The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off a World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox in 2013, but if last year said anything, it was the Cardinals are going to be along for a long, long time. The minor league system was flush with quality major league arms, like Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez all playing key roles in the success of the Cardinals after Jaime Garcia was lost for the season. There are kids ready for prime time this year, and down the road.
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1. Oscar Taveras, OF – ETA June 2014
Taveras is the real deal. His bat was ready for the majors last year, but injuries derailed him. This year, it will probably be Matt Adams who derails him. All you need to know about him is that he is one of the best prospects in all of baseball the past decade. He will hit for average and power, and he plays a good RF with a great arm. If Taveras would be able to play centerfield, the position would probably be his to lose. But with the Cardinals realizing that Taveras won’t stick in centerfield long term, they had decided to keep him comfortable in right field. I expect the Cardinals to wait until June to call Taveras up because they really don’t need to at the moment. The Cardinals definitely would benefit from playing the arbitration clock waiting game, for St. Louis is a below league average in market size, and is almost bottom third by some measures.
2. Carlos Martinez, SP/RP – ETA Starting Rotation August 2014
Martinez became the de facto set up man last year, and wow did he impress. The whole world was introduced to who a Cardinals fan forum calls “Baby Pedro.” The only concern with him starting is his size, but he sure is a weapon. I expect Carlos Martinez to start the year in the Cardinals bullpen which has a spot or two up in the air. As the bullpen gets settled and Jason Motte gets closer to returning, Martinez will return to AAA to get some starts. By August or September, Martinez will be ready to contribute to the stretch run as a starter or a reliever. This strategy not only limits Martinez’s innings enabling him to be at his peak for the playoffs, but it also helps the bullpen get off on a good foot, which it hasn’t done in a while. Seriously, ask a Cardinals fan. April and May is not a good time to be in some close games for the Cardinals.
3. Kolten Wong, 2B – ETA Opening Day
The rookie who got picked off to end a World Series game will have a much better 2014. He’s projected to be at least a .280 hitter with 10-15 home run potential. He could even steal thirty bases. It will be interesting to see how young manager Mike Matheny will handle the running game between Wong and Bourjos. The Cardinals did not steal much under Tony LaRussa, and have barely run with Mike Matheny. Now that Matheny actually has some base stealers, we will find out if Matheny will channel his inner Herzog.
It should be noted that the Cardinals signed Mark Ellis as depth in case Wong does not pan out right away. I’m attributing this move to the Cardinals relative payroll flexibility. With Beltran, Carpenter, Furcal, Westbrook, Mujica, and Freese coming off the books, the Cardinals had room to spend. The infield is much improved. Matheny has many options to mix and match to play platoon splits.
4. Carson Kelly – C/3B – ETA 2017
Carson Kelly, 19, was taken in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. As an 18 year old in Single A Peoria, he was young for his level. He’s experimenting at catcher in order to find a place for his bat. Matt Carpenter looks to be the third baseman for the indefinite future with Kolten Wong manning second. Patrick Wisdom, although an inferior bat, is excellent at the hot corner. The Cardinals are looking to groom a replacement for Yadier Molina, and Kelly has the bat to be an above average option at catcher. He’s still at least three years away
5. Stephen Piscotty, OF – ETA September 2014
Piscotty is the best prospect no one is talking about. His raw talent doesn’t project to make him a superstar, but it is very easy to draw comparisons to Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig. Originally a third baseman in the same draft class as Kelly and Wisdom, Piscotty has since moved to right field. Piscotty impressed in the 2013 Arizona Fall League, was added to the 40 man roster, and looks to start the year in AAA Memphis. If the team did not have Taveras in the pipeline, fans would be excited to welcome Piscotty to the team sometime during the 2014 season.
6. Marco Gonzales, SP – ETA July 2015
The Cardinals struck gold with college pitcher Michael Wacha in 2012. Drafted in June 2012, Yadier Molina proclaimed Wacha was ready in February 2013, and he was probably right. You know about Wacha’s story down the stretch and in the playoffs. With Gonzalez, the Cardinals are trying to strike silver. Gonzales does not nearly have the same ceiling as Wacha, but his floor his just as high if not higher. Some scouts believe Gonzales could make the big club by the end of the year (like Wacha did), but with Martinez, Kelly, Lyons, Gast, Cooney, and Whiting, the Cardinals will not need him this year.
7. Alex Reyes, SP – ETA 2017
Reyes, the 19 year old international signee, had an impressive campaign in Rookie League Johnson City, posting a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts with 10.5 K/9. His BABIP was unbelievably high at .349, so his FIP was, as expected, a much lower 2.74. Reyes walked too many batters, 4.3 per nine innings, but the talent is there. Expect Reyes to put up a big year in Single A. By June, it will be too late to pick him up in dynasty leagues.
8. Rob Kaminsky, SP – ETA 2017
This prep star out of New Jersey has a higher ceiling than his 2013 first round counterpart Marco Gonzales. While Gonzales has a ceiling of a #3 or #4 starter, Kaminsky’s ceiling is a #2 starter. He is a little undersized at 5’11, but that did not deter the Cardinals from giving him nearly a 1.8 million dollar signing bonus. He should advance at a normal clip even though he’s a cold weather pitcher, but Cardinals fans have been spoiled by the high ceilings and quick moving Wacha and Shelby Miller.
9. Patrick Wisdom, 3B – ETA 2016
Wisdom’s glove forced both Kelly and Piscotty off of 3B. Ok, Piscotty has himself to blame, but the Cardinals believe Wisdom will be a superb defender at the major league level. His bat doesn’t yet live up to his glove, because if it did, you would have heard about Wisdom by now. Wisdom’s average is lagging right now, considering he was 21 years old during the 2014 season. Wisdom needs to put up a good year to stay on this list or else he’ll have a hard time making it to AAA by age 24 .
10. Greg Garcia, SS – ETA September 2014
Garcia makes this list due to his ability to contribute in 2014, but his ceiling isn’t particularly high. Wong’s former double play partner at AAA Memphis…oh and all the way back to the University of Hawaii, Garcia will make a good middle infielder off the bench. He doesn’t do anything particularly well, but he’ll hit for a respectable average and play good defense at 2B and SS.