Cards Minor League Pitching Update: Part One

In the first installment of a two-part report, St. Louis Cardinals Director of Minor League Operations John Vuch provides exclusive inside scoop on the status of three of the St. Louis Cardinals' top minor league pitching prospects – Blake Hawksworth, Chris Narveson and Jaime Garcia.

On our premium message board, special for our subscribers, a number of questions have been posed recently about top St. Louis Cardinals minor league pitching prospects – many of them related to recovery plans and progress.

I caught up with Cardinals Director of Minor League Operations John Vuch this weekend to get the exclusive inside scoop on all our readers' questions and much more.



Blake Hawksworth. Our second-ranked prospect in the Cardinals minor league system last winter and both our and the Cardinals' organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2006 had a trying 2007. During a year when the Major League club desperately needed quality starting pitching, Hawksworth should have been ready to accept the call from Triple-A Memphis. Instead, he was unable to answer the bell due to inconsistency and injury.

The 24-year-old, taken by the Cardinals in the 28th round in 2001 as a draft-and-follow selection, started 25 games for Memphis in 2007. He won four but lost 13 with a 5.28 ERA. He struck out 88 and walked 41 in 129 2/3 innings. Opposing hitters batted .295 against Hawksworth, who surrendered 24 enemy home runs.

Hawksworth's last start was on August 22. Shortly thereafter, he was placed on the disabled list due to a sore shoulder. That is the same shoulder that caused him to miss the better part of two seasons previously due to a torn labrum.

As a result, Cardinals fans were concerned. I asked Vuch if Hawksworth was ok and would we expect to see him back on the mound this winter. I would consider the latter a good sign that he is not only healthy, but may be still under consideration for an expanded role next season. The answer is somewhat in the middle.

Says Vuch, "Hawksworth is healthy - he was shut down at the end of the year, but it was more precautionary. He had logged plenty of innings and with end of the season fatigue setting in, there was no need to push him. Many of the winter ball determinations will be made at a later date."



Chris Narveson. Left-handers are traditionally known to be late bloomers. But for Narveson, 25, his blooming may occur elsewhere as his second stint in the Cardinals system could be about over.

It is quite a contrast from where he was 12 months ago. Our number six prospect in the Cardinals organization during the off-season was another pitcher expected to be a 2007 Major League contributor for St. Louis.

As in the case of Hawksworth, it didn't work out that way. In May, Narveson went onto the disabled list with an oblique strain. After a setback extended the original four-week estimate, he finally began a three-game rehab assignment with Palm Beach then returned to Memphis in mid-July.

In just his second start after being re-activated, Narveson suffered a knee injury while pitching a no-hitter, no less. Another trip to the DL ensued, where he remained for the rest of the season.

With Memphis, Narveson made just nine starts this season. He won three, lost two with a 5.72 ERA. The lefty struck out 35, but walked 21 in 45 2/3 innings.

Just as with Hawksworth, a most important question is regarding Narveson's health. But, in this case, there is another crucial consideration, as Narveson, out of minor league options, had to be removed from the Cardinals' 40-man roster this spring. This puts his Cardinals future in doubt.

Vuch acknowledges the uncertainty. "Narvy is healthy. He'll be a minor league free agent at the end of October if not placed back on the 40-man roster, so we'll have decisions to make on him in the next few weeks."



Jaime Garcia. Continuing a run on injuries among the Cardinals top pitching prospects, Garcia, our number three prospect overall before the season (and my personal number two) also ended the 2007 season on the sidelines instead of on the mound.

The 21-year-old lefty was the organization's day two gem of the 2005 draft, taken in the 22nd round. Garcia was named to the 2006 Futures Game squad and was poised for a breakout 2007. The first half went as planned, as Garcia was named to the Texas League All-Star Team.

But before July was out, Garcia experienced soreness in his elbow. In the ensuing days, he went from being expected to be out just two weeks to being considered a candidate for surgery. An MRI examination by Dr. George Paletta led the Cards' head med to only state that "no rupture of Garcia's ulnar collateral ligament was found".

Garcia's last official appearance was on July 18. He finished the 2007 season with a 5-9 record and a 3.75 ERA. Garcia struck out 97 and walked 45 in 103 ½ Double-A innings. Opposing hitters batted .245 against him and his ground out to fly out ratio was an impressive 2.28:1.

As was Paletta's report two months earlier, Vuch's update on Garcia was somewhat reassuring, but not totally. "Nothing is seriously wrong with Garcia, and he's throwing down (in the Winter Instructional League) in Florida for us," the Cardinals official explained.

Not being totally satisfied with that, I offered that I would have expected to see Garcia pitching in the Arizona Fall League instead of Instructs if he was healthy. Certainly, the environment in camp in Florida is much more under the organization's control.

Vuch implied that Garcia wasn't deemed to be ready for the level of competition in Arizona yet, either for health or baseball reasons or both. "We just felt it was better to have Garcia get his work in down there in Florida rather than in the more competitive environment in Arizona. Depending on how 2008 unfolds, he'd be an early candidate to go out there next fall."

So, there you have it. Hawksworth is ok and could pitch this winter while Narveson is also fine but may or may not remain with the organization. And, nothing is seriously wrong with Garcia.

Make sure you return back here for Part Two of this report, where we will discuss the immediate futures of Kenny Maiques and Kyle McClellan, the late season pitching of a group of Quad Cities starters and the rise of a newcomer named Andres Rosales.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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