Memphis reflects Cardinals next prospect wave

In the St. Louis Cardinals system in 2014, top prospects are taking significant quantities of Triple-A at-bats that went to minor league journeymen last season.

Many St. Louis Cardinals fans are quite familiar with the recent pipeline of homegrown pitching talent to reach the major league club over the past few seasons. Names like Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal are among the many standouts.

While some internally signed and developed position players have ascended to the bigs as well, a number of the recent organizational standouts are still one step away at Triple-A Memphis.

Because this wave of future major league hitters are so close to St. Louis, the off-season free agent signing approach of the organization was altered. Very few of the typical minor league veterans common among Triple-A clubs were added by the Cardinals this past winter. That frees up more at-bats for the up-and-comers.

This article quantifies that year-to-year change using the season-opening rosters in 2013 and 2014 as a basis of comparison.

Terms

Before we get started, here are some terms I will be using to group players.

Journeymen – Players signed with the Cardinals as minor league free agents that began their professional careers with other organizations.

Top 40 prospects – Players named to The Cardinal Nation top 40 prospect list prior to the 2014 season.

Inside players – Players originally signed by the Cardinals that are not top 40 prospects. This designation does not mean these players could not still help the major league club at some point in the future.

Outside players – Players that started elsewhere but joined the Cardinals in a manner other than minor league free agency. This small group includes former independent ball player Vance Albitz and Joey Butler, acquired via waivers.

Others – Other players to receive at-bats with the Redbirds. They are either pitchers or position players to have been assigned to Memphis during the season. 2014 examples include Pete Kozma, who rejoined the Redbirds a couple of weeks into April and Kolten Wong, who followed a couple of weeks later.

Homegrown – Those top 40 prospects to have always been Cardinals plus all inside players. Excluded are top 40 prospects to have been acquired via trade such as Adam Wainwright in the past and Randal Grichuk currently.

The basics

Number of  2013 2014  
position players Opening Opening YTY
Journeymen 6 2 -4
Top 40 prospects 4 6 2
Inside players 1 3 2
Outside players 1 1 0
Total 12 12  
       
Homegrown 5 8 3

In terms of sheer volume of individuals, the Memphis club opened each of the last two seasons with 12 position players. The background mix is very different, however. Where the 2013 roster had six minor league free agents, the 2014 version had just two.

That gap was made up in 2014 by a mix of top 40 prospects and other players developed from within the organization. Even subtracting out Grichuk, the 2014 Memphis position player ranks had a 25 percent swing from year to year from retreads to home grown ones (three players out of 12).

Now, let's look at plate appearances for these same groupings of players. For 2013, I used the full-season plate appearance totals, whereas for 2014, the numbers cover Memphis' first 37 games of 2014, through Sunday, May 11.

To keep 2013 and 2014 aligned, I used percentages of the total plate appearances by the various groups of position players noted above.

Percentage of 2013 2014  
plate appearances PA % PA % YTY %
Journeymen 38.6 13.6 -25.0
Top 40 prospects 26.8 43.5 16.7
Inside players 8.0 18.7 10.7
Outside players 1.6 7.5 5.9
Others 25.0 16.7 -8.3
Total 100.0 100.0  
       
Homegrown 34.8 54.6 19.8

Again, the 25 percent number stands out. In this case, journeymen are taking 25 percent fewer of Memphis' plate appearances this season compared to last. As you might expect, they have shifted to prospects and internally-developed players.

The homegrown total grew from just over a third of the plate appearances last season to almost 55 percent this year to date. (Again, the "homegrown" line item consists of "top 40 prospects" minus Grichuk plus "inside players".)

As an aside, the Redbirds' bottom line is very similar to their St. Louis parent, with an 18-19 record in the Pacific Coast League. The PCL scheduling is also very similar to what St. Louis has experienced, as Memphis has played just 13 home games to date.

The details

I know you are interested in the specifics, so here they are. Players are listed within the categories by number of plate appearances. We start with 2014.

Memphis      
2014 opening roster      
       
Journeymen (2) PA Pct total YTY
Scott Moore 115    
Ed Easley 78    
subtotal 193 13.6% -25.0%
       
Top 40 prospects (6) PA Pct total  
Oscar Taveras 144    
Stephen Piscotty 143    
Greg Garcia 99    
Audry Perez 71    
Tommy Pham 53    
Randal Grichuk (o) 108    
subtotal 618 43.5% 16.7%
       
Inside players (3) PA Pct total  
Xavier Scruggs 136    
Jermaine Curtis 70    
Luis Mateo 60    
subtotal 266 18.7% 10.7%
       
Outside players (1) PA Pct total  
Joey Butler 106 7.5% 5.9%
       
Others (14) 238 16.7% -8.3%
       
Total (26) 1421 100.0%  
       
Homegrown (8) 776 54.6% 19.8%

Next is the comparable breakdown from Memphis' 2013 opening day roster. Greg Garcia, Oscar Taveras and Jermaine Curtis are the only three of the 12 position players to start both 2013 and 2014 with the Redbirds.

Memphis    
2013 opening roster    
     
Journeymen (6) PA Pct total
Jamie Romak 518  
Brock Peterson 508  
Justin Christian 411  
Chad Huffman 365  
Rob Johnson 221  
J.R. Towles 88  
subtotal 2111 38.6%
     
Top 40 prospects (4) PA Pct total
Kolten Wong 463  
Greg Garcia 424  
Adron Chambers 393  
Oscar Taveras 186  
subtotal 1466 26.8%
     
Inside players (1) PA Pct total
Jermaine Curtis 436 8.0%
     
Outside players (1) PA Pct total
Vance Albitz 88 1.6%
     
Others (28) 1367 25.0%
     
Total (40) 5468 100.0%
     
Homegrown (5) 1902 34.8%

In closing

As a prospect-watcher, it is encouraging to see that the Cardinals are currently enjoying a strong internally-developed player pipeline. It is robust enough to enable the Memphis club to be competitive without requiring a large influx of journeyman players, at least in 2014.

As always, to see the Cardinals' entire system by level and position, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.



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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