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ST. LOUIS • For almost a decade, the fine folks at Baseball America have asked me to help compile a list of the top prospects in the Cardinals organization and rank them for the longstanding magazine and its annual Prospect Handbook.

For the first time, there was some debate this year about who was No. 1.

As much production as the Cardinals have received from their farm system – during Jeff Luhnow’s tenure leading the draft no franchise graduated more picks to the majors; consecutive first-round picks under Dan Kantrovitz made their debuts within 13 months of the draft – they have had very little change to the tippy top of the prospect rankings. From 2005 to last season, four different players have held the top spot on the Top 10 rankings, and they’ve ordered themselves in a neat palindromic scale: two Reyes, three Rasmus, three Miller, two Taveras. Take a look:

2005 Anthony Reyes, rhp

2006 Anthony Reyes, rhp

2007 Colby Rasmus, of

2008 Colby Rasmus, of

2009 Colby Rasmus, of

2010 Shelby Miller, rhp

2011 Shelby Miller, rhp

2012 Shelby Miller, rhp

2013 Oscar Taveras, of

2014 Oscar Taveras, of

That trend changes this year, and will continue for a few years ahead.

The yearly process of ranking the prospects begins with reporting. That goes on all summer long as I collect notes, stats, quotes, and scouting reports on individual players – some of whom have been ranked before, some who are new to the possibility, and others who have just been drafted or signed. During the offseason I try to sort the players based on the old rankings and new information, and then I submit a suggested Top 10 to the editors at Baseball America who make the final call. There is also a Top 30 that will appear in the magazine’s Prospects Handbook, and this year longtime Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals beat writer Kary Booher contribute his insight to those rankings.

I can say there were some changes made to the top 10 that I suggested, but they are completely reasonable, and they hit at the themes that govern any prospect ranking.

What do you place a premium on …

  • Proximity to the majors?
  • Position or power?
  • Potential?

These are questions that have been brought up before in the blog, and it was one of the inspirations for the long ago Bird Land relic, the Prospect SAT. These were the questions that came into focus when deciding who should be the No. 1 prospect entering the 2015 season. Each of the above questions had a different answer, based on your perspective. Closest to the majors? Why, Marco Gonzales has already been there and he’s got a spot set aside for him with a solid spring training. Who has the best skills that are in need? Why, Stephen Piscotty could fit that description with a high-average swing and the potential to be a starting corner outfielder in the coming years for the team. Who has the highest ceiling? Why, Alex Reyes, the young, swift-moving righthander with the power stuff. Any of the three could be No. 1.

Gonzales is.

The lefty who will get a chance to compete for the current opening in the starting rotation tops the Top 10, which was released in the magazine this week (on newsstands now!) and will go live on the Baseball America’s web site Wednesday (complete with a chat). He has the best blend of answers to the above questions. He’s as close to the majors as any of the three. As a starter, he’s in a premium position. And he’s got the upside to be a fixture in the rotation. But, as mentioned above, for the first time there’s a good debate to be had, and that’s clear when it comes to the editors’ choice for No. 2 …

All of the top 10s that you’ll see this time of year have undergone changes because of the graduation of Carlos Martinez to the majors, for example. Oscar Taveras had enough at-bats in the majors to no longer be eligible for the list before his death in October. That’s freed up the top for some of the players who have not reached the at-bats and innings requirements of rookie eligibility. So, Randal Grichuk, for example, is still eligible for the BA Top 10.

Here’s the Cardinals’ Top 10, per Baseball America, with their ages, most-recent level, scouting reports and scouting grades for Gonzales’ pitches based on the 20-80 scale:

1. Marco Gonzales, LHP … Age: 22. MLB.

“The Cardinals believe his future is as a starter. But an assignment to the bullpen would reduce his innings – which the team intends to do regardless of role – and let him learn while letting it loose.” Fastball 60, Curveball 45, Changeup 70, Control 55

2. Alex Reyes, RHP … Age: 20. Low-A.

“Reyes has at least two plus pitching. He can locate with a 92-96 mph fastball that can reach 100. He couples that with a power curve that has a sharp drop. … Must maintain his conditioning.”

