By COREY NOLES
This is the first in a three-part series analyzing prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training only 44 days from today, I thought it would be fitting to begin my annual top 15 prospect report.
While a lot of Cardinals fans are still down in the dumps over the Pujols move, there is a lot of stuff in the farm system to be excited about.
Once per week for three weeks I will be doing an analysis of five of my personal picks. I should, however, point out up front that I have based this report solely on online scouting reports, statistics and the potential impact that the player could bring when (or if) they make it to the big show.
One thing that really stands out to me on my list is that our farm system has a lot of pitching depth, which is exactly where my list will begin.
|1.||Shelby Miller -- This shouldn't be a big surprise. Miller's ascension through the minor league ranks has been more highly publicized than any prospect for the Cardinals in recent memory. Miller finished the season at AA-Springfield going 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA. That's not too shabby, but here's the interesting number. In 139.2 innings pitched, he struck out 170 batters walking only 53. Aside from a mid-90s fastball that flirts with the upper-90s, he also brings to the plate an impressive 12-6 curve that has stunned many in Springfield as he continued to develop it this season. Miller has been long believed to be the one day ace of the big league team. He has had some issues with staying out of trouble, but if he can keep his head screwed on straight, big things will be in his future. At 21 years old, there is still plenty of time for that. I fully expect Miller to begin the season at AAA Memphis and make the big league roster as a September call-up. If not, expect him on opening day 2013. If Chris Carpenter retires at the end of 2012 as expected, Miller will likely take his spot in the rotation.|
|2.||Carlos Martinez -- If you haven't heard yet about this 20-year-old right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic then it's time you do. Martinez was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a Minor League free agent on April 20, 2010 and received a $1.5 million signing bonus. While he finished up last season at Class A Palm Beach, he is only believed to be about a year behind Miller in terms of development. He throws consistently between 95-97 mph and has been compared to a young Pedro Martinez for his style and precise control. He is currently on pace to see time in St. Louis beginning in late 2013 or early 2014.|
|3.||Matt Adams -- This is the only guy in the Cardinals organization who is probably glad to see Albert Pujols gone. As a top notch offensive and defensive first base prospect, he could have stalled out for years if Albert had re-signed with the team. Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 23rd round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft, he has since set the minor league world on fire with his bat. In 115 games at Class AA Springfield, he earned awards and broke numerous records. After hitting .300/.357/.566 with 101 RBIs and bashing an organization leading 32 homeruns, he was named the Texas League Player of the Year. Adams is excited about the opportunity to move up to the next level and the chance to help out the Cardinals in the future. His full-time step to the big club will likely come following Berkman's departure after the season either through retirement or if the club chooses not to re-sign him. If Adams is ready, I firmly believe it will be his job to lose. He could see playing time in St. Louis as early as this season, but definitely by 2013. An injury on the club or an amazing showing at spring training could expedite things.|
|4.||Kolten Wong -- Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1st round (22nd overall) of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft, Wong is nothing short of a pleasant surprise. Playing 47 games at Class A Quad Cities in 2011, Wong batted .335 with 65 hits, 15 doubles, 2 triples and 5 homeruns. The need for middle infield depth within the organization is one of several reasons he was the Cardinals first pick last year. While he is not a power hitter, his ability to hit for average consistently will likely land him in one of the top two spots in the lineup once he makes his way to St. Louis. No time table has been set for his major league debut, but if he returns in the same form he showed at Quad Cities in 2011, I expect it to be sooner rather than later. I would guess you'll be hearing a lot more about him this year and can likely expect to see him some time in 2013.|
|5.||Tyrell Jenkins -- I struggled with where to place Tyrell Jenkins on my list. He was initially number three, but the fact that he is still a couple of years away from St. Louis, I decided to move Adams up a notch. Jenkins went into the 2010 MLB Draft with an outstanding three year football commitment to Baylor, but his velocity, combined with a lot of interest, sent him on to professional baseball. To date he has only played in 13 games, but is believed to have strong potential. With plus athleticism, an above average fastball, solid breaking ball and a feel for a change-up, he projects to be solid at the major league level. He will likely start the season in High A ball. While the secondary pitches still have a ways to go, and he is still a bit raw, 2012 should give a better example to gauge his development stage.|
While I'm not an expert on this subject, I have done extensive research and feel confident about the list. One thing I hope everyone can agree on is that right now our farm system has as much pitching depth as it has ever had and fans have plenty of reasons to be not only optimistic, but excited about the future of the organization.
Putting together a prospect list is complicated and time consuming with a lot of difficult decisions. For instance, many other columnists and organizations place Adams much farther down their prospect list, but I have a good feeling about him. His potential and work ethic will one day bring him to the Cardinals and not only will he continue to crush baseballs, fans will fall in love with him just like they have many before.
There are others on the list I struggled with as well, but I'll get to that when the time comes. Coming up soon I will run through prospects 6-10 of my Top 15 which I assure you are as promising as the players I've detailed here.
I look forward to hearing some of your predictions (and disagreements).