Breaking Down St. Louis Cardinals' Top 10 Prospects to Start 2014 Season

Kerry Walls@@kerry_wallsContributor IIApril 1, 2014

Breaking Down St. Louis Cardinals' Top 10 Prospects to Start 2014 Season

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    The St. Louis Cardinals were tabbed by Baseball America in 2013 as the top minor league system in Major League Baseball. That marked a massive turnaround for an organization that had been consistently ranked near the bottom over the past 15 years.

    But even without national acclaim, the Cards won. They benefited from quality over quantity, as players like Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina emerged into stars. When St. Louis won World Series titles in ‘06 and ‘11, Baseball America ranked the farm system 21st and 24th, respectively.

    Now the Cardinals own a thriving talent base that is capable of sustaining big league success for the foreseeable future. Last season, a league-best 27 players that were drafted by St. Louis helped lead the Redbirds to their eighth National League Championship Series appearance since 2000.

    On the list for the Cardinals’ top 10 prospects to start the 2014 season is a diverse mix of big-time bats and impact arms. This list will focus on players without MLB experience and puts added weight for those who are closer to being MLB-ready.

10. Zach Petrick, Right-Handed Pitcher

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    Petrick burst onto the Cardinals’ prospect scene with a 1.99 ERA across three levels. He struck out 122 batters in 113.1 innings. An undrafted free agent, he held batters to a .213 average with his sinking, low-90s fastball. He also offers a changeup and curveball.

    With so many other rotation options in the organization, Petrick’s future likely is in the bullpen. His stuff, coupled with determination, could make him an asset in that role. 

9. Randal Grichuk, Outfielder

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    Jeff Roberson

    Acquired along with Peter Bourjos in the David Freese trade, Grichuk, like fellow outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty, garnered attention with his plate approach and power to all fields during spring training.

    He batted .256 last season with 22 long balls for Double-A Arkansas. He hardly ever walks, but he’s also not a strikeout machine.

    With so many options ahead of him in St. Louis, his quickest path would be as a power bench bat/fifth outfielder.

8. Carson Kelly, Catcher

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    Jeff Roberson

    Kelly hit .257 across two minor league stops with six homers and 45 RBI. The 19-year-old started last season at the hot corner, but he was moved to catcher in the offseason. That’s where his immediate future lies in the organization.

    The Cardinals are pleased enough with the transition to start him behind the plate for a full season. And considering his limited range at third and questionable power for a corner infield spot, his future is much brighter as a backstop.

7. Tim Cooney, Left-Handed Pitcher

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    Jeff Roberson

    Cooney started 2013 at full-season A-ball and then moved to Double-A after just three starts. In 20 starts for Springfield, he struck out 125 in 118 innings while walking just 18. He made four appearances in the Grapefruit League this season, where he predictably struggled.

    The Wake Forest grad has excellent command of a low-90s fastball to go along with a changeup, curve and cutter. Double-A hitters batted .284 against him, indicating that strikeout rate won’t translate to the majors unless he improves strike-zone command.

    Cooney will start the year at Triple-A and will be right there with Tyler Lyons as one of the first starting options to be called up.

6. James Ramsey, Center Field

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    Jeff Roberson

    The 23-year-old spent the majority of 2013 at Double-A Springfield, launching 15 homers while batting .251. Then he excelled in the Arizona Fall League with a .819 OPS in 22 games.

    Ramsey’s baseball IQ is as impressive—if not more—than his plus skills. He’s a quality defensive player with a solid arm. Offensively, he tends to strike out too much, but his ability to draw walks negates some of the Ks.

    The addition of Bourjos didn’t help Ramsey’s chances of reaching St. Louis anytime soon. Still, he could be a quality fourth or fifth outfielder in the big leagues by 2015.

5. Marco Gonzales, Left-Handed Pitcher

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    Drafted ahead of Rob Kaminsky in the first round in 2013, Gonzales finished the season with four starts for High-A Palm Beach. He sported a 1.62 ERA over 16.2 innings and earned an invite to spring training.

    Like Kaminsky, Gonzales’ fastball isn’t lights-out, sitting around 90 mph. His best pitch is a changeup, which is tops in the system now that Michael Wacha has graduated.

    Gonzales profiles as a mid-rotation arm along the lines of injured Cards starter Jaime Garcia. Because he pitched in college at Gonzaga and has a more polished repertoire, he could start the year in Double-A and be a quick mover.

4. Alexander Reyes, Right-Handed Pitcher

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    The 19-year-old Reyes emerged in his first taste of pro ball by fanning 68 in 58.1 innings for Johnson City.

    His frame (6’3”, 185 lbs) and a fastball that has been clocked as high at 97 mph give him a higher ceiling than Kaminsky. But he lags behind in polish on his secondary stuff. Plus, left-handed batters were able to touch him up for a .328 average last season.

    Reyes’ upside is as a top-of-the-rotation arm or a power bullpen option. Again, with no need to rush, the organization will take its time in development.

3. Rob Kaminsky, Left-Handed Pitcher

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    Drafted near the end of the first round in 2013, the lefty-throwing 19-year-old had a nice debut in the Cards’ system, posting a 3.68 ERA while striking out 28 in 22 innings in the Gulf Coast League.

    Kaminsky’s fastball isn’t overpowering—it tops out at 92—but he already has a plus-curveball and a changeup that isn’t too far behind. He held left-handed hitters to a .190 average.

    The Cardinals are loaded with young arms, so Kaminsky will be brought along slowly. He’ll probably spend the year in Low-A.

2. Stephen Piscotty, Outfielder

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    Piscotty etched his named into the mind of Cardinals fans after his impressive showing during spring training. The former Stanford star hit .342 with a 1.004 OPS in the Grapefruit League. He also fanned just three times in 38 at-bats.

    “The ultimate goal was to hopefully open a few eyes,” he told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    Piscotty, who played third in college, displayed a plus-arm and an improved understanding of right field. Manager Mike Matheny praised him for his mature approach and tools.

    He reached Double-A last season while batting .295 across two levels with 15 homers. His 6’3”, 210-pound frame suggests he could develop 20-homer power. He doesn’t draw a ton of walks, but his ability to make contact offsets that.

    With Oscar Taveras ahead of him among outfield prospects, he’ll need to be patient. He’ll start the year in Triple-A but will get a look in St. Louis in September, if not sooner.

    Piscotty told Hummel:

    There’s no rush in all this. The Cardinals have a lot of good players. I’m just trying to make sure that if and when I do make the big-league team that I’m ready to contribute. One of the goals coming to this camp was to get comfortable around the guys in the clubhouse. Hopefully, if and when I do get to St. Louis, it’s not too much of an awe-striking thing.

1. Oscar Taveras, Outfielder

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    Ankle surgery cut short Taveras’ 2013 season to just 173 at-bats. In those 46 games at Triple-A Memphis, however, he batted .306 with five homers and 32 RBI.

    He entered spring training with a shot at the Cards’ Opening Day roster before injuries derailed those plans. He’ll begin the season back at Memphis, hoping his ankle is sound and his bat continues to produce.

    "He just needs to play," Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He’s going to have to stay healthy and he’s going to have to stay on the field and continue to improve.”

    The 21-year-old Dominican-born outfielder is regarded as one of the best hitters in the minors. Taveras’ smooth left-handed swing and ability to barrel balls consistently have drawn comparisons to a young Barry Bonds.

    Taveras played center field exclusively last year and will see more time there again this season. But his long-term future is in right field. He projects as a .300 hitter with 25-homer power.