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Monday, March 3, 2008

Top Ten NL Central Prospects STL Cardinals

Here are the Cardinals' top ten

1. Colby Rasmus - OF - DOB: 08/11/86 - ETA: July 2008
.275/.381/.551, 29 HR, 72 RBI, 108/70 K/BB, 18 SB in 472 AB (AA Springfield)

Rasmus seemed destined to return to the FSL after hitting .254/.351/.404 in 193 at-bats following a midseason promotion to Palm Beach in 2006, but the Cardinals aggressively pushed him up to Double-A and he responded even better than they could have hoped. His 29-homer campaign would have made him a circuit MVP a lot of years, but he ended up losing out to Chase Headley. The 28th overall pick in the outfield-rich 2005 draft, Rasmus has 30-homer ability and impressive on-base skills. He's already answered questions about his ability to stay in center field for the long-term, and the Cardinals traded Jim Edmonds to San Diego to clear the spot for him. That doesn't necessarily mean he'll win the job this spring, but the opportunity appears to be there if he turns in a Hunter Pence-type performance. If the chance comes this year, Rasmus will probably struggle against left-handers and find that some of his balls that traveled out of Texas League parks turn into warning track flyouts in the majors. He's a future All-Star, most likely, but he's probably a year away from being a real asset.

2. Jaime Garcia - LHP - DOB: 07/08/86 - ETA: June 2008
5-9, 3.75 ERA, 93 H, 97/45 K/BB in 103 1/3 IP (AA Springfield)

The Cardinals' returns the same top two this year, but while Rasmus' stock increased dramatically last year, Garcia's suffered after he went down with an elbow injury in late July. The strained ligament didn't require surgery, but it still could be a concern going forward. Before getting hurt, Garcia didn't show his usual command. He walked 45 in 103 1/3 IP in the Texas League after issuing a total of 34 free passes in 155 innings the year before. He also gave up 14 homers, 10 more than in 2006. Garcia did continue to get plenty of grounders with his sinker and curveball, though his sinker wasn't as consistently in the low-90s as the year before. Ideally, that will change after an extended winter's rest. Garcia looks like a fine middle-of-the-rotation starter when he's on, and he'll be a candidate to help the Cardinals as a reliever this year.

3. Chris Perez - RHP - DOB: 07/01/85 - ETA: July 2008
2-0, 27 Sv, 2.43 ERA, 17 H, 62/28 K/BB in 40 2/3 IP (AA Springfield)
0-1, 8 Sv, 4.50 ERA, 6 H, 15/13 K/BB in 14 IP (AAA Memphis)

No one in the high minors was tougher to hit than Perez last year. The 2006 supplemental first-rounder limited batters to a .130 average in 54 2/3 innings, recording more than three times as many strikeouts as hits allowed. Too bad he also allowed almost twice as many walks as hits allowed. Perez has a lethal 92-95 mph fastball-slider combination. He can also mix in a curveball that would qualify as a No. 2 pitch for a lot of relievers. What he can't do is hit the catcher's mitt with regularity. He's filthy enough that he'll be a successful major leaguer even while walking a batter every other inning, but he still has a ways to go before he'll be even that reliable. The command issues may prevent him from landing a closer's role during his first few years in the league, though he should get there eventually.

4. Bryan Anderson - C - DOB: 12/16/86 - ETA: 2010
.298/.350/.388, 6 HR, 53 RBI, 77/32 K/BB, 0 SB in 389 AB (AA Springfield)

Despite being even younger than Rasmus, Anderson got to skip high-A entirely after hitting .302/.377/.417 for low-A Quad Cities in 2006. He started off well in Double-A, but he slumped over the final two months, going homerless in both July and August. Anderson's bat remains quite promising. He's sure to add power with his left-handed swing, and he doesn't strikeout all that often even though he's typically been among the youngest players at his levels. Defense is an issue, and while he figures to be an above average hitter for a catcher, he'd be a long shot to make it as a first baseman. Either way, it's probably not going to happen for him in St. Louis, where Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols are set to be fixtures for a long time. He'll become trade bait at some point.

