The Cards' 2008 Minors Hitters: Palm Beach

The third installment of a four-part series projecting the everyday lineups for each of the four full-season minor league teams of the St. Louis Cardinals. Here we look at the Palm Beach Cardinals.

As we continue to look at the possible line-ups for the St. Louis Cardinals' Minor League affiliates, the competition is getting tougher. Some players' future positions are still unsettled while many more are trying to establish themselves as part of the Cardinals' future.

The 2007 Palm Beach Cardinals of the Single-A Florida State League witnessed players Mark Hamilton and Allen Craig establish themselves as two of the better power prospects in the Cardinals' system in their first full professional seasons. This year's version looks to have several more players ready to take that step into the Cardinals Minor League spotlight.

Even though there will be no elite prospects in Palm Beach, there should be good depth. Manager Gaylen Pitts will have the task of juggling his lineup on a daily basis to get at-bats for a solid group of players. Pitts will have a couple of the best defenders in the system to choose from, some surprises from the 2007 draft, and lots of speed in the outfield.

Unlike the predictions for Springfield and Memphis, these were dependent on which position a particular player might see the most time. An example is Steve Hill. If he is predominantly a catcher, a guy like Nick Derba may stay at the Quad Cities. If he plays the outfield, it affects others like Tyler Henley, Shane Robinson, and Daryl Jones.

So far, these predictions have been the toughest. Here is a list of the candidates:

Brandon Buckman (right)

Buckman was a leading MVP candidate of the Midwest League before being promoted to Palm Beach. At the Quad Cities, the newly 24-year-old hit .341/.384/.590 in 261 at bats. He struggled after joining Palm Beach, hitting only .268/.295/.397. The former Nebraska Cornhusker provides excellent defense at first base and seemed to be putting it together as he hit .306/.321/.510 in August.

Tony Cruz

Here we have the most surprising player from this past year's draft as well as the most traveled. Cruz appeared at four levels, ending the year at the Quad Cities. For the season, Cruz hit .299/.347/.451 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs in 268 at bats. He may be getting a look at catcher in the early going. The 26th round pick will go as far as his bat takes him.

Nick Derba

According to Baseball America, Derba was the top catcher in the minors in throwing out baserunners, erasing 53% of would-be base stealers, 21 points better than the New York-Penn League average. Though he did not knock the cover off the ball, Derba did put up respectable numbers in his first professional season. Between Batavia and the Quad Cities, Derba walked 44 times compared to 55 strikeouts in 224 at bats over the two levels to go with a line of .268/.397/.388.

Daniel Descalso (right)

The 22-year-old got off to a good start in June, .302/.388/.326, but really struggled in July, .196/.303/.217. On a positive note, it is good to see Descalso still getting on base even though he wasn't finding holes in the defense during his dreadful July. He put things together in August hitting .333/.379/.463.

For the season, Descalso finished with a line of .268/.346/.336 and 12 stolen bases. Descalso only notched 12 extra base hits and 31 RBIs, very anemic for a corner infielder. If he is moving to second, I could see him at Palm Beach. If he is going to stay at third, Cruz has him blocked so he would return to the Quad Cities.

Isa Garcia

The second baseman out of the University of Houston found the Midwest League to his liking, getting off to a hot start while hitting .342/.444/.395 in 38 at bats. Unfortunately, the pitching in the Florida State League was not nearly as friendly. Garcia ended with a line of .252/.297/.356 for Palm Beach. The 23-year-old seemed to be getting it together in June, hitting .362/.409/.414. But his numbers declined in July and even more in August. Is he the next Juan Lucena?

Chris Grossman

This former Indy baller performed better in the Florida State League than the Midwest League in 2007. With Quad Cities, the catcher hit .277/.339/.416 in 65 games. At Palm Beach, Grossman hit .319/.382/.391 in 21 games. The strike against him is that he just turned 27. Brandon Yarbrough was projected to start the year at Springfield but it could be Grossman due to his age.

