03/24/05 6:20 PM ET
Cardinals organization report
Impressive collection of pitchers waits at Triple-A
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
The St. Louis Cardinals farm system is a lot like a good piece of prosciuto: Thin, but not without quality.
Fans trying to find top-notch position players may ask, "Where's the beef?", especially after the best bat in the system -- Daric Barton -- was dealt to Oakland in the Mark Mulder trade. The Cardinals did try to address that, though, by taking advanced college bats in last year's draft (22 of their 47 picks, to be precise).
The real meat of the system lies on the mound, and much of it is just about ready for Major League consumption. Triple-A Memphis' rotation will be headlined by a trio of starters, each of whom could be called upon to contribute in St. Louis should the need arise. Not only will this depth help put the minds of the Cardinals' management at ease, the competition in Memphis should bring out the best in Adam Wainwright, Brad Thompson and Anthony Reyes. There's also another wave of pitching talent a couple of levels away with arms like Stu Pomeranz and the recently drafted Chris Lambert.
It remains to be seen what last year's draft will yield in terms of offensive talent -- and whether the Cardinals stick with the college-only approach to drafting -- but despite the lack of upper-tier hitting prospects of late, the Cardinals have managed to find contributors year after year. Last season, it was Yadier Molina's turn to make the leap, and he's now a key member of the 25-man roster at age 22.
And there's clearly been an overall improvement in the past year. The Cardinals' system finished 2004 with a .520 winning percentage, up from .451 in 2003. Winning may be secondary in the minors, but in a system that's trying to show it's not as weak as some would say, it's a sign that things are on the rise.2004 Organizational Record
League (Level) Team W L PCT Pacific Coast (AAA) Memphis 73 71 .507 Southern (AA) Tennessee 69 71 .493 Florida State (A) Palm Beach 73 61 .545 Midwest (A) Peoria 75 64 .540 NY-Penn (SS) New Jersey 41 34 .547 Appalachian (R) Johnson City 33 35 .485 Total 364 336 .520
2004 Organizational Leaders
Batting average: Brendan Ryan, .322
Home runs: Kevin Witt, 36
Runs batted in: Kevin Witt, 107
Stolen bases: Papo Bolivar, 51
ERA: Jordan Pals, 2.77
Wins: Stuart Pomeranz, 12
Strikeouts: Danny Haren, 150
Saves: Al Reyes, 23
Five prospects whose names you should know:
Adam Wainwright, RHP
Things didn't go exactly as planned for Wainwright in his first season in the system, as he hurt his elbow in June and was forced to miss the rest of the season. He did get some healthy mound time in the Arizona Fall League, but left early to get married. Assuming Wainwright is 100 percent, he'll go back to Triple-A Memphis and try to work his way back into the position of being one of the first guys the big club will turn to for pitching help.
Reyes exceeded all expectations in his first full season of pro ball in 2004, spending the bulk of the year in Double-A. He's got above-average velocity and movement on his fastball, and he's developing a two-seamer to complement his curve and change, both of which are Major League-quality pitches. Reyes shows good deception on the mound and made tremendous progress in just one year. Even better was that he didn't seem to tire over the long season, saving his best pitching for the end. More of a power guy than Wainwright or Thompson, Reyes should be a strikeout pitcher (he had 140 vs. only 20 walks in 111 innings last year). He'll be a part of that stacked Memphis rotation waiting for the call.
An up-close look at the club as
we approach Opening Day
Molony: Cardinals ready to fly
The heat is on: David Eckstein
Breakout player: Yadier Molina
Top prospect: Anthony Reyes
Cardinals organization report
Cardinals Spring Training preview
Cardinals Spring Training quick hits
Brad Thompson, RHP
Thompson got national attention with his record-breaking scoreless inning streak in Double-A, got promoted to Memphis, then got hurt shortly thereafter. He came back to replace Wainwright in the AFL and is now 100 percent. Thompson is not a velocity guy, relying more on the movement of his fastball than the speed. He also has terrific command of his slider and changeup, hitting the spots he wants to when he wants to. While he doesn't strike guys out, Thompson doesn't hurt himself with walks, either, drawing some comparisons to Greg Maddux. He'll be in Memphis, completing the trifecta and waiting for a shot at the bigs.
After a bit of a rough debut in 2003, Pomeranz made vast improvement in his first full season. The 6-foot-7 high school product began the year in extended Spring Training, and finished it as maybe the best pitcher on the Peoria staff. Pomeranz has good movement on his fastball and excellent command, especially for a pitcher his age. He's close to Major League-average on his other pitches -- a knuckle curve and a change with some sink which makes his fastball better. Pomeranz will likely be in the Palm Beach rotation at age 20 this season. Reid Gorecki, OF
Gorecki had a terrible start to his 2004 season, which hurt his overall numbers. To his credit, he bounced back with a terrific Fall League. Gorecki has the abilitiy to hit for average, steal some bases and develop the kind of power that could produce about 15 homers a year. He's also a good defensive outfielder who throws well and is willing to run through a wall to get things done. Gorecki will probably be playing in Double-A at age 24, which puts him a little behind the curve, but he still landed on the 40-man roster thanks strong AFL showing. Others to watch: Carmen Cali, LHP; Chris Duncan, 1B; John Gall, 1B/OF; Justin Garza, RHP; Cody Haerther, OF; Travis Hanson, 2B; Blake Hawksworth, RHP; Mark Michael, RHP; Brendan Ryan, SS; Brandon Yarbrough, C
Juan Lucena wasn't one of these flashy shortstops out of Venezuela who got a huge signing bonus. So what he did last year, his first in the United States, took some people by surprise.
