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Friday, February 22, 2013

MLB Team Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

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MLB 2013 Team Preview: St. Louis Cardinals
By Wild on Sports Baseball Analyst Aaron Dorman

ST LOUIS CARDINALS
2012 Record:
88-74, won WC, lost NLCS

The Cardinals snuck into the playoffs for the second year in a row, despite losing their two best hitters from 2011 to Los Angeles (Pujols) and injury (Berkman). Once again they were one of the best offenses in the league and Chris Carpenter rose from the dead one last time to help them in the playoffs.

NOTABLE ADDITIONS: none
NOTABLE LOSSES: Kyle Lohse, Lance Berkman (sort of), Skip Schumaker, Chris Carpenter

Keys to Success: Finding the right mix in the outfield and the rotation. The Cardinals are so stocked with prospects and young talent that they didn’t need to add anyone through trade or free agency, and they still face some tough decisions. When will top prospect Oscar Taveras come up and where will he play? Who among their starting rotation candidates will win out? What is the health status of Jaime Garcia? Was Pete Kozma’s crazy September at all repeatable?

Prospect Watch:
Prospect Key 
TBD= Work in Progress
X= Posses the Tool
XX= Excels at Tool


OSCAR TAVERAS, OF (rookie watch):
Power
Speed
Hitting
Plate Discipline
Defense
Arm
xx

xx
TBD
x
x
Taveras is probably the best pure hitter in the minor leagues right now. At just age 20, Taveras hit .321/.380/.572 with 23 HR and 94 RBI with AA Springfield. He doesn’t draw a lot of walks (42) because he doesn’t need to; he gets to many pitches and doesn’t miss his target. He struck out only 56 times, which amounts to just 10.5% of his plate appearances. That low low rate would have placed him twelfth among qualified batters at the major league level. Scouts liken him to a left-handed Vladimir Guerrero. Intriguingly, Guerrero himself hit an eerily similar .333/.383/.544 with a 30/45 BB/K ratio in 421 AB in his age 20 season…however, Guerrero put up those numbers at low-A, not AA (Vlad hit .360/.431/.618 the next year).  It’s unfair to peg Taveras as a hall of famer before playing a game above AA…but there’s a reason why he’s consistently in the top 5 on overall prospect rankings this winter.
SHELBY MILLER, RHP (rookie watch):
Velocity
Second Stuff
Command
Control
Strikeouts
Health
xx
x
TBD
x
xx
x
Miller’s bad AAA stats last year hide his second-half turnaround (2.88 ERA after the all-star break) and ace potential. His mechanics and anticipation of a big league call-up were responsible for early struggles, but he made adjustments and still looks like a future rotation anchor. Overall last year he went 11-10 with a 4.74 ERA and a 50/160 BB/K ratio in 136.2 IP. His control slipped early on; 43 of his 50 BB came in the first half (in 77 IP). After that, he walked just 7 in 59 IP, striking out 70. Miller had a quick and effective cameo in the big leagues in September (16 K in 13 innings, 2 ER) and his background and stuff makes him the early favorite to occupy Kyle Lohse’ empty space in the rotation.
TREVOR ROSENTHAL, RHP (rookie watch):
Velocity
Second Stuff
Command
Control
Strikeouts
Health
xx
x
x

