Top Ten Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Will Lingo
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
Background: Back in 2000, Reyes was a freshman at Southern California and looked every bit as dominant as teammate Mark Prior as the Trojans advanced to the College World Series. But while Prior got on the fast track to Chicago with the Cubs, Reyes faltered in his sophomore and junior seasons, thanks to a series of nagging elbow injuries. Once regarded as a cinch first-rounder, he fell to the 13th round of the 2002 draft and turned down the Tigers to return for his senior season. Elbow tendinitis limited him again and he slipped even further to the Cardinals in the 15th round in 2003. Now Reyes looks like he could be the steal of that draft. He missed six weeks early last season with shoulder inflammation, but after that he made every start and had no arm problems. More significant, he showed the same dominant stuff that once made him a premium prospect in college. After just six starts at high Class A Palm Beach he was promoted to Double-A Tennessee, where scouts and managers regarded him as the second-best pitching prospect in the Southern League, behind only Jose Capellan. The Cardinals didn’t send Reyes anywhere to pitch over the winter, instead putting him on a workout program in an effort to make sure his arm remains sound.
Strengths: Reyes has everything teams look for in a front-of-the-rotation starter, from his body to his stuff. His fastball was up to 94-96 mph by the end of the 2004 season—after dipping into the high 80s during the worst stretches of his college career—and he generally worked anywhere from 90-95 with running life. His breaking ball and changeup also made significant progress. His 81-83 mph slider shows good, tight spin at times, and his changeup bottoms out late. Command may be Reyes’ biggest strength, however. He works hitters effectively to all four quadrants and attacks their weaknesses. Even when he was battling arm problems, Reyes maintained his easy delivery. He also has a great work ethic and does the little things well. One manager said Reyes’ inside pickoff move to second base was as good as any he’d seen.
Weaknesses: Until he gets a full, healthy season under his belt, Reyes’ durability will continue to be a question. The Cardinals are handling him carefully, and he threw more than 100 pitches just once last year—108 in a start after he had an extra day of rest. His secondary pitches still need work. His slider can get slurvy at times, and he has limited experience throwing his changeup. Some scouts have questioned his arm action, but others who saw him last year said it wasn’t a problem and St. Louis agrees.
The Future: Though he has made just 18 pro starts, Reyes is an experienced pitcher who could move quickly provided he can keep taking the mound every fifth day. The Cardinals have no obvious pitching prospects ahead of him, so he could get to St. Louis as soon as the second half of the 2005 season. He’ll be expected to win a spot in the Triple-A Memphis rotation out of spring training.
Background: Wainwright was the Braves’ best pitching prospect when they sent him to the Cardinals in the J.D. Drew deal in December 2003. He jumped to Triple-A but never showed his best stuff, trying to pitch through an elbow strain before getting shut down. He came back healthy, pitching 10 innings in the Arizona Fall League, and is expected to be at full strength for spring training.
Strengths: The Cardinals were impressed with Wainwright in spring training last year, the only time he really showed his full arsenal: a 92-93 mph fastball, a curveball with good rotation and a solid changeup. The curve may be his best pitch. He has a long, loose arm and great makeup, which may have worked against him as he tried to grind through his pain.
Weaknesses: Wainwright went on a strengthening program when he was hurt in an effort to make both his body and his arm stronger. In spite of his above-average stuff, he never has dominated hitters for long stretches. He needs to trust his stuff more.
The Future: Wainwright’s upside is nearly the equal of Anthony Reyes’. They should both be in the Triple-A rotation to start the season.
Background: The Cardinals gave Hawksworth a $1.475 million bonus as a draft-and-follow right before the 2002 draft, making up for their lack of a first- or second-round pick that year. He missed time in 2003 because of bone spurs in his ankle, then pitched just 11 innings last year because of a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Strengths: Hawksworth offers a complete package if he’s healthy. His best pitch is probably his changeup, but he also works with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 96 mph, as well as a good curveball.
Weaknesses: Injuries have kept Hawksworth from getting on the fast track as St. Louis had hoped. He had surgery to clean up his shoulder last May, though doctors found no structural damage. In addition to proving he’s healthy, he needs to polish his breaking ball and improve his command.
The Future: A year ago Hawksworth was the organization’s top prospect. Now he’s its most significant question mark. The Cardinals expect him to be at 100 percent in spring training and will send him back to high Class A.
Background: Lambert looked like a better hockey prospect coming out of high school in New Hampshire, but he showed a low-90s fastball at a Perfect Game showcase the summer after he graduated and earned a scholarship to Boston College. He was the Big East Conference pitcher and rookie of the year in 2002, but an inconsistent junior season had some wondering if he would go in the first round until the Cardinals took him 19th overall. He signed for $1.525 million.
Strengths: Lambert has a strong frame and quick arm that produce fastballs in the 90-96 mph range with explosive life. He also throws a promising changeup and a slider that can freeze righthanders when he throws it for strikes.
Weaknesses: Lambert’s command was an issue during college and remains one because there’s a lot of effort in his delivery. He’ll have to smooth out his mechanics, and he needs to add sharpness and depth to his slider. He looked tired in his pro debut, pitching at 88-93 mph.
The Future: Lambert has limited baseball experience and might not move as quickly as the average first-round college pitcher. He’ll begin his first full season in high Class A.