5. Adam Ottavino - RHP - DOB: 11/22/85 - ETA: Sept. 2008
12-8, 3.08 ERA, 130 H, 128/63 K/BB in 143 1/3 IP (A Palm Beach)

The Cardinals continue to get more from drafting at the bottom of the first round than the Pirates do from the top. The 6-foot-5 Ottavino was the 30th overall selection in the 2006 draft out of Northeastern. His low-90s sinking fastball and plus slider made him one of the FSL's best pitchers in his first full pro season. His walk rate was rather high, but a full third of his 63 walks came when he was fatiguing in August. Despite that, he had an ERA of 3.60 or better in every month of the minor league season. Ottavino needs to polish up his change, but he's a No. 3 starter in the making.

6. Brian Barton - OF - DOB: 04/25/82 - ETA: Now
.314/.416/.440, 9 HR, 59 RBI, 99/41 K/BB, 20 SB in 389 AB (AA Akron)
.264/.333/.333, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 18/7 K/BB, 1 SB in 87 AB (AAA Buffalo)

The most notable player available in the Rule 5 draft, Barton lasted until the 10th pick, suggesting that the Indians weren't the only ones that considered him a question mark following knee surgery. Barton went undrafted out of the University of Miami, but he established himself as one of Cleveland's top prospects while hitting .323/.412/.511 between high-A Kinston and Double-A Akron in 2006. The knee troubles definitely took a toll on his performance last year, but he finished with a .402 OBP anyway. Barton is a fine defensive outfielder with above average speed. He doesn't have more than modest power potential, but that'll be worth overlooking if he gets on base in the majors like he did in the minors. If it comes down to him versus Juan Gonzalez, the Cardinals should carry the 25-year-old as a fourth outfielder this year. He might prove to be a fair regular in 2009, though the better bet is that he spends most of his career as a quality reserve.

7. Clayton Mortensen - RHP - DOB: 04/10/.85 - ETA: 2010
1-1, 1.77 ERA, 13 H, 23/11 K/BB in 20 1/3 IP (SS-A Batavia)
0-2, 3.12 ERA, 44 H, 45/8 K/BB in 40 1/3 IP (A- Quad Cities)

Mortensen was the 36th overall selection in the 2007 draft out of Gonzaga. He seemed like a raw product when selected, but he showed better-than-expected command while compiling a 2.67 RA in the low minors. Mortensen gets a ton of grounders with his low-90s sinker, and his slider is a quality No. 2 pitch versus right-handers. He also showed pretty good feel for his low-80s change. If the Cardinals wanted to try him as a reliever, he'd be capable of moving quickly and maybe contributing this year. However, leaving him in the rotation is the right move for the long-term. He may have more upside than Garcia.

8. Pete Kozma - SS - DOB: 04/11/88 - ETA: 2011
.154/.267/.154, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2/2 K/BB, 0 SB in 13 AB (R GCL Cardinals)
.264/.350/.396, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 21/12 K/BB, 3 SB in 106 AB (R Johnson City)
.148/.179/.222, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 7/1 K/BB, 1 SB in 27 AB (SS-A Batavia)

Knowing they were going to need replacements for David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy down the line, the Cardinals made Kozma the 18th overall pick in last year's draft. A pure shortstop, Kozma has above average range and sure hands. His arm is a little lacking, so he probably won't be a Gold Glover unless the Cards get lucky with a shortstop at some point and can afford to move him to second base. On offense, Kozma projects as a steady hitter for average with a solid walk rate. Power won't be much of a part of his game, but he could be good enough to bat at the top of the order, rather than at the bottom. He's capable of moving quickly for a high school player, though that'd still mean he'd need three full seasons in the minors before debuting in 2011.

