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As a senior, Rasmus teamed with brother Cory (who became a Braves supplemental first-rounder in 2006) and Kasey Kiker (the Rangers' 2006 first-round pick) to lead Alabama's Russell County High to the national high school championship. Colby broke Bo Jackson's state record for homers with 24 that spring. St. Louis plucked Rasmus with the 28th pick in the 2005 draft and a $1 million signing bonus. When he arrived at his first big league camp in 2007, he found hype waiting for him. That's what comes with being an elite prospect for a franchise that, in the words of farm and scouting director Jeff Luhnow, has been lacking a true No. 1 prospect. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa privately wondered if the lofty expectations would hamper Rasmus, but that hasn't come close to happening. He blossomed as a bona fide five-tool star in 2007, leading the Double-A Texas League with 93 runs, 29 homers and 69 extra-base hits. Managers voted him the TL's most exciting player and he was the league's No. 1 prospect. He also had a strong showing for Team USA at the World Cup in November. Rasmus has the head-turning ability of a potential big league all-star, and the swagger too. He has a smooth, balanced lefthanded swing that packs plenty of punch. His wiry frame hints some of his doubles are going to be homers by the time he reaches the majors. Disciplined at the plate, he was able to hit in the middle of the Springfield lineup as a 20-year-old. He also excelled as the leadoff hitter for Team USA. His speed and savvy on the basepaths could mean 20-20 seasons for St. Louis. In center field, he jumped from capable to outstanding in 2007. Scouts who once wondered if he would move to a corner spot said he could be an everyday center fielder in the majors and possibly win Gold Gloves. Even when slumping at the plate, he changed games with his range, and he has the strong arm that made him a standout high school pitcher. Rasmus kicked his habit of slow starts in 2007, but he still tended to be streaky. Scouts and coaches see the same thing he does: that he goes through stretches where he becomes too pull-conscious. He has shown more willingness to hit to all fields, but he still can become more consistent. The Cardinals have prevailed upon Rasmus to refine a pregame routine that not only will sculpt his developing strength but help sustain it over a long season. Rasmus is keeping pace with the Cardinals' schedule for him and may speed it up. He's scheduled to open the season at Triple-A Memphis but probably won't need another full season in the minors. "We can expect him to hold up to what everybody expects from him because he has the drive," Springfield manager Pop Warner said. "I know he's the kid who can handle it."
When the Cardinals pulled Perez out of Miami with the 42nd pick of the 2006 draft, they earmarked him for a swift climb through the organization. He hasn't disappointed. He opened his first full season in Double-A and botched his first save opportunity, then converted his next 27 before a promotion to Triple-A. Perez has the best fastball in the system, rifling it consistently in the mid-90s with natural sink. Yet his best pitch may be an 85-87 mph slider with sudden bite that he's willing to throw in any count. The combination made him nearly unhittable, as he held righthanders to a .115 average and lefties to a .151 mark last season. He has the guts for the closer role. The only thing that could keep Perez from the majors in 2008 is his command. He also makes mistakes up in the strike zone, leaving him vulnerable to extra-base hits. St. Louis would like to see more consistent mechanics and increased dedication to conditioning. Ticketed for the Triple-A bullpen after a tour with Team USA's World Cup team, Perez could pitch his way into the big league bullpen with a strong spring. Closer Jason Isringhausen is signed through 2008, and Perez could replace him as early as 2009.
