Good Luck, Memphis Redbirds

In just over an hour from now, the Memphis Redbirds will play the Oklahoma City Red Hawks in the final game of the regular season.  If Memphis wins, they will be the champions of the American North division of the Pacific Coast League.  They will play the very same Red Hawks in a best of five series, starting on Wednesday.

6_rockey_redbirdIt is a bit too early to put together a report card on this season, but with all that has happened to the Redbirds roster this season, it is amazing that they are in contention and have a chance to make the playoffs.  Sure, you can point at a weak division as all four team have records under .500.  That has a lot to do with the strength of the American South where all four teams will finish .500 or better.  For Memphis, it might mean more about the success of the St. Louis Cardinals and maybe some hidden talent down in Springfield.

When we first saw the open day roster for the Memphis Redbirds, we knew it was a strong one. Their early play proved that our optimism was well placed.   The rotation alone was eye-popping: Seth Maness, Michael Wacha, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and after an extended spring training, Carlos Martinez.  None of them are on the Memphis roster now.  Similar turmoil has happened in the bullpen as well.  Let’s take a look.

Starting Pitchers
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Seth Maness 2-2, 4.23 Boone Whiting 5-5, 4.09
John Gast 3-1, 1.16 Scott McGregor 6-10, 4.83
Michael Wacha 5-3, 2.65 Richard Castillo  1-2, 1.93
Tyler Lyons 7-2, 3.32 Eric Fornataro  1-4, 6.61
Nick Additon 9-7, 4.10 No fifth starter

That’s right. Four of the five starters are now in St. Louis, or hiding out in Springfield so that they can be quickly recalled as soon as their season ends. Nick Additon has had a very good year, but is now on the disabled list and unavailable.  The current Memphis Redbirds starting rotation consists of three pitchers who started the season in AA, a reliever that has been struggling with injuries, and an open spot that will be some combination of a bullpen game started by Nick Greenwood or Keith Butler.

Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Victor Marte 2-3, 4.94 Keith Butler 3-2, 3.62
Eric Fornataro 1-4, 6.61 open roster spot
Michael Blazek 1-2, 2.77 Kevin Thomas 0-1. 10.80
Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63 Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63
Barret Browning 1-2, 4.58 Lee Stoppleman 1-0, 0.00
Maikel Cleto 2-3, 6.92 Jose Almarante 0-0, 0.00
Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06 Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06
Sam Freeman 7-2, 2.97 Deryk Hooker 0-0, 5.68

It is important to remember that the bullpen also included the final days of both Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski in the Cardinals organization. Of the two, Rzepczynski turned it around and was pitching effectively up to the time when he was traded. But Victor Marte totally lost whatever mojo he had and is now on the disabled list.  The continuing saga of Maikel Cleto finally came to an end, but not before the middle part of the schedule was blown apart.

Because Memphis had been playing with such a short roster, Kevin Thomas and Deryk Hooker were sent up to bolster the bullpen.  When it became apparent that Springfield would not win the second half of their division, two more arms were sent: Lee Stoppleman and Jose Almarante.  Both of these relievers have been impressive, but both started the season in A ball.

Barret Browning and Eduardo Sanchez are both gone, Sanchez being recently removed from the Cubs 40 man roster.  Eric Fornataro has been plagued by injuries and was recently inserted into the rotation because there were no other options.

There is no other way to describe 2013 than to say it was a tumultuous season for the bullpen.

The position players were not impacted quite as badly, but the two best players are no longer available – Kolten Wong is on the active roster in St. Louis and Oscar Taveras had a season ending injury.

Position Players
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI
Kolten Wong .303, 10 HR, 45 RBI Ryan Jackson .278, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI
JR Towles .237, 5 HR, 14 RBI Travis Tartamella .246, 3 HR, 18 RBI
Rob Johnson .236, 7 HR, 32 RBI Audry Perez .207, 0 HR, 7 RBI
Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI
Justin Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI Justian Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI
Adron Chambers .252, 8 HR, 43 RBI James Ramsey .000
Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI
Oscar Taveras .306, 5 HR, 32 RBI Mike O’Neill .296, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Chris Swauger .212, 2 HR, 12 RBI

The infield has stayed largely in tact, with Vance Albitz starting the year in Memphis and Ryan Jackson in St. Louis.  Brock Peterson spent a few days in St. Louis, as did Jermaine Curtis.  The big loss came in mid August when Kolten Wong was called up to St. Louis.

The outfield has had a nearly complete makeover as Tommy Pham took over center field when Oscar Taveras was initially injured.   The biggest blows to the Memphis offense happened when both Pham and Taveras had season ending surgeries.  Mike O’Neill was called up from Springfield and has played very well.  James Ramsey was a late minute addition to the roster when Adron Chambers got his annual September call up.  Adding to the outfield woes was a long disabled list stay by Justin Christian.

It is easy to forget that Memphis was running away with the American North early in the season, on the strength of that starting rotation.   John Gast did not allow an earned run in the first month of the season and both Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons were keeping pace.  The addition of Carlos Martinez made it almost unfair to the opposing teams.  By the end of May, all four of these plus Michael Wacha were in St. Louis.  That’s also when the bullpen drama began.   The result was a long and often frustrating season and a sub .500 record heading into the final game.  All of that can be forgotten with a win and another divisional title in the history of the Cardinals AAA Affiliate.

Don’t look too closely at the final record, regardless of how this season ends.   When your AA team can keep pace with most other organization’s AAA squads, you have a very deep and impressive farm system.  We have seen that play out this year in Memphis, and it is been fun to watch.   I am not ready for that to come to an end, so I really would like to see Memphis win today and give the Red Hawks a tough time in the first round of the playoffs.

Posted in 2012 Season | Leave a comment

Closing the Book on the John Axford Trade

It is really too early to do that, but at least we know the name of the “Player to be Named Later.”  It is Michael Blazek.  To some, that might seem too high a price to pay for a guy on the same career trajectory as Fernando Salas.  I disagree.


In a discussion with members of the United Cardinal Bloggers earlier this year, Cards General Manager, John Mozeliak, talked about how he had gotten some advice from former GM, Bing Devine.  One of Devine’s rules was that you had to trade away good talent to receive good talent.  More than the A-ha! of a lopsided trade, Devine wanted to ensure that he would be able to trade with that team or GM again in the future, should the need arise.  That included within the league or later, in the division.   Of course, one of his biggest trades would turn out to be one of those gotcha deals, but Ernie Broglio’s struggles were not thought to be due to a career ending injury at that time.

There is no question that the Cardinals gave the Brewers some seriously good talent in Michael Blazek.  It has been fun watching him make the transition between starter that had hit a ceiling to reliever that broke through that, leaving us all to wonder what his new ceiling might be.   There is also no question that we will miss seeing Blazek throw that high heat late in games, but for the baseball fan this is like breeding dogs – you just can’t keep all of the puppies.

Assuming that there are no catastrophic injuries, and making a couple of guesses about what the Cardinals will do over the winter, next year’s pitching squad looks something like this.

Starters: Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly

Starter candidates: Tyler Lyons, Carlos Martinez, John Gast, Seth Maness, Jaime Garcia

Starters not brought back: Jake Westbrook

Bullpen: Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Jason Motte, John Axford

Bullpen candidates: Sam Freeman, Keith Butler

Relievers not brought back: Fernando Salas, Victor Marte, Jorge Rondon, Edward Mujica

Where does Michael Blazek fit into that list ?  He doesn’t.    Before you put Michael Blazek ahead of Keith Butler on the depth chart, take another look.   Both pitchers will be 25 years old next year.   Blazek was drafted out of high school and progressed methodically through the farm system.  Butler was drafted two years later and shot up through the farm system, jumping low A to high A in 2011.

