Fewer prospects near top of Cardinals system

Season-opening rosters for the St. Louis Cardinals indicate fewer of the best prospects are opening 2014 at the highest levels of the system compared to the year before.

Monday brought the unofficial announcements of the minor league rosters to open the 2014 regular season for the St. Louis Cardinals' four full-season clubs with further clarification on inactive players shared on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we looked at starting rotations and player movement across levels.

In this article, we will focus in on how members of The Cardinal Nation top 40 prospect list fared in their season-opening roster placements.

These new assignments across the entire system are available via the new, updated Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation Blog.

Alternatively, you can explore each team's roster right here at The Cardinal Nation. They are current as of the start of the regular season. By clicking on player names, you can view bios, photos, videos, articles, news items, links to current season and career stats and much more – everything you need to know about a player's history in one place.

Full-season clubs
St. Louis Cardinals
Memphis Redbirds
Springfield Cardinals
Palm Beach Cardinals
Peoria Chiefs

With the initial 2014 rosters set, here are the assignments of the Cardinals top 40 prospects as ranked here at The Cardinal Nation during the off-season.

The right column block indicates a re-sort of the same data, by level of play. In the far right column, the 2013 season-ending assignment for each member of the top 40 is included.

Rk 2014 TCN Top 40 open   Rk 2014 TCN Top 40 open end 2013
1 Oscar Taveras Mem   2 Carlos Martinez StL StL
2 Carlos Martinez StL   3 Kolten Wong StL StL
3 Kolten Wong StL   35 Keith Butler StL Mem
4 Stephen Piscotty Mem          
5 Rob Kaminsky EST   1 Oscar Taveras Mem Mem DL
6 Marco Gonzales PB   4 Stephen Piscotty Mem Spr
7 Alex Reyes Peo   10 Randal Grichuk Mem AA LAA
8 James Ramsey Spr   12 Tim Cooney Mem Spr
9 Carson Kelly Peo   17 Sam Freeman Mem Mem
10 Randal Grichuk Mem   18 Lee Stoppelman Mem Mem
11 Tyrell Jenkins PB DL   19 John Gast Mem DL Mem DL
12 Tim Cooney Mem   20 Greg Garcia Mem Mem
13 Charlie Tilson PB   23 Tommy Pham Mem Mem DL
14 Cory Jones PB   30 Boone Whiting Mem Mem
15 Patrick Wisdom Spr   39 Eric Fornataro Mem Mem
16 Zach Petrick Spr   40 Audry Perez Mem Mem
17 Sam Freeman Mem          
18 Lee Stoppelman Mem   8 James Ramsey Spr Mem
19 John Gast Mem DL   15 Patrick Wisdom Spr PB
20 Greg Garcia Mem   16 Zach Petrick Spr Spr
21 Mike Mayers PB   24 Mike O'Neill Spr Mem
22 Oscar Mercado EST   26 Sam Gaviglio Spr PB
23 Tommy Pham Mem   29 Jordan Swagerty Spr DL PB DL
24 Mike O'Neill Spr   37 Seth Blair Spr Spr
25 Ian McKinney EST          
26 Sam Gaviglio Spr   6 Marco Gonzales PB PB
27 Juan Herrera Peo   11 Tyrell Jenkins PB DL PB DL
28 Jacob Wilson PB   13 Charlie Tilson PB PB
29 Jordan Swagerty Spr DL   14 Cory Jones PB Peo
30 Boone Whiting Mem   21 Mike Mayers PB Peo
31 Breyvic Valera PB   28 Jacob Wilson PB PB
32 Edmundo Sosa EST   31 Breyvic Valera PB Peo
33 K. Peoples-Walls Peo   36 Sam Tuivailala PB Peo
34 Nick Petree Peo          
35 Keith Butler StL   7 Alex Reyes Peo JC
36 Sam Tuivailala PB   9 Carson Kelly Peo SC
37 Seth Blair Spr   27 Juan Herrera Peo Peo
38 Fernando Baez EST   33 K. Peoples-Walls Peo JC
39 Eric Fornataro Mem   34 Nick Petree Peo SC
40 Audry Perez Mem          
        5 Rob Kaminsky EST GCL
        22 Oscar Mercado EST GCL
        25 Ian McKinney EST GCL
        32 Edmundo Sosa EST DSL
        38 Fernando Baez EST JC

What leapt out to me initially in the left columns was the diversity of placements for the top eight, with all six possible levels of play represented (St. Louis, the four full-season minors clubs plus extended spring training). Memphis was the predominant destination for the second 10.

Moving to the right, the relative consistency of year-to-year assignments at Memphis hits at a veteran Triple-A roster of good players. In terms of top prospects, the Double-A roster is thinner than in past years and would be even worse had not both Mike O'Neill and James Ramsey been forced to return.

Palm Beach, often a spot passed over in recent seasons by top prospects, is the stop with the second-most top players on its initial roster behind Memphis. That is unusual.

A shift toward the middle

Following is the data summarized, split out by level for both the top 20 and top 40. The same table from this time last year is provided alongside for comparison.

2014 level Top 20 Top 40   2013 level Top 20 Top 40
St. Louis 2 3   St. Louis 4 5
Memphis 8 12   Memphis 6 12
Springfield 3 7   Springfield 2 8
Palm Beach 4 8   Palm Beach 3 5
Peoria 2 5   Peoria 3 5
Extended  1 5   Extended  2 5
Total 20 40   Total 20 40

Not surprisingly, the best prospects in the system are closest to the majors. In fact, half of the top 20 are either in St. Louis or just one step away at Memphis.

What may first catch your eye is the large contingent of top 20 members at Memphis compared to the small number with St. Louis. In reality, while the mix across levels varies slightly year to year, the total quantity of top 20 prospects at St. Louis plus Memphis plus Springfield is barely changed – from 12 last year to 13 this year.

However, when looking at the entire top 40, the growth at Palm Beach is obvious, picking up two prospects from St. Louis and another from Springfield's mix from one year ago. In other words, this year's top 40 is less experienced than last.

Despite the 2013 draft class having fewer top picks than the record haul in 2012, the representation at the lower levels remains constant.

Promotions slowing

I've added one new view this year, looking at a summary the movement of the top 20 and top 40 from last year to this.

2013-2014 Top 20 Top 40   2012-2013 Top 20 Top 40
Promo 1 lvl 6 12   Promo 1 lvl 11 14
Promo 2 lvl 1 2   Promo 2 lvl 0 2
Flat 12 24   Flat 9 22
Down 1 lvl 1 2   Down 1 lvl 0 2
  20 40     20 40

As the 2014 data indicates, there is complete symmetry in the top 20 versus top 40 mix across one- and two-level promotions, those staying at the same level and those moving down one level.

What is interesting, however, is to compare 2014 with 2013. Significantly more top prospects remained at the same level from the end of last year to this relative to 12 months ago. I interpret that to be a quantitative indicator that the organization's prospect pipeline is not flowing as fast as before. Frankly, if you are like me, you felt that was the case even before reading this, but this adds credence to the point.

Of course, all of this is just point in time analysis. The organization has shown its willingness to promote selected prospects during the season. Those who are initially repeating the same level, as well as several players sent down, such as Ramsey and O'Neill, could become candidates to move up with fast starts. Same with the extended spring training participants.

To keep up with the action, check out our daily Cardinals minor league notebooks with all the action from the night before. Our weekly team reports will commence with Peoria on Tuesday, April 8.

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

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