Spring Training is the perfect time to see a majority of an organization’s top prospects on display. Talented players get to show whether they have progressed or regressed during the offseason. Prospect talk becomes a hot topic around this time of the year with players from low levels given the potential chance to go up against Major League veterans.
Baseball America released its Top 100 prospect list last week, and this week MLB is releasing each organization’s Top 20 list through the MLB Pipeline. The list for the Cardinals was revealed on Tuesday and we offer more information below on those that we project to spend some part of the season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 20 Sam Freeman: The southpaw has contributed in the St. Louis bullpen the past two seasons with a combined 4.21 ERA in 37 games. Delivering from the left side the past two seasons with the Cardinals, Freeman actually saw better success when dealing with right-handers, holding them to a .179 clip.
The former 32nd round draft pick has some room for improvement to become a sharp middle reliever. Two encouraging signs from Freeman is that his strikeout-to-walk ratio has increased and WHIP has decreased during his rise to higher levels of play.
No. 19 Mike O’Neill: Playing the outfield in every single game during his professional career, O’Neill has never had more strikeouts than walks at any level during his four year career. With a career .435 on-base percentage, he is a player that relies on speed and plate discipline to reach base. O’Neill has never hit more than five home runs in a season, but has yet to commit more than four errors also. The former USC Trojan hits for average and hustles in the field, but it may be tough for him to become a regular at the Major League level.
No. 18 Lee Stoppelman: The fourth left-handed pitcher on the list, Stoppelman is coming off a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 innings. Not known for blowing the competition away with velocity, he relies on pitch movement and location to keep hitters off balance. A season after holding hitters to a .150 average in 37 games at Double-A Springfield, Stoppelman will more than likely spend his first full season with Triple-A Memphis.
No. 17 Zach Petrick: Even through his college days, Petrick has been known for striking out hitters in excess. Named the 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the Cardinals’ organization, he posted a 1.99 ERA and 122 strikeouts through three different levels. The right-hander relies on location and using a three-pitch mix to keep hitters guessing. Still young, Petrick is entering only his third professional season and was one of eight pitchers that received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year. His future seems bright with a likely landing spot at Triple-A Memphis.
No. 13 Jordan Swagerty: Unfortunately for Swagerty, the injury bug has plagued him much of the past two seasons. A victim of Tommy John surgery that made him miss the 2012 season and a majority of the 2013 season, the right-hander started as a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year, but was sent to minor league camp after experiencing inflammation in his elbow. Nonetheless, he notches the list because of plus stuff that includes a strong fastball with a solid curveball. He had an impressive run in 2011, spanning three levels of play and possessing a 1.83 ERA. With two plus pitches and past experience, Swagerty has the potential to turn heads if he can stay healthy.
No. 12 Randal Grichuk: Acquired from the Angels with Peter Boujos in the trade that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to Los Angeles, Grichuk may be best known for being picked one spot ahead of superstar outfielder Mike Trout. The 22-year old has put up sturdy power numbers the past two seasons that include 114 extra-base hits, 40 of those home runs. He may be better known for a good glove though after earning the 2013 Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award at right field. He committed two errors while throwing out 11 runners, five of those as part of double plays. If Grichuk can find plate discipline and hit for a higher average, he will have the tools needed to make an impact at the Major League level.
No. 11 Charlie Tilson: Known best for his speed, Tilson has the makeup of a quick outfielder that covers lots of ground and hustles around the base pads. The defense is there and as he progresses through higher levels of play, his offense hopes to remain strong as well.
No. 10 Tim Cooney: Selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, Cooney progressed to Double-A in only his second professional season in 2013. The lefty recorded 148 strikeouts last season, most of any St. Louis minor leaguer. His ability to strike batters out stem from his sinking changeup and strong location skills. He uses his fastball wisely, getting ahead of hitters through the ability to spot the pitch on both sides of the plate. Cooney received a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training this year and has already received buzz about the terrific job he has done. He will get the chance to prove his stuff at Triple-A this year, and could be a key starter from the left side for St. Louis down the road.
No. 7 James Ramsey: Playing at Florida State University, Ramsey hit above .360 in both his junior and senior seasons. He has struggled to repeat that success at the professional level though, posting a .253 mark through his first two seasons. While his average dipped in 2013, his power numbers surged, as he recorded 16 home runs and a total of 36 extra-base hits. One thing some overlook is Ramsey’s speed that allows him good range in the outfield and the ability to leg out infield hits.
No. 5 Marco Gonzalez: The second left-hander in the top 5, Gonzalez is known for coupling his quality control with steady off-speed pitches. While he continues to pitch, look for a good strikeout-to-walk ratio as he consistently pounds the zone. With velocity that will not blow any hitters away, Gonzalez never relies too much on one side of the plate and works in his secondary pitches smoothly. The former Gonzaga Bulldog is expected to make a rapid expansion through the minor leagues, with a chance of seeing action at Triple-A.