Blazek was a starter that made a transition to the bullpen after hitting a ceiling in AA. He moved to the bullpen in 2012 and restarted his development with a good season.  His breakthrough came in 2013.  By comparison, Butler has had success at each level where he has pitched.  He has always pitched in the late innings, collecting 62 saves over his five professional season.  The only time he has had an ERA over 3 was this season in Memphis, as he bounced between there, Springfield and St. Louis.  The only reason that he began the 2013 season in Springfield is that Memphis was already full and had a closer (Marte).   In 13 appearances with Springfield, he collected 7 saves with an ERA of 0.66.

As impressive as Blazek as been, he would be 17th or so on the pitching depth list with only 12 spots available, and that’s if they don’t resign Edward Mujica.

But that’s not the only consideration here.  There is some fine young pitching talent that will soon be pushing their way onto this list, not to start the 2014 season, but perhaps not long after.

Lee Stoppleman – currently in Memphis, promoted to help Memphis get into the playoffs and carry them as far as he can.  Stoppleman is another impressive left hander.  He is tall like Kevin Siegrist, but is more of a slinger.  As a result he doesn’t have as much velocity, but is deceptive in his delivery which makes it seem as if he is throwing harder than he is.  Stoppleman has a good assortment of breaking pitches and can throw them all for strikes.  He was drafted in 2012 and has already earned a win in AAA – yeah, he’s been pretty impressive.

Deryk Hooker is another Michael Blazek type project.   He was also a starter that hit his ceiling at AA.  He moved to the bullpen this year and turned in numbers that are quite close to Blazek’s first year as a reliever.  He doesn’t throw as hard as Blazek, but has a similar arsenal of pitches.

Eric Fornataro would have been the first pitcher expected to be called up in 2013, if he didn’t make the club out of spring training.  He almost did the year before.  Fornataro is another Mitchell Boggs type, even with the exaggerated closed stance in the set position.  He was the setup man for Keith Butler in Springfield’s Texas League Championship team, but injuries and control problems have made 2013 something of a lost season – again like Mitchell Boggs.   Fornataro would be behind Blazek in the depth chart, but a return to 2011 form would change all that rather quickly.

Seth Blair is one of the two great enigmas in the Cardinals farm system – the other being Tyrell Jenkins.  Blair has an explosive fastball, and when he is on, can be overpowering.  But he has been very inconsistent and tends to have some big blow up innings.   Injuries have played a big part in this, but his arm is just too good to pass up.  I would not be surprised if he became the 2014 starter turned reliever project for Bryan Eversgerd next year in Memphis, and we see him turn into a top tier talent.

Jose Almarante is a hard throwing right hander that has sort of come out of nowhere this year.   That’s not entirely true, but his early professional career did not suggest anything like what we have seen recently.  Almarante was one of those called up to AA when the Cardinals started stealing pitchers from Memphis.  Unlike some of the others who struggled, Almarante turned in a career year, earning a ride to Memphis to finish the 2013 season.   He is one to keep an eye on next year or the year after.   Almarante will be 25 next year.

Tyrell Jenkins – the other enigma.  Injuries have slowed the development of this exciting right hander, but the depth of the Cardinals pitching has allowed the team to go slowly with him.  Their patience may pay off big time if he can ever stay healthy.   Before an injury cut short his 2013 season, he was lighting it up in the Midwest League.  Electric arm does not do Jenkins justice in the few times I have seen him pitch.

Jordan Swagerty – perhaps the best of the young pitchers is someone that we’ve sort of forgotten about as he lost a year with Tommy John surgery in 2012.  Swagerty was on a fast path when the injury hit, and is expected to return to that next year.

A bit farther out are Danny Miranda and Zach Russell.  Both of them have made the jump to AA and pitched well in their short time there.   Boone Whiting is also an intriguing young right handed starter that could make the move to the big league bullpen next year,  as Seth Maness did in in 2013.

There are two important things to remember when thinking about pitchers in the minor leagues

1. There ain’t no such thing as a can’t miss pitching prospect

2. There is no such thing as too much pitching

Even when you take those two pieces of wisdom into consideration, the Cardinals have more pitching than available places to put them, and more on the way.   When evaluating the Michael Blazek for John Axford deal over the coming months, perhaps years, make sure and do in the context of all this talent.  There is little question that Michael Blazek has impressive talent and all of the tools to have a long and successful major league career.   The question is where does he fit within the abundance of pitching talent in St. Louis and is that more valuable than adding some veteran insurance to a bullpen that has been spectacular at times, but also quite vulnerable.   Before playing the Luke Gregerson “one that got away” card, remember that the Cardinals have won one World Series Championships, made two more post-season trips and perhaps one more this year since that deal.

Posted in 2013 Season | 7 Comments

July 16, 1967 – Trading the Player to be Named Later

Just before the post-season eligibility deadline expires, the Cardinals acquired right hander John Axford from the Milwaukee Brewers.  In return, the Brewers will receive a player to be named later.

Initial Reaction

The initial reaction to this deal should be largely positive.  Axford is something of a veteran, although he remains arbitration eligible through the 2016 season.  A quick glance at his 2012 and 2013 numbers could send you running for shelter, but a closer look tells a much different, ok – slightly different story.   No, it is not perfect, but there is a silver lining to be found.

Year W L ERA</th SV K/9 WHIP HR/9
2011 2 2 1.95 46 10.5 1.140 0.5
2012 5 8 4.67 35 12.1 1.442 1.3
2013 6 7 4.45 0 8.9 1.555 1.6

OK, clearly Axford is not the pitcher today that he was in 2011. If he were, he would still be pitching in Milwaukee, signed to a long contract and the Brewers would not be bringing up the rear of the NL Central.  Oddly, these numbers remind me of another pitcher ….

2011 5 6 2.28 24 9.0 0.947 0.8
2012 1 4 4.30 0 9.2 1.415 0.8
2013 0 2 4.91 0 7.0 1.318 1.2

Those are the numbers for Fernando Salas.

axfordGetting back to Axford, there is no way to sugar coat the performance.  Where he was very effective in 2011, batters are just getting more hits off him today, and that can be alarming.  Not only that, they are hitting more home runs (which says they are hitting him harder, more alarm bells).  But, there are two things that should make you step back and relax, if just a teeny bit.  His strikeout rate is still good (roughly 1 per inning) and he has only given up 4 home runs in the last three months – one of those was in Colorado and two were in Cincinnati.   Four more were hit in his first three outings.  That leaves two unaccounted for, and I can live with that.

That does not hide an atrocious hit rate, but that can be mitigated a bit by how Mike Matheny chooses to use Axford.  Bringing Axford in to start an inning instead of in the middle of a jam may be the difference between a good and bad outing.

On the balance, I think this is a very shrewd acquisition.  It bolsters the back of the bullpen so the Cardinals don’t have to rely on Michael Blazek or Keith Butler.  It also adds some cheap insurance in the event that Edward Mujica’s back is more serious than has been reported – yeah, like that’s never happened before with the Cardinals.  In the end, this deal may be judged by the Player to be Named Later, and that’s what we are here to talk about today.

Could John Axford be the Player to be Named Later in his own trade ?  It has happened before.

Tragedy and the Emergency Trade

This particular story starts the day before, in what can only be described as one of the worst days in Cardinals history.