Anderson leapfrogged high Class A and became the youngest all-star in the Texas League in 2007, edging Colby Rasmus by two months. He joined Rasmus at the Futures Game and narrowly missed hitting .300 for the third time in three pro seasons. He also played with Rasmus and Chris Perez on Team USA. Anderson has a mature approach at the plate and a keen sense of the strike zone to go with a smooth, uppercut lefthanded swing. He should be able to hit for average with gap power in the majors. Pitchers laud his ability to call and control a game behind the plate, while managers praise his leadership. His arm strength is average. The power Anderson is expected to develop hasn't arrived yet, as he cracked only 22 extra-base hits in 389 at-bats. He has odd throwing mechanics, which costs him accuracy and limited him to throwing out just 27 percent of basestealers in 2007. He's improving behind the plate, but needs work with his receiving and footwork. He has below-average speed. Anderson will be 21 when he reports to his third big league camp this spring. He has a higher offensive ceiling than St. Louis incumbent Yadier Molina, though his defense isn't as stout. If Anderson can't take his job after time in Triple-A, he should make a nice complement to Molina.
Few clubs gave Barton a serious look in the 2004 draft because of his academic background, but the Indians signed him as a nondrafted free agent for $100,000 plus another $100,000 in college funds after seeing him in the Cape Cod League. An aerospace engineering major who once interned at Boeing, Barton came into the Tribe system having to prove himself at every level, and broke out in 2006 by hitting .323 with 19 homers and 41 steals. But he quietly injured his right knee on Opening Day that season, and while he had no difficulty playing through it in 2006, the knee problems lingered last season. He wasn't as explosive and ultimately had surgery to clean up the knee in September while finishing his degree at Miami. Cleveland gambled by leaving Barton off its 40-man roster, and the Cardinals snatched him up for $50,000 in the major league Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings. They'll have to keep him on their big league roster throughout 2008 or place him on waivers and offer him back to the Indians for half his draft price. Barton had legitimate five-tool potential before his injury. The worst-case scenario is that he becomes just an average runner, and all his other tools grade out as future pluses. He can get a little stiff on his front side on pitches over the inner half of the plate, though that's his only weakness. His plate discipline slipped a bit in 2007 but should be fine. Barton has the ability to play all three outfield spots with above-average arm strength. He should be able to stick in St. Louis as a reserve and should challenge for an everyday job in 2009, if not sooner.
Area scout Joe Almaraz felt so strongly about Garcia that he persuaded two teams to draft him: the Orioles (who didn't sign him) in 2004 and the Cardinals in 2005. Garcia starred as a two-way player on Mexico's junior national team and was set to play pro ball in his native country before St. Louis signed him. The only negative in two years of pro ball is an elbow injury that ended his 2007 season in mid-July. Garcia has two plus pitches and striking poise on the mound. His fastball hums in the low 90s and he has a down-breaking curveball that he can use as a knockout pitch. His delivery is consistent and smooth. Garcia had trouble with his command at times last season, though that could have been connected to his sore elbow. After several evaluations, he was diagnosed with a sprained ligament that didn't require surgery. Garcia leans on his curveball too much at times and needs to use his changeup more often so he can gain more consistency with it. A potential No. 3 starter, Garcia is expected to be healthy for spring training and primed to continue his sprint from the 22nd round to the majors. Opening the season back in Double-A wouldn't be seen as a setback, and it's unlikely he would remain in Springfield for long.
Ottavino broke the Northeastern single-season strikeout record as a sophomore and again as a junior before signing for $950,000 as the 30th overall pick in 2006. He has ditched the rose-colored sunglasses that were his signature in college, but he has continued to produce. Sent to high Class A Palm Beach for his first full season, he ranked second in the Florida State League with 12 wins and third with a 3.08 ERA and 128 strikeouts. Ottavino has a power mindset and a power build, and he blazed through college with a four-seam fastball that he can still fire in the mid-90s, reaching as high as 94 mph in the late innings. At the urging of the Cardinals, he also has dusted off a running two-seamer in the low 90s. He confidently works both sides of the plate. He has a tight slider and gained traction with his curveball in 2007. He can get carried away with his fastball and becomes too reliant on trying to overpower hitters up in the strike zone. His breaking ball is still slurvy, and his changeup is still a pitch in progress. He needs to become more efficient and cut down on his walks and high pitch counts. Ottavino will begin 2008 in the Double-A rotation. There once was talk of turning him into a reliever, but those plans have shifted to the back burner.
