Gordon: Experts see bright Cardinals future

2014-01-31T10:30:00Z 2014-02-05T07:45:05Z Gordon: Experts see bright Cardinals futureBy Jeff Gordon jgordon@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

The Cardinals no longer have the top-ranked farm system in baseball.

In fact the organization isn’t even close to No. 1 anymore, due to all of its recent graduations.

But independent evaluators still see bright times ahead for the franchise. This winter, ESPN expert Keith Law ranked the farm system 12th, behind the Astros, Twins, Pirates, Cubs, Red Sox, Mets, Royals, Rockies, Padre, Orioles and Dodgers. He wrote:

The Cardinals have produced so much homegrown talent over the past five years that it's hard to believe they're still above the median, but with potential superstar Oscar Taveras on top, a half-dozen more prospects who project as regulars or better, and lots of pitching and bench depth, they're poised to keep stocking the major league team for several more years. One system weakness, though, as you might have heard: shortstop.

Sports on Earth columnist Johnathan Bernhardt put the Cardinals in his “runners-up” group, behind the top group of the Red Sox, Astros and Cubs. He wrote:

Graduating RHP Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Shelby Miller last year along with 2B Kolten Wong and OF Oscar Taveras this spring almost entirely empties out the upper level of this farm, but there's enough interesting going on at the lower levels that the Cardinals system won't be barren for long.

The top end of the farm system is still very, very good. Here is a snapshot:

  • MLBPipeline.com ranked Taveras No. 3, Wong No. 58 and Stephen Piscotty No. 98 in its Top 100.
  • Law ranked Taveras No. 5, Piscotty No. 57 and Wong 91.
  • Baseball Prospectus ranked Taveras No. 3, Wong 44 and Piscotty No. 66.
  • Scout.com ranked Taveras No. 2, Piscotty No. 60 and pitcher Rob Kaminsky at No. 99. (Scout.com excluded Wong from its list, projecting him as an Opening Day starter for the Cardinals.)

Taveras is the big prize. He would have made his major league debut last season but for a serious ankle injury. He eventually required surgery and lengthy rehabilitation.

Here is what folks are writing about him:

Keith Law, ESPN.com: “It was a lost year for Taveras, who spent most of 2013 hobbling around in a boot to protect an injured ankle that refused to heal. He remains the Cardinals' best prospect and is probably ready to take over in right field for the departed Carlos Beltran, but losing out on several hundred Triple-A at-bats won't help his development as a hitter or as a professional ballplayer. Taveras has tremendous leverage at the plate, with a high-effort swing that he's only slightly toned down since he first emerged as a top prospect in low Class A. He's a great bad-ball hitter with power to all fields, rarely striking out, but rarely walking, either. He's a lot like a left-handed Vladimir Guerrero at the plate, with a better glove in right but less arm (there are sniper rifles less powerful than Vlad's arm). Besides health, Taveras has been knocked for appearing to play with less than full effort at times, although much of that in 2013 may have been a function of trying to play when he could barely walk. I still think he peaks as a .300 hitter with 30-homer power, but the lack of Triple-A time may slow him down in the near term.”

Jim Callis, MLBPipeline.com: “There's a reason Taveras keeps getting linked to Albert Pujols, even if he does hit left-handed. Taveras' Minor League resume includes a .320/.377/.518 stat line, one Double-A Texas League MVP Award, two batting titles and three league championships. No prospect barrels balls or makes hard contact as consistently as Taveras, who projects to hit .300 or better with 25-homer power in his prime as a Major Leaguer.”

Wong reached the big leagues and flashed some promise in limited duty. Although he failed to hit consistently in a part-time role, the Cardinals expect him to play a lot of second base this season.

