The St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system has been much maligned by baseball experts in recent years. A close look at the current state of that system reveals that those "experts" may now have to look elsewhere for a minor league system that they can pick on.
It is true that the Redbirds' system isn't stocked with many top quality position prospects at this time. The critics of the Cardinals' system are right about that. Those same critics would be hard pressed, however,to find many other teams that have as many outstanding starting pitching prospects.
And quality pitching prospects are the most valuable of all prospects. Everyone knows that you can't win without good pitching. Trying to buy it via free agency is becoming very pricey. Trying to acquire it via trade is getting more and more difficult to do although Cards' GM Walt Jocketty has proven very good at it in recent years.
Jocketty's success in the trade market notwithstanding, it makes a lot of sense to stock your system with top quality young arms. And that the Cardinals have done. Here's a brief rundown of some of their top pitching prospects:
Adam Wainwright. The big (6'7" and up to 235 following a strenuous offseason strength and conditioning program) righthander was the top prospect in the Braves' system before being acquired by the Cardinals in the trade that sent J.D. Drew to Atlanta. He's a power pitcher that throws very hard and his command of his pitches is improving. Wainwright shined in spring training camp last year, clearly showing all present that he could get big league hitters out. He was shut down early last year when his elbow tightened up but he struck out 23 batters in 23 innings pitched and compiled a 2.35 ERA before his elbow flared up. Currently projected to join the Cardinals' starting rotation in 2006 but Wainwright believes it might happen sooner.
Anthony Reyes. A product of the Southern Cal baseball program and a former teammate of Mark Prior, Reyes dominated the Class AA Southern League last year. He went 6-2 with a 2.91 ERA while pitching for the Tennessee Smokies. Reyes racked up 140 strikeouts last year and had a 7-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He's another hard thrower (95 mph fastball) and has a great slider and a good changeup. Baseball America rates Reyes as the Cardinals' top prospect. Like Wainwright, he's projected to join the Cardinals' starting rotation in 2006.
Brad Thompson. This is the kid that made headlines all over the country last year when he pitched 57 consecutive scoreless innings for the aforementioned Smokies. He went 8-2 with a 2.36 ERA pitching for Tennessee. Unlike Wainwright and Reyes, Thompson isn't a power pitcher but don't underestimate him. He's got Greg Maddux written all over him. He knows how to pitch. Has a good sinker, slider, and changeup and has the hitters off balance and hitting the ball on the ground most of the time. Should arrive in St. Louis in 2006.
Blake Hawksworth. Another fireballer and perhaps the best prospect of the bunch. Pitched only 11 innings last year before being shut down to have shoulder surgery to correct a circulatory problem. Hawksworth was virtually unhittable during his college career where he posted unbelievable numbers and was almost equally dominant in Class A action in 2003. Has a good fastball, a good curveball, and a great changeup. Many scouts project Hawksworth as a number one starter at the major league level. Likely to join the Cardinals' starting rotation in 2007.
Chris Lambert. The Cardinals' top draft pick in the 2004 draft, Lambert is a product of the Boston College baseball program where his fastball was frequently clocked at 97-98 mph. Needless to say, he's yet another power pitcher (do you see a theme here?) that has a very high upside. He pitched well in Class A action following the draft, striking out 46 in 38 innings pitched while compiling a 2.58 ERA. Has great stuff. Capable of being a dominant starting pitcher at the major league level.
Stuart Pomeranz. Another 6'7" righthander, Pomeranz was the Cardinals' second round pick in the 2003 draft. He went 12-4 with a 3.55 ERA at the Class A level in 2004, striking out 88 in 101 innings pitched. The youngest of this group at only 20 years of age, Pomeranz has good stuff and great upside potential.
Mark Michael. Another power pitcher with great potential, Michael fanned 56 batters in 54 innings pitched for the New Jersey Cardinals in 2003 while compiling a 3.17 ERA. He followed that up with a solid season at the Class A level last year, striking out 95 in 121 innings pitched while registering a 3.36 ERA. Has good stuff and the scouts like him. Projected as a successful starting pitcher at the major league level.
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