Picking 18th in 2007, the Cardinals had their highest draft choice since 2000, when they blew the 13th choice on Shaun Boyd, and took Kozma, the best shortstop available. He led Owasso High to the Oklahoma 6-A state championship with a three-homer game in one playoff contest and a solo shot that provided all the scoring in the title game, then signed for $1.395 million. Kozma has four average or better tools. He has good plate coverage and uses the whole field better than most teenage hitters. He has tremendous range and a smooth glide to his play at shortstop. He has a solid arm and enhances it with a quick transfer and release. He's a solid-average runner. His instincts and work ethic are exceptional. He hit just .233 in his debut, but the Cardinals believe Kozma will improve with experience. They like his swing, though with his size and line-drive approach, it's not clear how much power he'll develop. A bone bruise near his right thumb limited Kozma offensively during instructional league, but St. Louis still has enough faith in his bat to send him to low Class A Quad Cities to start 2008. He'll need at least three years in the minors.
After Tampa Bay drafted him in the 25th round in 2005, Mortensen opted to go from junior college to Gonzaga to boost his draft status. He flopped, going 6-8, 5.89 and undrafted as a junior. Mortensen recovered to win the West Coast Conference's pitcher of the year award as a senior. The Cardinals drafted him 36th overall in June, making him the highest June draft pick in school history, and signed him for $650,000. Mortensen has a biting 90-93 mph sinker and a hard slider. He had an outstanding 3.3 groundout/airout ratio and permitted just two homers in 60 pro innings. He throws with little effort and has ironed out his delivery, reducing the control woes that plagued him at Gonzaga in 2006. His gangly frame can handle increased strength. He had little difficulty throwing strikes in low Class A, but Mortensen still can improve his command. His changeup has some deception and projects as a solid third pitch, but it's a lot like he was until this spring--all promise and sparse effectiveness. Mortensen could begin 2008 in Double-A and will be the quickest climber from his Cardinals draft class. As with Adam Ottavino, he could make an intriguing reliever but will be developed as a starter.
Boggs was a two-sport athlete who tried his hand as a quarterback at Tennessee- Chattanooga before transferring to Georgia and sticking with baseball. Primarily a set-up man with the Bulldogs, he became a starter after turning pro and has had no trouble adjusting. He was the glue of a Texas League division championship rotation in 2007. Boggs still can reach the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball, but his low-90s two-seamer with sink and bore is his ticket to quicker innings. He has ditched his curveball and developed a wipeout slider that ranks as one of the best in the system. Few Cardinals pitching prospects have been as consistent or durable. Boggs reported to the Arizona Fall League with the goals of improving his command and developing a changeup. Though he has a quality fastball/slider combination, he doesn't miss as many bats as he could because he doesn't locate his pitches with precision. One of his best assets is his competitiveness, but that sometimes leads to overthrowing. The next step in Boggs' progression is Triple-A, but he's not far away from being able to plug a hole in St. Louis' leaky rotation. It's possible that in the long term he'll return to where he came from and become a lockdown reliever.
The 46th overall pick in 2005 out of the powerhouse Wellington High program in Florida, Herron went winless in his pro debut and couldn't advance past short-season ball in his first two seasons. He hinted at a breakout by going 4-1, 2.67 in his final five starts in 2006, then delivered by emerging as the best pitching prospect on a deep low Class A Quad Cities staff. Herron has three pitches that are or should be average or better. He throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s and can spot it anywhere he wants in the strike zone. His changeup has become a reliable second pitch and his curveball has good break. He's cool and athletic on the mound and has consistently won praise for his maturity. Herron needs more consistency with his pitches. His fastball can straighten out at times, and he'll also hang his curveball. He needs to add strength to his slender frame, though he did hold up well over his first year in full-season ball. Herron will continue a slow and steady rise in the organization. He'll jump to high Class A, where he'll no longer be protected by the tandem rotation system that worked so well at Quad Cities. He has a ceiling as a No. 3 starter.
