BaseballHQ: Cardinals System in MLB’s Middle

In the second installment of a four-part series, we review the in-depth rankings of the National League Central Division organizations according to the Minor League Baseball Analyst. We also look at the details behind the Cardinals changes from prior years in four key areas.

The 10th edition of BaseballHQ’s “Minor League Baseball Analyst” is now shipping. As always, the guide integrates sabermetrics and scouting for over 1000 minor leaguers. In-depth scouting reports and stats include batter skills ratings, runner speed, pitch repertoires, Major League equivalents, ultimate potential and much more.

In Part one of this four-part series, we reviewed the top 15 Cardinals prospects with the details as to why they are ranked where they are.

Here in Part two, we’ll look into the Minor League Baseball Analysts’ Cardinals organizational rankings in comparison to their National League Central Division competitors. Past club rankings from 2006-2014 are used to compare progress, or in some cases, lack of it.

In Part three, we will evaluate individual Cardinals player movement on and off the top 15.

Special bonus for The Cardinal Nation members: The first reader who posts their interest on the special thread discussing this article series located on our “Cardinals Insiders” message forum will receive a special prize.

BaseballHQ has provided a copy of the brand-new 2015 Minor League Baseball Analyst, which will be mailed to the winner. One copy will be awarded following each segment of this four-part series, so if you don’t win this time, keep trying.

Thank you for subscribing and for reading. Good luck!

St. Louis vs. NL Central

Let’s not forget from where the system came. In 2006, the Cardinals were dead last in the National League Central Division comparative rankings with a “C minus” score.

They improved to a “B” showing in 2009 before backsliding the next two years. A “B” grade in 2012 led to an “A” score in 2013, a new peak for the Cards.

Given the level of recent graduations and trades, it is not surprising that the system dropped off a bit in 2014 and further in 2015. The “B” score for 2015 still (barely) places the organization in the top half of MLB, a comparable position to 2012.

NL Central Orgs. 2015 overall and YTY trend 14 13 12 11 10  09 08 07 06
Cubs A A- B+ C C+ B- C- C+ C+ B-
Pirates A A A B+ B- B- C+ C+ C C
Cardinals B A- A B C+ C- B B- C C-
Reds B C+ B- B- A- B- B B+ B C-
Brewers C B- C C D+ B B- C B B+

(Colors denote year-to-year change with green=up, yellow=flat and red=down.)

The Cubs and Reds improved their overall score year to year, with Chicago especially showing promise in year three of a significant rebuilding effort. The Pirates are holding with their same overall score as in 2013 and 2014 – still one of the very best in the game. After a one-year improvement, the Brewers are heading back in the wrong direction.

After ranking 28th of 30 MLB organizations five years ago, St. Louis remains in the top half, though they declined from sixth overall to 14th. Still, the Cardinals remain third in the division, as the Cubs and the Bucs hold their strong positions in MLB’s upper echelon.

NL Central Orgs. 2015 MLB rank and trend 2014 MLB rank 2013 MLB rank  2012 MLB rank  2011 MLB rank 2010 MLB rank
Cubs 1 4 12 24 18 14
Pirates 4 2 1 9 16 18
Cardinals 14 6 2 15 17 28
Reds 16 22 17 16 5 16
Brewers 27 20 25 29 28 13

Showing the Pirates as red for the second consecutive year hardly seems fair as moving from number one to number two to number four is not an embarrassment. The new top dog from Chicago – the NL Central version – replaces the 2014 #1 system, the Houston Astros. The Brewers are stuck in neutral, while the Reds improved after a three-year downhill skid.

Now let’s dive down into the detailed analysis of the 2015 NL Central by category.

Here we clearly see the Cardinals’ problem, as they score consistently strongly in three of the four criteria that are combined to make up the overall score. All St. Louis’ scores are “B” or better – except for hitting at “C.” From the division, only the Reds came in lower.

NLC Org. Hitting Pitching Top end talent  Depth Overall
Cubs A+ B A+ A A
Pirates B A- A- A- A
Cardinals C A- B B B
Reds C- A- B B- B
Brewers C C- D C C

Across the Central, the Cards tie with Pittsburgh and the Reds for the top spot in pitching. Despite a “B” ranking, the Cards are in the middle of the pack in top end talent and depth.

As the quantity and quality of pitching talent that has graduated to the majors in the last two years, the Cardinals have continued to focus on pitching early in the recent drafts. Given that, the gulf between hitting (low) and pitching (high) is somewhat understandable.

More on this when we get into the prospect’s names, but it is worth remembering moves like the Jason Heyward trade can balance this inequity at the big-league level if needed.

Cardinals now versus in the past

Now we’ll look into Cardinals year-to-year trends. Note that only seven years of the “depth” category is included here as it was first incorporated into the 2009 Analyst. Therefore, only six yearly comparisons are possible.

Cardinals Hitting Pitching Top-end talent  Depth Overall
2015 C A- B B B
14-'15 trend down up down flat down
2014 A B- A B A-
13-'14 trend up down flat down down
2013 B A A A
12-13 trend flat up up up up
2012 B A- B+ B B
11-12 trend up up up up up
2011 C B B- B- C+
10-11 trend up up up up up
2010 D C+ C C C-
09-10 trend down flat down down down
2009 A- C+ B- B B
08-09 trend up down flat   up
2008 C+ B- B-   B-
07-08 trend up up up   up
2007 C C- C+   C

After three years of consistent improvement almost completely across the board, the Cardinals organization lost ground in two of four categories that make up the overall score for the second consecutive year. As a result, the overall ranking fell again, too.

This should not be a big surprise as the cyclical nature of the prospect business almost assures this. The Cardinals are not going to ever draft early and they aren’t likely to ever enjoy five first-round picks as they had in 2012.

As noted, the “C” score for hitting is the largest drop and is understandable. While some exciting new hitters joined the rankings, such as Magneuris Sierra, he is nowhere near proven to the level of ones who graduated, such as Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong. This had to affect the depth rating as well.

Pitching has tied for its second-best score since at least 2007, an “A-.” Even so, with a full two-level drop in hitting, it was not enough to keep overall top-end talent ranking from also falling. Unless other offensive players step up big-time, a further drop could be in the Cards for 2016.

Let’s go back to the Cardinals top 15 prospects to dig into this a bit. In terms of raw numbers, quantity not quality, the number of hitters in the top 15 declined by one for the second consecutive year, to the point they are now in the slightest minority.

Accordingly, pitchers are on the comeback, as one could expect given the strength of the system is with the arms. For 2015, four new pitchers joined the list, but three were just drafted in June. Obviously, more work is required.

Only looking at the top half, prospects one through eight, we get a much different view. In the best of the best, we can clearly see that pitching is still king, in their most dominating showing since an identical 6/2 split in 2011.

Cards top 15 Hitters Pitchers   Cards top 8 Hitters Pitchers
2015 7 8   2015 2 6
2014 8 7   2014 3 5
2013 9 6   2013 3 5
2012 7 8   2012 3 5
2011 6 9   2011 2 6
2010 8 7   2010 4 4
2009 8 7   2009 6 2
2008 9 6   2008 4 4

In Part three of this series, we will look into individual player movement and changes in their projections from year to year.

Thank you to BaseballHQ for giving us this special peek at their data. Please respect them and copyright laws by not duplicating this material.

Link to Part one of this report: ”BaseballHQ’s top 15 Cardinals Prospects: 2015”.

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