The 19-year-old won the Appalachian League batting title by hitting .332 in 56 games. He then went to play winter ball, and as a semi-regular against a lot of big league talent, he hit .346 in 136 at-bats for the Aragua Tigres, the eventual Venezuelan League champions.
Defensively, Lucena is pretty flashy and is already very advanced with the glove. But it's the bat that's come as a surprise, and separated him a bit from other youngsters who play that position.
Arrivals & Departures
Quick hits on some key additions to -- and subtractions from -- the Cardinals system.
Brandon Berger, OF: A six-year free agent who never had any staying power in Kansas City, Berger does have 158 career homers in the minors, including 40 back in 2001.
Chris Gissell, RHP: Gissell had good numbers in the Rockies system over the last couple of years. Now he's got a chance to be this year's Kiko Calero.
Daric Barton, C: Barton was the best hitting prospect in a system without hitting prospects, but guys like Mark Mulder don't come for free.
Jason Burch, RHP: The first player sent to the Rockies in the Larry Walker deal, Burch had struck out 108 and walked 31 in 92 2/3 relief innings since being drafted in 2003.
Chris Narveson: The oft-injured former top prospect was a player to be named later in the Walker deal.
2004 draft recap
1. Chris Lambert, RHP
1-1, 2.58 ERA, 38.1 IP, 31 H, 24 BB, 46 K
Lambert is a right-hander with tremendous arm strength and plus velocity on his fastball. He has the makings of a good breaking ball and changeup, but it's clear he has some work to do on his secondary pitches. A former hockey standout, Lambert is relatively new to the sport and may be a bit more raw than other college guys. The flip side, of course, is that he may have more upside than the typical college pitcher. Lambert will probably go to Palm Beach after holding his own in Peoria during his debut last summer.2. Mike Ferris, 1B
.199 AVG/ .295 OBP/ .295 SLG
Whether it was fatigue or the adjustment to the wood bat out of college, Ferris struggled at New Jersey in his debut. Though he didn't show it much last summer, Ferris has excellent plate discipline, a quick bat and plus power. If he shows he's made some adjustments this spring, he could break with the Cardinals' new low A affiliate in Quad Cities to start the year.
3. Eric Haberer, LHP
2-2, 3.94 ERA, 59.1 IP, 61 H, 22 BB, 49 K
Already one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in the system, Haberer possesses a fastball with Major League-average velocity which, of course, is above-average when coming from the left side. He's got a good curve and decent changeup to complement the fastball, but his command is a little up and down. When he's on his game, Haberer is the kind of southpaw that carves guys up. He didn't show the command he had at Southern Illinois while pitching for Johnson City and New Jersey. After an offseason of rest, the Cards expect to see a better form of Haberer, one who could make the Quad Cities rotation.
4. Donnie Smith, RHP
3-3, 3.88 ERA, 46.1 IP, 52 H, 5 BB, 41 K
Smith, out of Old Dominion, relies on a heavy fastball with good velocity. His slider has the makings of a decent pitch, but needs more tilt to be effective at the higher levels. He's also developing a changeup, but that's still behind the other two offerings. Smith walked just five in New Jersey, showing excellent command and inducing ground balls with that sinking fastball. He'll likely join the Quad Cities rotation.
5. Wesley Swackhamer, OF
.222 AVG/ .274 OBP/ .311 SLG
Like Ferris, Swackhamer was a college player who struggled in his New York-Penn League debut. Once he gets on track, Swackhamer should show solid power potential. He doesn't profile like Ferris does, but 20-25 homers might be the best-case scenario down the line. Defensively, Swackhamer is merely adequate; it's his bat that will carry him. For now, it'll carry him to Quad Cities.Best of the rest: SS Matt Shepherd (8) had 17 steals and showed a good glove in New Jersey. ... RHP Mark Worrell (12) had a 2.43 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 37 IP for Johnson City and Peoria. ... RHP Mike Sillman (21) had a 1.55 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 29 IP for New Jersey and Johnson City. ... 1B Bill Becher (22) hit 11 homers and drove in 41 runs for Johnson City. ... 2B Jose Delgado (24) stole 17 bases in 63 games for Johnson City before being promoted to New Jersey. ... 2B Chris Patrick (37) hit .319 for New Jersey and briefly for Peoria.
Looking ahead: Needs for the 2005 draft
Somebody must've read "Moneyball" prior to last year's draft.
In all seriousness, the Cardinals were the latest team to go all college, all the time in 2004. They took their first 26 selections from the college ranks, and picked just four high schoolers over all. It certainly was fruitful with the organization inking 42 of its 47 picks.
The Cardinals also used last year's draft to try to add some positon player depth. With that still lagging behind the pitching talent, they may try to add some more bats of the college variety, this June. Of course, they won't shy away from a pitcher, a point driven home by the selection of Lambert. They have some extra picks coming their way, thanks to the departure of Edgar Renteria, and are looking forward to using the bounty to add more balance to the system.Quotables
John Vuch, manager of baseball information and assistant director of player development:
"We have guys who can contribute now at the big league level. We saw it last year with [Yadier] Molina, [Dan] Haren and [Kiko] Colero. There are guys, especially pitching, who can fill in holes if needed. With position players, it's not as hard and fast, but we have guys who in a pinch can play at the big league level. But the impact guys seem to be at pitcher right now."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.