Pitcher Lance Lynn of the St. Louis Cardinals (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
St. Louis Cardinals Top 20 Prospects for 2012
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Shelby Miller, RHP, Grade A: Has everything needed to be a number one, rotation-anchor starter. Just needs to stay healthy and sharpen up his command a bit more.
2) , RHP, Grade B+: Outstanding arm, but needs some command refinements and a return to High-A is necessary in my view. Like Miller, he could become a number one starter if all goes well. Keep in mind that he's just 19. You can make a case for an A-.
3) Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, Grade B+: Another outstanding arm that needs innings and experience and good health. Pitching skills seem more polished than anticipated, and he's a terrific athlete. Like Martinez, you can make a case for an A-. This is one helluva troika the Cardinals have here.
4) Kolten Wong, 2B, Grade B+. Pure hitter with few weaknesses and won't need long in the minors. Possible outcome: Todd Walker with a much better glove.
5) Oscar Taveras, OF, Grade B+: Another pure hitter, main question is how much home run power he will develop. I lean optimistic. Keep in mind that he's only 19 years old.
6) Lance Lynn, RHP, Grade B: Took to bullpen role with ease, still under the rookie innings limit. What he did in the majors doesn't look like a fluke to me. I might end up going with a B+.
7) Zack Cox, 3B, Grade B: I've had some negative intuitive vibes about him, but he hit well enough in Double-A to ease some of those doubts. I still wonder about his home run power, which keeps him from a higher grade.
8) Eduardo Sanchez, RHP, Grade B: Like Lynn, he's under the rookie innings limit so I can list him here. Performance was no fluke, he just needs to stay healthy.
9) Jordan Swagerty, RHP, Grade B: Another very live arm, could reach the majors sometime in 2012 and help in the bullpen. Has the stuff and personality to close.
10) Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, Grade B: Well-kept secret, only Cardinals fans seem to be aware of how good he can be. Very good stuff, great component ratios, 4.11 ERA in low-A had a lot of bad luck in it and could easily have been a full run lower.
11) Matt Adams, 1B, Grade B: Power is real, but we'll have to see about the batting average and OBP.
12) Matt Carpenter, 3B, Grade B-: Only real negative is age, 26 entering ‘12. He hits for average, gets on base, shows moderate power, and always puts up excellent defensive stats despite mediocre reviews about his physical tools from scouts.
13) John Gast, LHP, Grade B-: Live-armed lefty needs to polish up his command. Has stuff of a number three starter, or could dominate in the pen.
14) Maikel Cleto, RHP, Grade C+: Upper-90s/100 MPH fastball. Still working the kinks out of his command and secondary stuff, but terrific upside.
15) Ryan Jackson, SS, Grade C+: Scouts have always been impressed with his glove, but he is starting to show something with the bat now, showing more pop. A larger-scale breakthrough is plausible.
16) Charlie Tilson, OF, Grade C+: Part of a large group of toolsy high schoolers picked up by the Cardinals in '11 draft. Will need a lot of development work, but could develop into leadoff force.
17) Joe Kelly, RHP, Grade C+: ERA was ugly in Double-A, but I like his sinking power stuff, and even a marginal improvement with his command (and his luck) could push him forward.
18) Brandon Dickson, RHP, Grade C+: You probably won't see him this high on other lists, as an older prospect without first-class stuff. But he throws strikes, and could surprise us with a surprising run of success if given a little luck and defensive support. There are many guys with higher upside in the system that you could list here instead, but I wanted to draw notice to Dickson.
19) Cody Stanley, C, Grade C+. I think he has more in the bat than he showed in the Midwest League.
20) Tommy Pham, OF, Grade C+ : Has always had the tools and was putting them together in Double-A before stopped by injury. Career .314/.398/.527 hitter in 264 Double-A at-bats.
OTHERS: Seth Blair, RHP; Adron Chambers, OF; Tony Cruz, C; Roberto De La Cruz, 3B; Victor De Leon, RHP; Anthony Garcia, OF (sleeper); Sam Gaviglio, RHP; Kyle Hald, LHP; Mark Hamilton, OF; Hector Hernandez, LHP; Deryk Hooker, RHP; Lance Jeffries, OF; Pete Kozma, SS; Seth Maness, RHP; C.J. McElroy, OF; Daniel Miranda, LHP; Kenny Peoples, SS; Adam Reifer, RHP (could rank as high as 15); Jonathan Rodriguez, 1B-3B; Robert Stock, C; Breyvic Valera, INF; Boone Whiting, RHP; Matt Williams, SS.
You have to love this system. You have three possible ace starting pitchers in Miller, Martinez, and Jenkins, and Rosenthal isn't far behind. You have pitchers who are ready to help right now with Lynn and Sanchez, and additional strong bullpen arms behind them. There is a nice mixture of the obvious power pitchers along with pitchability guys like Dickson, Maness, and other college products I don't have room to mention.
The offense is thinner but still has potential, with Wong, Cox, and Taveras all looking like big-league regulars eventually. Wong could be truly excellent if he develops to his maximal extent. Then you have guys who look like they could be strong role players at least. . .Carpenter, Adams, Pham, Jackson, etc.
Several of the players in the "other" category have high upsides and could vault forward on the list next year.
Overall, this looks like a very strong farm system to me.