2012 TCN Cardinals Top Prospects by Level

St. Louis Cardinals top 40 prospects by predominant level of play in 2011 compared to past years.

As we conclude this year's top 40 St. Louis Cardinals prospect countdown, this report will study the level of all players year-to-year, not just the top ten as done in an earlier article.

I captured the predominant level of play for the top 40 players in each of the last five years based on at-bats for position players and innings pitched for pitchers. This information is presented in the tables below.

Position Players 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
Total 23 23 21 18 19
Memphis 7 5 5 4 2
Springfield 6 6 6 5 8
Palm Beach 2 2 3 2 2
Quad Cities 3 5 0 2 3
Batavia 0 1 5 1 0
Johnson City 3 2 1 2 2
Gulf Coast League 2 2 1 1 2
DSL(/VSL) 0 0 0 1 0
Pitchers 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
Total 18 17 19 22 23
St. Louis 1 0 0 0 0
Memphis 6 5 5 6 3
Springfield 2 3 3 6 5
Palm Beach 5 0 6 3 5
Quad Cities 3 3 2 2 6
Batavia 0 3 2 4 3
Johnson City 1 1 1 1 0
Gulf Coast League 0 1 0 0 1
DSL(/VSL) 0 1 0 0 0

First, note the consistent shift of balance over the last five years from pitching once having been predominant in the top 40 to hitters having taken over that lead. Had the Cardinals added outfielder Erik Komatsu in the Rule 5 Draft before this year's countdown had begun, number 40, reliever Chuckie Fick, would have been bumped. In that case, the top 40 would have been 23-17 in favor of position players, same as in 2011.

The number of top 40 members at the top two levels, Double-A and Triple-A (plus the oddity of Eduardo Sanchez appearing most with St. Louis), has increased dramatically from the last two years to this, 19 to 22. Position players jumped by two while pitchers grew by only one.

What might this mean? Are more players near the top considered better prospects, does it indicate a slowing of the pipeline, more questionable draft choices in recent years or some combination of all of these factors and perhaps more?

On the pitching side, there has been a three-year erosion of top prospects spending a majority of the prior season at Double-A, from six in 2009 to just two in 2012. There seems to be a major focus within the organization on ensuring players are truly ready for Springfield before assigning them there. Being sent before ready can induce a career stall.

There was a big bounce back for the next level down, Palm Beach. Another area of concern is Batavia, typically the first home for college-drafted players, with no top 40 pitchers this year.

In the position player table, Batavia completed its unenviable shutout, though Johnson City had a slight increase of one. Charlie Tilson was the swinger. The outfielder had just 27 at-bats in total, but three more at JC compared to the GCL.

With the Cardinals sometimes jumping top position player prospects over Palm Beach entirely (such as the 2011 case of Matt Adams and perhaps Oscar Taveras in 2012), perhaps the low position player total of two there is not all that concerning. Keeping some young hitters out of the pitchers' league, the Florida State League, may be a planned tactic.

I thought I might come back around to the 11 players that dropped off the top 40 this year to see if there is anything to learn. Six are pitchers, with five position players.

Dropped off
Lost momentum Peak Short-term Peak Gone Peak
Deryk Hooker Spr Nick Longmire QC P.J. Walters StL
David Kopp Mem Bryan Martinez GCL Tyler Henley Mem
Steven Hill StL Robert Stock PB Daryl Jones Mem
Francisco Samuel Mem Niko Vasquez Spr

Three of the players can be immediately eliminated from the discussion as they have since left the Cardinals organization (see "Gone" at the far right of the table above). P.J. Walters was traded away, in a move that may be best for his career, Tyler Henley was released after not bouncing back from injury and Daryl Jones was allowed to leave as a minor league free agent. In every case, we probably held onto faint hopes for too long.

The center group of players, called "Short-term" in the table, were on the top 40 prospect list for generally one or two years. Each of the multiple year players saw annual erosion in his standing until he fell off the current list. The post-draft-day excitement behind Robert Stock and Nick Longmire has since died down. Niko Vasquez has less to offer as a third baseman than were his prospects as a shortstop.

As noted by the highest level of play achieved, there is still time for any of these four to recover. That is especially the case for a lower level player like Bryan Martinez, yet even he turns 21 this spring.

The far left group, labeled "Lost momentum," were all on the top 40 for at least three years and usually four. These players have reached a career stall and may or may not be able to pull out of it. Deryk Hooker had an injury-plagued 2011. David Kopp moved from starting to relieving to try to regain momentum. Francisco Samuel is looking desperately for control he may never find. Steven Hill is a 27-year-old hitter without a standout position.

We'll close the series with one final look at the 2012 top 40. This view is by rank and level. Note that six of our top 40 have yet to play an inning of full-season ball.

2012 Top 40 (rank) Position Players Pitchers
St. Louis none Sanchez (7)
Memphis M Carpenter (11) Lynn (6)
  Cruz (16) Cleto (14)
  Chambers (17) Reifer (19)
  Hamilton (20) Ottavino (29)
  Luna (24) Dickson (32)
  Anderson (25) Fick (40)
  Kozma (35)  
Springfield Cox (5) Miller (1)
  Adams (9) S Freeman (34)
  Jackson (13)  
  Pham (23)  
  Komatsu (28a)*  
  Curtis (31)  
Palm Beach S Rodriguez (27) Martinez (2)
  Rosario (30) Swagerty (10)
  Kelly (18)
  Gast (21)
  Butler (38)
Quad Cities Taveras (3) Rosenthal (12)
  Wong (4) Whiting (28)
  Stanley (26) Blair (33)
Batavia none none
Johnson City Tilson (15) Jenkins (8)
  A Garcia (22)  
  Rahmatulla (37)  
Gulf Coast League McElroy (36) none
  B. Valera (39)  
DSL none none
* in Milwaukee org.

As always, our top 40 prospect lists from each of the last seven years can be accessed via links permanently displayed at the lower left of The Cardinal Nation homepage.

To reference our entire list of top 40 Cardinals prospects for 2012 and read about each individual player, click here. You can learn each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections and much more.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column during the season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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