One glance at the Cardinals 2008 lineup, and you’ll see a handful of players that they have brought through their farm system into the bigs.
Yadier Molina, Chris Duncan, Adam Kennedy, Skip Schumaker, Rick Ankiel, Brendan Ryan, Brian Barton, oh, and some guy named Albert Pujols.
However, this list is misleading. In the years past, the Cardinals have actually really struggled filling lineup gaps with homegrown guys, and resorting to trades or free agency.
On the 2004 team that lost in the World Series, only 16 of the 40 members of the active roster were Redbird's products.
Two position players (Pujols and Ray Lankford), one starter (Matt Morris), and one primary reliever (Kiko Calero) were brought up by the St. Louis franchise.
But no more, Cardinals Nation.
The farm system is back!
Starting with Skip Schumaker and Kyle McClellan making unexpected impacts on this year’s squad, Brian Barton, Mike Parisi and now stud prospect Chris Perez, have all made their marks on one of the most surprising teams in the NL Central.
And the group of hopeful youngsters doesn’t stop there.
Nick Stavinoha and Joe Mather are two big sluggers currently playing outfield for the Triple-A affiliate the Memphis Redbirds.
26 and 25 years old respectively, Stavinoha is hitting at a blistering .378 clip, with six HRs and 28 RBI, while Mather is hitting .313, and had five homers in five games last week, good for eight on the year to compliment his 14 RBIs.
Stavinoha and Mather head a list of older prospects in their mid-20s that could make an impact in the MLB this year. On the pitching side of that group is Mitchell Boggs (24), Mark Worrell (25), and Jason Motte (26).
Boggs is the best starter for Memphis right now, and could be used as a spot starter for the big club if need be. Some say he’s better suited to start in the majors than McClellan.
Worrell is setting up games to the tune of a 2.18 clip, and now that Chris Perez is in St. Louis, Motte is closing. He recently hit 97 over the weekend, finishing off a Redbirds' win and lowering his ERA to 1.66.
Sound tempting to you yet Cardinals fans?
Hold on, I haven’t even talked about the babies yet.
In the “Now I Can Drink Legally Club”, we have uber-prospects Bryan Anderson, Colby Rasmus, and Jamie Garcia. All are only 21, and will probably see MLB action this year.
Garcia is a lefty who doesn’t have dominating stuff like Perez, but has experienced almost no trouble adjusting to higher level hitters. In his first three starts at Memphis, he has an ERA of 3.00, after 2.06 mark earlier this year at Double-A.
His primary pitch is a low-90s sinking fastball, complemented with a plus curveball and good changeup. Officials say his changeup is the big key for Garcia. Once he adds that dependable third pitch, he’ll be big-league ready.
Anderson is a catcher, and although Yadi Molina is signed long-term with the Cards, management claims they don’t forsee a position change for Anderson.
Although he’s only hitting .277 in 14 games at Memphis, he obviously is ready for that level of play. Anderson blasted Triple-A pitchers at a .388 rate before his promotion, and plays above-average defense.
Rasmus is the last prospect I haven’t mentioned, and is most likely to become a star. Although he has struggled majorly in his Triple-A debut thus far this season, hitting a measly .179, he’s displayed power, driving in six homers and 16 RBIs.
A traditional slow starter, Rasmus will definitely turn his season around sooner than later. This five-star prospect will surely spend years manning the outfield in Busch Stadium, and could get a late season call-up.
Aside from youngsters that might make their presence known this season, first-round pick from 2007, shortstop Pete Kozma, is hitting around .300 in Class-A ball this year with three home runs and 18 RBIs, proving his value as a first rounder.
This info doesn't even cover the young players currently on the big-league team. McClellan, Parisi, and Perez have been very good in their stints coming out of relief so far this year, so the inexperienced players are already helping the team.
All of this translates to trade bait and salary flexibility for the Redbirds in the future. If John Mozeliak doesn’t have to overpay for free agents in the offseason and can fill their voids with prospects, the Cardinals might be returning to 100-win form quicker than anybody thinks.