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UCB Project: Looking at the Baby Birds

Posted on September 8, 2008 at 8:00 AM
Filed Under: Baseball | United Cardinal Bloggers
Programming note:  The normal weekend wrapup can be found in the post below.

So far with our United Cardinal Blogger projects, we've pretty much stuck to the major league squad and things revolving around them.  That's basically because the UCB organizer (that'd be me) isn't always as up on the farm system as he'd like to be.  (Some would say I'm not that up on the Cardinals either, but hey, I'm not forcing you to read here!)

However, the suggestion came in that the crack UCB squad take a shot at listing out their top 7 prospects in the minor leagues.  Always willing to take some advice, I'm diving in and seeing how the water is.  Other blogs scheduled to participate include CardinalsGM, Future Redbirds, Mike On The Cards, Pitchers Hit Eighth, The Redbird Blog, Redbird Ramblings, Rockin' the Red, Stan Musial's Stance and Viva El Birdos.  (Links as their posts become available.)

So, after the jump, my selections for the top prospects in the minor league system:

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1) Colby Rasmus

No, Rasmus didn't have the year everyone was expecting.  Honestly, I expected the Cardinals to be out of the race by mid-June, deal off some of their outfielders, and make room for Colby.  None of that happened, the latter part mainly because Rasmus didn't adjust well to Memphis.  Granted, he's always started slow, but this was a little on the ridiculous side.  He was hitting just .217 at the end of May and causing some angst in the follow-the-farm community.  Surely he wouldn't be a bust, would he?

The long look he got in spring training, where he hit .273 with 4 HR and 9 RBI, seemed to be counterproductive as Rasmus seemed to hold a bit of a grudge as he went down.  Finally, in June, he turned it on, hitting .333 with 4 HR.  His season basically ended in July (though he did some rehab work late in August) when his knee required surgery, keeping him from the Futures Game as well as making the trip with the Olympic team.

Why put Colby at #1?  First off, he started the year there and no one in the organization came and took the title from him.  Second, even with his slow start at the plate, he was still drawing walks (reaching base at around a .315 clip before June) and hitting for some power.  Third, he was rebounding from his typical slow start before the injury.  (Incidentally, that slow start tendency was one reason I pushed for him to get a September call up.  Get the slow start out of the way this year and have him ready to go for '09).

The only real reason not to expect Rasmus to be in the starting outfield come Opening Day is the glut of outfielders that are currently on the team.  If players like Duncan, Ankiel or Schumaker get packaged up and shipped out, Rasmus will be favored to get to ride in the red convertibles.

2) Brett Wallace

Rasmus was the easy choice.  I'd be shocked if more than one of the UCB group puts him out of the top slot.  After that, though, it gets a little tougher.  Mine will probably be very different from everyone else's.  That doesn't mean that they are at all accurate, just my gut feels from reading sites like Future Redbirds and other discussions.

I actually got to see Wallace play at the end of August when Springfield was in Little Rock.  The first impression is what everyone notices--he's not exactly built like a third baseman.  Honestly, he looks more like a catcher in some regards, a little squatty.  But boy, can he hit.  He had a single, a double and a walk in the game I saw him in.  He was DH, so I wasn't able to see him in the field.

Wallace, of course, was the first pick in this year's draft, and every indication is that he's going to be a mover.  I can't remember a time when the first pick was in AA the same year he was selected (in recent Cardinal history, at least).  Obviously, it's a bit of a small sample size, but he did hit .367 in just under 50 ABs at Springfield after a .327 mark at Quad Cities.  The situation reminds me slightly of Albert Pujols's year in the minors, when he played at Peoria, then jumped up to Memphis in time for the playoffs.  Instead of being overmatched, he was the playoff MVP.  Wallace is no Pujols, of course (who is?), but his quick promotion had some of the same vibe.

Wallace will start back in Springfield next year, but depending on what happens with David Freese and Allen Craig, he could be in Memphis by the All-Star break and be ready to take over for Troy Glaus when Glaus's contract expires at the end of '09.

3) Jamie Garcia

I'm going to use the rookie criteria (130 AB or 50 IP) for my choices.  Garcia got a taste of the big leagues this year, getting into 10 games, most as a lefty reliever.  His one start was a solid one, giving up three runs in five innings, but also getting ground balls.  Being that he's just 22, a little bit of a rough start to his major league career shouldn't take much bloom off the rose.

The splits at Minor League Baseball Splits don't list ERA, but instead FIP, which from what I understand is a truer indication of what the pitcher has done.  The Hardball Times defines it as
Fielding Independent Pitching, a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number.
Garcia's FIP was 4.17 in Memphis, which, assuming the scales for FIP are similar to the ones for ERA, seems like a reasonable, if slightly high, number.  He faded somewhat this summer after starting strong in Springfield and after his callup to Memphis.  He's gets his share (8.11 per 9 innings cumulatively in the minors in 2008) though I didn't think he was regarded as a power arm.