Jay had the best debut among the Cardinals' 2006 draft picks, hitting .342 in low Class A, to earn a jump to Double-A for his first full season. But it became a lost year because of three trips to the disabled list, two for a shoulder injury and one for wrist pain, and he never got untracked at the plate. After watching him in his pro debut, some St. Louis coaches predicted Jay would win a major league batting title. He has a balanced, line-drive stroke and generally controls the strike zone well. He's a solid center fielder with a decent arm, and he runs well enough to steal a few bases. Jay doesn't have the power to profile as a corner outfielder, which is a problem with Colby Rasmus ahead of him. Scouts from other organizations focus on Jay's lack of a standout tool more than his lack of a glaring weakness. They question his quirky hand pumps and bat waggles at the plate and wonder whether he'll hit at the upper levels. Jay likely will return to Double-A. He'll have to produce in all facets of the game to start for the Cardinals, because he can't approach the power of big league starters Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan.
Todd set an Arkansas school record with 17 strikeouts in his 10th start, a complete-game win over South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference tournament, after he opened the season as the Razorbacks' closer. He became part of a formidable rotation at Arkansas that featured fellow early-round draft picks Nick Schmidt (first round, Padres) and Duke Welker (second round, Pirates). Todd, who spent the first two years of his college career at Navarro (Texas) JC, led the group with 128 strikeouts in 93 innings before signing for $400,000 as a second-rounder. The stocky righthander has a fastball that zipped from 90-94 mph when he was with Arkansas but touched the lower end of that range in his pro debut at short-season Batavia. His drop in velocity was attributed to a tired arm that caused him to miss a couple of turns in Batavia's piggyback rotation. Todd's heater has nice movement, and while he prefers to jam hitters by cutting it, he also can throw a sinker. He follows the fastball with a plus slider, and he can throw both pitches for strikes. He has little experience with a changeup, though he may not need it if his long-term role is in the bullpen. A clenched-jaw competitor lacking the size to handle a starter's workload, Todd should reach the majors as a late-inning reliever after expanding his game as a minor league starter. He'll likely open 2008 in high Class A.
Mather reached Class A in 2004, and for three seasons and more than 1,000 at-bats he stayed at that level, wondering each spring if he was making progress or about to be released. Cardinals officials always recognized the potential in his swing, and in 2007 he blossomed. He hit 31 home runs as he climbed to Double-A and then Triple-A. Mather used to gobble ice cream and other high-calorie delights to pack the weight on his lithe frame. By last year, he had filled out by 15 pounds and his game matured. Scouts saw the same raw ability in Mather, but they wondered if he ever would add the necessary polish. He put it together when he settled into a comfortable stance and approach at the plate, which led to better strikezone awareness and more consistent power to all fields. He now has the best power in the system this side of Colby Rasmus, and he doesn't strike out excessively for a slugger. Mather is no burner but has stolen 23 bases without being caught once over the last three seasons. He may be better at first base, but he runs well enough and has enough athleticism and arm strength to play a corner outfield position. The versatility that once kept him playing when he struggled with the bat now opens an alternate avenue to the majors, and he's now just a phone call away. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he'll probably open 2008 back in Triple-A.
After showing a 95-mph fastball in the Alaska League in the summer of 2004, Maiques transferred from pitching-rich Long Beach State to Rio Hondo (Calif.) JC so he'd be eligible for the 2005 draft. The move looked like it would pay off when he threw two seven-inning perfect games and went 49 innings without allowing a run, but he blew out his elbow shortly before the draft. The Cardinals, who had planned to use a supplemental first-rounder on Maiques, took him instead in the 37th round and offered to cover his Tommy John surgery and wait. The investment began paying dividends last season, as the undersized righthander set a Quad Cities franchise record with 31 saves. His second half was particularly strong, as he allowed two earned runs while striking out in 29 innings. Maiques' fastball has returned to its previous 93-94 mph level, touching 96. Low Class A hitters couldn't touch his slider, which is deceptive and features wicked turn. Maiques is chiseled and he held up well in the closer's job, but some still question his durability. He'll also need sharper command at higher levels. But Maiques has the two pitches he needs to advance rapidly and could jump to the Double-A bullpen to open 2008.
