This month, the United Cardinal Bloggers project is to take a look at some of the kids in the farm system and identify the top seven (or so) that we should be following a bit more closely. Every writer will use his or her filters to come up with their list, and I am looking forward to reading each one of them.
This will be totally subjective with no metrics of any kind. Just impressions that these young players have left, and in a few cases, more than a passing similarity to a former player.
Since it seems that Lance Lynn has received the Garry Templeton treatment (burned up his rookie eligibility in a partial season), let’s take a look at the next crop of youngsters.
1. Matt Adams – 1B .300 / .357 / .566 32 home runs, 101 RBIs.
Young Mr. Adams might be the single most important player in the farm system, and for that reason he tops my list. I’ve written about him previously, and the kid is just a beast at the plate. In many ways, Adams reminds me of a young Prince Fielder except that Adams is quite a bit taller, and his offensive numbers so far in the minor leagues have surpassed those of the Brewers soon-to-be free agent. He did battle through some injuries in Springfield this year, and the Texas League has been known to inflate a few batting averages, but if you ever see this kid at the plate, and how
hard frequently loudly he hits the ball, it will leave a lasting impression. Much like it does in the outfield seats.
Matt Adams is in an interesting position. He is currently blocked by the best player of his era, Albert Pujols. What he offers the Cardinals is a bit of insurance in the event that the team is unable, or unwilling, to resign Pujols to a long term contract. If they don’t, Adams takes over in 2013 or 2014. He may even be more valuable if they do. Remember it was Brett Wallace that brought Matt Holliday to the Cardinals, and Adams is even more impressive at this point in his career.
Either way, the Cardinals will be a much better ball club for the remainder of the decade, thanks to the emergence of Matt Adams.
2. Ryan Jackson – SS .278 / .334 / .415 11 home runs, 73 RBIs, 34 doubles
There were three players in Springfield that consistently turned heads by their play. We’ve already talked about Matt Adams. Unfortunately, one is now in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, Alex Castellanos. The third was Ryan Jackson.
The Achilles Heel of the St. Louis Cardinals is the middle of the field. General Manager, John Mozeliak, and manager, Tony La Russa, struggle to find productive players at shortstop, second base and center field. Of these, shortstop is the teams greatest weakness.
Enter Ryan Jackson. I’ll make this one easy – it is Ryan Jackson that is delivering on the promise of Pete Kozma. Coming into Springfield this season, we knew that Jackson was a solid defender. The only question would be whether or not he could hit. Oh, he did. And hit, and hit and hit. Most of the time I saw Jackson this summer, he was hitting from the number 2 spot, and those line drives in the gaps drove in a huge number of runs. A frequent phrase heard over the Springfield audio stream was “and Jackson puts the Cardinals on top with a hit.” Those 73 RBIs will look so nice hitting ahead of the heart of the Cardinals batting order in 2013, and his glove will be most welcome, securing the left side of the infield.
3. Adron Chambers – CF .277 / .368 / .415 10 home runs, 44 RBIs, 22 stolen bases
Do not let Adron Chambers small frame fool you, he plays like a much bigger man. He is the amalgamation of Kenny Lofton, Lonnie Smith and Brian Jordan. He is exactly what the Cardinals need in 2012, and quite frankly for the remainder of the 2011 season. He’s a genuine catalyst at the top of the batting order. He has no fear on the bases, and I dearly wish Tony La Russa would put him in the game without someone clogging the bases ahead of him, so that we could see that impressive speed.
Chambers is still raw. He strikes out a lot, and his batting average could be a bit higher. He has learned to take some walks to compensate. He also appears to be able to hit both right handed and left handed pitching, which is a huge plus for someone you expect to hit leadoff. His greatest strength is also his greatest weakness – aggressiveness on the bases. He was thrown out trying to steal third base far too many times, but I will be willing to write that off as a learning experience. Under the right manager, and it probably isn’t Tony La Russa, Chambers could be the next Michael Bourn. Or, putting it Cardinals historical terms, Lonnie Smith.
4. Shelby Miller – RHP 9-3 2.70 ERA 89 Ks in 86 2/3 innings, and just 33 walks.
There is so much to like about Shelby Miller. In the few times I’ve been able to see him pitch, he totally over-matched the other players at his level. Even a very good hitting Frisco team only managed to put balls in play when they stuck their bats out at his secondary pitches. When he needed a big strikeout, he always got it. Like clockwork.
