As if the Cardinals big league success wasn’t enough in recent years, they also own one of the most impressive collections of minor league talent in baseball. Their top prospect is an elite talent that could be a superstar at the big league level. They have a plethora of young right-handed pitchers with big-time potential and there are new additions to the system that could help sustain the strength of the organization over the long haul. The Cardinals Top 15 is absolutely impressive and should be for the foreseeable future.
1. Oscar Taveras – OF (Last Year’s Rank: 3)
Taveras is a budding star. He is one of the best hitters in the minor leagues and drew immense praise from scouts for his hitting ability; invoking thoughts of batting titles and routine .300 seasons. His power is legitimate as well, with the potential to pop 25 home runs a year and possibly even a little more. Taveras can play anywhere in the outfield and could debut up the middle before sliding to a corner down the line. He has star-level potential and should hit in the middle of a championship lineup for a long time.
2. Shelby Miller – RHP (1)
Miller had some rough patches in 2012 but ultimately put everything together and forced his way to the big leagues. His fastball is an easy 70-grade pitch that can overpower hitters when he uses it appropriately. Miller also shows a strong curveball and the potential for an average change-up, giving him a broad arsenal that should allow him to handle hitters multiple times in a game. Miller maxes out as a number two starter and he can reach that ceiling with some improvement in his command and consistency.
3. Trevor Rosenthal – RHP (9)
With big-league dominance already in his back pocket, Rosenthal forced his way to this spot on the list. His fastball reached triple digits in short bursts and he can flash 96-97 mph velocity as a starter. His primary secondary pitches are a curveball and a cutter, followed by a change-up that flashes some average potential. Rosenthal’s ceiling as a starter isn’t very far behind Shelby Miller and he has the fallback option of becoming a truly dominating closer.
4. Carlos Martinez – RHP (4)
Martinez represents another arm with high-ceiling potential and exceptional velocity. He can run his fastball up to 96-97 mph routinely and has touched 99-100 in shorter stints. Scouts like both his curveball and change-up, though the change-up draws more consistent high-end praise. Scouts remain split regarding his future role with an equal number believing he ends up a number two or three starter, and still others maintaining their belief in his relief profile. Martinez should make a significant impact in the big leagues, regardless of his role, and that impact could begin to be felt in late 2013.
5. Tyrell Jenkins – RHP (2)
I might be the biggest Jenkins apologist in the prospect community. While his numbers weren’t pretty in Low-A in 2012, his stuff remained tremendous with plus projection across the board. His fastball already sits in that range and scouts believe he could develop a plus curveball and change-up as well. Jenkins is extremely raw and will move slowly but he has an amazing ceiling that could match any of those pitchers ahead of him on this list.
6. Michael Wacha – RHP (NR)
A first round pick last year, Wacha could race to the Major Leagues before the end of his first full season in 2013. He has a quality plus fastball that occasionally spikes a little higher. He generates good angle with his fastball, helping the pitch play up a bit. I like Wacha’s curveball and believe it could miss bats in the big leagues down the line. His change-up can be a plus pitch that keeps hitters off balance and should be a reliable plus offering in the big leagues. Wacha lacks the ceiling of those ahead of him in the Cardinals organization, but carries far less risk as he tries to reach his mid-rotation ceiling. Editor’s Note: I transposed Wacha’s CB and CH from my notes and have adjusted the write-up accordingly. Thank you to those that pointed out the mix up via email.
7. Patrick Wisdom – 3B (NR)
Wisdom’s power and defense stand out as really impressive tools and make him a serious big league prospect. He is a physical guy with tons of strength and while he is not quick, he moves well at third base, has good hands and shows a plus arm. His power is evident both in batting practice and in games and while he has plenty of swing and miss in his game, he can reach his power and could hit 20-25 home runs a year while hitting .250-.260. Wisdom will need to adjust to higher-caliber pitching but once he begins to settle in, he could move quickly.
8. Kolten Wong – 2B (5)
Wong is very likely to be an everyday Major League second baseman but he is unlikely to develop into a star. Wong is a quality hitter with plus potential and a good approach at the plate. He can find the gaps at times but has below-average overall power. He is a good defender that plays the position instinctually and shows a good arm. He is a baseball rat that gets the most out of his tools and should be in the big leagues late in 2013.
9. Matt Adams – 1B (6)
Adams still has a chance to hold down first base for the Cardinals but he’s going to have to hit the next time he gets a shot at the highest level. He is a solid hitter but likes to swing the bat and scouts began to view him as a classic bad-ball hitter in 2012. He can get away with that because of his bat-to-ball skills and raw power, but he doesn’t project to mash in the big leagues; instead hitting .260-.270 with 20-25 home runs.
10. Charlie Tilson – OF (12)
Tilson’s 2012 season was ravaged by injury but that shouldn’t push him off the prospect map. He is a really good athlete with fantastic instincts for the game. He plays hard and has an up-the-middle profile on defense that further enhances his prospect stock. He has hitting potential and the bat speed necessary to show at least gap power down the line. Tilson has the potential to be a very good everyday player.
11. Carson Kelly – 3B (NR)
Kelly needs considerable work and will take time along the developmental path, but he does have the potential to become a very good prospect. His defense at third base needs the most work and many pro scouts didn’t see a future for him at the hot corner. He has average hitting potential and plus raw power that could combine to make an impact at third base or he could just get by at first base.
12. Starlin Rodriguez – 2B (NR)
Rodriguez is a very good athlete that stands out on the field with a live body and plenty of tools. He is a good hitter with some scouts believing he could hit at the plus level down the line. He drives the ball to the gap and shows the potential to pop 10-12 home runs a year. He runs well and has solid instincts on the bases where he could swipe 20-25 bases at his peak. Defensively, Rodriguez is still settling in at second base and he has the athleticism to handle another position, possibly center field.
13. James Ramsey – OF (NR)
The Cardinals took some heat for popping Ramsey in the first round and while it appeared they were “going cheap” with the pick, the Cardinals truly believe in his future. Ramsey is loaded with average to solid-average tools and has a hard-nosed style of play that endears him to teammates and coaches. He is a solid hitter with average pop and average defensive potential in center field. It’s not a flashy profile, but he has a big league floor and the ceiling of a solid everyday guy.
14. Alexander Reyes – RHP (NR)
Reyes received $950,000 from the Cardinals after establishing his residency in the Dominican Republic after moving there from New Jersey. He has a prototypical pitcher’s frame with good present velocity in the low-90s and the ability to touch 94-95 mph. He shows some feel for both a curveball and change-up but they need work and repetition. Reyes is a long way from the big leagues and his ultimate ceiling is still uncertain, but his raw ingredients are extremely intriguing and worthy of notice.
15. Stephen Piscotty – 3B (NR)
Piscotty was a fringy first round pick that the Cardinals pulled the trigger on in the supplemental round. He is a solid hitter with good doubles power and the potential for 10-15 home runs once he settles into the pro game. He doesn’t profile well at third base and will have to maximize all of his offensive gifts to hang on an outfield corner. Piscotty could reach the upper levels of the system quickly and has the work ethic to transform himself into a big league player.