Though no baseball has been played since, there has been plenty of prospect hot stove discussion inside as well as outside of the Cardinals organization. Numerous national entities have published their annual top prospect lists, both for the Cardinals and for baseball as a whole.
As major league training camps are open and the minor leaguers' reporting date just around the corner, I am going to identify two potential sleeper players from each level of play in the Cardinals system, based on their season-ending 2011 assignment. To qualify, they cannot be a member of the TCN/Scout.com Cardinals Top 40.
This first installment of a two-part series will focus on eight potential sleeper pitching prospects. Position players will follow in part two.
Michael Blazek. Selected as one of the 24 players named to the Cardinals early minor league camp this spring should be enough to cause you to make notice.
The 22-year-old (he turns 23 in March) led Springfield with 11 victories and in innings pitched, with 133 2/3 last season. Blazek was first on the team with 128 strikeouts, just one off the Texas League lead and was a TL All-Star.
On the downside, he also had a 5.45 ERA as he was tops in the league in home runs allowed with 25. Blazek made two starts for Memphis to close last season and should be in camp vying for one of those spots coming out of 2012 spring camp.
Scott Gorgen. I recently took some heat from my colleague CariocaCardinal, who noticed that I dropped the right-hander from 30th on my prospect list one year ago to off the page in 2012. While Gorgen has been away recovering from Tommy John surgery, a number of his competitors had fine 2011 seasons.
At 25 years of age, Gorgen is the ultimate in post-hype sleeper selections for 2012. Now sporting a reconstructed right elbow, the time is nigh for the former Springfield hurler to either step forward or step aside. The old Gorgen seemed ready for the former. We'll see how the new one looks in spring camp.
Kevin Siegrist. Now and then, a player comes along who we all seemed to miss. In the case of this left-hander, my eyes were opened when the 22-year-old was announced as a non-roster invitee to 2012 major league camp despite not yet having made his Double-A debut.
Between Quad Cities and Palm Beach last season, Siegrist had an 8-4 record with a sparkling 2.26 ERA. He made 19 starts despite being out from mid-July to mid-August due to injury. Whether his ultimate destination is starting or relieving, the organization has need for lefties and they apparently like what they see in Siegrist.
Hector Hernandez. Having just turned 21, the left-hander primarily competed last season with Batavia. Hernandez went 3-2, 2.72 ERA in the New York-Penn League, fanning 48 and walking just 18 in 53 innings. He received a late-season call up to Quad Cities, which is why he is listed here.
Hernandez sports a low-90's fastball and an above-average curve. As the numbers indicate, he fanned almost a batter per inning and while walking about a third of that. His ground ball rate was just over 35 percent. Opposing hitters managed just a collective .221 average and .605 OPS against him.
Sam Gaviglio. We don't yet have much about the 21-year-old as a professional to go on, but his pedigree and draft particulars indicate considerable talent. Gaviglio was the very first pitcher taken by the Cardinals in the 2011 draft, selected in the fifth round at 170th overall. After signing late and reporting to Batavia, little time remained for him to pitch. In four innings over two games with the Muckdogs, he struck out four and allowed two hits.
The Cardinals gave the right-hander a $175,000 signing bonus and a scholarship program to close the deal after his junior year at Oregon State. Gaviglio is a polished pitcher with a high 80's fastball, a good changeup and a solid slider. The lack of a true heater may limit his career upside in the eyes of some, but his fastball has the sink that the organization loves to see.
Willy Paulino. After starring in the Gulf Coast League in his US debut, the 21-year-old right-hander earned a late-season promotion to Johnson City. Paulino fanned 39, walked 10, had a 2.16 ERA in 33 1/3 innings plus saved 13 games after moving from starting to closing.
Like his former teammate following on this list, Paulino scored a coveted invitation to early spring camp in 2012. We'll have to watch to see whether he will remain a reliever or will be returned to starter.
Victor De Leon. While De Leon was pitching in the Gulf Coast League at the age of 19 last summer, his numbers did not jump off the page (0-6, 4.47 ERA, 30:24 strikeout to walk ratio).
The right-hander was one of the standouts of the Dominican winter instructional league, having shown marked improvement in his secondary pitches. He followed that up by being one of the youngest and the least-experienced pitchers invited to early camp in 2012.
Dominican Summer League
Hansel De Los Santos. The 20-year-old right-hander was the top pitcher on the 2011 DSL Cardinals and would seem slated for his first trip to the USA for extended spring training followed by a spot with either the GCL club or perhaps Johnson City if he impresses.
Last summer, De Los Santos was one of the Cardinals' three league all-stars. He posted a 2.78 ERA, fanning a DSL Cardinals-best 57 and walking just 15 in 64 2/3 innings. De Los Santos had a ground out-to-fly out ratio of 65-to-34.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.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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