Craig was the shortstop on Baseball America's Summer All-America Team in 2005, though he never really had a permanent position at California. He played shortstop, left field, first base and third base at various times, but his bat was a constant. He continued that production in his first full pro season in 2007, finishing among the Florida State League leaders in several offensive categories and winning the MVP award at the circuit's all-star game. He also may have found a defensive home at third base. Craig generates great speed and leverage with his swing and has pop to all fields. His power numbers were deflated by the big ballparks in the FSL, but he continued to make consistent contact without reducing his aggressive approach at the plate. He's a below-average runner. After his promotion to Double-A, Craig became Springfield's third baseman for the Texas League playoffs. His range is limited, his arm is no better than average and he doesn't look smooth when throwing, but he makes plays and the Cardinals think he can stay at the hot corner. Craig's bat puts him atop the system's depth chart at third. He'll return to Double-A to start the season.
After going 11-3, 3.20 with 166 strikeouts for South Alabama in 2006, Walters was a third-team All- American and an 11th-round pick for the Cardinals. In his first full pro season, he led St. Louis minor leaguers in ERA (2.55) and strikeouts (147) and tied for second in wins (12). Walters followed his uncanny control and unnerving changeup through three levels in 2007, finishing as one of Springfield's starters in the Texas League playoffs. His best pitch defies batters and at times defies description, with Walters labeling it a run-of-the-mill changeup and some scouts calling it a screwball. Combine that offering with Walters' strong command and great life on his pitches, and he's able to succeed without throwing hard. His fastball regularly clocks at 86-89 mph, though he can touch the low 90s. His delivery is deceptive enough that it covers for his fastball's lack of velocity, and his changeup breaks against intuition. He spots both pitches well. His breaking ball is still a work in progress, though that didn't stop him from succeeding in Double-A. The beneficiary of aggressive promotions, Walters doesn't have a high ceiling and will have to prove himself at each new level. But nothing's slowed him so far and he could reach Triple-A or even the majors in 2008.
Martinez is at the forefront of the Cardinals' attempt to strengthen their presence in Latin America. They have a new facility in the Dominican Republic, and a campus is coming in Venezuela, but their first prospect is already here. A favorite of his managers, Martinez recovered from a slow start in high Class A to earn a promotion and establish himself as a cornerstone of a Texas League contender. Needed for his glove at the higher level, he also found his offensive groove in Double-A. The contact hitter turned in a .300 average with a surprising 10 homers in 66 games, and he continued to play well this winter in Venezuela. He doesn't have the speed to steal bases, so providing some pop makes him valuable. He has no trouble putting the bat on the ball but needs to work deeper counts and draw more walks. Managers praise his situational hitting and reliability in the field. Martinez doesn't have the ideal range to play shortstop at the higher levels, but his hands, athleticism and instincts are good enough to compensate. He's versatile enough to play all over the infield. At one point he projected as a utility infielder, but if Martinez continues to progress offensively he could become a starting second baseman in the majors. He figures to open 2008 as a shortstop in Triple-A.
With more quality starters than they had starts at Quad Cities, the Cardinals opted to go with a tandem system in which pairs of pitchers alternated between starting and relieving. Furnish prospered in the piggyback rotation, and he earned a promotion to high Class A after going 3-0, 2.06 with a save in his final 10 appearances. Furnish has solid stuff, beginning with an 88-92 mph fastball and a classic overhand curveball with a waterfall break. His changeup is still rudimentary, and he remains a flyball pitcher in a groundball organization, so getting comfortable with the lower reaches of the strike zone is a must. As he worked to improve his approach in high Class A, his control short-circuited. Furnish has the ingredients to make it as a starter, but he'll have to re-establish the assertiveness he showed in the piggyback rotation during a second turn in high Class A.