Tyler Henley (right)

The former Rice Owl is a gritty centerfielder/leadoff man with lots of big game experience. Henley started out for Batavia hitting .281/.397/.351. In limited action, he posted an almost one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, nine Ks to eight BBs. Henley was then promoted to the Swing, but could never find his groove. He hit only .156/.200/.406 in 32 at bats while striking out almost 26% of the time. Henley did find some power in the Midwest League, as he hit his first two professional home runs.

Steve Hill

Hill started the year in Batavia, posting unreal numbers of .436/.511/.692 in 39 ABs over 10 games. He was then promoted to the Swing and continued to produce, finishing with a line of .303/.330/.487 in 261 ABs. At the Quad Cities, Hill hit 11 home runs with 44 RBIs but with a concerning 58-to-9 K to BB ratio. The 22-year-old would have led the Swing in average, slugging percentage, OPS had he logged more at bats. In the field, Hill played 30 games at first, 27 games in left field, 15 games at catcher, and seven games as a DH.

Daryl Jones

Jones has been praised for his tools but has yet to produce. It is about time he started producing after hitting .217/.303/.296 for the Swing in 2007. There is time, as he won't turn 21 until the end of June, but it would be nice to see him take at least a small step forward.

Jaime Landin

Landin is yet another former Indy baller who shows patience and a good eye at the plate. He posted an OBP of .362 while playing a variety of positions at the Quad Cities. The Texan could make the team in a utility role.

Oliver Marmol (right)

The sixth-round pick in the 2007 draft debuted at Batavia, hitting .213/.326/.246. Of his 30 hits, only four went for extra bases. Marmol was needed to fill a roster spot with the Swing and the call up did not inspire better play. For Quad Cities, Marmol hit .209/.296/.267. The 21-year-old struggled in the field as well, committing 22 errors for a .928 fielding percentage. If not for a certain player that is projecting to start the year at shortstop at the Quad Cities, Marmol would probably start the year in the Midwest League.

Jim Rapoport

Speed is the name of the game when talking about Rapoport; the problem is he doesn't get on base enough to use it. In 198 professional games, he has posted only a .299 OBP. On the upside, he does have 55 steals and does cover a lot of ground in centerfield.

Christian Reyes

The 21-year-old put together a solid, yet unspectacular season for the Swing in 2007. Reyes was drafted as a catcher but played more as the DH during his time in the Midwest League. He hit 12 home runs while striking out 93 times compared to only 20 walks in 374 at bats.

Shane Robinson (right)

The undersized outfielder out of Florida State who earned Collegiate Baseball's National Player of the Year Award in 2005 is hoping to stay healthy in 2008. A broken foot limited Robinson to only 49 games in 2007. In 43 games at Palm Beach, the speedy Robinson stole 14 bases. To get him more playing time, the Cardinals will probably start him at Palm Beach, but with a good start the 23-year-old could move to Springfield quickly.

Jared Schweitzer

The former Kansas Jayhawk put together a solid first professional season, hitting .290/.364/.450 with 10 home runs at the Quad Cities. Playing the season as a 23 year old (he turned 24 in October), he was a little old for the league but his results were solid regardless. Schweitzer's ability to play multiple positions will help his value as he moves up the ladder.

Donovan Solano

Reaching high Class A as a 19-year-old in 2007. Solano was definitely overmatched by the older competition, as he hit only .209/.249/.233. The Columbian hit much better at home in the Columbian Winter League, posting a line of .328/.405/.389. Definitely a defense-first player, the Cardinals will be patient with Solano as he is very young while having good upside.

Nathan Southard

The Tulane product struggled at Palm Beach in 2007, hitting .239/.297/.331 in 125 games. Southard 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. He turned 24 during the off-season, so the clock is ticking.

Predictions

Starters
C Nick Derba
1B Brandon Buckman
2B Daniel Descalso
3B Tony Cruz
SS Oliver Marmol
OF Steve Hill
OF Shane Robinson
OF Tyler Henley

Reserves
Chris Grossman
Daryl Jones
Christian Reyes
Jared Schweitzer
Donovan Solano
Nathan Southard

In limbo
Isa Garcia
Jaime Landin
Jim Rapoport

Previous articles:
"The Cards' 2008 Minors Hitters: Memphis"
"The Cards' 2008 Minors Hitters: Springfield"



Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at dustin@whiteyball.com.

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