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.
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.
|Top 40 prospects||4||6||2|
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.
|plate appearances||PA %||PA %||YTY %|
|Top 40 prospects||26.8||43.5||16.7|
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.
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.
|2014 opening roster|
|Journeymen (2)||PA||Pct total||YTY|
|Top 40 prospects (6)||PA||Pct total|
|Randal Grichuk (o)||108|
|Inside players (3)||PA||Pct total|
|Outside players (1)||PA||Pct total|
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.
|2013 opening roster|
|Journeymen (6)||PA||Pct total|
|Top 40 prospects (4)||PA||Pct total|
|Inside players (1)||PA||Pct total|
|Outside players (1)||PA||Pct total|
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.
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