Here is what folks are writing about him:

Law: “Wong has one above-average tool: his ability to hit. He combines that with very good instincts, so, despite his lack of any plus tools, the Cardinals are comfortable penciling him in as their everyday second baseman for 2014. He has a short swing with above-average bat speed, letting the ball travel well and going for contact rather than power. His walk rates in pro ball haven't been great, but he doesn't strike out much and, in general, has been successful at putting the ball in play rather than just working the count for walks. His defense is average at second base; his arm is just a tick below average and his footwork is OK, but the Cardinals have done a great job at developing defenders and have improved Wong's reads and lateral range to the point at which he's more than fringy at the position. He's pretty much an average runner but massively improved his baserunning acumen last season. I see an average regular here -- maybe a tick above -- with a little bit of upside if he develops a better on-base ability after some time in the majors.”

Jason Cole and Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus: “While Wong’s overall power is a tick below average, he isn’t a punch-and-judy hitter; he has some sock for a little guy. The Hawaiian doesn’t often expand the zone––he’ll take a walk––but is an aggressive hitter who isn’t afraid to attack pitches within the zone early in the count. He’ll use all fields, showing some gap-to-gap pop all over with some pull-side home run power. At full maturity, Wong could becoming a .280-plus hitter with some doubles, some triples, low double-digit home runs, 15-25 steals, and a good glove. That’s a fine all-around player.”

MLBPipeline.com: “Touted as an advanced hitter coming out of Hawaii in 2011, Wong has not disappointed. He made his Major League debut in 2013 - even making the World Series roster - and the Cardinals are prepared to soon make him their everyday second baseman. He has solid tools across the board and earns praise for his baseball acumen. Wong has a compact, balanced swing that allows him to make consistent, hard contact to all fields. While he has more power than his small frame would suggest, he is more of a gap hitter. He isn't a speedster, but he has worked hard to improve his baserunning and is a threat to steal. Wong has made strides defensively as a professional and he is a capable defender whose sum is greater than its parts. He is just about ready to join the Cardinals large collection of homegrown players.”

Piscotty was one of the team’s breakthrough prospects last season, making it as far as Springfield last season before impressing in the Arizona Fall League. He draws some Allen Craig comparisons as a line drive hitting coming from the college ranks, but his power potential remains untapped.

Here is what folks are writing about Piscotty:

Law: “Piscotty was the Cardinals' supplemental first-round pick in 2012, their third overall selection after Michael Wacha and James Ramsey, an upside play on a player with ability who came from a program at Stanford that didn't make full use of his skills.Freed from those constraints, Piscotty finished his first full year in pro ball in Double-A, striking out in less than 10 percent of his plate appearances on the year, then tearing up the Arizona Fall League in a hint of more production to come. Piscotty has a line-drive approach right now with hard contact to all fields, but he'll show plus pull power in batting practice, and you could see him becoming more comfortable dropping the bat head to drive the ball out to left as the season went on. He's adequate in the outfield, better with reads and routes than with quickness or raw range, with a strong arm to stay in right. He's not a great athlete and is a below-average runner, but there's All-Star upside in the bat, a future No. 2 hitter profile who hits for average and power.”

MLBPipeline: “Piscotty was billed as an advanced college bat coming out of Stanford, and he looked the part in his first full professional season. He advanced to Double-A Springfield and ended the year with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Piscotty has a mature approach at the plate and has the chance to be a .300 hitter in the Major Leagues. His swing is more geared toward hitting line drives than home runs, but he should be able to supply average power along with his high average. After playing primarily third base at Stanford, he was moved by the Cardinals to right field in 2013. He handled the transition well, improving as the season went on. He has a strong arm and covers ground capably. Piscotty has hit everywhere he's gone, and his polish could have him in the Major Leagues soon.”

There are lots of other players coming, too, as Derrick Goold chronicled earlier on STLToday.com. But these are the next three to make a big impact in St. Louis.

Ramsey, a well-rounded outfielder, is another near-term prospect. So is pitcher Marco Gonzales, a polished collegiate hurler in the '13 draft class. So is outfielder Randal Grichuk, who came from the Angels in the David Freese deal.

The Cardinals could contend for a long, long time.

Follow Jeff Gordon on Twitter @gordoszone and on Facebook at Gordo'Zone.

Copyright 2015 stltoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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