While the Cardinals' minor-league officials stress that the purpose of the affiliates is to prepare prospects for the majors, not to win in the minors, their preference is to mix a little bit of both to develop more than players.
They want to groom contenders.
The Cardinals' U.S.-based affiliates finished with a combined winning record, put four affiliates in the postseason and for the third consecutive year the organization won at least one championship. Oscar Taveras has been the nexus. The young outfielder and the Cardinals' top hitting prospect helped Springfield (Mo.) to the Texas League title, his third championship in three years at three levels.
"His production had a lot do with his team's success, but it's also been helpful for him to continuously play in an environment where there are expectations to play as a teammate," Cardinals farm director John Vuch wrote in an email. "That way he learns what is going to be expected of him when he ultimately reaches the big leagues."
Here is a snapshot of the top affiliates and their 2012 seasons:
Class AAA Memphis, 57-87 • Third, Pacific Coast League American Northern division.
A trying season for the Redbirds included one of the youngest rosters in the PCL and the midseason need to outfit the club with seasoned free agents. Lessons learned for 2013.
Standout: Matt Adams, 1B. His season ended with elbow surgery, but his 18 homers in 67 games led the team and he hit .329 with a .624 slugging percentage and 50 RBIs.
Breakout: Joe Kelly, RHP. In 12 starts for Memphis, Kelly sizzled with a 2.86 ERA and hinted at the reliable rookie starter he became for the Cardinals midway through the season.
Class AA Springfield, 77-61 • Won Texas League championship.
A halting start gave way to a historic finish as Mike Shildt's club set a franchise record with 77 wins and blitzed through the Texas League postseason for the championship.
Standout: Oscar Taveras, OF. One of the best hitting prospects in the game, Taveras won the Texas League batting title (.321) and led the organization in slugging (.572). His 23 homers and 94 RBIs won the league Player of the Year award.
Breakout: Seth Maness, RHP. A savvy starter who walked only nine batters in 123 2/3 innings for Springfield, Maness was 11-3 with a 3.27 ERA to edge closer to Keith Butler's 25 saves for this nod.
High Class A Palm Beach, 64-72 • Third, Florida State League South.
A streaky team took comfort in two intriguing starters: Ryan Sherriff (10-3, 3.25), an unplanned addition to the roster, and lefty Kevin Siegrist (6-0, 2.28), a prospect if he can stay healthy.
Standout: Mike O'Neill, OF. O'Neill was the engine behind the Palm Beach Cards' offense, winning the FSL batting title (.342) and drawing 70 walks to strengthen his .442 on-base percentage.
Breakout: Starlin Rodriguez, INF. The switch-hitter who is versatile and improving in the field hit .300 with 25 doubles for Palm Beach, continuing a steady ascent through the system.
Low Class A Quad Cities, 68-71 • Fourth, Midwest League Western division.
In what turned out to be a surprise swan song for the Cardinals' affiliation, the River Bandits led the league in runs and home runs t and were eliminated in the final week of play.
Standout: Anthony Garcia, OF. Few Cardinals' minor-leaguers did more to elevate their status within the organization than Garcia, an 18th-round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2009. He hit 19 homers and 34 doubles to go with his .280 average, .525 slugging and 74 RBIs.
Breakout: Colin Walsh, 2B/DH. The switch-hitting Walsh is headed to the Arizona Fall League to get more tutelage at second base, where his bat would be a boost. He hit .314 with a .530 slugging percentage and 16 homers.
Short-season Class A Batavia, 44-32 • 2nd, New York-Penn League’s Pinckney division
A 17-4 rush at the end of the season, propelled by a roster spotted with recent college draft picks, wasn’t enough to get the Cardinals’ short-season affiliate into the postseason.
Standout: Breyvic Valera, 2B. The switch-hitting Venezuelan is one of the Cardinals’ rising international prospects after hitting .316 with a .777 OPS. He turned 20 in August.
Breakout: Patrick Wisdom, 3B. The 52nd overall pick in this summer’s draft thundered into his first pro season with a .282 average, six homers, and 32 RBIs in 65 games.
Rookie Johnson City, 39-28 • 2nd, Appalachian League West division (lost in playoffs)
Led by rookie manager Oliver Marmol, five years removed from being drafted by the Cardinals, the two-time Appy League champs were eliminated after a late push into a playoff berth.
Standout: Zach Petrick, RHP. An undrafted free agent from Northwestern Ohio, Petrick went 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA 13 games (seven starts). He struck out 50 against nine walks in 45 2/3 innings.
Breakout: Carson Kelly, 3B. Kelly’s baseball-card stats may not have that wow factor, but consider at 18 that the second-round pick slugged nine homers and drove in 25 runs in 56 games. He’s a breakout-to-be.
Rookie GCL Cardinals, 34-24 • Won Gulf Coast League East division
A scrappy team managed by Steve Turco and mostly made up of prep draft picks and international signings, the GCL-Cards used a 10-game winning streak to reach the playoffs with the league’s second best average (.257) and on-base percentage (.337).
Standout: Luis Perez, 2B. Continuing his conversion from catcher to infielder (and even some outfield), the Dominican 21-year-old hit .309, slugged .517 in his second full year in the GCL.
Breakout: Kenny Peoples-Walls, SS. After sluggish start, the fourth-round pick and teenager hit .358 in August, popped his first two homers, and showed accelerated improvement at short.