Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rookies Could Be Valuable for the Cardinals this Year

Going into the 2013 season, the Cardinals had the #1 ranked farm system. Back in the middle of last decade, that was unimaginable, considering that the Cardinals had one of the worst farm systems during the Pujols/Edmonds/Rolen era. John Mozeliak made it a priority to upgrade the farm system when he took over as GM in late 2007. It paid off by 2011, when Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, Lance Lynn, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, and Jaime Garcia helped contribute to their championship in a wild run down the stretch. One of Mozeliak's first trades was trading an aging Jim Edmonds for little known third base prospect David Freese, a St. Louis native who was in Single A at the time.

Already in this young season, the Cardinals have felt the impact of Matt Adams and Shelby Miller. Pete Kozma has took over at shortstop due to Rafael Furcal's season ending injury. Kozma hit well down the stretch last season, but made some key errors in the NLCS. This is Kozma's best chance to be a big league starter this year, and the Cardinals will give him a chance to do so. However, if it doesn't work out, the Cardinals have the depth to make a deal. Trevor Rosenthal looked dominant in the playoffs last year after being called up late in the season. He's still showed that form at times early on, but he has had some rough games so far. Still, Rosenthal brings a 100 mph fastball, and is viewed as a future closer.

Adams' spot on the team wasn't guaranteed this spring, but he hit his way on. Adams has been tearing it up so far this year. He already has 3 home runs and 8 RBI's, despite only having 21 at bats. Adams is hitting a ridiculous .524 right now and slugging 1.048. He is making it hard for Mike Matheny to keep him out of the lineup. Adams has made 5 starts at first base, and appeared as a pinch hitter twice. One of those pinch hitting appearances, he hit a home run against Cincinnati on April 9th. Unfortunately, Adams can only play first base. Still, Allen Craig can play in the outfield to give Matt Holliday or Carlos Beltran a day off. Beltran will need to be rested more than last season. He is now 36 years old and wore down as the season went on.

When the Cardinals play American League teams, they could use Adams as a DH. He is also a valuable bat off the bench. I see him getting a couple starts a week at first from here on out. If Craig, Holliday, or Beltran get hurt, the Cardinals won't lose much with Adams. Like with Craig and Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals will find a spot to play a guy if he can hit. Carpenter was the best bench player on the Cardinals last year in his rookie campaign. He also can play first base, but is not likely to see much time there this year. So far, Carpenter has been playing second and third base. Jose Oquendo helped him out in his transition to second, and should have an easier adjustment than Skip Schumaker did, since Carpenter is a natural infielder. Descalso was the primary second baseman last year and is better defensively. Still, Carpenter's defense has been solid so far and he is a superior hitter.

The most valuable rookie on this team is Shelby Miller. He won the fifth starter competition this spring over Joe Kelly and Rosenthal. I predicted that Miller would win the Rookie of the Year this season. Some people say that he is already the second best starter after Adam Wainwright. He has been impressive in three starts this year. So far, he's pitched 18.1 innings, struck out 18 batters, is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. He has averaged over 6 innings a start, and was particularly dominating against the Brewers last weekend. Miller also shut down the Reds in the season finale last season.

The Cardinals also have plenty of players in Triple A and Double A that could reach the big leagues this season. Prized prospect Oscar Taveras figures to be Carlos Beltran's successor in right field next year. Taveras will likely stay in the minors until September, unless a couple of  major injuries happen. Second base prospect Kolten Wong is off to a hot start in Memphis, batting .345 in 13 games. Wong has pretty good speed and some power. If Kozma flops, the Cardinals have Ryan Jackson and Greg Garcia as fallback options. Garcia might of passed Jackson on the Cardinals shorstop depth chart. In Double A, the Cardinals have another second base prospect in Starlin Rodriguez.

On the pitching side, Michael Wacha, Seth Manness, lefty John Gast, and even #33 ranked prospect Carlos Martinez are options if a starter goes down. Martinez finally had his visa issues cleared up after it cost him spring training. Martinez will start the season in Double A, but I think he will reach Triple A by the All Star break. Yadier Molina said that Wacha was already ready for the big leagues this spring. He could be the first guy called up if a starter goes down. There is also a possibility that Joe Kelly could be an option as well. Eduardo Sanchez has started off well in Triple A, after injuries and wildness have hampered him in recent seasons. Sanchez was impressive for the big club in 2011 before injuries shut him down. He could be an option for the bullpen again this year if it continues to struggle.

It's a good problem to have, but the Cardinals are going to have trouble finding room for some players on offense. Next year(or sooner), Taveras and Wong will be ready for the big leagues. Taveras can also play center field, but will most likely be the Cardinals right fielder next year. He could have an impact of a Bryce Harper or Mike Trout when he comes up. If Carpenter has a good year at second, what do the Cardinals do with Wong next year? The Cardinals have options for first base(Craig, Adams), second base(Carpenter, Descalso, Wong), third base(Carpenter, Freese), center field(Jay, Taveras), and right field(Taveras, Craig). On the pitching side, it will be interesting to see what they do with Wacha, Martinez, Gast, etc. Next year, the will likely have an opening with someone taking Jake Westbrook's spot. That still leaves only one spot for many capable arms. The Cardinals have some of the best depth in baseball, and look to be a serious contender for years to come.

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