Cardinal baseball, from the girls
Sparks from the Farm: My Top 7 Cardinal Prospects List
In September, the UCB (United Cardinals Bloggers) combine their efforts once again, this time to determine the top 7 Cardinal prospects. We were each invited to select our Top 7 candidates.
How does one rank a prospect? Well, I am taking the liberty of using my female fan intuition (for the fellas, that would be “gut instinct”) along with whatever stats tend to back me up. Honestly, my rankings favor the guys I’ve followed more closely, the guys in AA and AAA. And granted, some of them earned bonus points for that elusive quality of “being more fun to watch” or having that extra spark of personality, but all are players I’ll be keeping an eye on over the coming years. So, here are my top seven Baby Bird prospects. (okay, I have 12. But really… How was I supposed to pick just 7?!)
#1- Shelby Miller. So far Shelby’s arm has lived up to the hype surrounding the Cardinals’ 2009 first-round draft pick. Pitching in AA Springfield this season, Shelby earned a 9-3 record with a 2.7 ERA. Miller made headlines in August when off-field drama resulted in a one-week suspension for his violating team policy in an alcohol-related incident, but Shelby shut the book on 2011 with an impressive 8 innings of shutout baseball and 9 strikeouts during his final appearance on September 2nd.
#2 – Matt Adams. Matt played first base for AA Springfield this season, raking 32 homeruns with 101 RBI and ending 2011 batting .300 and slugging .566 with an OPS of .923 (stats compliments of baseball-reference.com.) Matt snagged high honors too, voted Texas League Player of the Year for 2011. The question for 2012: Can Matt maintain that power in AAA and translate it into big league success?
#3 - Carlos Martinez: Martinez, the highly anticipated right-hander from the Dominican Republic, signed with the Cardinals last Fall. Still a teenager (he turns 20 this month), Martinez is a true flamethrower (mid to upper 90′s) with a curveball, slider and possibly a changeup (by some reports) to supplement his primary fastball . The Cardinals are understandably drooling over the potential of this young arm. Martinez started the 2011 season in A level ball in Quad Cities (2.33 ERA, 8 games) and was promoted to high-A Palm Beach (5.28 ERA, 10 games).
#4 - Tony Cruz. Tony logged playing time in 34 Major League games this season, establishing a hold on the backup-backup catcher position. However, Cruz’ versatility was also on display earlier in the season when he covered 1B, 2B, 3B and outfield as needed. Plus Cruz did throw out a respectable 50% of base-stealers during his MLB service (small sample size alert.) Versatility. Strong, accurate arm. Backup catcher batting .258? (.262 with 4 HR in AAA Memphis during 2011) What’s not to like?
#5 - Brandon Dickson. Made his first Major League start on September 1 in Milwaukee and pitched into the 4th inning, striking out 3 but giving up 2 homeruns in an eventual Cardinal win against the Brewers (8-4). Dickson has a strong resume in the farm system including a 2009 ERA (AA) of 3.78, 2010 ERA (AAA) of 3.23 and 2011 ERA (AAA) at 3.95. He’s put in the time, showing consistency and effectiveness. I expect Dickson to be a solid contributor from the Cardinal bullpen in 2012.
#6– Matt Carpenter. You may remember, Matt had a brief (but lackluster) stint in St. Louis for a week in early June. However, Matt did hit .300 (OPS .880) with 12 HR and 70 RBI for Memphis this year. Matt’s name continues to pop up in top prospect lists all over Cardinal Nation, and I’m giving him a spot in mine because 1) the baseball gurus believe in him and 2) I’m still curious to see what he’s got. Granted, in the few games (small sample size alert) that I’ve been able to watch Matt firsthand, his bat wasn’t popping. Maybe I’m bad luck? Nah….
#7 – Zack Cox First round draft choice in 2010, Zack moved up from Palm Beach to AA Springfield this year where he ended the season batting .306 with 13 homeruns (A+ and AA combined). Even those of us with intense loyalty to our current 3rd baseman cannot deny that Zack Cox has potential written all over him.
Honorable Mentions: Because an even dozen is even better than just 7.
* Kolten Wong: Highly touted 2011 first-round June draft pick. Wong plays 2B and batted .335 with a .911 OPS for Quad Cities this year. In a recent interview, Wong’s love for the game was not only obvious, but inspiring. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as watching a ballplayer who truly ENJOYS being on the field and SAVORS the opportunity.
*Adron Chambers. Cardinal Nation got their first glimpse of Chambers at Busch Stadium on September 6th when he made his Major League debut as a pinch runner. On September 9th, again pinch-running, Chambers tore into 2nd base in an aggressive slide, taking out Dan Uggla, in an admirable and bullish attempt to break up the double play. Chambers batted .277, playing centerfield for AAA Memphis this year and stole 22 bases. If he can trim down his strikeouts and improve his OBP, Chambers could be an entertaining menace on the basepaths for the Cardinals. Adron does get bonus points for his extreme likeability. Whether you’ve met him in person or just heard reports of his character, you can’t help but cheer for Chambers.
*Maikel Cleto: The remnant of our Brendan Ryan trade. Thankfully, Cleto has some upside. He can throw hard and FAST, reaching triple digits at times. Cleto sped through the system this year, starting in Palm Beach (2.48 ERA), to AA Springfield (3.93 ERA) and then AAA Memphis (4.29 ERA). Cleto was rushed to the Majors briefly in June (after injuries had depleted the Cardinal bullpen) with disappointing results but returned this month with a much better result: 4 batters faced, 1 hit, 2 Ks and no earned runs to close the 9th in the Cardinals 4-1 loss to Milwaukee. If Cleto continues to improve his command and control as well as develop his secondary pitches, he may be a valuable arm in the pen.
*John Gast: Drafted in 2010, Gast moved from Palm Beach to Springfield this year with a 4.02 ERA. He impressed the Cardinals during his first Spring Training, earning the right to stick around far longer than most expected. Praise for Gast’s killer pick-off move is hedged with worries about command. However this lefty hurler, who had TJ surgery out of highschool, remains an alluring prospect, especially for a team that values their LOOGYs.
*Heath Wyatt: Drafted in June 2011, Wyatt pitched in relief for the Johnson City Cardinals (A), earned a 3-1 win/loss record as a reliever and a 3.24 ERA with a ratio of 30 strikeouts to 7 walks (25 innings). Okay, okay…. None of that is important as the primary reason he’s on my list. Heath’s a SUBMARINER – and that’s a guaranteed Gold Glove for “watchability” in my opinion.
Want to read more about the sparks in the Cardinal farm system? Check out who made the Top 7 Prospect lists of the other UCB members here.