Things were beginning to look up for the ’67 Redbirds as newcomers Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris were having a huge impact.  Cepeda was like a double shot of espresso, giving the team an energy that we hadn’t seen in a long time.  Maris was the perfect complement, adding a cool professionalism and dedication to basic baseball fundamentals (catch, throw, move runners up, run smartly).   The team had even overcome some early season adversity when Ray Washburn missed a month after taking a line drive off his pitching hand.  There was even talk of the National League Pennant returning to St. Louis.

All that changed when Roberto Clemente hit a line drive off Bob Gibson’s leg, breaking it just above the ankle.  With Gibson out for at least two months, the Cardinals had to shuffle their pitching staff, and quickly.

The only minor league option at the time was Jim Cosman.  Cosman had already been used when Washburn hit the disabled list.  He was fantastic in his first outing, but had control issues in his subsequent appearances.  It was not just the walks, Cosman was hitting opposing batters.  Not a good thing to do when you threw in the mid to upper 90s.  Cosman was not an option this time.

Cardinals manager, Red Schoendienst,  and general manager,  Stan Musial, had four days to figure this out before Gibson’s spot in the rotation were up again.  While it was never a consideration to replace Gibson with another elite starter, even replacement level pitchers were unavailable.   Fortunately, the Cardinals quickly found a solution for the rotation in Nelson Briles, but that opened a hole in the bullpen.  Replacement level relievers were much easier to come by, as Stan would soon find out.

Jack Lamabe to the Rescue

Jack LamabeOn July 16, the Mets were coming into town for a three game series.  They were already 17 1/2 game out of first place, so they became the perfect trade partner for the Cardinals.  A youth movement was  already underway with young pitchers such as Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, so the Mets were willing to part with one of their veteran right handers, Jack Lamabe.  I’ve already written about Lamabe’s incredible 1967 finish, and you can read that here.   The more interesting part of the story is what happened as a result of this trade.

With Don Cardwell coming off the disabled list, it gave the Mets some time to reshuffle their pitching staff as well.   Danny Frisella would eventually replace Lamabe in the bullpen, and that’s where things get interesting.

For their troubles, the Mets initially received Jim Cosman, but only as a summer rental to fill a spot in their AAA bullpen.   It gave the Mets sufficient time to evaluate Cosman, and the Cardinals hoped a change of scenery would do for Cosman what it did for Dick Hughes a year earlier.   In 11 appearances with the Jacksonville Suns, including 6 starts, Cosman posted a 2-2 record with a 3.40 ERA.   Not bad, but not what either team had hoped for.

Meanwhile, Lamabe was being everything the Cardinals had hoped for, and more.  His August performance was one of the greatest for a reliever in Cardinals history and it took Orlando Cepeda turning in a Hall of Fame performance that month to top him for National League Player of the Month honors.  Lamabe came in second in voting.

When the dust finally settled on the 1967 season, the Cardinals had another championship trophy for the display case, thanks in big part to Jack Lamabe, but they still had to settle up on the July trade.  And here is where things get really strange.

And to be Named Later

Apparently, Lamabe was one of the players on the “To be Named Later” list.   That’s right, the Mets offered up Lamabe for, well, Lamabe.    The Mets had already returned Jim Cosman, who would make one last attempt with the Cardinals in spring of 1968.   That left Lamabe and one other pitcher.  The decision was now in the hands of the Cardinals.

Al JacksonImpressed by what they had seen in Lamabe, the Cardinals sent another fan favorite back to New York, Al Jackson.   Finally playing for a good team, Jackson had shown what he was capable of, and had a most impressive season with the Cardinals.  That they were willing to give Jackson back to the Mets told you a lot about what they thought of Lamabe and what role he might play in the upcoming season.

Ironically, that would not play out as the Cardinals had hoped.  After a rough spring, Lamabe did not make the Cardinals roster at the start of the season.  He would make one start for Tulsa while the Cardinals found him a new home, a complete game shutout.   Shortly after that impressive outing, he would be traded to the Cubs, where he would finish his major league career.

Could That Happen Again ?

Probably not, but it is possible.  In the Jack Lamabe era of baseball, general managers were more gentlemen than the competitors they are today.  They would routinely trade players within the league, and once divisional play was introduced in 1969, within the division.   While it would drive CBA attorneys crazy today, they would also loan players to other teams, most often in the minor leagues.  That was what ultimately led to Jack Lamabe being one of the players to be named later in his own trade.

No, that is unlikely to happen in the game today.  But consider that Axford is still a relatively young pitcher that still has a lively arm.  He is still under team control through the end of the 2016 season.   The Brewers 2013 season has been over since mid-May and they have been looking ahead to 2014 for some time now.   If there was ever a time where we would see something as crazy as the Lamabe for Lamabe trade, this could be it.

We will know more following the season.  If nothing else, it has given us a chance to look back into Cardinals history for another of those magical moments.   Strange, but magical to be sure.

Posted in 2013 Season, General History | Leave a comment

Poll: What Should the Cardinals do about a Shortstop ?

Thanks to all that voted in the last poll.   The most popular choice for center field in 2014 was Oscar Taveras with Tommy Pham coming in a pretty distant second place.  Since the poll was opened, Pham has had season ending surgery to his shoulder and hopes to be ready next spring.

Now lets turn our attention to the position of shortstop with a pair of questions.   What should the Cardinals do for the remainder of the season and then looking ahead to next year.  With the trade deadline now behind us, and rosters expanding in a few days, it is less likely the Cardinals make a deal, but not impossible.

What should the Cardinals do for the remaining 30 games in the regular season and as far as they go into the post-season ?

Same question, but looking ahead to the 2014 season.  A few more options become available, one of them oddly intriguing.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing your opinions.

Posted in 2013 Season | Leave a comment

The Over-running Rule

Just when I think there is nothing left to blog about, something happens in a baseball game that requires a bit more explanation than the 140 character limit on Twitter allows.   Such was the case early in the Cardinals – Reds contest on August 27, 2013.   Fortunately, this play did not factor in to the final score, so we can break it apart without any additional bias that comes with some game determining controversies (i.e. the Atlanta/St. Louis Infield Fly Rule)

Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds leads off the game with what first appeared to be a routine infield single, but it turned into anything but when he took a causal stroll back to the base.  The Cardinals tagged Choo on the way back to the base which led to a short umpires meeting.  Choo was called safe which led to some confusion on the field, among fans and even in the broadcast booth.  Let’s take a look at the exact wording of the rule that governs this situation.  It is 7.08.

MLB Rule 7.08 - A runner is out when

(c) He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base. 
    EXCEPTION: A batter-runner cannot be tagged out after 
    overrunning or oversliding first base if he returns
    immediately to the base

Although we are taught since the time we hit the first ball off a tee to turn to the right and into foul territory after running past first base, there is no such requirement to do so.  We are taught that practice to avoid any possible misinterpretation of our intent once passing the base, but the rules allow the runner to return to the base in fair territory, they just have to do so “immediately”.

To understand what is meant by “immediately”, we  need to look a bit farther down Rule 7.08.

7.08(j) He fails to return at once to first base after overrunning
        or oversliding that base. If he attempts to run to second
        he is out when tagged. If, after overrunning or oversliding
        first base he starts toward the dugout, or toward his 
        position, and fails to return to first base at once, he 
        is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged;

This is where “immediately” is defined and it is pretty clear.    If you are still unsure, read the rule guidance comment.

Let’s apply this test to the Choo play and see what happens.

If he attempts to run to second he is out when tagged.