To see him perform as well as he did in the hitter friendly Texas League bodes well for his future in St. Louis. Depending on what happens in the middle of 2012, it could be sooner, rather than later.
5. Maikel Cleto – RHP 5-3 4.29 ERA. 66 Ks in 71 1/3 innings, 43 walks
I just have two words to say about young Mr. Cleto. Lee Smith. Every time I see Cleto take the mound, I remember a very young Lee Smith in Chicago. The parallels are absolutely spooky. They both lumber up to the mound. They both wrap their giant paws around a baseball that looks comically insignificant in their hands. And with little effort, they unleash hellfire on the opposing batters.
Yes, Lee Smith eventually became one of the greatest closers in the history of the game. He should
probably be in the Hall of Fame. But, and a lot of fans have forgotten this, Smith struggled with control early in his career. He threw so hard that his front shoulder flew open and he couldn’t hit the strikezone. Wait, are we talking about Lee Smith or Maikel Cleto ? Exactly.
If Cleto can finally harness that big frame, keep his body from flying open, and learn to put a bit of a late break on that superheater of his, he could be the next Lee Smith. Oh, and if you are curious, Smith came through the Cubs farm system as a starter too.
6. Chuckie Fick – RHP 5-3 2.30 ERA. 61 Ks in 70 1/3 innings, 37 walks.
The son of Cardinals scout and former minor leaguer, Chuck Fick, Chuckie has developed into quite a weapon out of the bullpen. He is not overpowering on the mound, but a slightly sidearm delivery from that 6ft 5in frame produces quite a bit of downward movement on his pitches, and that makes him extremely effective, especially when following hard throwers like Adam Ottavino, Maikel Cleto and PJ Walters. Fick is the perfect reliever for Dave Duncan’s pitch to contact approach.
Don’t be surprised if Fick is the 2012 version of Bryan Augenstein and makes the club out of spring training. We will all learn to love watching him sling those sinkers to major league hitters as they only manage to hit the top of the ball, and harmlessly ground out. His weakness is control, occasionally letting walks get him into trouble. But when he is on, he is a joy to watch pitch.
Oh, one last thing – Fick has a career 1.229 WHIP in the minors, and that includes several west coast trips to places like Albuquerque, Reno and Las Vegas.
7. Oscar Taveras – OF .386 / .444 / .584 8 home runs, 62 RBIs
It’s hard not to like this raw talent, currently in the playoffs with the Quad Cities River Bandits (A). Terribly small sample sizes on this 19 year old, but listening to some of the Bandits games on the QC audio stream is enough for me to realize he is a special young player. He can hit, and apparently can run too (5 triples). It will be fun to watch his process in the Arizona Fall League as he competes with older and more developed players.
The others …….
Unfortunately, a top seven list only contains, well, seven entries. That’s not nearly enough to include Kolten Wong, John Gast, Joe Kelly, Samuel Freeman, Nick Additon or a dozen other intriguing youngsters.
There are two more that I would like to mention.
Zack Cox. It was fun to watch him in Springfield this year. It was very much a “Tale of Two Seasons” as he appeared to be totally lost in the first half, but turned into a force of nature in the second. He does not look comfortable at third base, especially when compared to players like Matt Carpenter. Cox has proven that he has a bat that needs to be in the lineup on a regular basis, but the question is where to put him. If that feels a bit like Nick Stavinoha, Allen Craig, Brett Wallace then you are getting my point. With the development of Kolten Wong, I just don’t see where Cox fits into the Cardinals plans. I hope that the front office is wise enough to move him during the off-season to acquire some pieces they don’t have, as they did with Brett Wallace.
Kolten Wong. This youngster made quite an impression when he signed immediately after being drafted and then went right to work in the Cardinals developmental system. That told me all that I needed to know about him – his head is in the right place. It also helps that he has hit like a machine in his short professional career. He’s also a big part of the Quad Cities success in 2011, and I will be looking forward to seeing him progress through the system, and perhaps some day taking over second base duties with the big club.
Those are my selections. If you would like to read about the other UCB members selections, point your browser over here and I will take you to the project page. I know that’s what I’m about to do.