2012 Cardinals prospects: What the others say

Fourth annual analysis and consolidation of five national top ten lists of St. Louis Cardinals prospects, from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, minorleagueball.com, ESPN and BaseballHQ – comparing them to our own list, of course!

Entering the home stretch of the annual prospect rankings season also signals that major league spring training camps are just days from opening and minor league pitchers and catchers will be reporting a few weeks after.

This annual feature brings together what a group of well-known national experts think about the St. Louis Cardinals' top prospects and compares them to our rankings here at The Cardinal Nation.

There are at least five well-known concerns that annually rate and rank prospects from all 30 organizations, not just the Cardinals. They use different methods and have different qualifying criteria, but the bottom line is that they all conclude with an ordered list of names. While we remain biased here that our rankings are best since we focus on just this one system from top to bottom, other opinions are always beneficial.

Following is the Cardinals top ten prospect lists from Baseball America (BA), ESPN's Keith Law (ESPN), BaseballHQ (HQ), John Sickels of minorleagueball.com (MiL B) and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (BP) placed side-by-side. Later, we will meld the five into one consensus list.

1 Shelby Miller Miller Miller Miller Miller 1
2 Carlos Martinez Martinez Martinez Martinez Taveras 2
3 Oscar Taveras Taveras Taveras Taveras Martinez 3
4 Zack Cox Cox Jenkins Jenkins Adams 4
5 Kolten Wong Jenkins Wong Wong Wong 5
6 Tyrell Jenkins Swagerty Cox Cox Jenkins 6
7 Lance Lynn Trevor Rosenthal Sanchez Sanchez Cox 7
8 Eduardo Sanchez Wong Lynn Lynn Rosenthal 8
9 Matt Adams Adams Adams Adams Swagerty 9
10 Jordan Swagerty Joe Kelly Swagerty Swagerty Matt Carpenter 10

We start with the common ground among the various rankers. That is considerable territory; in fact it is at an unprecedented level. Never before had there been as few as 13 players named on any top ten list, including seven "no brainers" this year, appearing on all five top ten lists. You can also see which of the lists ranked the players the best (low) and closest to the bottom (high).

Unanimous picks (7) low who high who
Shelby Miller 1 all 1 all
Carlos Martinez 2 all 2 all
Oscar Taveras 2 BP 5 MiL B
Tyrell Jenkins 3 MiL B 6 BA/BP
Zack Cox 4 BA/ES 7 MiL B/BP
Kolten Wong 4 MiL B 8 ES
Jordan Swagerty 6 ES 10 BA/HQ

As the table indicates, Shelby Miller is at the top with Carlos Martinez right behind. After having pitched his second full season outside of high school, Miller logged all five of the number one votes. The same thing happened in 2010 as there is no debate as to the identity of the Cardinals number one prospect.

In his second year on the list, Martinez moves up from fifth last year to second. Kudos to Law, who already had Martinez second one year ago. The 20-year-old Dominican captured four second-place votes and one third. The other second place vote and all of the other thirds went to outfielder Oscar Taveras, who makes the best top 10 debut at number three overall. Goldstein was the one voter who placed Taveras ahead of Martinez.

After pitching in his first full short-season campaign at Johnson City in 2011, 2010 supplemental first-rounder Tyrell Jenkins comes in at number four. Sickels likes him at number three with the right-hander placing no lower than sixth on any list.

The Cardinals' top draftees from the last two seasons are bunched closely at fifth and sixth. Kolten Wong (2011) finished as high as fourth on one list and had three fifths as well. There is a much greater division of opinion about Zack Cox (2010). The third baseman snagged the composite fifth spot with two fourths, but also had two sevenths.

The final player on all five lists is Jordan Swagerty, the overall ninth-ranked player. He placed between sixth and tenth, respectively, on the five lists. The gap of four places between his best and worst vote was the largest of the group, tied with Wong (fourth vs. eighth).

The only player missing on just one of the lists is Matt Adams. The Texas League Player of the Year fell short of Sickels' top ten and was exactly number nine according to the three voters. Then, there was Goldstein, who likes Adams enough to have placed him at number four.

Four of five (1) off low who
Matt Adams MiL B 4 BP

The rating process used by Law and Goldstein apparently excludes players with major league time. As a result, Lance Lynn and Eduardo Sanchez do not appear in the top ten of either. The alternative, which seems unlikely, is that they just do not see the two right-handed relievers as being competitive with the others. For example, one year ago, Goldstein had Lynn at five and Sanchez at six.