x
x
Rosenthal throws very hard and had a very successful season last year, ending in a superb major league bullpen trial. In the upper minors, Rosenthal went 8-6 with a 2.97 ERA and 104 K in 109 IP. With St. Louis, he had a 2.78 ERA and struck out 25 batters in 22.2 IP. That dominance could “doom” him to the bullpen as the Cardinals have so many options for the rotation. However, he has the secondary pitches to start (as well as a triple-digit fastball). The mostly likely scenario is he begins the year in the Cardinals’ bullpen with the chance to start if people get hurt. Many future starters have come from humbler beginnings that that.
CARLOS MARTINEZ, RHP:
Velocity
Second Stuff
Command
Control
Strikeouts
Health
xx
TBD
TBD
x
TBD
x
Martinez is very young (21 next year) and less polished than Rosenthal or Miller, but he projects to be another hard-throwing, upper-echelon starter if everything breaks right, and can safely projected to at least contribute in the bullpen. His secondary stuff is coming along. In seven starts with High-A Palm Beach, he went 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA. After moving to AA-Springfield, his strikeouts disappeared (just 7.3 K/9) but he went 4-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 72 IP. Martinez generates lots of groundballs which helps balance out his lower strikeout totals. He is probably ready for the challenge of AAA this year, although a roster crunch probably keeps him down in the minors for most or all of 2013.  
KOLTON WONG, 2B:
Power
Speed
Hitting
Plate Discipline
Defense
Arm

x
x
TBD
x

Wong, 22, has just enough tools and talent to avoid the “scrappy” label. He was a first round pick, after all. However, his best asset is that he is good enough in just about everything, without excelling at anything. After a stellar debut (.911 OPS) in 2011, Wong had a less superlative sophomore season for AA-Springfield. He hit .287/.348/.405 with 9 HR, 52 RBI, and 21 SB in 523 AB with solid but unspectacular plate discipline (44/74 BB/K). If he could replicate those numbers in the majors, he’d be an everyday player at second base. His defense is fine. The second base position is somewhat unsettled in St. Louis, compared with the rest of their lineup, but Wong will probably have to prove himself at AAA first.
MATT ADAMS, 1B (rookie watch???):
Power
Speed
Hitting
Plate Discipline
Defense
Arm
xx

x



First base prospects in the minors are rare (usually major league 1B move there from 3B or OF), but Adams has made a statement with his prodigious power numbers. Last year in less than half a season with AAA-Memphis Adams hit .329/.362/.624 with 18 HR and 50 RBI in 67 games. His career numbers are .318/.365/.565, so his power is not a fluke. Unfortunately, as those lines also attest, he is a very aggressive hitter, walking only 15 times last year in 276 PA (with 57 K). Major league pitchers took advantage of this in a brief call-up and he hit just .244 with 2 HR in 90 AB with the Cardinals. He’s only 24 so it’s possible, probable even, that he can make adjustments and at least be a solid first baseman. He might have to learn from the St. Louis bench this year, spelling Allen Craig against difficult right-handers from time to time. Otherwise he’ll head back to Memphis and hit 40 home runs.

2012 Top Draft Pick: Michael Wacha, RHP…40 K in 21 IP!!!

Sleeper MLB Contributor: GREG GARCIA gets on base, plays a capable shortstop, and shows an average speed/power combo…he’s overlooked by most scouts/prospect lists, maybe because of St Louis’ deep farm system.

2013 Outlook and Projection:
The Cardinals have more talent than they know what to do with. Last year they lost Pujols, Berkman, and Chris Carpenter, and were set back a grand total of two games, a real credit to the organization’s depth as well as their ability to avoid crippling contracts. Letting Pujols go was absolutely the right decision, and essentially replacing him with another Hall-of-Fame caliber talent for two years (instead of ten) in Carlos Beltran was a stroke of genius. St Louis’ top prospects are not only elite, they are also big league ready, which means they can focus their monetary resources on locking them up long-term and making smarter decisions rather than desperate grabs for aging stars. Their only large long-term deals right now belong to Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina, both of whom earn their money. Replacing Kyle Lohse and his 2.86 ERA may be difficult in the near term, but any one of Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, et al could step in and surprise. They have contingency plans at almost every position. If Allen Craig peaked last year, they could try Matt Adams. If David Freese gets hurt, they can move Matt Carpenter around. Somehow Oscar Taveras will come up and contribute. Etc etc etc. Is is hard to envision a scenario where the Cardinals fail to at least win one of the wild card spots.

STRONG CONTENDERS
 
 

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