In September, the Cardinals named Jeff Luhnow as the head of player development, replacing Bruce Manno. They are changing short-season Class-A affiliates in 2007, with their new affiliate the Batavia Muckdogs. With the addition of their GCL team, the Cardinals are just one of four organizations with seven North American minor league affiliates, plus the Caribbean academies.
Pitching Rules the Farm
A long-standing trend continues in the St. Louis system with nine of the top 15 Cardinals prospects coming from the pitching ranks and 23 of the top 40.
Right-hander Blake Hawksworth, 23, missed most of the 2004 and 2005 seasons due to injuries, the most recent of which required labrum surgery. He did, however, put together a very solid 2006 campaign. Hawksworth, a 2001 draft-and-follow signee, has one of the best changeups in the system. That is complimented by a low-90's fastball and a good curveball. While health is an issue, Hawksworth possesses the tools and mental toughness to compete in the major leagues. Hawksworth and left-hander Chris Narveson are the closest to major league ready of any starters in the system. Hawksworth should start 2007 in Triple-A Memphis.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia is a 2005 22nd round pick whose out pitch is a 74-78 mph curveball that he will throw in any count. He mixes it with a 91-94 MPH sinking fastball and a changeup that has some sink. Garcia is a groundball pitcher with a ground-to-fly ratio of close to three-to-one. He reached High-A in 2006, before age 20 and in just his first season of professional ball, after having not pitched in 2005 due to work visa issues. Early projections place him in the middle of the major league rotation. Garcia may begin 2007 in Double-A Springfield although High-A Palm Beach is possible due to his youth and inexperience.
Adam Ottavino, a 2006 first-round pick, works off two types of fastballs, a mid-90's four-seamer he threw when drafted and a low-90's two-seamer that he is now developing. The 21-year-old right-hander's breaking pitches are inconsistent, featuring an erratic slider that shows promise of plus quality, a solid changeup and a curveball. He is vulnerable to lefties and needs to work on pitching to the inside of the plate. Ottavino tossed just 36.2 innings in Low-A in 2006 and may begin 2007 either at that level or High-A Palm Beach.
A second-round 2000 Draft pick, Chris Narveson was the key piece in St. Louis' trade with Colorado for outfielder Larry Walker in 2004. Narveson has a fastball in the 88-92 MPH range and a plus curve. Additionally, the southpaw throws a slider and changeup. Like Hawksworth, Narveson has battled injuries with both his elbow (Tommy John) and shoulder (labrum surgery) in the past. He made his major league debut as part of the Cardinals' September 2006 call-ups. Narveson's situation is complicated by the fact that he is out of options. Therefore, he must clear waivers to return to the minors if he does not make St. Louis' 25-man roster, which is how the Cardinals re-acquired him in 2005.
Right-hander Stuart Pomeranz was drafted as an 18-year-old in the second round of the 2003 Draft. The now 22-year-old's pitching repertoire is highlighted by a low-90's fastball that has good sink and late movement against right-handers. Pomeranz also throws a knuckle-curve and a changeup, although the latter pitch needs improvement to be an effective third option. He has the size, 6-foot-7, is an innings-eater but needs to improve both his consistency and command.
Chris Perez is the only reliever featured here. Selected in the first round out of the University of Miami in the 2006 Draft, the 6-foot-4 Perez features a slider that has been described as ‘nasty' which moves through the strike zone without beginning or finishing in it, and complements it with a heavy 92-94 MPH fastball and changeup. The 22-year old right-hander finished his college career as Miami's closer, a role he continues in the St. Louis system. Perez is expected to move quickly through the ranks and is projected as a possible closer in the majors.
Mark McCormick, a 2005 first round pick, features an electric arm with the best raw stuff in the system. The 21-year old sports a fastball that sits in the 92-95 MPH range but hit triple-digits in college. His power curve also has the potential to be a plus pitch. His biggest issues are command and health, as McCormick continues to walk almost as many as he strikes out and battles shoulder soreness. If the right-hander is able to harness his talent, he easily goes to the top of the system with his top-of-the-rotation potential.
The bats lag far behind the arms in St. Louis' system. The top quality, what there is of it, rests primarily in the lower minors. The 2005 and 2006 drafts improved the quality and quantity but the jury remains out on how many of the quality ‘potentials' end up grabbing the major league brass ring since most are far away.
St. Louis' top prospect, outfielder Colby Rasmus, is a five-tool prospect who was a 91 MPH pitcher on his 2005 national champion high school team. He has plus range and arm strength in centerfield and is already an effective base stealer. Rasmus' 28 stolen bases were third in the Cardinals' system in 2006. A left-handed hitter, Rasmus possesses excellent bat speed but needs to work on his plate discipline as he currently strikes out once every five-plus at bats. He may begin 2007 in Double-A Springfield.
Catcher Bryan Anderson, 20, hits from the left side for average with gap power thanks to a quick, compact swing. His .377 on-base percentage was fifth-best in the system in 2006. Defensively, the 2005 fourth-round pick has an average arm with very accurate throws. But his best defensive asset is his advanced handling of a pitching staff and game-calling skills for which he was praised by opposing managers in the Midwest League. He should start 2007 in High-A Palm Beach.
Hitting is where outfielder Nick Stavinoha, a seventh-round 2005 pick, excels. A right-handed pull hitter, Stavinoha led the system in batting average, slugging and on-base-plus-slugging-percentage (OPS) in 2005. A May 2006 ankle injury slowed him but he boasted a .332 batting average with a .556 slugging percentage and .940 OPS from July first onward in Double-A. The 24-year old's defense is not, however, on par with his bat. He only converted from catcher to the outfield in 2005 and is still learning the nuances of right field. Stavinoha looks to start 2007 in Triple-A Memphis.