After giving up a scholarship offer from Missouri to sign with his hometown Cardinals, McClellan struggled in his first three pro seasons, going 7-20, 5.24 without advancing past low Class A. It got worse in 2005, when he flipped a curveball that would shred his elbow and radically change his career path. Following Tommy John surgery, McClellan was limited to three starts and seven innings in 2006 before his elbow stiffened on him, requiring another operation to transpose his ulnar nerve. Last season, he ditched starting, embraced relieving and saw his career take off. As his arm regained its strength, McClellan's fastball reached 94 mph with diving sink. Before surgery, he threw mostly in the upper 80s. Now his slider climbs that high at times, and he's willing to throw it in any count to lefties and righties. With his enhanced stuff, he has maintained the ability to throw strikes and locate his pitches. He doesn't have much of a changeup but doesn't require one in his new role. McClellan got bruised a bit by better hitters in the Arizona Fall League and he's still searching for his true niche, as he's more than a specialist but not quite a closer. He went from local kid to full-blown prospect in 2007, pitching his way onto the 40-man roster. McClellan has similar stuff and a similar background as Josh Kinney, and the Cardinals believe he can follow the path Kinney blazed in 2006, opening the year in Triple-A before making major contributions down the stretch.
If 2006 was Hawksworth's chance to show he was healthy and back in the prospect picture, 2007 was a reminder of how far he had to go. The $1.475 million draft-and follow had an erratic year in his first taste of Triple-A, floundering through the middle of the summer. He described himself as hesitant, even timid, and the results showed it. He feathered his fastball instead of firing it, even though it has returned to its pre-surgery low-90s velocity. He leaned heavily on a changeup that's among the best in the system, but it can't be his only reliable weapon. He gave up 24 home runs and lefthanders torched him for a .518 slugging percentage. To combat better hitters, Hawksworth will have to sharpen either his curveball or slider. After pitching just 25 innings in 2004-05 because of bone spurs in his right ankle and a partially torn labrum, he has made 52 starts during the last two seasons. He gave up just 10 runs over his final four outings in 2007, and the Cardinals hope that's a sign that he'll be able to solve Triple-A this season. Getting stronger and more aggressive would help.
The 2004 draft is essentially a lost one for the Cardinals, who adhered to a strict college-first philosophy in order to save money and restock an organization so thin it just needed an infusion of organization players if nothing else. That's about the way it has worked out, with first-round pick Chris Lambert getting traded to the Tigers for Mike Maroth in 2007, and Hoffpauir left as the standard-bearer for this class. A year after hitting just .249 in Double-A, he returned to that level and was competing for the Texas League batting title when he got promoted last summer, and he continued to flash a level swing and astute strikezone judgment in Triple-A. Hoffpauir always has been willing to take a walk, and that and his ability to put the bat on the ball are his offensive trademarks. He plays a mistake-free second base, though his speed, range and arm are fringy tools. He took on the added challenge of playing some shortstop and third base in Triple-A. Freshly added to the 40-man roster, he'll report to his first big league camp with a chance to make the team as a utility infielder. If Hoffpauir keeps hitting, he could end up as the homegrown second baseman St. Louis has sought since it traded Adam Kennedy to get Jim Edmonds in March 2000.