No. 3 Stephen Piscotty: The organization is high, and should be, on Piscotty after an excellent 2013 season that was followed up by a first-class showing in the Arizona Fall League. The now-outfielder began his career as a third baseman, but with past experience as a pitcher, the arm strength is not a problem. Even with the ability to get around on inside pitches, Piscotty is more of a line drive hitter that can crack a home run from time to time. The former Stanford Cardinal will look for another strong showing coming off an impressive year.
No. 2 Kolten Wong: At 5’9”, Wong has proved to be a perfect fit at second base. Combining quick bat speed, good baseball instincts and a swift agility running the bases and tracking balls down, the former University of Hawaii Warrior has the tools to be an everyday starter on the right side of the infield. Already acquiring big league experience in his third season during 2013 puts Wong a step ahead in trying to secure a job with St. Louis for the 2014 season. He has proven his ability at the minor league level and now things need to translate offensively with the big league club for Wong’s hope of earning a job in St. Louis.
No. 1 Oscar Taveras: Simply put, Taveras is the next superstar to come through the St. Louis organization. With a smooth swing, good speed, strong arm and a lot of potential, the outfielder should see time with the big league club at sometime this year.
For a complete list of the prospects, take a look here.
This time of year always provides several signs that baseball is around the corner. The weather begins to warm up, players report to Spring Training and the countdown to opening day at AutoZone Park dwindles down to a reasonable number. In addition to that, Baseball America releases its top 100 prospects list with the season just weeks away. That list was revealed last night on MLB Network with four names from the St. Louis Cardinals organization on it. While Kolten Wong and Carlos Martinez are expected to make the big league club out of Spring Training, Memphis has a good chance of hosting Stephen Piscotty and Oscar Taveras for at least part of the season. Here is a more in-depth look at the four talents.
Oscar Taveras: Taveras earned the #3 ranking from Baseball America, the highest of any Cardinals’ prospect this year. The outfielder has been on the radar of the organization after his stellar 2010 season, leading the Rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals to an Appalachian League Championship behind his .322 average. Since then, the 21-year old has hit above .300 in every season and slowly began to hone his power numbers, including a .572 slugging percentage and 23 home runs in 2011 with Double-A Springfield. St. Louis’ top prospect was expected to see action in the big leagues in 2013 before going down with an ankle injury that cut his season short after 46 games in Triple-A. Taveras saw most of his playing time in center field with the Redbirds, although he is projected as more of a corner outfielder once he reaches the major league level. Early reports from Spring Training are positive towards the way Taveras feels on his ankle, as the young player eyes his debut in the majors during the 2014 season.
Carlos Martinez: Martinez earned the #31 spot on the top 100 list. The hard-throwing right-hander has been a top three prospect in the St. Louis organization since 2010 and named to Baseball America’s top 100 list since 2011. The Dominican Republic-native was rated as having the “Best Curveball” in the St. Louis organization by Baseball America the past two seasons as well. Martinez has been a Cardinal since 2010, pitching through three different levels in 2013, including the major leagues. A starter his entire career in the minors, Martinez went back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis, pitching as a starter in Triple-A and reliever in the majors. He put up solid numbers in several stints with both Memphis (5-3, 2.51 ERA) and St. Louis (2-1, 5.08 ERA). The 22-year old is looking for redemption and expecting to spend his first full season in the big leagues during 2014, claiming a spot in the bullpen.
Kolten Wong: For the third time in three years, Wong’s name appeared on the coveted list, this time as the #58 prospect. The second baseman has done nothing but produce after being drafted 22nd overall in 2011 by St. Louis out of the University of Hawaii. During his three seasons at the minor league level, Wong has compiled a .301 average and recorded 50 steals. Last year at Triple-A Memphis he hit .303 with 21 doubles and 45 RBIs in 107 games and earned a late-season promotion to St. Louis on August 16. The 23-year old struggled to find a rhythm following the promotion though, going 9-for-59 (.153) with 12 strikeouts at the plate. The starting job at second base for St. Louis appears to be Wong’s to lose for the 2014 season. Many project him to man second base for many years in a Cardinals’ uniform.
Stephen Piscotty: Piscotty was probably higher on the list than most people thought he would be, taking the #70 spot. Entering his third professional season after being drafted 36th overall in 2012 by St. Louis, Piscotty has aggressively climbed the ranks with hopes of beginning the 2014 season with Triple-A. The 23-year old was converted from a third baseman to an outfielder after the 2012 season. After being ranked by Baseball America as having the “Best Outfield Arm” coming into 2013, he proceeded to make eight outfield assists and record three double plays. The crazy thing about it all is that his defense is not what he is noted for. After hitting .295 between Advanced-A and Double-A last season, Piscotty took an invitation to the Arizona Fall League and made full advantage of it. With a team-high .936 OPS, the outfielder hit .371 with 18 RBIs in 23 games. If the California-native can put together a good spring, a roster spot could be his to begin the year in Memphis.