The Cardinals reached the pinnacle in winning the World Series in 2011. That was followed up by the sobering reality that Albert Pujols would no longer be donning their uniform after signing with the Angels. On the bright side, the team has a number of high ceiling players down on the farm.
Cardinals top 5 fantasy prospects
1- Shelby Miller, SP
Miller has been nothing short of exceptional since being selected 19th overall in the 2009 amateur draft. This Texan throws hard, mid-90s and touching 97 mph with his fastball, and backs it with a plus curveball and change-up that flashes plus. He has used his arsenal effectively to mow down hitters, striking better than a batter per inning out in his minor league career. His control could use a bit of fine tuning, but as it stands now, is passable. He’ll get to strut his stuff in spring training, but seems unlikely to break camp with the team. A strong early season showing in Triple-A Memphis would go a long way in forcing the Cardinals hand in promoting him over the summer.
2- Carlos Martinez, SP
One can’t help but immediately fall in love with Martinez plus-plus velocity fastball that sits in the upper-90s and hits triple digits on occasion. Beyond his drool inducing heater, he throws a curveball that is developing, but rates ahead of his change-up. Both pitches are promising, and if fully developed, would give him the arsenal of a frontline starter. Unfortunately, there are reasons to temper expectations for Martinez. The first is that he lacks an ideal pitchers frame, standing at 6 feet tall and weighing 165 pounds. More concerning are reports from scouting pundits that his delivery is chock full of effort. His ultimate home could be at the back of a bullpen, which would hurt his fantasy value a bit.
3- Kolten Wong, 2B
The Cardinals signed their 2011 first round draft pick quickly, and he hit, and hit, and hit some more in his pro debut. Wong played in 47 games in Low-A and hit .335/.401/.510 with five home runs, nine stolen bases and a 21:24 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 222 plate appearances. He does a good job of squaring up and stinging the ball which should lead to plus batting averages, and could turn into a consistent source of mid-teens home run power. Wong isn’t a burner, but does have above average speed and could swipe his share of bases. In order to do so, he’ll need to become more efficient, as he was caught stealing five times in 14 attempts. Most notable scouting outlets expect him to breeze through the minors and reach the big leagues quickly. A successful season in the upper minors could lead to a 2013 major league debut.
4- Oscar Taveras, OF
Taveras put up a video game like slash line of .386/.444/.584 in Low-A ball. As one would expect from his batting average, Taveras does a masterful job of barreling up the ball. His hit tool should result in batting averages that flirt with, and even exceed, .300 in his major league future. Though he’s only 19, there are some questions about just how much power he’ll develop. If there were a greater consensus that he’d develop plus power, he’d rank above both Wong and Martinez. Even if he ends up with just average power in the future, there is a lot to like about Taveras. He took well to the Cardinals aggressive approach in sending him to the Arizona Fall League, so he may jump High-A and start the year in Double-A.
5- Tyrell Jenkins, SP
Jenkins is the prospect furthest away from the show of the Cardinals top five, but he could be a special player. Unlike Martinez, there are no questions about whether Jenkins frame could handle a starter’s work load. He stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 180 pounds. A two sport high school star, Jenkins bypassed a football scholarship to sign with the Cardinals after being selected in the 2010 amateur draft. He debuted in Rookie Level Ball throwing three innings in 2010, and was sent back to the same level in 2011. Jenkins efficiently struck out batters compiling a 4.23 K/BB ratio. His bread and butter is a low-90s fastball that can be pumped up to the mid-90s. Jenkins started the year throwing both a curve and a slider, but scrapped the slider and kept the 12-to-6 curveball. Lagging behind both the fastball and curve is a change-up. The development of his curveball and change-up are the key to him unlocking the door to being a front of the rotation arm.
Top 5 for 2012
1- Shelby Miller, SP
Just how great his impact will be in 2012 hinges on how quickly he reaches the majors.
2- Lance Lynn, RP
You said you want Marc Rzepczynski to warm up Tony? Wait, what was that, you’d like Lynn up too? Lynn may be best known by casual baseball fans as the reliever that intentionally walked Ian Kinsler while Jason Motte warmed up following manager Tony LaRussa’s bullpen phone blunder. He’s much more than a footnote though. Lynn had a tremendous major league debut after the team transitioned him from a minor league starter to a major league reliever. His stuff played up substantially in the bullpen, and resulted in a 10.37 K/9 and 57.3 percent groundball rate. Lynn didn’t walk many batters, 2.86 BB/9, and should be a high leverage option for new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. He’ll be a desirable arm in leagues that count holds, and could be second in line for save chances behind Motte.
3- Eduardo Sanchez, RP
Sanchez was yet another contributor to the Cardinals bullpen in 2011. His season was cut short by a shoulder injury, but he was a healthy omission from the Cardinals postseason roster. Sanchez lacks the control of Lynn, and has a flyball heavy approach. He throws hard, and misses bats. Sanchez saved five games for the Cardinals, but is likely behind both Lynn and Fernando Salas in the closing handcuff hierarchy. If he’s able to make control gains, he could be a sneaky source of strikeouts and ratios help for those using the LIMA strategy.
4- Matt Carpenter, 3B
Carpenter finds himself in the unenviable position of being sandwiched between incumbent starter, and World Series hero, David Freese, and higher rated prospect Zack Cox. While he may need to be dealt to another organization to get an opportunity to stick at third base, a small window could open for him to showcase himself to others if the injury bug bites Freese yet again. Carpenter had a second consecutive strong season in the upper minors where he walked more than he struck out (84 walks and 64 strikeouts) and hit for average (.302) in Triple-A. That play earned him 19 plate appearances for the Cardinals, and should land him on the active roster when the team breaks camp. His modest power output, 24 home runs in 1,007 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A from 2010-2011, sets a cap on his upside, but doesn’t make him worth ignoring altogether.
5- Zack Cox, 3B
Cox didn’t do much to impress early in the season, but he finished with a flurry punishing the ball in Double-A. He was selected in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft as a pure hitter. Questions about his defensive skills at third base and power ceiling dog him, but he nearly cracked the team’s top five prospect list because of his ability to hit for average, something few scouting gurus question. He received 389 plate appearances in Double-A, and could open the year in Triple-A taking hacks in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. It’s possible Cox doesn’t see the majors this year at all, but as I alluded to above, Freese is no stranger to the disabled list. Freese barely eclipsed 100 games played, playing in 101 total this year when including his four played in Triple-A. Prior to surpassing that mark this year, he hadn’t done so since 2008 when he played in 131 games in Triple-A. It would take a few breaks for Cox to get to the bigs, but nothing out of the question or crazy.