Worrell led the minors with 35 saves in 2005, then topped the Texas League with 27 in 2006. As he neared the majors in 2007, he didn't get many opportunities to close games. Cast as a setup man, he no longer racked up saves but continued to produce. He was Memphis' lone Pacific Coast League midseason all-star and was consistent throughout the season. Worrell has a conventional repertoire, with a low-90s fastball, a good slider and a usable changeup. It's his unusual mechanics that continue to confound scouts as well as batters, though. He always works from the stretch, steps toward first base and keeps his front shoulder closed until his right arm swings and forces it open. His delivery virtually hides the ball until its release, and then he comes at hitters from a variety of arm angles. The Cardinals have resisted the temptation to alter Worrell's mechanics, mainly because they work. He continues to dominate righthanders (.208 average) more than lefties (.283), so he may start off as a righty specialist when he makes his first visit to the majors. That should come sometime this season after he was added to the 40-man roster in November.
Parisi cruised through his first two pro seasons, flipping his dandy curveball with abandon. When he arrived in Double-A in 2006 and struggled, he pulled out a pen and started keeping notes. He realized he couldn't thrive on a curve and a desire to strike everyone out. His numbers in Triple-A are a bit deceiving, as they reflect a pitcher undone by a weak team, and a season featuring a few terrible performances rather than consistently mediocre outings. Parisi can fire his fastball in the low 90s, and he has become willing to give up velocity in order to gain downward movement on his sinker. He still has the plunging curve that was his hammer as a strikeout king for Manhattan--he holds the Jaspers career record with 272 in 244 innings--and his changeup showed progress last season. He has yet to miss a scheduled start as a pro and has thrown at least 150 innings in three consecutive seasons. Parisi still finds too much of the strike zone with too many of his pitches, but durability and overall effectiveness have him on a short list to get the call from Triple-A if the big league club needs a starter. St. Louis added him to its 40-man roster in November.
The Cardinals loved Motte's defense behind the plate, but when his career average dropped to .190 in May 2006, they decided enough was enough. He moved to the mound in what has proven to be much more than a desperation move and resulted in his addition to St. Louis' 40-man roster after the 2007 season. In his first full year as a pitcher, he reached Double-A and posted a 1.98 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 59 innings. When he first took the mound, Motte just pulled the ball back to his ear and fired, as if he were still a catcher. The Cardinals added a little arm circle, but that's the only major change they've made to his delivery. He throws a heavy fastball that sits at 95-96 mph and regularly touches 98. He couples it with a slider that's improving, and he plans to add a splitter to the mix. Motte was dominant as a Double-A set-up man, so he'll likely find himself in the same role at St. Louis this season. With not even 100 innings under his belt, he's one step away from the majors.
McCormick once was prized as the most powerful arm in the system, but that was a couple of summers and several injuries ago. He blazed out of Baylor with a 95-mph fastball but has thrown only 64 innings the past two seasons, including just eight in 2007 as he rehabbed his shoulder. He had shoulder surgery after pitching through soreness for most of the 2006 season. When healthy, McCormick can still bring it--but he just can't control it. He regularly throws in the mid-90s with his fastball and has cranked it even higher on occasion. He also has a hard curveball that rates as above-average. His control is lacking, however, and his delivery isn't as polished as might be expected from a college pitcher. Developing a third pitch will take a back seat for now to staying healthy. Despite plus stuff, McCormick rarely has dominated hitters, thanks to too many walks and too many high pitch counts. He'll stay with starting because his stuff is too electric not to give him every opportunity to make the most of it, but relieving looms as a more likely use of his talent. He'll likely open the season back in high Class A.
When King signed with the Cardinals as a draft-and-follow in 2006, he was surrounded by family and it was big local news because of a famous relative--he's the great-nephew of Mickey Mantle. King turned pro after leading national junior college pitchers with 123 strikeouts in 86 innings at Eastern Oklahoma State. He's still striking people out in pro ball, but he's also walking too many batters, which is why he has yet to taste success in a full-season league. He opened last year in low Class A but went back to Batavia after walking nearly a batter per inning. King can push his fastball into the mid-90s and has developed a hard slurve that resembles a slider more than a curve and arrives in the mid-80s. He throws his breaking ball with the same force as his fastball, and it's as effective as it is deceptive. He has no changeup to speak of at this point. King has called himself effectively wild, while scouts call him just plain wild. The stuff is there for him to advance, but he won't make it far until he establishes better control. He'll give low Class A another shot this spring.