All that to say this.  He's a young lefty that has had success in the minors and he's the closest thing the Cardinals have to a starter ready to step into the rotation.  Of course, that doesn't take into account the fact that he may need surgery on his elbow.  If that happens, he'll slide down the rankings due to his inactivity, but for right now, the potential he has puts him high on my list.

4) Jess Todd

This year's phenom shot up the ranks like Sarah Palin in the GOP and has about as devoted of a fan base.  Todd, who was drafted in the second round in 2006 out of the University of Arkansas (my alma mater--Go Hogs!), wasn't even considered the ace of the Razorback staff, as Nick Schmidt had that honor (and was drafted in the first round by the Padres).

Todd started at Single-A Palm Beach this year and just dominated the competition, posting a 1.74 FIP in his seven wins there.  He was quickly moved up to AA Springfield, where he started strong as well before having a rough July and August.  Whether because of the competition or starting to wear down over the long season, he was cuffed around some after his promotion to Memphis, posting a 5.65 FIP.

Todd is known for his strikeout ability, though he averaged less than Garcia this year (7.90 per 9 innings over his three minor league stops).

All these numbers are well and good and I'm very excited to see what he does next year.  However, I still have a little reservation over guys that are so spectacular for one year.  I want to see if they'll do it again.  If Todd does have another good start next year, I'd expect he'd be in St. Louis by the end of June. 

5) David Freese

When fan favorite Jim Edmonds was traded to the Padres back in December, most considered it a salary dump.  I know I personally didn't give too much credence to the minor leaguer the Cardinals were getting back.  Like getting a productive Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen, however, John Mozeliak showed that even when he's backed into trading off players, he can make a deal.

The Cardinals plucked him from San Diego's A ball team, but thought enough of him to start him at AAA Memphis this season.  He didn't go anywhere else, hitting .303 with 25 home runs for the Redbirds.  A drawback seems to be his batting eye, as he walked just 38 times and struck out 111.  Still, in a game that can always use power, Freese looks like a contender.

Minor League Baseball Splits also has a MLE page.  MLE, or Major League Equivalent, does some fancy calculations to see what that line in Memphis would be equal to in the bigs.  Freese's MLE line was .264/.318/.446 with 19 HR.  For comparison, here's what Glaus has put up so far: .272/.373/.479 with 23 HR.  Obviously, Glaus has a better line, but it's not a large jump from him to Freese.

This winter could be an interesting one.  With Wallace, Freese and Allen Craig (who didn't make the list, but could have) all playing third, there's a good likelihood one of them will be traded.  If it is Freese, chances are he'll bring in more than he cost.

6) Daryl Jones

Jones has been a tantalizing mystery for a number of years.  Ever since he was drafted and started his career back in 2006, the operative word for him has been "toolsy".  Jones didn't play a lot of baseball in high school, but the Cardinals drafted him anyway, seeing the raw materials for a good player and figuring they could mold him into something.

It took a while for that molding to catch hold.  In 2006 and 2007 he stayed at A ball and hit .235 the first year and .217 the next.  2008 really was a make-or-break year for him, because another year like that and he likely would have been released.

Patience pays off sometimes, though, and in 2008 he started to hit.  He was challenged by being moved up to Palm Beach from Quad Cities to start the year and he hit .326 with 7 HR there.  He was then promoted to Springfield and continued his offensive growth with a .290/.409/.500 line there.  He also possesses some speed, though most of the minor league stat pages don't list stolen bases.  I was able to see him swipe one in the Springfield/Arkansas game mentioned above, though he had a rough night at the plate otherwise.

It really appears that Jones is growing into his talent and learning how to apply it.  He still needs to prove that he can hit at the AA level for an extended time (he only had 154 plate appearances this year at that level) but if he continues on these path, he could be in the mix for the St. Louis outfield in 2010.  With him and Rasmus both out there, the Cardinals could get quality production for almost minimum cost.

7) Bryan Anderson

For the last couple of years, Anderson has been listed right under Rasmus as one of the Cardinals top prospects.  Position scarcity helps that out, as he was a solid hitting catcher in a world of Paul Bakos.  However, at least to me, he took a bit of a step back this year.

He started out in Springfield and continued his typically fine hitting there, hitting .388 with 2 HR in less than 100 AB before getting the callup.  AAA, however, was a bit harder nut for him to crack.  He kept a decent average (.284), but only was able to muscle two balls out of the yard in a league not necessarily known to be a pitcher's haven.

Anderson still is very valuable, of course.  Even .280-hitting catchers don't grow on trees, of course.  And he's never really hit a lot of home runs, with 6 being his career high. To regain his previous status as a top prospect, though, he'll probably have to get that average back in the .300+ range.  That does seem possible, since his BABIP in Memphis was the lowest of his career.  That should correct itself and Anderson will be back on his way up the charts.


2 Comments | Leave a comment

i was searching for cardinals blogs this morning and ran across a bunch of you ucb folks

very cool concept, and glad to find your individual blogs as well

hoping for a better year in 2009

Great job! Sorry I didn't get involved in this one but I'll be sure to post links.

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