Choo did not start running towards second base, so the first part of this rule does not apply.  Let’s continue.

If, after overrunning or oversliding first base he starts toward
the dugout, or toward his position, and fails to return to first
base at once, he is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged

We saw this in a game earlier in Los Angeles.  Although that play was at third base and covered by a different rule, the intent is the same.  In this case, the runner believes he is out and heads back to the dugout or to his defensive position.  By rule, the player is voluntarily abandoning his base and can then be tagged out on appeal.   Neither of those happened in the Choo play.

Fans can object to the slow pace in which Choo returned to first base all they want, and it was most unusual, but he did not cause a delay of game, abandon his base or make any obvious attempt to advance to the next base.   The umpires should be given credit for a swift conference where the crew chief got consensus about Choo’s “intent” and ruled properly – Choo was safe.

Lost in all of this confusion was the Fox Sports Midwest broadcasting team trying to explain this unusal play to the the listening audience.   Dan McLaughin did a good job by actually reading  the governing rule instead of relying on what he believed the rule said.  I give Dan a lot of credit for doing that while not losing the context of the game being playing out in front of him.  I also appreciate the way in which he did it, almost asking listeners to check out the rules for themselves and learn a bit more about this game that we all love.

At the same time, I have to apologize to Al Hrabosky for “yelling” at him on Twitter.   At times, we do need to step back and realize that these broadcasters are professionals and most of us are just fans with a computer.   It is easy to pick apart some mistake without appreciating all that they do in preparation and delivery of a broadcast.  We may not like their approach, and Al’s curmudgeon routine drives me crazy, but we should respect that they are professionals and treat them with some degree of respect.

Posted in 2013 Season | Leave a comment

Initial Inductees into the Cardinals Hall of Fame

The July project for the writers of the United Cardinal Bloggers is to pick the first five inductees into the upcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame.   Well, not really, but if we were asked, these would be our top five nominees.

Curt Flood (1958 – 1969)

FloodWhether or not he was the greatest center fielder of his era, or even in Cardinals history, can certainly be debated.   What cannot are his seven consecutive Gold Gloves, three All Star Game invitations, a career .293 batting average with the Cardinals (1,853 hits) and a being a key member of two World Series Championship teams and one NL Pennant winner.

What may have been forgotten over the years was that Flood was the first player acquired in what would soon become the core of a perennial championship team.  Soon to follow would be Bill White and Julian Javier, adding to a particularly rich pool of draftees – Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, Ray Washburn, Mike Shannon and Dal Maxvill.

Like many young players of the era, Flood struggled under manager Solly Hemus.  When Johnny Keane (one of my next inductees) took over, a more confident Flood emerged and became one of the best players, hitting for average and playing stellar defense.

Another piece that is frequently lost in the Flood vs Edmonds vs McGee debate is that Flood frequently hit behind Lou Brock, patiently taking pitch after pitch while Brock threatened to steal a base.  Flood often took a pair of strikes before being able to swing his bat.  Even then, he hit over .300 for most of his Cardinals career, and was in race for the NL batting title through all of 1967.

That Curt Flood is not already in the Hall of Fame is great travesty that I hope some future Veterans Committee takes care of.  His motives for challenging the Reserve Clause were not charitable, but it still took a lot of courage to do what Flood did, and it cost him the remainder of his career in doing so.  Every player playing the game today owes Curt Flood a bit of thanks for huge salaries they receive.

George Kissell – (1940-2008)

KissellThe phrase “Play like a Cardinal” has special meaning to the fans of this great franchise.  It’s chief architect was a man that never made it to the Major Leagues, but spent seven decades coaching and teaching players, managers and future Hall of Famers.  Whitey Herzog once said of Kissell, “(he) is the only man that could talk for 15 minutes about a ground ball.”

Kissell started his minor league career as an infielder in 1940.  After a short career, and break for military service, he would return as a player manager.    One of those teams, the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals went 106-47.  One of his players from that season was a 19 year old Earl Weaver, who would go on to a Hall of Fame Career with the Orioles.  Other managers he would influence include Whitey Herzog, Red Schoendienst, Tony La Russa, Sparky Anderson – quite an impressive list.

Three words describe George Kissell: The Cardinals Way.  For seven decades of dedication, teaching, coaching, hitting ground balls, helping players learn the fundamentals of good baseball, George Kissell should be one of the initial inductees into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

Johnny Keane (1938-1964)

Johnny-Keane-239x300Many fans will know the name Johnny Keane as the manager of the World Series Champions from 1964.  While he was the skipper of the big league club for only 3 1/2 years, his contributions go far beyond that, and rival those of George Kissell.

Keane was signed out of high school in 1938 and played shortstop for 15 years in the Cardinals minor league system.  An injury resulting from being hit in the head by a pitch cut short a promising career, but it opened the door to a better and much longer one.  Keane took over as a player-manager of the Albany Travelers in 1938, until the end of his playing days in 1941.  He returned to manage the Houston Buffaloes in 1946, taking over the helm of the AAA team in Rochester three years later.   Keane would earn a 1288-1203 record (.517) over 23 years as a manager, winning more than 90 games three different seasons.

Keane would take over as a coach under Solly Hemus in 1959, working with young players such as Bob Gibson and Curt Flood.  He would take over as manager midway during the 1961 season.  The Cardinals never posted a losing record with Keane at the helm, and a large part of that was how he handled Curt Flood and Bob Gibson.

My favorite Keane story took place on June 5, 1962.  The Cincinnati Reds had a 4-1 lead in the sixth inning as young left hander, Ray Sadecki took over.  To say that it was a bad outing would be an understatement.  Sadecki would start the inning by giving up a home run to the Reds pitcher, Bob Purkey.   A single and two errors by Sadecki would plate another run.  His day would end when Frank Robinson followed that with a long three run home run.  What had started out as a winnable 4-1 deficit quickly turned into a 9-1 blowout.  Keane’s frustration would be compounded when the Cardinals scored three runs the following inning off Purkey.  Ironically, the Cardinals would eventually tie the game, and win it in the bottom of the 11th, on a walk off home run by Stan Musial.

Keane would give Sadecki a tongue lashing to go with a $250 fine – a large sum for 1962.  The next day, Sadecki did not report to the clubhouse and he eventually demanded a trade.  Sadecki would soon find himself in the minor leagues and got things turned around, returning the big club in 1963.     Both would cool off eventually, but there was a tension between them that would last until Keane’s departure following the 1964 season.

Keane’s time with the Cardinals would come to an abrupt end following the 1964 World Series in an unbelievable power play between the former General Manager, Bing Devine and Branch Rickey.  Devine would be fired in August, just as the Cardinals were starting to make their historic run to the NL Pennant.  Rickey’s next move was to replace Keane following the end of the season with former Giants manager, Leo Durocher.   That move backfired when Keane signed a deal to manage the Yankees, scaring off Durocher.  That left the Cardinals without a manager and a huge public relations nightmare.

Unfortunately, things did not go well for Keane in New York.  Keane would not even finish out his second season with Pinstripes.

While he might not have had the seven decades of influences of George Kissell, Keane’s impact on Bob Gibson, Curt Flood and even the turmoil with Ray Sadecki brought a winning tradition back to St. Louis.  One that carried on with his successor, Red Schoendienst.