Another player making a solid top 10 debut in 2012 appears on three of the five lists. Right-hander Trevor Rosenthal appears at number seven for Law, eighth with Goldstein and he also grabbed the final spot with Sickels. No players were named on just two lists.

Three-peats (3) off low who
Eduardo Sanchez ES/BP 7 HQ
Lance Lynn ES/BP 7 BA
Trevor Rosenthal BA/HQ 7 ES
Two-timers (0) off low who

The difference in ranking by Law and Goldstein opened the door for several other players to receive notice. Joe Kelly made Law's list at number 10, same as in 2011. Last year, third baseman Matt Carpenter made three top tens, but in 2012, only Goldstein ranked him, at number 10.

Lone star picks (2) rank who
Joe Kelly 10 ES
Matt Carpenter 10 BP

The distance between the end of the consensus top ten and the final three is fairly narrow partially due to the differences in how Lynn and Sanchez were considered. Further, a drop of two places by Sanchez from any voter(s) or a two-spot improvement from Rosenthal by any voter(s), and the two would have tied for the 10th and final spot on the consolidated ranking.

Speaking of which, here is the blended rankings of the five national experts. When combining scores, a non-top ten player was assigned a score of "11". The five rankings for each player were added together with the lowest total ranked number one in the consolidated list and so on.

The overall table follows with our The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com top ten listed next to it as comparison. (For reference, here is the link to our full TCN/Scout top 40 list for 2012.)

Consolidated top ten rank TCN/Scout.com
Shelby Miller 1 Shelby Miller
Carlos Martinez 2 Carlos Martinez
Oscar Taveras 3 Oscar Taveras
Tyrell Jenkins 4 Kolten Wong
Kolten Wong 5 Zack Cox
Zack Cox 6 Lance Lynn
Matt Adams 7 Eduardo Sanchez
Lance Lynn 8 Tyrell Jenkins
Jordan Swagerty 9 Matt Adams
Eduardo Sanchez 10 Jordan Swagerty
The trailing three
Trevor Rosenthal 11
Joe Kelly T12
Matt Carpenter T12

The same ten players appear on both lists - with minor ordering changes, of course. The major difference is at the fourth spot. The consolidated rankings placed Jenkins there, while The Cardinal Nation liked the right-hander down at number eight.

The three other players with more than one spot difference between the two lists are Adams, Lynn and Sanchez. The latter two are two and three spots lower, respectively, on the consolidated list for the reason mentioned above. Adams is two places higher on the group list.

In other words, there is absolutely nothing here to quibble about.

Cardinals system rankings

Some of those who are most critical of the Cardinals player development function and those who follow the organization's minor leaguers think we live in a vacuum, oblivious to how the Cardinals stack up against the other 29 systems.

As I have said many times, I readily admit that I am not knowledgeable enough about the other organizations and the thousands of players within to rank them. The good news is that I don't have to, because others do it.

Following are the system-wide rankings of the Cardinals among the 30 MLB systems over the last four years. The only exception is Sickels, who created numeric system rankings for the first time this year. Baseball Prospectus has not yet issued their 2012 team results, which usually appear in early March. I will update this article when they go public. Colors indicate year-to-year change.

Cardinals rank of 30 2012 2011 2010 2009
Baseball America 12 24 29 8
Baseball Prospectus 21 30 9
ESPN 4 14 29 6
BaseballHQ 15 17 28 10
Minor League Ball 5
Average  9 19 29 8

As you can see, 2009 was a banner year for the Cardinals. In fact, their top ten placement in the BA rankings is the Cardinals' only such ranking since the 1999 days of Rick Ankiel and J.D. Drew. The pendulum swung wildly in the wrong direction in 2010 as a combination of graduations, trades and washouts killed the Cardinals in the eyes of the talent evaluators.

The trend in 2011 was positive in every case, with ESPN being the most optimistic at 14 and the BA the most pessimistic at 24. Law moved the Cardinals up ten spots this year, while BA saw a 12-place improvement. HQ was less impressed, but still recognized progress.

Because of the number four system-wide ranking from ESPN's Law and five from Sickels, 2012's average placement may become the best year yet. It will all depend on where BP places the Cardinals. Right now, it is too close to call.

To see this feature from previous years, click here for 2009, here for 2010 and here for 2011.

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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