3. Stephen Piscotty, OF … Age: 24 on Wednesday. Class AAA.

“Piscotty has an innate feel for the strike zone (98 walks and 132 strikeouts in 303 professional games) and uses that patience to sweeten an authoritative, balanced swing, built to hit .300. … That ability to pull, coupled with more loft, is what hints at more power.”

4. Randal Grichuk, OF … Age: 23. MLB.

“He is one of the finer athletes in the organization and his ability gives him the skills for center field. His arm is above-average for that position, catapulting from a lithe strength in the same way the ball does from his bat. Grichuk is not a hulking hitter, just one gifted with bat speed.”

5. Rob Kaminsky, LHP … Age: 20. Low-A.

“Kaminsky’s curveball, the pitch that created all those Ks (126 as a high school senior), didn’t disappoint as a pro. He raises his finger on it to give it a spike-curve look. His confidence in the deceptive pitch can make him curveball-happy at times – which is why he was asked to feature other pitches at Low-A.”

6. Jack Flaherty, RHP … Age: 19. GCL.

“To lure Flaherty away from North Carolina, the Cardinals signed him to the largest bonus of any of their 2014 draft picks and the team’s fifth-largest in the past 16 years. … Flaherty already has a feel for four pitches. He works from 90-92 mph with his fastball, and he has a changeup that will be a swing-and-miss pitch.”

7. Tim Cooney, LHP … Age: 24. Class AAA.

“Cooney has the poise and presence expected from a college pitcher with a mature sense of his mechanics and stuff. The tall lefty brings a fastball that hums from 88-92 mph with movement, allowing him to effectively spot both sides of the plate.”

8. Sam Tuivailala, RHP … Age: 22. MLB.

“With the frame of a power forward, Tuivailala is the Cardinals’ latest converted power pitcher after Jason Motte and Trevor Rosenthal. Fine command is all he lacks with the heat. In the Arizona Fall League, Tuivailala’s curve advanced. He throws (it) hard and with a sharp drop.”

9. Charlie Tilson, OF … Age: 22. Class AA.

“A high-energy outfielder, Tilson has the speed to course-correct in the field. He has a solid approach at the plate that uses the whole field. If the power doesn’t come, his legs should lift his slugging percentage by (conjuring) doubles. May have to adopt a less aggressive approach at the plate to stick at the top of the lineup.”

10. Magneuris Sierra, OF … Age: 18. GCL.

“Became the youngest winner of the Cardinals’ minor league player of the year award. Sierra has a steady, line-drive swing that keeps the barrel in the zone and the bat control to connect it with pitches throughout the zone. His broad shoulders and athleticism hint at strength he’ll gain as he matures, but he doesn’t have that lift for future power.”

Shortstop Aledmys Diaz would be in the top 10 had he not had such difficulty staying on the field this past season, his first with the Cardinals and his first in professional baseball outside of Cuba. Flaherty leapfrogged the Cardinals' top draft pick, Luke Weaver, and that's unusual considering the clout that being a first-round pick usually brings. Says more about Flaherty than it does Weaver. Carson Kelly, the young third baseman who is working behind the plate, received a lot of consideration for the Top 10 because of how he advanced at catcher.

Sierra, it should be noted, will be present this weekend for the Winter Warmup. In cooperation with the annual St. Louis Baseball Writers’ Dinner, the club now brings its award winners from the minors to the weekend fanfest so that the player can be introduced at the dinner and receive his award there. Sierra and Gonzales both will be honored Sunday night at the dinner, which will be at 6 p.m. at the Renaissance downtown, as the player and pitcher, respectively, of the year in the organization.

So, who would you put No. 1?

***

Quick addition: The No. 1 prospects for the other four teams in the National League Central are 3B Kris Bryant (Cubs); RHP Robert Stephenson (Reds); OF Tyrone Taylor (Brewers); and RHP Tyler Glasnow (Pirates). Jorge Soler remained eligble for this year's list and is the Cubs' No. 3 prospect behind shortstop Addison Russell, who the Cubs acquired from Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija trade.

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