Mike Shannon (1962 – present)

Mike Shannon (1965), being all serious

Mike Shannon (1965), being all serious

The “Moon Man” has become something of a treasure for Cardinals fans.  Younger fans may not appreciate how good of a player Shannon was, but a comparison to what they are seeing today with Matt Carpenter would be very close.   Shannon was big player for his era and what he lacked in gracefulness, he more than made up for in determination.   He would not be known so much as an outfielder or third baseman – Mike Shannon was just a ballplayer.  A darn good ballplayer.

As the Cardinals retooled for their now historic Pennant run in 1964, the final piece to the puzzle was the promotion of Mike Shannon to stop the revolving door of players in right field.  From July 9, when he took over as the every day right fielder, to the end of the regular season, Shannon hit .264 with 9 home runs and 43 RBIs.   He also provided some much needed protection in the order for Dick Grote and Tim McCarver, giving the Cardinals some much needed punch at the bottom half.

He would go on to be a very solid and dependable .260 hitter that you could count on to hit 12 home runs and drive in 60 or more runs.   His versatility as an athlete helped the Cardinals win their second championship of the decade when he moved from right field to third base to make room for Roger Maris.

Shannon and the Cardinals were dealt a severe blow in 1970 when a kidney disease abruptly ended his playing career.  Two years later, Shannon would be back, but this time in the broadcast booth.  As with his playing career, what he lacked in gracefulness was more than made up with sheer determination.  For three decades, he would broadcast games with Jack Buck, getting better with each passing year.  He is still a joy to hear calling Cardinals games today, especially during rain delays when there is no action on the field to disturb whatever story he is trying to tell.


Thanks for five decades of being a Cardinal.

Willie McGee (1982-1990, 1996-1999)

mcgeeWillie McGee may go down in history as the player that seemed to be least impressed by his greatness.  The expression on his face as he stuck out on a fastball over his head was just about the same as he went from home plate to third base in the blink of an eye, or when making an eye-popping catch in the outfield.  The caption on his placque should just read, “Aw sheeeeez”.

Fortunately, most Cardinals fans are old enough to have seen McGee play, even if it was at the end of his career.  If you aren’t, all you need to know is that he was missing piece to Whitey Herzog’s Championship team in 1982.   McGee was only supposed to spend a few days with the big club while David Green was on the disabled list.  McGee would make such an impact that it would be Green that would spend the rest of his career as a backup outfielder while McGee went on to win 3 Gold Gloves and an NL MVP award.

Over his 18 year career, McGee collected 2,254 hits (94 triples) and stole 352 bases.  He also had a lifetime batting average of .295.  While this might not qualify him for a place in Cooperstown, he certainly deserves a spot in the upcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame.

These are my five selections.  Unfortunately, it did not leave enough room for Bob Forsch, Ted Simmons, John Tudor, Tim McCarver, Bing Devine or point out the fact that Ken Boyer is still not in the actual Hall of Fame.  Maybe next year.

If you would like to find out who the other United Cardinal Bloggers chose on their ballots, send your browsers off in this direction. If you would like to discuss any of my selections, or share some of your own ideas, please feel free to leave a comment or two.

Posted in General History, Unforgotten Cardinals | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Poll: What to do about Center Field in 2014 ?

An interesting Twitter chat has spawned something of a good hypothetical question that lends itself quite nicely to a poll.  Since we haven’t done one of these in a while, let’s give it a go.

Assuming the Cardinals trade David Freese at the upcoming deadline, or more likely some time over the winter, what do they do about center field in 2014 ?  Before answering, some additional background might be needed to sway you one way or the other.

Without any other deals, the Cardinals every day lineup in a hypothetical batting order would look something like this.

Kolten Wong (l) – 2B

Matt Carpenter (l) – 3B

Matt Holliday (r) – LF

Allen Craig (r) – 1B

Oscar Taveras (l) – OF

Yadier Molina (r) – C

The subject of our poll (?) – OF

The subject of the next poll (?)  – SS

Feel free to flip Taveras and Holliday in the batting order.  I only put Holliday there to break up the three left handed hitters.  I think we will eventually see Taveras in that #3 spot before the season is over, but that is unimportant to our poll question.

Given that the top six hitters all have the potential of hitting .300 or better, and driving in runs in bunches, what should the Cardinals do about center field ?

Feel free to offer up other answers or explain your choice in the comments.  I look forward to seeing what you all come up with.

Posted in 2012 Season | Leave a comment

July 23-25 – Philadelphia Phillies at St. Louis Cardinals

Birds Eye View Header

The St. Louis Cardinals (59-37)  continue their first home stand of the second half as they host the Philadelphia Phillies  (49-50) for three games.   The Cardinals still hold the best record in the National League, but their lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a mere 1 1/2 games.  Although they just lost two of their three games to the third place Cincinnati Reds, the Pirates continue keeping pressure on the Cardinals.  The Cardinals are looking to join the Boston Red Sox in the 60 win club.

With just over one week left before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Phillies ownership have some difficult decisions to make.  They currently trail the Atlanta Braves by seven games, who are in the middle of a four game series with the Mets in New York.  They also trail the Cincinnati Reds by seven games for the second wild card spot.   But that does not automatically make them a seller.  Since there are no teams between the Braves and Phillies, a hot or cold week from either team could make this a close race.


Could Cliff Lee be St. Louis Bound ?

There have been rumors of other team’s interest in Michael Young, suggesting that the Phillies might use this opportunity to retool their aging roster.  If that is the case, two names have been linked to the Cardinals – left handed starter Cliff Lee and right handed reliever Jonathon Papelbon.  Whether there are serious discussions happening or this is just fan speculation, it makes for a very interesting three games in St. Louis.


How they got here

The Cardinals started the second half with a three game home series against the struggling San Diego Padres.  While they won two of the three games, there was something of a discomfort about how they won.

Jake Westbrook kept the Padres off the scoreboard through the first six innings, but a 6-0 and later 9-3 blowout turned into a save opportunity for Edward Mujica when both Carlos Martinez and Fernando Salas were ineffective.  On the fun side, Jake Westbrook was an offensive juggernaut, helping his own cause with a three hit night.

Lance Lynn continued his second half woes in the second game of the series as he lasted just five innings, giving up 4 runs in the process.   Lynn would take the loss in the game, his fourth over his last five starts.  He remains an enigma in the Cardinals rotation, causing some fans to call for his reassignment to the bullpen.

Adam Wainwright

We never get tired of this

The most uncomfortable of the games was the Sunday afternoon finale.  Adam Wainwright battled eight innings, allowing just a pair of runs.  Wainwright seemed to be in trouble all afternoon, but showed fans the difference between a good and great pitcher as he stranded runner after runner.  Allen Craig saved the game for Edward Mujica as he made a spectacular catch on a fly ball that would have surely given the Padres a lead.  Cardinals fans remember a similar catch in Game Seven of the 2011 World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies squandered a great opportunity as the Braves lost two of three games to the ailing Chicago White Sox.  They would do similarly to the New York Mets, outslugging them 13-8 in the first game, but falling short in the next two, 5-4 and 5-0.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, they will not face the Phillies two tough lefties, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  Conversely, the Phillies get to skip Adam Wainwright, who is putting together a Cy Young type of season.

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, July 23 – 7:15pm CDT

Shelby Miller (9-6, 2.92)  vs Jonathon Pettibone (5-3, 3.89)

If you want to catch a brief glimpse into the future of these two franchises, this will be the game for you.  Each team will send an impressive 22 year old to the mound.   Shelby Miller put himself into Rookie of the Year consideration with a dominating start to the season, but has struggled in his last few starts.  Even then, he is sporting a sub-3 ERA, which is currently third among Cardinals starters.  Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, reworked the starting rotation just before the All Star Game break to give Miller some extra rest.

