The downside of a top farm system: Part one

The St. Louis Cardinals may be approaching a 40-man roster logjam as top prospects are ready for the major leagues.

The following was tweeted late Friday night/early Saturday morning from Springfield outfielder Mike O'Neill, The Cardinal Nation's 32nd-ranked Cardinals prospect coming into the 2013 season.

"It's crazy/inspiring to see all these players that I used to play with become Major Leaguers. #OneDay #MLB"

Of course, O'Neill is absolutely right. One of the fruits of the labors of the St. Louis Cardinals' drafting and player development prowess in recent years is their top ranked farm system among the 30 Major League Baseball organizations.

Martinez has arrived
Yet a more practical reality is represented by the waves of MLB-ready players approaching and arriving in St. Louis. Four of The Cardinal Nation's top seven prospects are already contributing in the majors (Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Matt Adams) with the three others just one very small step away at Triple-A Memphis (Oscar Taveras, Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong).

In addition, other top 20 Cardinals prospects in Seth Maness and Ryan Jackson before him, have donned the St. Louis uniform in regular season play. Infielder Jermaine Curtis, 31st-ranked in 2012, but not among our top 40 this year, also made his MLB debut recently.

On one hand, prospects a level or two removed such as O'Neill have to be excited about the opportunity as presented to their peers. On the other, how could they not be worried about the competition – in terms of the sheer number of young players either already in the bigs or on the cusp?

Taveras, Wacha and Wong are not the only organizational top prospects close to the majors, but not yet on the 40-man. 16th-ranked Greg Garcia impressed during spring training and will soon be knocking on the door from his Memphis infield vantage point. Our 20th-ranked prospect, left-hander John Gast, began his 2013 with 32 consecutive scoreless innings. Starting at Memphis for the second consecutive season, Gast was the consensus system-wide Pitcher of the Month for April.

The most obvious positive of this wealth of talent close to the majors is the ready supply of players to fill in when the inevitable injuries and ineffectiveness hit others. This far outweighs any other considerations.

Yet the challenge of where to put all these players may soon become a problem.

It is not an issue of minor league options for those currently on the 40-man. This year, the Cardinals have almost total flexibility to send underperformers from the 25-man active roster down to Triple-A Memphis as needed. Recent examples include Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski.

The challenge on the horizon as I see it is the 40-man roster itself. Currently full, the 40-man has seen the addition of three players in the past few weeks in Curtis, Martinez and Maness.

A sidelight, but an important one to remember, is that players on the 60-day disabled list do not count against the 40-man roster limit. The two players currently in that status are Rafael Furcal and Chris Carpenter. If Carpenter is able to return to active duty soon, he would likely switch 40-man places with Jason Motte, who is out for the season, but not yet on the 60-day DL. In other words, no further 40-man roster maneuvers to provide relief are obvious.

What will happen later this season, when Wacha, Taveras and Wong are ready for St. Louis and the Cardinals are ready for them? What if Garcia and/or Gast are needed to help out in St. Louis? There is currently no 40-man roster room for any of them.

Obviously, something/someone will have to give, with the potential decisions seemingly becoming more and more difficult as an increasing quantity of these top prospects indicate their readiness for The Show.

In part two of this article, to be posted soon exclusively for subscribers to The Cardinal Nation, we will review the depth of the current 40-man roster, look back at moves off the 40-man during the last few years and evaluate roster management moves the Cardinals may need to consider over the upcoming weeks and months.

To see the Cardinals 40-man roster and full minor league system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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