With three swings of the bat, Hamilton underscored his claim as one of the best power prospects in the Cardinals system. He ripped three home runs and drove in seven runs in a 16-8 victory that clinched Springfield's berth in the Texas League championship series, adding to the 19 home runs he hit during the regular season. No matter the level, Hamilton has always had a hammer. He hit 20 home runs in his final year at Tulane in 2006, then tied for the short-season New York-Penn League lead with eight homers in just 30 games. He uses a muscular frame and an authoritative lefthanded swing to generate plus raw power, getting most of his energy from his upper body. He has a selective approach but also some definite holes in his swing. While Hamilton is a threat at the plate, he offers little else. First base is his lone defensive option because of his below-average arm and speed, and he's not especially adept as a defender. With Albert Pujols at first base in St. Louis, Hamilton's best-case scenario may be to hit his way into a trade to an American League team for whom he could DH.
Gregerson inherited one of the most relished roles for relievers in the system when he took over as Palm Beach's closer in April. The previous two Palm Beach closers had led the minors in saves in 2005 (Mark Worrell) and finished second in 2006 (Mike Sillman). Gregerson finished with 29 saves while holding batters to a .188 average (.188 by lefties, .189 by righties). He was a two-way threat at St. Xavier (Ill.), an NAIA school, winning the Chicagoland Conference player of the year award in 2006 after batting .335 as a right fielder and posting a 0.68 ERA as a closer. Exclusively a reliever as a pro, he has devastated lower-level hitters with his sinker/slider combo. Gregerson's hard sinker has good movement and comes in the low 90s, and a vicious slider that Palm Beach teammate Adam Ottavino called "out of this world" is his strikeout pitch. Gregerson earned a promotion in August, finished the season as Springfield's closer in the Texas League playoffs and pitched briefly in the Arizona Fall League. He'll likely return to Double-A to open 2008, and he could ascend quickly as a setup man.
Taken two picks after Colby Rasmus in the 2005 draft, Greene was a decorated college player who received a $1.1 million bonus. His pro career has been uneven to say the least, as he has hit just .233 above low Class A. If there's an element of his game that has translated easily to pro ball, it's his speed. Greene led the system with 33 steals in 2006. But even his speed is a question now, as Greene has to recover from knee surgery. He went on the disabled list with knee pain in June, then returned only to crumple in pain during his first at-bat. Surgery in July cleaned up his knee and ended his season. Greene needs to start making progress with his bat. He began driving the ball more to all fields before his injury, and half of his 54 hits were for extra bases. He still exhibits poor plate discipline and chases too many bad pitches, however. Greene has the arm strength to play shortstop, but his size, footwork and erratic play (64 miscues in 244 pro games) may make him a better fit at third base. He'd have to step up his offensive game even more if he moved to the hot corner. The Cardinals say things were just starting to click for Greene when he got hurt, and at 24 he needs to start moving. He'll start 2008 back in Double-A
Signed as part of the Cardinals' growing initiative in the Dominican Republic in 2006 as a 17-year-old, de la Cruz made a promising U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season. He lashes at the ball with a powerful, easy, line-drive stroke from the right side of the plate. He shows above-average bat speed, leading scouts to think he'll develop power. Behind the plate, he already has shown catch-and-throw skills and leadership ability, including a good feel for calling games. He has a plus arm and threw out 51 percent of basestealers last season. He also blocks balls well. De la Cruz already has drawn comparisons to Ivan Rodriguez, which will be more apt once he taps into his power. He'll also have to improve his handling of pitchers over the course of a season, but that should come with more experience. He could make his full-season debut in low Class A this year.
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