The Cardinals need to take Jonathon Pettibone very seriously.  He did not have the flashy start to the season as Miller, but he has been very dependable in hist last 5 starts.  Although he has not gone deep in them, he has kept the Phillies in the game.

This will be the first time that Miller has faced the Phillies.  It will also be the same for Pettibone and the Cardinals.  Given how much trouble the Cardinals seem to have with new pitchers, this game is too close to call.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, PHL 17, (out of market)

Note: This is the MLB.TV Free Game of the Day

Wednesday, July 24 – 7:15pm CDT

Jake Westbrook (6-4, 2.88) vs John Lannan (2-3, 3.76)

Westbrook is 4-3 in his seven starts since missing a month with elbow soreness.  His 4.04 ERA over that period is somewhat misleading as 10 of the 22 runs allowed came in a pair of road losses at Houston and Oakland.  He has fared much better in his last three starts, pitching into the seventh inning in all three.  While fans may still be anxious with him on the mound, Westbrook is doing exactly what the Cardinals need from their veteran right hander.

Although John Lannan has been something of an enigma this season, alternating good outings with getting rocked, his last two starts before the All Star break were nothing short of spectacular.  He would pitch eight innings in both, allowing just a single run on eight hits.

With Matt Holliday on the disabled list, the Phillies would seem to have the advantage here as the Cardinals can be vulnerable to left handed pitching.  But Jake Westbrook as been lights out at home and give the Cardinals the advantage.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, MLB Network, (out of market)

Thursday, July 25 – 6:15pm CDT

Lance Lynn (11-5, 4.13) vs Kyle Kendrick (9-6, 3.94)

While you try not to place too much importance on a single game, this one might have some serious trade deadline implications.  For the second year in a row, Lance Lynn has been magnificent in the first half.  A couple of rough outings recently are giving fans some reason to think he could be a second half fader.  Another weak outing here could be all it takes to get the front office to make a move, and Lynn heading back to the bullpen.

Kendrick is in his seventh season with the Phillies and has grown into a dependable albeit not overly flashy starter.  This year he seems to be getting deeper into games, throwing two complete games already with one of them being a shutout

Lance Lynn makes this one too close to call.  The wild card here is that Kendrick nearly always follows a rough outing with a good one.    He gave up 6 runs in 5 2/3 innings in his last start, but the Phillies still won the game.  You will just have to watch this one as all predictions have gone out the window.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CSN, MLB Network, (out of market)

Who’s Hot

Entering this season, the Cardinals have three of the top four batting averages in the National League.  Yadier Molina (.336) is the top spot, but Allen Craig (.332) is closing in at second.  Matt Carpenter (.325) is fourth.

Delmon Young is the second hottest hitter in the National League right now, going 7-13 since the All Star break.  His slash line of .538 / .538 / .632 is dizzying.

Ben Revere has been the Phillies best hitter, but is currently on the disabled list.

While not as hot as Delmon Young, Matt Carpenter is tearing up the National League, not in just the last few days, but the entire season.   Since the break, the Cardinals second baseman is 5-11 with 3 runs batted in and scoring 3 runs himself.  He is the catalyst at the top of the Cardinals batting order and is quietly putting himself in the discussion for MVP.

Chase Utley and David Freese are also starting to warm up, Ultey having the more productive start to the second half with a pair of home runs and 6 RBIs.

Has there every been a time when Allen Craig was not hot ?

Who’s Not

While he is still leading the league in hitting, Yadier Molina has cooled off, hitting only .250 over the last month.

Pete Kozma continues to hit just enough to keep his job, but that may be in jeopardy soon.   While he is hitting .237 for the year, he is only hitting .160 over the last month.  Daniel Descalso has been getting some starts at short, suggesting that we might see a Descalso/Kozma platoon until things improve.  Ryan Jackson is still hitting around .300 in Memphis (AAA) and patiently waiting for a phone call.

Carlos Ruiz and Micheal Young have cooled off significantly in the last week.  Ruiz is 1 for his last 9 and Young is 2 for his last 10.

Injuries – Philadelphia

Mike Adams (RHP) – 60 day DL.  He has multiple tears in his right shoulder and will likely miss the rest of the season.

Roy Halladay (RHP) – 60 day DL.  Had surgery on his shoulder in May and has just started throwing from the mound.  He may be back some time in late August.

Jeremy Horst (LHP) – 15 day DL.  Left elbow strain and is likely out for the season.

Ryan Howard (1B) – 15 day DL.  Injuries continue to plague the St. Louis native.  This time it is his left knee.  No timetable for his return, but a follow up examination this week may give some indications when to expect him back.

Ben Revere (OF) – 15 day DL.  He recently underwent surgery to repair his fractured right foot.  He might be back in late August, but mid-September is more likely.

Michael Stutes (RHP) – 15 day DL.  Stutes has tendinitis in his right biceps.  He is scheduled to begin throwing some time this week, but no timetable has been set on his return.

Injuries – St. Louis

Rafael Furcal (SS) – 60 day DL.  Furcal had Tommy John surgery in March 13 and is out for the season.

Jason Motte (RHP) – 60 day DL.  The Cardinals hard throwing closer had Tommy John surgery in May and is out for the remainder of the season.

Jaime Garcia (LHP) – 60 day DL.  Garcia had shoulder surgery on May 24 to repair the rotator cuff of his throwing shoulder.  He is out for the remainder of the season.

John Gast (LHP) – 15 day DL.  Gast suffered a strain of his left lat during his second start with the Cardinals.  There is still no timetable set for his return.

Chris Carpenter (RHP) has experienced a setback following his second start in the minors last Saturday.  He has temporarily shut down his rehab activities, which puts a possible August return in jeopardy.

Matt Holliday (OF) – 15 day DL.  Holliday suffered a right hamstring strain while running out a ground ball on July 11.   He has resumed running and is reported to be free of pain.  He will not be eligible to come off the disabled list during this series, but is expected to be activated during the Braves weekend series.

Bob Netherton  is a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and United Cardinal Bloggers. His work can be found at On the Outside Corner, a mostly historical blog about the St. Louis Cardinals.  You can also find Bob on Twitter at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2013 Season, Bird's Eye View | Leave a comment

The Best Kept Secrets in the Farm System – Part 2

Yesterday, we took a look at the progress Tyler Lyons has made since being optioned back to Memphis. With a challenging six weeks ahead for the Cardinals, largely against divisional rivals, his return to St. Louis is looking more and more likely. With the non-waiver trade deadline just over a week away, the possibility also exists that Lyons, or any of the young pitchers we’ve enjoyed watching debut this year, may be heading on to another team.

Before we get upset over the loss of a Keith Butler or Joe Kelly, it might be a good idea to get to know some of the young players that will be taking their places.

1. Zach Petrick (RHP) – Springfield.

Oh, if there is ever a feel good story to match that of Brock Peterson, who made his major league debut last night, it is Zach Petrick. Zach is the younger brother of former Cubs pitcher, Billy Petrick. Billy was a third round draft choice for the Cubs in 2002, and made it to the big leagues in 2007, appearing in 8 games. Shame on them for letting the younger Petrick get away.

Zach Petrick pitched for the University of Northwest Ohio and apparently slipped by the scouts who were looking for talent elsewhere. Disappointed and getting ready to try out for a local independent league team, Petrick finally got the call that he waited for on draft day, and he would soon find himself with the Cardinals rookie team in Johnson City.  Credit Petrick’s college coach, Kory Hartman, for working the phones for his young pitcher, as well as Cardinals scout, Brian Hopkins, for returning his call.  You can read the entire story here.

