St. Louis Cardinals Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Will Lingo
1. Bud Smith, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Los Angeles Harbor JC, 1998 (4th round). Signed by: Chuck Fick.
Background: Smith didnt come out of nowherehe was No. 13 on the Cardinals prospect list last yearbut his degree of success in 2000 was a surprise to everyone. He opened the season at Double-A Arkansas and was dominant in the Texas League, earning a promotion to Triple-A Memphis and serving as the Redbirds ace as a 20-year-old as the team went to the Triple-A World Series. Smith pitched two seven-inning no-hitters in Arkansas, finished tied for the minor league lead in wins with 17 and was the Texas League pitcher of the year. Double-A batters had just a .213 average against him, and Triple-A batters were even worse, hitting .206. Smith was a good outfielder at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, Calif., where he even broke some of Nomar Garciaparras batting records. But he became strictly a pitcher when he went to Los Angeles Harbor Junior College.
Strengths: Just to say Smith is poised doesnt do him justice. Hes unflappable on the mound and always thinks a step ahead of batters. Hes like Rick Ankiel with his advanced approach, good curveball and excellent changeup, though his fastball is a few ticks slower. But he might have a better feel for pitching, which earns the inevitable comparison to Tom Glavine. The Cardinals werent even sure theyd put him in the Arkansas rotation last year, but he showed in spring training he was ready to do something special. As his 2000 walk numbers show, Smith has also developed plus command. Hes a good athlete and a good fielder.
Weaknesses: On pure velocity, Smiths fastball is below average, though he worked out in the offseason in hopes of adding a couple of miles an hour to it. His listed height and weight are generous, and hell never be at the front of a rotation. But he knows his limitations and pitches to his strengths.
The Future: The Cardinals plan to start Smith back in Triple-A to open the season, but they have opened their minds to let him move at whatever pace he dictates now. They hope he will become a cross between Ankiel and Jamie Moyer and occupy a spot in the middle of their rotation for years. It would be a surprise if he doesnt contribute in St. Louis in 2001.
2. Albert Pujols, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Maple Woods (Mo.) CC, 1999 (13th round). Signed by: Dave Karaff.
Background: The Cardinals offered Pujols $10,000 to sign in 1999, so he went to the Jayhawk League instead and hit .343-5-17, good enough to earn a bonus of almost $60,000. Then he proved to be a bargain, with a monster year in 2000 in which he was the MVP of the Midwest League and the Pacific Coast League playoffs. He then hit .323 in the Arizona Fall League with an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .916.
Strengths: Pujols started hitting in instructional league just after he signed and hasnt stopped. He uses the whole field and has great strike-zone discipline. He goes the other way well and should add power as he moves up. Hes still young, but he has the approach of a veteran.
Weaknesses: Pujols wasnt a more notable amateur prospect because he was much heavier and didnt move well. Hes in good shape now, but the Cardinals arent sure about his defense. Hes passable at third, but hes already played a few games in the outfield and could wind up there.
The Future: Pujols will likely start 2001 in Double-A and could be in the big leagues in 2002, though the Cardinals try to temper expectations.
3. Chad Hutchinson, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Stanford, 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Jay North.
Background: Before Joe Borchard, Hutchinson was the Stanford quarterback getting the big bucks. He signed a major league contract with a $2.3 million bonus. After a promising spring, he got shelled in Triple-A before returning to Double-A and righting himself. He missed much of the second half with elbow tendinitis.
Strengths: Hutchinsons numbers havent been impressive in college or pro ball, but scouts remain agog over his "truly killer stuff." He is a horse with a 94- mph fastball, but his breaking ball is his out pitch. Whether you call it a curve or a slurve, it is hard. His changeup showed progress in the Arizona Fall League.
Weaknesses: Command of the fastball is everything for Hutchinson. He lost it at Memphis last year and blew up. A little of the problem is mental and a little of it is mechanical. Theres also debate about his future role. The Cardinals want him to remain a starter for now because front-of-the-rotation starters are so hard to find.
The Future: The Cardinals think Hutchinson is ready to compete for a big league job, but he would be better served by Triple-A success.
4. Chance Caple, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Texas A&M, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Ben Galante.
Background: Caple was an eighth-round pick out of high school, but went to Texas A&M instead and became a first-rounder. His brother Kyle was a minor league catcher for three seasons. Caple struggled in his first pro experience in 1999, then didnt pitch until May in 2000 because of a ribcage injury.
Strengths: All the tools of a frontline starter are there. Caple has a big frame thats still filling out and should make him durable. He has whiplike arm action and throws around 92 mph but could add velocity. His slider is probably his best pitch right now. Hes a great competitor and very willing to learn.
Weaknesses: Caple didnt have any problems once he got started last year, but he has to prove hell be durable. He has to keep the ball down, but he may not have a good enough hold on his mechanics to know what down is yet. He needs to improve his changeup.
The Future: Success has eluded Caple so far in the minors, but the Cardinals still like his potential. He has a great all-around package and just needs to refine it to have success. Hell take the next step to Double-A in 2001.
5. Nick Stocks, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Florida State, 1999 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Roger Smith.
Background: Another in the growing legion of Tommy John surgery survivors, Stocks missed his freshman year at Florida State after his elbow ligament popped off the bone. Like so many, he came back stronger than ever, and the Cardinals took him with a pick they got for losing Brian Jordan.
Strengths: Stocks touched 90-91 mph before his surgery, and now he touches 94-95, though he pitches more comfortably at 92-93. He also has a major league curveball and makeup thats off the charts. He has the heart of a lion and refuses to give in to hitters.
