Cardinals Keep Making The Right Development Calls

On the first day of the 2011 Winter Meetings, I was readying to present our Organization of the Year award to the Cardinals. A group of club officials sat at a table in the audience, and general manager John Mozielak joined me on the dais, as we waited for our turn to give short speeches and for a photo opp with the silver loving cup trophy.

manuel250131I don’t remember everything Mozielak and I discussed that day, and I’m sure much of it was off the record. I do remember our discussion of Cardinals prospects list, and his astonishment that Lance Lynn ranked sixth on BA’s top 10 for St. Louis, two spots behind righthander Tyrell Jenkins.

Lynn had just gotten done helping the Cardinals to a World Series championship, making 10 appearances and earning two wins out of St. Louis’ bullpen. Jenkins had flashed plenty of promise that summer but was a long ways away in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.

“Lance is helping us now!” Mozielak said with a dose of exasperation. Then he predicted Lynn would be a key member of the Cardinals rotation going forward, adding, “I hope you’re right about Tyrell. Because if he’s better than Lance, he’ll be awfully good.”

Of course Mozielak was right. Lynn has thrown 378 major league innings since then, earning 33 victories, not including the two he got in the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. Jenkins has yet to advance out of Class A.

One factor we try to take into account here at BA is how good organizations are at evaluating their own talent. Mozielak was pretty on-point about St. Louis’ 2011 talent, and he and his organization have evaluated extremely well since then, celebrating their fourth pennant in the last decade.

Doing Pretty Well

Their foe in this year’s World Series has a similar track record. Like the Cardinals, the Red Sox has two championships this century, one at St. Louis’ expense in 2004. While Boston has been less consistent, last year’s last-place debacle is the aberration; the big league club has won 90 or more games nine of the last 12 seasons.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury (Photo by Diamond Images)

Getting back to the postseason after last year’s 69-win fiasco certainly involved some self-evaluation, and the Red Sox under GM Ben Cherington astutely added complementary pieces from Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes to closer Koji Uehara while keeping the mostly homegrown core intact. Boston drafted and developed Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz between 2002-2005, and has its best international signee in years, Xander Bogaerts, blossoming into a starting role in the postseason. Ellsbury and Buchholz came in the same 2005 draft class.

The Cardinals are certainly more homegrown, with the 2009 draft class contributing more than its fair share of talent. Righthanders Shelby Miller (first round) and Joe Kelly (third) are in the rotation, with Kelly likely to get a Series start. The right side of the infield features second baseman Matt Carpenter (13th) and first baseman Matt Adams (23rd), plus closer Trevor Rosenthal (21st). Three more, less important pieces came in the 2007 draft in shortstop Pete Kozma (1st), utility infielder Daniel Descalsco (third) and outfielder Adron Chambers (38th).

Just as important as who the Cardinals drafted and developed is who they correctly let go. The most obvious example is Albert Pujols, whose free-agent departure yielded the 19th-overall pick in the 2012 draft as compensation from the Angels. St. Louis converted that pick into NLCS MVP Michael Wacha.

Lynn was the team’s second pick in 2008; the team’s first pick, Brett Wallace, was the key piece in the package sent to Oakland in 2008 for No. 3 hitter Matt Holliday. St. Louis also traded away ’10 first-rounder Zack Cox to the Marlins for reliever Edward Mujica. Adams is a bigger, better version of Wallace, while Cox has flopped badly and isn’t even on the Marlins’ 40-man roster, not to mention in its Top 10 Prospects list that appears in this issue.

The Cardinals’ entire bullpen aside from Mujica is homegrown, with Rosenthal joined by other unusual suspects such as Seth Maness, an 11th-rounder in 2011 (first-rounder Kolten Wong gives the ’11 draft two graduates on the playoff roster) and lefty Kevin Siegrist, a 41st-round pick in 2008. Righthander Carlos Martinez—who originally signed in 2009 with the Red Sox under the name Carlos Matias before the deal was voided—is St. Louis' top international product in the big leagues, featuring easy upper-90s gas to set up Rosenthal and his 100-mph heater.

All those St. Louis rookies don’t include top prospect Oscar Taveras, who had an ankle injury end his season back in May. But it has emptied out the farm system to an extent. Boston’s likely will rank higher when we publish our Prospect Handbook, as its most significant rookies, Bogaerts and righthander Brandon Workman, haven't exhausted their prospect eligibility yet.

Bogaerts still qualifies, as do potentially impact arms such as lefthander Henry Owens and righthander Anthony Ranaudo, outfielder Jackie Bradley, second baseman Mookie Betts, shortstop Deven Marrero and third baseman Garin Cecchini.

Both organizations have resources, though Boston's run deeper; they can afford to keep many though not all of their homegrown stars. As long as both clubs continue to evaluate the talent they have on hand, they are likely to continue to produce more homegrown players and more championship-caliber rosters.