His first six appearances for Johnson City would come out of the bullpen, and he was sensational.  In 11 innings of work, he would pick up a pair of wins while holding the opposition to a .184 batting average.   More impressive were his 17 strikeouts to just 3 walks.  Petrick would actually hit more batters (4) than walk.

That prompted a move into the rotation where Petrick would show that he could get through a lineup multiple times.   In 7 starts, he would pick up 3 more wins without a loss, striking out 33 in 35 2/3 innings.  Opponents were held to a .198 batting average, and his 2.27 ERA would be tops among all the Johnson City starters.

Petrick would begin the 2013 season with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cardinals Low-A affiliate.  That would last just two months as Petrick dominated the league.  In 24 appearances, all in relief, Petrick would pick up another win to go with 7 saves.   As in Johnson City, his strikeouts (46 in 34 innings) and walks (just 8) were impressive.  The 0.79 ERA was just eye popping, so it was no surprise when he was promoted to Palm Beach at the end of May.

Over the next two weeks, Petrick would appear in 5 games, all in relief.  In those 10 innings, he would give up 6 hits, allow 2 runs (both unearned).  He would strike out 11 to go with just 1 walk.   That prompted another move into the rotation, and his results were even better.  Including one 4 inning start to get him stretched out, Petrick would pick up 3 more wins without a loss.  In 23 1/3 innings, he allow 2 runs, 1 earned, on 15 hits, 2 walks and 21 strikeouts.

If this is beginning to sound a little bit like the Trevor Rosenthal story last year, you would be right.

Following a dominating 7 1/3 inning 1 hit game against Bradenton, Petrick would be promoted to Springfield (AA).  On July 16, he would make his AA debut, and it was nothing short of sensational.  Over six innings, he would hold the division leading Arkansas Travelers (LAA) to just 1 run on 4 hits.  He would allow one walk while striking out 8.   He would record his tenth win as a professional, and has yet to take a loss.  Not a bad first year for the young right hander.

If you are looking for some type of comparison for Zach Petrick, think Seth Maness with a bit better velocity.   He throws a fastball, slider, change up and can spot every one of them for strikes.  His fastball does have a lot of movement, but it looks like it is going exactly where he wants it to go.   While he does not appear to be overpowering, he seems to confound opposing hitters with regularity.

2. Lee Stoppleman (LHP) – Springfield

Has there been a better name for a future closer than Stoppleman ?  That may be what we are looking at with this big hard throwing left hander.

StopplemanStoppleman was a 24th round draft selection last year.  Like many players drafted out of college, those extra years of development allow for a faster path through the minor league system.  That path was sped up even more, thanks to a series of injuries in St. Louis in late May.  They created a huge void in the both the Springfield rotation and bullpen, and Lee Stoppleman was one of the pitchers called on to fill it.  While some of the others have struggled with their rapid advancement, Stoppleman has been brilliant.

There is so much to like about this big lefty.  Stoppleman throws hard and he throws strikes.   In 21 appearances with Springfield, he has given up runs on just three of those outings.  Opponents are hitting just .153 against him.   He is also averaging a strikeout per inning (22/22), which is a metric that many like to use when spotting potential major league pitching talent.  His control is not as good as some of the other pitchers, but 11 walks to go with those 22 strikeouts isn’t bad, especially when combined with that .153 batting average against.  In a few shorts weeks of work, he has gone from curious newcomer in the bullpen to the key late inning setup man for Deryk Hooker or Kevin Thomas.

While it is still a bit too early to call this one, Lee Stoppleman could be another Kevin Siegrist.  Take those two names together, and don’t be surprised when Marc Rzepczynski is traded some time in the next ten days.

3. Tim Cooney (LHP) – Springfield

In 2011, the Memphis Redbirds (AAA) had just five left handed pitchers on the roster.   For the entire year.  They were Rich Rundles, Ron Mahay, Raul Valdes, Nick Additon and Nick Greenwood.  Neither Mahay nor Valdes lasted more than a few appearances and Rich Rundles was not invited back and is now pitching in one of the independent leagues.    While that sounds bad, the lower levels of the farm system were in even worse shape.

Turn the calendar ahead 2 years, and the Cardinals seem to be loaded with lefties, and very good ones at that.  This 22 year old lefty was drafted in the third round in 2012 out of Wake Forest.   As with Lee Stoppleman, Cooney made a rapid advancement through the farm system and was part of the same group of promotions that included Stoppleman and another left hander, Ryan Sherriff.

In 12 appearances with Springfield, Cooney has thrown 73 innings.  That’s just over 6 innings per start – check 1.   Of those 12 starts, he’s only been roughed up in two of them – accounting for 13 of the 28 earned runs he’s allowed.   He has also recorded 73 strikeouts (there’s that magic number again – 1 K/IP) and given up only 13 walks.  Check 2 and 3.

But lets take a closer look at his last three starts.

Date Opponent W/L IP R H BB K
July 6 San Antonio W 6 2/3 1 4 1 6
July 6 NW Arkansas W 5 2/3 0 7 2 9
July 6 Arkansas W 7 1 5 0 6
Total 3-0 19 1/3 2 16 3 21

It seems as if Mr. Cooney has caught up with the Texas League.   He has become something of Springfield’s answer to Tyler Lyons, and is just as much fun to watch.

4. David Popkins (OF) – Palm Beach

If the Cardinals had been lacking left handed pitching in the farm system, speedy switch hitting outfielders have been an absolute wasteland.  While they aren’t exactly downing in them right now, David Popkins might be an indication that there may be more coming.

Popkins was free agent signing following the 2012 draft, where the now 23 year old had been playing with the University of California in Davis.    He has spent most of the 2013 season in Palm Beach, and might be the hottest hitter right now in the minor league system.

Popkins got off to a slow start with the Cardinals, hitting just .217 at the end of May.  Since then, he is hitting .390 with 12 doubles,  3 triples,  5 home runs  and 23 RBIs.   That is pretty impressive performance when you consider that the Florida State League is very pitcher friendly.

One other note about Popkins, he is a very streaky hitter.  He has two hitting streaks of 13 games and another one at 9 games.  Since June 1, there haven’t been many 0-fers.

Popkins is 6-10 in stolen base attempts, which might not seem like much.  But it is a step in the right direction.

5. Cory Jones (RHP) – Peoria

JonesIf there was ever a baseball player that just looks like a pitcher, it is Cory Jones.  He’s a big right hander (6ft 5in, 225) that throws in the mid 90s, and can dial it up to 97 mph on occasion.   He also has a heavy curve to go with that.  That should conjure up an image of Mitchell Boggs, and that might not be too far off.

Jones was on his way to Oregon from the College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita, Ca) when the Cardinals drafted him in the fifth round last year.   The now 21 year old signed, and is now tearing up the Midwest League for Peoria.    In 8 starts for the Chiefs, Jones has won 6 and lost just 1.  He is also going deep in his starts, pitching at least six innings in all but his first start.   He currently has a 1.21 ERA and opponents are hitting just .188 against him.

If there is a concern, it is that he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, especially for a big power arm.  That tends to make his control appear to be worse than it is.   Fortunately, the strikeouts rate is getting better over his last couple of starts.

Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at some other hidden gems down in the Cardinals farm system.  Until then, I encourage all of you to take a look at John Nagel’s outstanding blog, Cardinals Farm.  John and his contributors, Corey Rudd and Joe Schwartz, do an excellent job keeping up with the young players in all levels of the minor leagues.