Outfielder Cody Haerther, a sixth-round 2002 pick, has a smooth left-handed stroke designed for contact. Haerther had an excellent second-half of 2006 at Double-A Springfield. His below-average arm and suspect instincts limit him defensively. Haerther should begin 2007 at Triple-A Memphis.
Jon Edwards, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound 18-year-old outfielder, displayed above-average power and a plus arm in his first professional season. The 14th-round 2006 pick has advanced pitch recognition for his age and experience, and moves well for his size. Twenty-one of his 41 hits were for extra bases. He was fourth in extra-base slugging percentage and seventh in the Cardinals' system with a .360 on-base percentage
Right-hander Tyler Herron, a supplemental first-round 2005 pick, has a projectable 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and already throws a low-90's sinker to go with a potentially plus curveball and a changeup. He just turned 20 in August and displays advanced mound maturity.
On The Horizon
The Cardinals have an ever-expanding presence in Latin America with players just now beginning to filter into the Cardinals' North American affiliates, providing an aura of excitement for the future.
The Cardinals consider outfielder Edgar Lara to be their top prospect in Latin America. Signed at the age of 16 in September, 2005, Lara received a $250,000 signing bonus. He hit just .175 for the Dominican Summer League Cardinals in 2006, but his tools are tremendous. At 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, he has amazing power, good swing mechanics, and an above average arm.
Right-hander Omar Javier, signed in July, 2005, is said to have the highest upside of any of the Cardinals pitchers in Latin America. The Cardinals believe he has the potential to be a No. 2 starter in the big leagues. The 6-foot-3, 165-pounder has good mechanics and is only 19-years old.
Francisco Samuel is nicknamed Mosquito, just like fellow Dominican prospect Elvis Hernandez, who pitched for Johnson City in 2006. Despite a 6-foot-1, 150-pound frame, the right-hander has a very strong arm, with a fastball that sits at 93-94 and touches 95. He does, however, need to harness his command of the pitch. He also has a good breaking ball and the beginnings of a changeup. The 20-year-old profiles as a short reliever.
Top Prospect: Colby Rasmus
The Cardinals top draft pick in 2005, Colby Rasmus is also their consensus top prospect for 2007. The 20-year old led the system with 85 RBIs in 2006, having ascended to High-A Palm Beach.
Rasmus' mind is set on opening the 2007 season at Double-A Springfield and is working this winter on improving a few flaws in his game. He weighed just 175-pounds when drafted and his off-season plans include adding muscle to his 6-foot-2 frame.
Since taking two days off when he first arrived home following the Winter Instructional League, Rasmus has been working out every Monday through Saturday, lifting weights from 2-5:00 p.m. and then hitting until 7:00. According to his father Tony, "outside of that, he does video games, the Olive Garden, and sleep."
"I'm working on gaining weight," Colby told TheStLCardinals.com. "I'm up to 195-pounds right now. I'm trying to get to 200 before I go to spring training."
For those who are worried that the added weight will affect his speed and quickness, Rasmus doesn't believe that will be a problem.
"I've been running two or three times a week," he said. "A bunch of people say that to me - that I'm going to lose speed. If I see that I have, I'll drop back down, but I haven't lost any speed at all."
Having recently locked up centerfielder Jim Edmonds through 2008, for what will likely be the remainder of his career, the Cardinals may have a plan for Rasmus.
"I guess it don't bother me," Rasmus said when asked about the prospects of that situation. "But I don't like to think about it like that. That's Jim Edmonds, you know what I mean? If I'm fortunate enough to make it and follow behind him, I'll give it all I got, but that's some hard shoes to follow."
If anyone can do it, it's Colby Rasmus.
Top 20 Prospects
RK Name Pos Age
1 Colby Rasmus CF 20
Five-tool talent, led system with 85 RBI
2 Blake Hawskworth RHP 23
Has one of the best changeups in organization
3 Jaime Garcia LHP 20
Led organization with 131 strikeouts in 2006
4 Bryan Anderson C 20
Hit .302 with .377 OBP for Quad Cities in 2006
5 Adam Ottavino RHP 21
Top draft pick in 2006, fastball can touch mid-90s
6 Chris Narveson LHP 25
Made Major League debut in September
7 Stuart Pomeranz RHP 22
Stands 6-foot-7 and throws low-90s fastball
8 Chris Perez RHP 21
A closer, fastball sits in mid-90s
9 Jon Jay OF 21
Hit .342 with a .416 OBP in 60 games for Quad Cities
10 Nick Stavinoha OF 24
Hit .297/12 HR/73 RBI for Springfield in ‘06
11 Mark McCormick RHP 23
Throws fastball in mid-to-upper 90s
12 Cody Haerther OF 23
Added to Cardinals 40-man roster following season
13 Josh Kinney RHP 27
Allowed no runs in seven post-season appearances
14 Chris Lambert RHP 23
2007 could be make-or-break year
15 Jon Edwards OF 18
Posted an .861 OPS at Johnson City in ‘06
16 Tyler Greene SS 23
Led organization with 33 stolen bases in ‘06
17 Daryl Jones OF 19
Fastest runner in organization
18 Mark Hamilton 1B 22
Tied for lead with 8 HR in NY-Penn League
19 Brendan Ryan SS 24
Missed half of 2006 season with wrist injury
20 Tyler Herron RHP 20
Throws low-90s fastball with a good curveball