Weaknesses: Stocks probably isnt quite as big as hes listed, which raises questions about his durability. With just one professional season under his belt, he still has work to do on his changeup and on his command. Even with the good Tommy John track record, Stocks health will always be a concern.
The Future: The early returns on Stocks are overwhelmingly positive, especially the innings he piled up at Class A Peoria with no injury problems. The next step would be high Class A Potomac, but hell probably finish the season in Double-A.
6. Blake Williams, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Southwest Texas State, 2000 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Ben Galante.
Background: Williams wasnt the first player the Cardinals drafted in 2000, but he was the most impressive. He came with the teams second pick in the first round, which they received for losing free agent Darren Oliver to the Rangers. With his selection, the Cardinals have taken a college pitcher in the first round of nine of the last 11 drafts.
Strengths: Williams added 15 pounds of muscle before his junior season and 5-6 mph to his fastball, taking it to the mid-90s. His best pitch may be his slurvy curve. Hes a big kid who carries himself well and has good mound presence. He has a good pitchers body and good mechanics, as well as a good idea about how to work in the strike zone for his level of experience.
Weaknesses: The Cardinals havent seen much they dont like yet. Williams needs to work on his changeup and refine his command, but all of that should come with innings.
The Future: After his strong debut at short-season New Jersey and an impressive instructional league, Williams has the organization excited about seeing him in spring training. He could take a jump to high Class A Potomac with a good performance.
7. Bill Ortega, of
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Signed: Cuba, 1997. Signed by: John DePuglia.
Background: A Cuban defector, Ortega signed with the Cardinals in 1997 but didnt look comfortable until last season, when he became a Texas League all-star. The season ended early, though, when he collided with an umpire and broke his wrist. Hes expected to be healthy for spring training.
Strengths: Ortega was projected as a power hitter when he signed, and he showed it last season. He scorched the ball and hit it all over the park, and when he pulled the ball he showed real juice. He has the potential to hit 25-30 home runs a season if he keeps developing.
Weaknesses: While Ortegas defense in right field has improved, the Cardinals were a little surprised when a survey of Texas League managers named him as the leagues best defensive outfielder. They think hell be an adequate left fielder, and he definitely has a left-field arm.
The Future: His bat will take him as far as hes going to go, so the Cardinals will move Ortega up to Memphis and see if he keeps hitting. Hes a bit old for a prospect, so the organization will move him as quickly as hes able to go.
8. Gene Stechschulte, rhp
Age: 27. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Signed: Ashland (Ohio) U., 1996 (NDFA). Signed by: Joe Morlan.
Background: Stechschulte wasnt drafted out of college, where he spent most of his career as a first baseman. He hadnt pitched for several years when the Cardinals signed him. By 1999 he was a Double-A all-star. Biceps tendinitis ended his 1999 season early, but he showed no signs of the trouble in 2000.
Strengths: A nondrafted free agent pitcher works his way into an organizations plans by throwing hard and getting people out. Stechschulte has a plus fastball that can reach the mid-90s and a good slider. More important, he has the makeup for late-inning work. He has pitched out of the bullpen throughout his career and knows the role and how to prepare.
Weaknesses: Stechschulte is strictly a two-pitch pitcher, but because his role in the organization is so clearly defined, thats not as much of a concern. He is devastating against righthanders (.193 average against) but needs to get better against lefthanders.
The Future: Against the odds, Stechschulte is ready to compete for a spot in the big league bullpen. He has closer stuff if he can get big league hitters out consistently.
9. Luis Saturria, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 165. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994. Signed by: Roberto Diaz.
Background: Saturria has teased the Cardinals with his athletic ability since he signed. But every step forward is followed by a step back. He played in the Dominican League to get more experience against good pitching and hit just .194.
Strengths: Scouts love Saturria because the tools are all there. He has power and speed and is an exciting player when hes on his game. He has a good arm and is a good defensive outfielder. When he plays with confidence, his athleticism shines.
Weaknesses: Enigmatic is the best word for Saturria. He has never established consistency in his career, and hasnt been able to make the adjustments necessary to get out of slumps. He remains undisciplined at the plate and still strikes out too much. In spite of all of his experience, the Cardinals think he needs more at-bats.
The Future: The Cardinals would like to lock Saturria in a room with Albert Pujols in hopes of making him the same kind of hitter. This will be a big year for him. He needs to start strong and perform well in Triple-A because time and patience are running out.
10. Josh Pearce, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Arizona, 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: Manny Guerra.
Background: Pearce put together a solid debut in 1999, followed by an instructional league performance that was among the best in the organization. Then the Cardinals figured out that between college fall ball in 1998 and instructional league in 1999, he had thrown almost 300 innings. They promptly shut him down for the winter, and he showed no ill effects last year.
Strengths: Pearce is a strong, competitive pitcher whose best pitch is a hard breaking ball thats called both a curve and a slider. His fastball is on the high side of average and has good sink. As hes shown so far in his career, hes durable.
Weaknesses: To be effective at higher levels, Pearce needs to improve his changeup. He would get hit a lot less with an effective third pitch and improved command in the strike zone. Huge workloads at an early age are always worrisome.
The Future: Pearce is moving at a good rate, jumping to Double-A in his first full season. He may return there to start 2001. If his changeup improves, hell be an innings-eater in a rotation. If not, hell take his two good pitches to the bullpen.
Rest of the Best:
11. Clint Weibl, rhp
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