Background: Pomeranz was a High School All-American in 2003, after a 13-1, 0.52 season his high school coach said was the most dominant he had ever seen. The Cardinals kept him in extended spring training to open the 2004 season, but he still led the system in wins despite making just 17 starts.
Strengths: Pomeranz throws an 88-92 mph fastball that showed good sink and more life last year than it had in 2003. He throws a knuckle-curve that’s becoming more consistent, as well as an average changeup. He has a loose arm and a nice feel for pitching. His command is good for his stage of development.
Weaknesses: The Cardinals will take it slow with Pomeranz, as he’s still learning how to handle a pro workload and needs to improve his conditioning. His offspeed pitches also need refinement and consistency.
The Future: It’s too early to know exactly what Pomeranz’ ceiling might be, but his big frame and mound presence suggest he could pitch in the middle of a big league rotation someday. He’ll move up to high Class A to start 2005.
Background: Thompson drew national notice at Tennessee, opening with 49 straight scoreless innings to set a Southern League record. The streak seemed to take a toll on him, however, as he lost strength in his shoulder and had to be shut down for two months. He came back at the end of the season and pitched well in limited Arizona Fall League duty.
Strengths: Command and approach are Thompson’s best attributes. He works hitters inside and outside, and changes speeds and elevations. His best pitch is an 89-91 mph sinker, and he complements it with a sharp slider.
Weaknesses: Thompson doesn’t overpower hitters, so he has to be sharp. His changeup needs more work if he’s to get big league lefthanders out. His shoulder problems raised questions about whether he can handle a starter’s workload.
The Future: While Thompson’s performance means he’ll get the opportunity to pitch in the Triple-A rotation, he might be more useful as a middle reliever down the road. In that role, he could move quickly, as St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan loves groundball pitchers.
Background: Ryan won a national championship with NAIA power Lewis-Clark State and the National Baseball Congress World Series with the Alaska Goldpanners in 2002, but he was dismissed from the Warriors program before they repeated in 2003. His first full season started late after he sprained his wrist in spring training, but he came back to lead the low Class A Midwest League in batting.
Strengths: None of Ryan’s tools is overwhelming, but he’s the best all-around athlete in the system, swings the bat well and plays a premium position. He plays with energy and a good understanding of the game. He should be an above-average hitter who uses the whole park, and also a plus runner.
Weaknesses: The Cardinals say Ryan should have enough arm and quickness to stay at shortstop, but he committed 31 errors in 2004. He should get stronger as he matures, but he’ll never be a power hitter.
The Future: Ryan will be the starting shortstop in high Class A this year, and he’s athletic enough to play other positions. His bat will determine if he’s an everyday player or a utilityman.
Background: Duncan, whose father Dave is the Cardinals’ pitching coach, was a supplemental first-round pick in 1999 but had just 25 at-bats above Class A by the end of 2003. He broke out last year in a pivotal season in Double-A, showing power, plate discipline and improved defense.
Strengths: Duncan entered 2004 with a .255 career average but finally made some adjustments at the plate, harnessing his power and hitting to all fields. He got shorter and quicker with the bat, hitting balls harder and more consistently. His speed and quickness drills also paid off with improved defense at first base.
Weaknesses: While Duncan has worked hard on quickening his feet and improving his hands, he’ll be an average defender at best. He’ll still have to show more over-the-fence power at higher levels to be an everyday first baseman in the majors.
The Future: Though Duncan will be entering his seventh season in the organization, he’ll still open the season at 23 in Triple-A. With Albert Pujols around, there’s no obvious opening in St. Louis, so Duncan could become trade bait.
Background: The Cardinals gave Haerther $250,000, the largest bonus in the sixth round in 2002, to sway him from a commitment to UC Irvine. He followed up a strong debut in 2003 with a good performance in low Class A, but his season ended early because of a hairline fracture of the tibia in his left leg.
Strengths: Haerther is one of the best young hitters in the organization. He has a smooth, short stroke and makes good contact. He has an advanced approach at the plate, showing good patience for a young hitter and not swinging at many bad pitches. He doesn’t have a lot of raw power but gets the most out of what he does have. He’s an average runner.
Weaknesses: St. Louis drafted Haerther as a third baseman but has played him in left field because he’s more comfortable there and has a better chance of helping the big league club there down the road. His arm is playable but he needs to work on his left-field defense.
The Future: Despite his injury, Haerther showed St. Louis he’s ready to move up to high Class A. He could progress quickly if he continues hitting because there are few legitimate prospects in his way.
Background: Cali established himself as a durable but erratic reliever in his first four years in the organization, and he hadn’t made it past Class A. He came to spring training in great shape in 2004, however, and after opening the season at Tennessee made his big league debut in September.
Strengths: He always had arm strength, but conditioning and a lack of focus held Cali back until the end of the 2003 season, when he started to put it together and throw the ball over the plate. Now he consistently shows his good fastball, which sits at 90-91 mph and peaks at 94-95, as well as a slider and curveball. His arm is resilient and well suited for the bullpen.
Weaknesses: Cali made a breakthrough last year, but he’s still learning how to pitch. He needs to repeat his delivery and show consistent command of all his pitches. He has a tendency to overthrow.
The Future: With the departure of Steve Kline, the Cardinals could have an opening for a lefthander in their bullpen. Cali will compete for a job and head back to Triple-A to hone his pitches if he doesn’t win it.