Posted in 2013 Season, Minor Leagues | Leave a comment

Tyler Lyons – The Best Kept Secret in the Farm System

lyons2Just days after Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list with elbow soreness, Jamie Garcia’s shoulder finally gave out and his 2013 season would come to an end.  This was on May 17, and the bulk of the regular season was still ahead of the Cardinals.  Not just any season, one that was shaping up to be quite a battle for the NL Central title.   Thus began the Parade of Pitching Prospects as hurler after hurler made their major league debuts.

Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez had already made their debuts, replacing the ineffective Marc Rzepczynski and Mitchell Boggs in the bullpen.  Rzepczynski seems to have recovered from his early season troubles and is still pitching in Memphis.  Mitchell Boggs is now with the Colorado Rockies AA affiliate in Tulsa.

Over the next few weeks, we would see major league debuts from John Gast, Tyler Lyons, Michael Blazek, Michael Wacha, Keith Butler and Kevin Siegrist.   At this time, only Siegrist is on the active roster.  John Gast is still on the disabled list and the others are in Memphis.   For the moment.

What had once seemed like an endless supply of young pitching prospects had suddenly run out.  The ripple effect was seen throughout the Cardinals minor league farm system, as pitchers were promoted quickly to fill the voids.  In many cases, young pitchers were called on to mature quickly and face competition that was just a little above their level.  Some, like left handed starter Tim Cooney and former-starter-now-closer Deryk Hooker in Springfield, have risen to that challenge and been very impressive.  None have been better than Tyler Lyons, and that includes Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez.

lyons3Many of us will remember different things about Tyler Lyons short time in the major leagues.  His first two starts were as good as anybody we have seen in the last half century, both 7 inning affairs where he gave up just a single run.  He would win both games, allowing just 6 hits in those 14 innings, striking out 9 while walking just 2.   Some may scoff at his opponents, the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres, but that does a great disservice to not only Lyons, but two rosters full of professional baseball players.

The calendar then turned to June and Lyons successful run had come to an end, just about as quickly as it began.  The Cardinals would lose his next four starts, prompting a roster change before the month was over.  Some will remember just that and perhaps come to some wrong conclusions about Lyons performance.   Let’s take a closer look.

June 2 – San Francisco at St. Louis

A pair of second inning singles led to an early Giants run, but a big inning was prevented when Lyons got Gregor Blanco to ground into a double play.  That would score the run, but it also cleared the bases in front of the pitcher.  Chad Gaudin struck out.

In the next inning, a two out double by Buster Posey led to the Giants second run of the game.  That would come on the next batter when Hunter Pence ripped an RBI double of his own.  Once again, Tyler Lyons ended the inning with a strike out, this time Brett Pill was the victim.

Thanks to David Freese, the Cardinals would get those runs back in the fouth inning, when the fan favorite launched a 2 run homer.

Lyons got into trouble in the seventh inning, and it came rather quickly.  Since the Pence double in the third, Lyons had faced the minimum number of batters.  Both hits he allowed were erased in double plays.   With one out in the seventh inning, Brandon Crawford singled and Gregor Blanco drew a walk.

That was it for Mike Matheny and he made a pitching change, opting for the veteran, Randy Choate.  With Seth Maness also warming in the bullpen, Choate might not have been the best choice.   Pinch hitter Brandon Belt rips a double into the left center field gap and both base runners score.  Seth Maness would then come into the game and retire the next two batters.

Lyons would take the loss, but had pitched as well as in his previous two starts.

June 8 – St. Louis at Cincinnati

Tyler Lyons would face Mat Latos in this Saturday evening battle between NL Central foes.   Through the first five innings, it was Lyons that out-pitched Latos,  although the final box score makes it look the other way around.   At this point in the game, the score was tied at two runs each.  The two Reds runs came on solo home runs by Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco.

Let’s take a quick stop here and review.  Lyons 2 losses are due to a Buster Posey double and pair of solo home runs in Great America Ballpark (the home run launching pad of the National League).  This is not the complete meltdown of a young pitcher – this is just baseball.

A pair of doubles by Derrick Robinson and Joey Votto (yeah, he’s pretty good too) would give the Reds a 3-2 lead, one that they would not surrender.  Once again, the bullpen did not help Lyons, and he would earn his second hard luck loss on the season.

June 16 – St. Louis at Miami

Things are starting to unravel for the young Cardinals pitcher, but a closer look suggests it might not be as bad as some remember.

The Marlins jumped all over Lyons early, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning.  That set the tone for what would turn out to be one rough inning after another.  Although it first appeared as if Lyons turned things around, the Marlins scored two more runs in the fourth inning, and again in the fifth.  In both cases, Lyons was one pitch away from getting out of trouble.

At 93 pitches, Mike Matheny took Lyons out of the game in the sixth inning, replacing him him Joe Kelly.   Lyons final like looks awful – 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks.  His ERA is now soaring from an eye-popping 1.29 on Memorial Day to 4.65.   It would not stop there.

June 23 – Texas at St. Louis

This would be Lyons shortest outing of the year, just 1 2/3 innings.  It would also be the last time we see Lyons pitching in St. Louis – at least for now.   As with the previous game, the line score looks terrible, but a closer look shows that one at-bat did Lyons in – a 2 out walk to the pitcher.  An American League pitcher.   An American League pitcher with a .000 batting average over five major league seasons.   If Lyons retires Derek Holland, the Rangers have just one run and this game may end much differently.   But he didn’t, and they scored 4 runs before the inning was over.

Once again, Joe Kelly takes over, this time throwing 5 scoreless innings in relief.   Kelly’s performance in this game earned him a spot in rotation, and Lyons would soon be optioned back to Memphis.

But that’s not the end to the Tyler Lyons story.

Instead of sulking or thinking about what may have been, Tyler Lyons has quietly gone about his business in Memphis, working on those very things that got him in trouble with the Cardinals.  Although a quick look at his major league stats might suggest otherwise, this is not a case of a pitcher that can’t retire major league hitters. Instead,  it is just a young and inexperienced pitcher losing focus while trying to retire the last out of the inning, and not limiting the damage that had been done.  Lyons is hardly the first pitcher to go through this.  And he won’t be the last.

Let’s take a look at his starts since returning to Memphis in late June.

Date Outcome Innings Hits Runs Walks Strikeouts
June 25 W 7 1 0 0 4
July 1 ND 7 2 0 2 9
July 7 W 8 2 3 1 9
July 12 ND 5 2/3 3 2 2 5
July 19 W 6 6 1 2 6

Let’s add that up, shall we.   In 5 starts since being sent back down to Memphis, Lyons has thrown 33 2/3 innings, allowing 6 runs (1.60 ERA) on 14 hits.   He has given up 7 walks to go with 33 strikeouts.   Opponents are batting just .124 against him, and slugging (if you can call it that) .212.

Over that same period, Carlos Martinez has 3 starts with a slightly lower ERA at 1.40, but has given up nearly as many hits (13) in half the innings, same number of walks and fewer strikeouts.   Michael Wacha also has 3 starts, going 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA.

Tyler Lyons

As impressive as both Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez have been, the ace of the Memphis staff right now is Tyler Lyons.  He has limited the damage when opponents start getting hits, and he is going deep into his starts.  With a brutal six week schedule ahead, with just one travel day and a double header, don’t be surprised if we see Tyler Lyons making an occasional spot start.  Or maybe more.   Right now, he might be the best kept secret in all of the Cardinals farm system.

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