Eight Cards minors teams; 8 hitting sleepers

One unheralded position player from each level of the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system who could surprise in 2012.

With Monday's opening of minor league spring training camp, it seemed the opportune time to present this second installment of a two-part series. This one highlights eight potential sleeper position players across the St. Louis Cardinals system. (We had looked at eight comparable pitchers in part one.)

Like the pitchers, these position players were selected and are organized based on their season-ending 2011 assignment. To qualify for consideration, they cannot be a member of the TCN/Scout.com Cardinals Top 40.

Hill
Memphis

Steven Hill. To be honest, it was difficult to find a position player on the projected Memphis roster that meets the criteria for this list. Hill probably deserves an asterisk since he previously had been on the 40-man roster, has already made his MLB debut (albeit brief) and was on our top prospect list for three consecutive years before dropping off for 2012.

Then again, if there was such an award as the Minor League Comeback Player of the Year, Hill has all the makings to become a prime candidate. 2011 was a washout season as he started late recovering from a knee injury. He returned to Triple-A from Double-A in late June only to suffer a season-ending broken foot after appearing in just six games for Memphis.

We know Hill can hit, but it isn't going to be easy to find at-bats. From a roster perspective, he will continue to feel pressure. In spring training, he is competing with two of the three of Bryan Anderson, Tony Cruz and Koyie Hill to become the two Memphis backstops. Matt Adams and Mark Hamilton would seem to have first base and left field locked up and most clubs in the Pacific Coast League do not deploy the designated hitter.

Springfield

Chris Swauger. There is something to be said for consistency and dependability. The left-handed hitting outfielder has logged an OPS of right around .800 in each of his four professional seasons despite moving up slowly and steadily. In fact, even from winter ball in Panama, his line of .298/.362/.452/.813 is familiar.

With Springfield last season, Swauger generated career bests in batting average at .296 and home runs with 12. Right now, there aren't a lot of hard-hitting outfield candidates at Memphis, creating a potential opportunity for the 25-year-old, taken in the 26th round of the 2008 draft.

Palm Beach

Kyle Conley. Like Swauger, Conley logged an .800-ish OPS last season. The outfielder primarily played in the spacious parks of the Florida State League after sitting out most of 2010 due to a hand injury. Though he doesn't especially hit for average (.240 last season), Conley has power that some still suspect hasn't fully emerged.

Invited to early minor league camp is a good sign the Cardinals have not given up hope that their seventh-rounder from the 2009 draft can turn the corner. The Texas League could offer a very nice fit. Good health is a must.

Rodriguez
Quad Cities

Jonathan Rodriguez. The former third baseman is spending most of his time at first base these days. Rodriguez, 22, was the Top Player of the Midwest League 2011 postseason. The right-handed hitter went had 10 hits including two doubles and two home runs, ten RBI and eight runs scored. His line was .385/.436/.676.

Rodriguez draws notice for his 47 percent extra base hit rate and his 16 percent walk rate, but much of the excitement is tempered by his 22 percent strikeout rate. He was thought by some to be a 2011 power breakout candidate so perhaps he will become that - just a year later.

Batavia

Jeremy Patton. The first-year ex-college infielder was very productive for the Muckdogs with a .292 average and a team-leading 40 RBI. In fact, Patton ranked among the New York-Penn League leaders in average, slugging, doubles, RBI, and total bases. He finished especially strongly with a .322 average and 14 RBI in his final 18 games.

Still, at 23 years of age, Patton is going to have to move up quickly to become an impact player.

Johnson City

Ronald Castillo. The 19-year-old made the big leap from the Dominican Summer League to Johnson City last year. The 6-foot-5 outfielder's strikeouts were up and walks down, but his power showed a nice spike. Castillo even added four triples, tied for the most on the team, despite having just 143 at-bats.

Remember this name, as I have a feeling we could be talking a lot more about Castillo this coming winter.

Perez
Gulf Coast League

Luis Perez. The Cardinals could really use a legit catching prospect. An athletic defender with a solid bat, Perez could step into that role – perhaps down the road. The GCL is still light-years from St. Louis, but there can be no doubt that the 20-year-old shined in his US debut.

41 percent of his hits went for extra-bases (14 of 34) and his 20 RBI and .843 OPS both led the team. Perez ran well, especially for a catcher, stealing three bases without getting caught.

Dominican Summer League

Robelys Reyes. In a way, Reyes is a ringer. Had it not been for a visa problem, he would likely have been a 2011 standout in the GCL instead of remaining behind in the Dominican. For his part, the switch-hitting shortstop won the DSL batting title. It wasn't close. At .378, the 21-year-old outdistanced his closest rival by 28 points.

Reyes will be competing in regular minor league camp this spring, the only 2011 DSL player to be so recognized.



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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