Leading the troops are the two top prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals' system, Shelby Miller and Zack Cox. The Cardinals are hoping to capitalize on the development opportunities of the pitcher-friendly Florida State League for organization's number one prospect. Farm Director John Vuch could look at the Tigers' Rick Porcello as a model for Miller. As a 19-year-old in 2008, Porcello posted an impressive ERA of 2.66 in the FSL which would catapult him to the big leagues the very next season.
Though that might be wishful thinking, the Cardinals have similar, yet tempered, expectations for their right-handed Texan. Miller is coming off a season at the Quad Cities in which he struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings. If he gets off to a hot start, the 20-year-old could find himself quickly out of Palm Beach and promoted to the Double-A Texas League.
Miller might headline the pitching staff but there are several other interesting arms at Palm Beach. Joe Kelly is a hard throwing right-hander that ranked number 27 on The Cardinal Nation Top 40 and number 18 on my personal list. If he is able to fine tune his command, his mid-90s fastball will enable Kelly and Miller to be one of the strongest one-two punches in the FSL.
The rotation will also feature our 2010 Quad Cities Starter of the Year, Eric Fornataro. The former fifth-round pick has good stuff but needs to find consistency which he has lacked early in his career.
In their six-man rotation, the Cardinals have a few more arms that could move quickly up the ladder. One of the more interesting names is Maikel Cleto. The pitcher received in trade from Seattle for shortstop Brendan Ryan has a fastball that touches the upper 90s. Justin Smith struck out over 11 batters per nine innings at Quad Cities in 2010. Capable of pitching multiple innings, Smith will provide Aguayo with valuable versatility.
Among the relievers, control artist Daniel Calhoun posted an impressive 10-0 record for the River Bandits last season. More impressive was his 1.8 BB/9. Jesse Simpson got a taste of Palm Beach after picking up four saves in 36 appearances at Quad Cities. On the strength of 68 strikeouts in 59 innings, he was named our River Bandits Reliever of the Year.
Rainel Rosario ranked number 30 on our annual prospect countdown after posting an OPS of .927 in 137 Midwest League at-bats. The 22-year-old has five-tool potential but being rather green, this could prove to be a challenging assignment for the outfielder.
In 2010, Edgar Lara hit 17 home runs for Quad Cities. Even more impressive was that it was the 21-year-old's first exposure to full season baseball.
Ryde Rodriguez is another outfielder with tremendous tools that has yet to see his production meet his potential. The Cuban posted only a .631 OPS at Palm Beach in 32 games last season. Rodriguez was similarly exposed in the Midwest League in 2009 but bounced back with a strong start in 2010. The Cardinals are hoping for similar bounceback this time.
Once upon a time, Luis De La Cruz looked to be one of the up-and-coming stars in the Cardinals' system. Since that time, his bat stalled and he has floundered bouncing between levels over the past couple years. Still only 21, this looks to be a make or break year for the backstop.
Audry Perez posted an impressive .315/.368/.455 slash line in 2010 after slugging over .500 the previous two seasons. The Cardinals are being aggressive with the 22-year-old catcher, vaulting him over the Quad Cities after he spent last season at Batavia. If Perez can handle the chores of catching while proving his bat is legit, the Cardinals could have found a gem.
Phil Cerreto dominated the Appalachian League after making his pro debut in 2010. The 40th round pick hit .425/.460/.758 in 120 at bats for the Baby Birds. To be fair, he was 22-years-old playing against a lot of players who were in their teens. Cerreto reminds a bit of former farmhand Rich Racobaldo who dominated at Johnson City and was then sent to Palm Beach. Let's hope for Cerreto's sake that he does not peak at this level.
Link to full Palm Beach 2011 roster.
Starting next Tuesday, our weekly reports on each of the Cardinals' four full-season affiliates will begin, with Quad Cities on Tuesday, Springfield on Wednesday, Memphis on Thursday and Palm Beach on Friday. Don't miss them!
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