The Minor League Baseball Analyst ranks the St. Louis Cardinals system versus its competitors.

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 St. Louis Cardinals changes from prior years in four key areas - hitting, pitching, top-end talent and depth.

The 12th edition of BaseballHQ’s “Minor League Baseball Analyst” is now available. As always, the guide integrates sabermetrics and scouting for over 1000 minor leaguers across all 30 organizations. In-depth scouting reports and stats include batter skills ratings, runner speed, pitch repertoires, Major League equivalents and 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.

Part 2 will look into the Minor League Baseball Analysts’ Cardinals organizational rankings in comparison to their National League Central Division competitors. Past club rankings from 2006-2016 are used to compare progress, or in some cases, lack of it.

Coming in Part 3 will be an evaluation of individual Cardinals player movement on and off the top 15.  

 

St. Louis vs. NL Central

The rankings illustrate the cyclical nature of system rankings. For 2017, the Cardinals are in the middle of the MLB pack for the third consecutive year, though with a “B” score, they did slightly turn around a three-year decline from their peak in 2013, when rated “A”. In 2006, the Cards were dead last in the National League Central Division comparative rankings with a “C minus” score.

Given the level of graduations and trades with few ready fill ins, it is not surprising that the system dropped off in each of the prior three years, just as the slight upturn reflects a strong 2016 draft at the high-end. The Cardinals’ “B” score for 2017 barely places the organization among the top half of teams in the MLB, a comparable position where the Cards ranked two years ago, in 2015.

NL Central 2017 overall and YTY trend 16 15 14 13 12 11 10  09 08 07 06
Brewers A- B- C B- C C D+ B B- C B B+
Pirates A- A A A A B+ B- B- C+ C+ C C
Cardinals B B- B A- A B C+ C- B B- C C-
Cubs B- B+ A A- B+ C C+ B- C- C+ C+ B-
Reds B- B B C+ B- B- A- B- B B+ B C-

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

Interestingly, only two teams in the NL Central demonstrated improvement from 2016. In the case of Milwaukee, their rebuilding program gave them a substantial boost in the comparative rankings.

Of the three teams to slide from year to year, the only significant movement was made by the Cubs, who made several key trades of prospects that helped power them to the 2016 World Championship.

The Pirates and Reds are close to holding with their same overall grade as in 2016 – just one tick down - with Pittsburgh still among the very best in the game.

As St. Louis improved to 13th overall from 17th, they flipped places with the Reds. Unlike last year, 17th place means last in the division for Cincinnati, however. Thanks to the Cubs’ decline, the Cardinals improved to third in the division. The Brewers vaulted from last to first, pushing the Pirates down one place.

NL Central 2017 MLB rank and trend 2016 MLB rank 2015 MLB rank 2014 MLB rank 2013 MLB rank  2012 MLB rank  2011 MLB rank 2010 MLB rank
Brewers 4 20 27 20 25 29 28 13
Pirates 5 4 4 2 1 9 16 18
Cardinals 13 17 14 6 2 15 17 28
Cubs 16 5 1 4 12 24 18 14
Reds 17 13 16 22 17 16 5 16

In fact, showing the Pirates as red hardly seems fair as they remain in the top five across MLB. Essentially, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are clustered near the top with the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds grouped around the middle.

 

Now let’s dive down into the detailed analysis of the 2017 NL Central by category.

Here we clearly see the Cardinals’ strengths and weaknesses, They score strongly in just one of the four criteria that are combined to make up the overall score.

The hitting is not reviewed badly at “B”, yet it is tied for the low in the division, as all five clubs are closely clustered. Again, St. Louis tied for low score in top-end talent, a not-great “B-“. The depth “B” assessment is in the middle of the Central.

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

Not surprisingly, the Cards continue to shine in pitching. In fact, their “A-“ score is the best in the division. Yet, even so, the top-end talent is not that high, suggesting quantity rather than high-end quality might be partially driving this score,

 

Cardinals now versus in the past

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

Cardinals Hitting Pitching Top-end talent  Depth Overall
2017 B A- B- B B
16-'17 trend up up down up up
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

For the first time in the last four years, the Cardinals showed consistent improvement almost completely across the board. The organization gained ground in three of four categories that make up the overall score. As a result, the overall ranking rose, too.

Even so, the increases were modest in the big picture. The Cardinals are likely not ever going to draft early and may not soon enjoy three first-round picks as they had in 2016. Their best hope near-term is for the international market to bear increasing fruit after basically jamming three years of signings in that area into one.

The “B” score for depth is understandable, but just matches the organization’s placement in four of the last six years.

Pitching remains the strength of the system, as it has been six of the last seven years.  Despite hitting, pitching and depth showing year to year improvement, the relatively poor top-end talent damaged the overall rating. 

 

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 pitchers in the top 15 declined after four consecutive years of growth. Of course, that means the quantity of hitters grew for the first time in four years. Overall, the two are very close.

This is a bit surprising given the strength of the system has been and remains with the arms. For 2017, just one new pitcher joined the list, and he was just drafted in June.

Only looking at the top half, prospects one through eight, we get a similar view of this return to more of a balance between hitting and pitching – in terms of quantity of names listed, at least.

Cards top 15 Hitters Pitchers   Cards top 8 Hitters Pitchers
2017 8 7   2017 4 4
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 3 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: 2017”

 

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