Even with all the success of last year, this year's version of the Springfield Cardinals might be even better. At least on paper they look to be. Yes, top prospect Colby Rasmus has moved on. But with a deeper starting rotation and a more formidable lineup top to bottom, fans at Hammons Field may witness the franchise's first Texas League Championship.
The infield can best be described as "prospect-laden". Of the five projected starters, all were in ranked in the top 17 of The Birdhouse's 40 Days, 40 Nights, 40 Prospects. It is definitely one of the most talented infields a Cardinals Minor League affiliate has produced in quite some time. The outfield should be solid as well with one of the starters ranked number 19 on the Birdhouse list while the other two projected starters just missed the Top 40.
Here is a look at the candidates for Manager Pop Warner's team:
Bryan Anderson (right)
Anderson spent most of 2007 as a 20 year old in the Texas League but he more than held his own. With the recent contract extension of Yadier Molina and the signing of Mark Johnson to hold down the fort at Memphis, there is no need to rush the Cardinals best position prospect not named Colby Rasmus.
Baseball America's 2006 Independent League Player of the Year enjoyed limited success in 2007 at Palm Beach. Though he posted only a .244 batting average and a .271 on base percentage, he did slug .422. In June, Church posted an isolated power of .229 and a slugging percentage of .494 before dislocating his shoulder. He must improve on his 6-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio to continue up the ladder. At 27, time could soon be running out for the Tampa native but with his solid play before being injured, the Cardinals will most likely be patient with him for now.
Craig had an outstanding year split between Palm Beach and Springfield. The former ninth round pick put up an impressive isolated power number of .230 in his first full season. No one questions Craig's ability to hit, but the jury is out on his permanent position.
Injuries have slowed the progress of the once-promising outfield prospect. The Cardinals could give Gorecki one more chance as he only played in 33 games in 2007. But the clock is beginning to run out on the Delaware product; he will be 27 on opening day.
The former Cornhusker had a solid yet often overlooked first full professional season. The 22-year-old hit .295/.342/.451 between the Quad Cities and Palm Beach. A number that sticks out is his .491 slugging percentage in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. His results in the Nicaraguan Winter League were mixed; he put up a line of .220/.284/.362 but did lead his team in home runs and RBIs.
Tyler Greene (right)
The former first-round pick seemed to be putting things together before a knee injury ended his season in July. Before getting injured, Greene was slugging .585 during the month of June. The Cardinals are ready to see returns on their $1.1 million investment and have the results match Greene's tools.
At 27 years of age, the former Indy ball player may have just about reached his ceiling. In only 69 at bats at Palm Beach, Grossman posted an OBP of .382. He could provide a nice backup for the much younger Anderson.
In 2007, the Tulane product showed the power that the Cardinals drafted. Between Palm Beach and Springfield, Hamilton hit 19 home runs. Then during the Texas League playoffs, he hit tied a record by hitting three home runs in one game. The 23 year old struggled in the Arizona Fall League where he hit only .083 against left-handers.
The former Miami Hurricane's 2007 was marred by injury. After hitting .342 in his professional debut in 2006, Jay will need to bounce back to stay in the Cardinals' outfield mix. Remember, at this time last year many believed that Jay would beat Colby Rasmus to the Majors.
A good glove man who offers little power at the plate, Lucena hit .257/.304/.333 at Springfield in 2007. The Venezuelan is hard to strike out, 20 in 303 at bats, but doesn't walk much either, posting just 17. Back in 2004, Lucena led the Appalachian League with a .332 batting average.
After struggling at Palm Beach, Martinez was promoted to Springfield to fill the void created by Tyler Greene's injury. After his promotion, all Martinez did was hit. At Double-A, the recently-turned 22 year old hit .300/.337/.472 with 10 home runs. The jury is out on if he can play shortstop at the big league level so the Cardinals may move him to second base to get both his and Tyler Greene's bat in the lineup.
Dan Nelson (right)
An underrated prospect in the Cardinals' system, Nelson is a switch-hitter that can play multiple positions. Something else Nelson does is get on base, as he posted a .376 on base percentage for Palm Beach in 2007. Nelson had a good Columbian Winter League season, hitting .304/.425/.478. Though he will not have a set position, he should get plenty of at bats for Pop Warner in 2008.
A burner, Rapoport struggled at the plate hitting only .231/.295/.284 between the Quad Cities and Palm Beach. The 22-year-old could provide good outfield defense off the bench as well as speed on the bases; he stole 31 bases in 2007.
One of the fastest players in the Cardinals' system, Robinson is hoping to bounce back from an injury-filled 2007. In 110 professional games, Robinson is hitting .268/.335/.338 with an impressive walk to strikeout ratio of 38-to-37. The 23-year-old, has also stolen 26 bases. The former Florida State Seminole played 40 games in the Colombian Winter League, posting a line of .292/.381/.424 with 11 stolen bases. Robinson very well could start the season at Palm Beach due to all the time he missed in 2007.
The former Arkansas Razorback split time between Palm Beach and Springfield during 2007 while playing multiple positions, including a game that I witnessed him pitch. While the undersized Rowlett lacks power, he does provide a versatile glove and good speed on the base paths.
Mark Shorey (right)
Played on three levels during 2007 while posting a respectable .279/.331/.462 in his first professional season. The 31st round pick can play either of the corner outfield positions as well as first base. During his stay at Springfield, Shorey hit 11 home runs in 190 at bats.
The 24-year-old hit .239/.297/.331 for Palm Beach in 2007. The Tulane product did fare well against lefties, hitting .315/.328/.449 in 127 at bats. In his professional debut in 2006, Southard hit .306 while being named a New York-Penn League Midseason All-Star.
A.J. Van Slyke
The St. Louis native hit .283/.334/.383 for Palm Beach in 2007. Son of former Cardinal Andy Van Slyke, A.J. shows a good knowledge of the game and can play first base and all three-outfield spots. The left-handed hitter needs to walk more often, 29 walks compared to 78 strikeouts, but does show good speed on the bases, with 18 steals in 2007.
At bats may be hard to come by for Yarbrough with Bryan Anderson playing ahead of him. Yarbrough hit .278/.326/.416 with five home runs and 60 RBIs for Palm Beach in 2007. The 23-year-old would be a solid alternative for Warner, allowing him to rest Anderson, who did wear down at the end of last season.
C Bryan Anderson
1B Mark Hamilton
2B Jose Martinez
3B Allen Craig
SS Tyler Greene
LF Mark Shorey
CF Jon Jay
RF Luke Gorsett
A.J. Van Slyke
"The Cards' 2008 Minors Hitters: Memphis"
Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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