taveras February 19

Rival Rankings: St. Louis Cardinals

Injuries limited outfielder Oscar Taveras to just 47 games in 2013. (Photo: Brad Krause)

Injuries limited outfielder Oscar Taveras to just 47 games in 2013. (Photo: Brad Krause)

In part three of our series on the Brewers NL Central rivals, today we take a look at the defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.

For the St. Louis perspective, we talked to Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation. Brian shared his top ten Cardinals prospects heading in to the 2014 season with us and answered some of our questions as they relate to the Cardinals and their farm system.

Top 10 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects

1. Oscar Taveras (OF)
2. Carlos Martinez (RHP)
3. Kolten Wong (2B)
4. Stephen Piscotty (OF)
5. Rob Kaminsky (LHP)
6. Marco Gonzales (LHP)
7. Alex Reyes (RHP)
8. James Ramsey (OF)
9. Carson Kelly (3B)
10. Randal Grichuk (OF)

Who are a couple of Cardinals prospects that you would say are closest to big league ready, and we can expect to see in St. Louis at some point this season?

“Putting aside right-hander Carlos Martinez and second baseman Kolten Wong, who are still prospect-eligible despite being penciled into major roles out of big-league camp, then outfielder Oscar Taveras has to be at the top of the list. His talents are pretty well known around the game.

Another interesting name to watch is outfielder Stephen Piscotty. The former Stanford star was a first-round pick in 2012 as a third baseman. The Cardinals moved him to right-field last spring and by the end of the summer, Piscotty was surging at Double-A. He followed that up with an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League and should start 2014 in Triple-A, getting ready for “the call”.”

Who is a sleeper, maybe not on your top 10 list, who could make a quick climb up the prospect ladder and why?

“A player not known well outside of the organization is 19-year-old right-hander Alex Reyes. Though he hails from New Jersey, he was born in the Dominican and moved back there in high school. Reyes could then sign as an unrestricted free agent, which he did one year ago, receiving just under $1 million.

Opening his pro career in the Appy League, Reyes was very impressive. Sporting a low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a plus breaking pitch, Reyes has actually slipped onto the back end of a couple of national top 100 prospect lists this winter.”

What position do you consider the Cardinals to have their greatest depth at throughout their organization?

“Had you asked me 12 months ago, I would have said, “right-handed starting pitching”. Since then, however, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and others have graduated to the bigs, and as I mentioned above, Martinez is next.

Today, the answer is outfield – at least at the upper levels of the system. In addition to Taveras and Piscotty, the Cardinals added via trade a former first-rounder from the Angels, Randal Grichuk, who brings a nice power bat. They also have one of their own first-rounders in James Ramsey, who is ready for Triple-A.

They are all top 10 prospects in the system. The challenge will be to find a place for them all initially on a crowded Memphis roster – and very soon, in St. Louis.”

What position do you consider the Cardinals to have their greatest weakness at throughout their organization?

“Middle infield has been the biggest challenge for the organization for some time now. We have seen second base needs addressed in recent years by taking players like Skip Schumaker and Matt Carpenter and having them learn the position on the fly – while major leaguers. Not an ideal scenario. While it is hoped that Wong will stabilize second base for many years, he is still untested.

At short, many from inside and outside have been tried – with less than desired results. The club’s 2013 starter, Pete Kozma, had the lowest OPS among all MLB position players with 350 or more plate appearances last season. With no help on the horizon, the club went out and signed free agent Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal. Kozma could open 2014 back in the minors.

In the 2013 draft, the Cardinals took four middle infielders in the first 10 rounds.”

Even though their Major League success has left the Cardinals picking towards the bottom of each round, they’ve still managed to come away with some good players. How would you rate the Cardinals recent drafts?

Kolten Wong should open the 2014 season as the Cardinals starting second baseman.  (Photo: Brad Krause)

Kolten Wong should open the 2014 season as the Cardinals starting second baseman. (Photo: Brad Krause)

“On the whole, the Cardinals drafts have been among the best in the game in recent years. One of the reasons Jeff Luhnow became the general manager of the Astros two years ago was his success in leading the Cardinals drafting and player development functions. 2009 brought the club Miller, Joe Kelly, Matt Carpenter, Rosenthal, Matt Adams with more still in the pipeline.

Even so, no one can hit home runs every year. The 2010 draft has yet to yield any standouts and Wong and Maness are the first from 2011 to reach St. Louis.

The 2012 draft was unprecedented as the club had five first-round selections due to the loss of Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel as free agents. New scouting director Dan Kantrovitz did well, snagging Wacha, Ramsey and Piscotty with his first three picks. It is too early to tell about 2013.”

From a developmental standpoint, do you see the Cardinals as being more aggressive or more conservative when it comes to promoting players?

“In recent years, the Cardinals have become more aggressive with in-season promotions throughout the system. For example, they promoted Martinez directly from Double-A to St. Louis, a move that would have been unheard of a few years ago.

They have also done it with a number of players late in the schedule, both as a reward and to get the player familiarized with the level at which he will likely be assigned the next season. When it doesn’t work, and there have certainly been examples, they have sent guys back down.

The organization always makes it a big deal to tell players it is not nearly as important where they are in April or May, as where they are playing in July and August.”

Oscar Taveras missed a good chunk of last season with injuries. Do you see him starting 2014 in St. Louis or will he get more time at AAA?

“Believe it or not, Taveras assignment may be the team’s major question coming into camp. My belief is that Taveras is such an exceptional talent that if he is healthy and plays up to his capability, he will force his way onto the major league roster.

Even if he has to return to Memphis, it should not be for long.”

Tyrell Jenkins prospect status has taken a bit of a hit due to injuries and inconsistency. But he’s still just 21 years old. Do you still see him as a part of the Cardinals rotation somewhere down the road?

“I am far less confident of Jenkins’ future than I was 12 months ago. Shoulder surgery of any kind makes me especially nervous. Jenkins will be behind this spring, but the Cards have no reason to push him. As you noted, he is still young.

On the other hand, though it is clearly unfair to do so, it is hard not to look at a Shelby Miller as a comp. Both were top high-school arms coming out of Texas and were first-rounders in successive years. Miller has a year in the big-league rotation while Jenkins is still in A-ball.”

Michael Blazek is an interesting bullpen arm that the Brewers acquired from the Cardinals last season in a trade for John Axford. What are your thoughts on Blazek? Do you see him as having the potential to contribute at the big league level?

“The main reason Blazek is no longer a Cardinal today is bad timing on his part. There were simply more good right-handed arms coming up at the same time as him than there are jobs at the big-league level. I suspect that is the only reason the Cards gave up a valuable arm in return for a couple of months of Axford.

I think the Brewers have a keeper in Blazek, who should be a solid set up man for them – at least until he gets too expensive.”

A big thank you to Brian for taking the time to answer our questions for this piece. To read more about the Cardinals and their farm system, be sure to check out TheCardinalNation.com and give Brian a follow on Twitter at @B_Walton

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