BaseballHQ: Cards System Still in MLBs 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 11th 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 1 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 2, 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 2006-2015 are used to compare progress, or in some cases, lack of it.

In Part 3, we will evaluate individual Cardinals player movement on and off the top 15.

St. Louis vs. NL Central

Despite its third consecutive system drop in the rankings, let’s not forget from where the Cardinals came. In 2006, they 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 with few ready fill ins, it is not surprising that the system dropped off in each of the last three years. The “B-” score for 2016 barely places the organization among the bottom half of teams in the MLB, a comparable position where the Cards ranked in 2011.

NL Central 2016 overall and YTY trend 15 14 13 12 11 10  09 08 07 06
Pirates A A A A B+ B- B- C+ C+ C C
Cubs B+ A A- B+ C C+ B- C- C+ C+ B-
Reds B B C+ B- B- A- B- B B+ B C-
Brewers B- C B- C C D+ B B- C B B+
Cardinals B- B A- A B C+ C- B B- C C-

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

Along with the Cardinals sliding from year to year, so did the Cubs, although only slightly. The latter had a number of key promotions for 2015. The Pirates and Reds are holding with their same overall grade as in 2015 – with Chicago and Pittsburgh still among the very best in the game. After a one-year dip, the Brewers are back to their B- mark of two years ago.

As St. Louis declined from 14th overall to 17th, the Cardinals slipped to fourth in the division. The Cubs and the Bucs hold their strong positions in MLB’s upper echelon, with the Reds having also slipped ahead of the Cards.

NL Central 2016 MLB rank and trend 2015 MLB rank 2014 MLB rank 2013 MLB rank  2012 MLB rank  2011 MLB rank 2010 MLB rank
Pirates 4 4 2 1 9 16 18
Cubs 5 1 4 12 24 18 14
Reds 13 16 22 17 16 5 16
Cardinals 17 14 6 2 15 17 28
Brewers 20 27 20 25 29 28 13

Not showing the Pirates and Cubs as green hardly seems fair as the two remain in the top five across MLB. The Reds and the Cardinals straddle the mid-point, with Cincinnati on the high side and St. Louis on the low. The Brewers’ 20th rank is considerably lower than other national raters see the organization.

Now let’s dive down into the detailed analysis of the 2016 NL Central by category.

Here we clearly see the Cardinals’ problems, as they score consistently strongly in just two of the four criteria that are combined to make up the overall score. Not surprisingly, the issue is hitting at “C” and overall depth at “C+”. Across the division, the Cards are worst in hitting and tied with the Brewers for weakest depth.

NL Central Hitting Pitching Top end talent  Depth Overall
Pirates A- B A A- A
Cubs A- B- B A B+
Reds B A- B B- B
Cardinals C B+ B C+ B-
Brewers B- C+ B- C+ B-

Across the Central, the Cards shine in pitching, though they are second fiddle to the Reds. Despite a “B” ranking, the Cards are just in the middle of the pack in top end talent with the Bucs better and the Brew Crew worse.

As the quantity and quality of pitching talent that graduated to the majors in the last few years, the Cardinals continued to focus on pitching early in recent drafts – at least prior to 2015. Given that, the gulf between hitting (low) and pitching (high) is somewhat understandable, but it needs to change soon to stop the Cardinals overall slide.

Cardinals now versus in the past

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

Cardinals Hitting Pitching Top-end talent  Depth Overall
2016 C B+ B C+ B-
15-'16 trend flat down flat down down
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 third 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. Their best hope is to get a jump start from the international market, especially hitting.

The “C” score for depth is the largest drop and is understandable. While some new hitters joined the rankings such as Harrison Bader and Nick Plummer, they are nowhere near proven to the level of ones who graduated, such as Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk. The fact that the prospect pitchers behind Alex Reyes are quite a distance away and the Brandon Moss trade sent Rob Kaminsky away also had to affect the depth rating.

Still, pitching is the strength of the system, as it has been five of the last six years. Even so, with a drop in pitching slightly from A- to B+ and hitting stuck at C, 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 2017.

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 third consecutive year, to the point they are now in a substantial minority.

Accordingly, pitchers are on the comeback, as one could expect given the strength of the system is with the arms. For 2016, three new pitchers joined the list, but only one was just drafted in June. The other two are graduates of the international program.

Only looking at the top half, prospects one through eight, we get a similar view. In the best of the best, we can clearly see that pitching is still king.

Cards top 15 Hitters Pitchers   Cards top 8 Hitters Pitchers
2016 6 9   2016 3 5
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 1 of this report: ”BaseballHQ’s Top 15 Cardinals Prospects: 2016”.

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