 10 innings to this point, but it appears that he will continue to stretch to reach higher pitch counts.  He is being considered for the major league rotation and is showing that he deserves the shot being afforded to him.

    Martinez may be one of the most exciting young players still on the prospect list.  He has done nothing to slow that excitement level down this spring.

     

    Martinez's current grade: A

Top Prospect Oscar Taveras Gets an "F" After Not Taking the Field

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The top prospect in the Cardinals organization barely got into game action in big league camp this year.  Oscar Taveras was slowed by an ankle injury last season and, despite being cleared by team doctors, he struggled with trusting the recovery.  Once he overcame his apprehension to trusting his ankle, he ended up with a strained hamstring.

    It has led to a frustrating spring for both player and team.  The idea coming in to spring seemed to be to allow Taveras every opportunity to make the club and play at the major league level this season.  With his conditioning lacking due to his injuries, the decision was made to send him to minor league camp to get more work in and start the process of working his way to the big leagues.

    Disappointment and frustration are two words being used frequently to describe the spring for the young outfielder.  Expectations were high and he has, to this point, failed to follow through.  It leaves many wondering if he has the maturity level required for the next step in his career.

    Taveras is the type of prospect that teams yearn for.  He has all the tools to be successful for a long time.  Due to his inability to take the field, whether for injury or fear of re-injuring himself, that time frame will not start just yet.

    Overall, there is only one grade that can accurately describe the start of 2014 for Taveras.  Unfortunately, he has failed to this point.

     

    Taveras' current grade: F

The Future Looks Crowded for the Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Cardinals have multiple prospects ready to break through and reach the major leagues.  Pitchers, outfielders and infielders are all showing the coaches what they need to see as they move closer to the season starting.

    Many prospects will be reassigned to minor league camp in the coming days as the roster takes on the look that it will use for Opening Day.  For some, that means their overall grade in the spring is low.  For others, it is expected that this was simply a first step for them.  

    Ultimately, each case is unique.  Expectations, whether rightfully set or not, vary from prospect to prospect.  The good thing for the Cardinals and their fans is that there are a lot of prospects worth looking at.

    That keeps the future looking very bright in St. Louis.

     

    Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com
    Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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