9. Tyler Herron - RHP - DOB: 08/05/86 - ETA: 2010
10-7, 3.74 ERA, 123 H, 130/6 K/BB in 137 1/3 IP (A- Quad Cities)

The Cardinals have pushed a lot of their prospects, but they've taken things awfully slowly with Herron since making him a 2005 supplemental first-round pick. He spent a second year in Rookie ball in 2006, and he was used quite carefully last year in the Midwest League, especially early on. Herron did get more innings as the season went on, and it helped that he was very efficient in recording outs. Herron spots his 89-91 mph fastball well, and both his curveball and changeup should turn out to be solid major league pitches. There's probably not enough movement on his heater to make him more than a future fourth starter, but he's ready to be pushed if the Cardinals want to get more aggressive with him this year.

10. Mark Hamilton - 1B - DOB: 07/29/84 - ETA: June 2009
.290/.348/.520, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 48/20 K/BB, 1 SB in 221 AB (A+ Palm Beach)
.250/.318/.383, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 54/24 K/BB, 2 SB in 248 AB (AA Springfield)
.171/.370/.220, 0 HR, 4 RBI. 9/13 K/BB, 0 SB in 41 AB (AFL Mesa)

While several position players perceived as lesser prospects enjoyed breakthrough years for the Cardinals in 2007, Hamilton never really put it together, though he did finish with 19 homers and 90 RBI. Hamilton was a surprise second-round pick in 2006, considering that the Cardinals had Pujols ahead of him at his only position. His outstanding power potential intrigued St. Louis, and he has responded with 30 homers and 38 doubles in 717 at-bats as a pro. Unfortunately, he still doesn't offer much on defense and his on-base ability is a bigger question mark now. He's more than another John-Ford Griffin, but he'll have to step it up this year if he's going to fulfill his potential as an AL designated hitter.

Next five: RHP Mitchell Boggs, RHP Jesse Todd, OF Jonathan Jay, OF Joe Mather, 3B David Freese

This is easily the deepest farm system the Cards have had in the time I've been doing this. All of the five players mentioned above would have cracked the team's top 10 in most years. … Boggs could be of use in middle relief this year and a fifth starter down the line. … Todd had a 69/14 K/BB in 58 1/3 IP after being taken out of Arkansas in the second round last year. … Jay, who ranked fifth a year ago, took a major step back last year after skipping high-A initially. He'll be handled more carefully this season and still could make it as a fourth outfielder. … Mather is 25, but he bashed 31 homers last year and might be a useful part-timer by the end of 2008. … Freese was the return from San Diego in the Jim Edmonds trade. He hit .302/.400/.489 at high-A Lake Elsinore last season.

2007 top 15: Colby Rasmus, Jaime Garcia, Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jonathan Jay, Blake Hawksworth, Mark McCormick, Bryan Anderson, Tyler Greene, Mark Hamilton, Chris Lambert, Mitchell Boggs, Josh Kinney, Matthew Scherer, Nick Webber

2006 top 15: Anthony Reyes, Colby Rasmus, Chris Lambert, Tyler Greene, Adam Wainwright, Nick Webber, Mark McCormick, Cody Haerther, Blake Hawksworth, Nick Stavinoha, Stuart Pomeranz, Tyler Johnson, Jose Martinez, Mark Worrell, Carmen Cali

2005 top 10: Anthony Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Blake Hawksworth, Brad Thompson, Stuart Pomeranz, Chris Lambert, Cory Haerther, Reid Gorecki, Carmen Cali, Brendan Yarbrough

2004 top 10: Adam Wainwright, Blake Hawksworth, Chris Narveson, Jimmy Journell, Yadier Molina, Rhett Parrott, Tyler Johnson, Daric Barton, John Gall, Stuart Pomeranz

2003 top 10: Jimmy Journell, Dan Haren, Justin Pope, Chris Narveson, Blake Williams, Tyler Johnson, Rhett Parrott, Shaun Boyd, Blake Hawksworth, Mike McCoy

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