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The 28th overall pick in the 2005 draft, Rasmus signed for $1 million following a celebrated high school career. He broke Bo Jackson's Alabama state record with 24 homers that spring and led Russell County High to a No. 1 ranking in the final national poll. Rasmus' father Tony coached the team, which also featured Colby's brother Cory (a Braves sandwich pick in 2006) and Kasey Kiker (a Rangers first-rounder in 2006). After a breakout year in the Double-A Texas League in 2007, Rasmus came to spring training last year with an outside chance of making the big league team as a 21-year-old. He impressed the Cardinals, especially with his patience, but he wasn't able to dislodge any of the five outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart. His season quickly eroded into disappointment. He hit .214 in his first two months at Triple-A Memphis, and once he found his stroke he was slowed by a groin injury. Rasmus was starting to catch fire when he sprained his left knee when he checked a swing in late July. The injury all but ended his season and cost him a trip to the Olympics, where he would have started in center field for Team USA. Rasmus ranks No. 1 on this list for the third consecutive year. Rasmus oozes big league talent and exhibits fluid athleticism at the plate and in the field. He has a balanced, potent swing from the left side and his young frame has filled out with strength, which has begun to turn some of his ropes into the gaps into shots launched over the wall. As he showed in big league camp, Rasmus has the plate discipline to be a leadoff man when he arrives in the majors and the extra-base thump to mature into a middle-of-the-order hitter. The same plus speed and instincts he shows on the bases are even more apparent in center field, where he's a defensive standout. His glove is good enough to keep him in the lineup even when he's scuffling at the plate. A standout pitcher in high school, he owns a strong arm. Rasmus called the environment at Memphis "weird" and he struggled to get comfortable with the demands and the competition brought on by his proximity to the majors. Slow starts continue to be a signature, and when he slumps, he becomes pull-happy and hastens his swing, prolonging his difficulties. St. Louis would like him to have more structured off-field workouts, and the rehab for his knee forced that upon him. Once his knee was healthy in September, St. Louis strongly urged him to play winter ball but he declined. Though their relationship may be slightly strained, the Cardinals will make room for Rasmus the moment he shows he's ready. Since they drafted him, he has been the torchbearer for their initiative to renovate their farm system. He should be the first impact position player signed and developed by St. Louis since Albert Pujols. He will return to Triple-A in 2009, if he doesn't break camp with St. Louis, but isn't far away.
The Cardinals pounced on the chance to draft Wallace, who won the Pacific-10 Conference triple crown in each of the last two seasons, with the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft--their highest choice since 2000. Less than two months after signing for $1.84 million, he was raking at Double-A Springfield, turning what was supposed to be an injury-replacement cameo into a starting gig. Already one of the best pure hitters in the minors, Wallace has an elegant and refined approach. His balanced, level swing creates consistent line drives, and he isn't easily fooled because of his keen eye and quick adjustments. Plenty of doubles and a fair amount of homers will be the byproduct of his strength and the charge he gets from his methodic, squared-up swings. Think batting champ with the ability to be a big bopper. He has an average arm and surprising footwork at third base. Wallace has a thick lower body and has below-average athleticism, speed and agility. Some scouts say he's too stiff to stay at third base for the long term, while his advocates say he makes the plays he can get to and could become an average defender with more coaching. He'll have to work hard to make sure his body doesn't go south on him. One of two 2008 draft picks to play in the Arizona Fall League, Wallace will spend this season in Triple-A. He should take over at third base for the Cardinals after Troy Glaus' contract expires at the end of 2009. Moving to first base isn't an option with Albert Pujols in St. Louis.
Since signing for $800,000 as a sandwich pick in 2006, Perez has been groomed to be the Cardinals' closer of the future. He got his first taste of the role in August, saving six games in six opportunities. Perez has a wicked fastball that delighted the Busch Stadium radar gun when he arrived. He can throw it consistently at 95 mph and dial up to 97-98 when necessary. His fastball has natural sink and he offsets it with a biting slider that hums in the high-80s. Perez has a gunslinger attitude and was unfazed by his hiccups at the big league level. Command and inexperience continue to block Perez from being dubbed St. Louis' closer. The wipeout slider he could get hitters to fish for in the minors isn't quite as effective in the majors, and he may revisit a curveball to give him a downshift pitch that complements his high-velocity duo. To finish games in the big leagues, he must develop a plus pitch other than his fastball that he can throw for a strike. Manager Tony La Russa refused to anoint Perez his closer in August and won't be doing so to start 2009 either. Perez will open the season as a late-inning reliever, getting his seasoning in the seventh inning with the idea he'll ascend to the ninth once he improves his grip on his repertoire.
Todd had enough fastball to strike out 128 in 93 innings as a junior at Arkansas, including a Southeastern Conference tournament-record 17 in one start. But before 2008, his first full season in pro ball, a friend suggested he shift his grip and try a cutter. In the first two months of the season, Todd was an all-star at two levels; in the third, he pitched in the Futures Game; and in the fourth, he was in Triple-A. Todd augments an attack-dog mentality with tremendous control of three pitches--the cutter, an 88-91 mph sinker and a tight slider. He also can turn to a four-seamer that reaches 94 mph. He has a feel for when to shoot for a strikeout and when to entice contact. A typical outing for Todd was his seventh at Double-A: He needed 83 pitches to get 22 outs, 44 of his 63 fastballs were for strikes, and 17 of the 20 balls in play were on the ground. To some, Todd profiles as a reliever because there's lingering concern his frame isn't built to handle the grind and innings of the long big league season. His repertoire also may be better suited for the bullpen until he refines a reliable changeup. Skyrocketing to Triple-A last year puts Todd on the radar for the majors in 2009, though he'll start the year in the Memphis rotation. He'll prime his pitches for the moment there's an opening in the rotation or bullpen.
One of the youngest players in every league he's played in during his pro career, Anderson has hit at least .281 at every stop. He figured to spend a second year as an everyday catcher in Double-A, but hit .388 to force a promotion before the end of last April. He has played in the Futures Game and with Team USA. Anderson has a savvy approach at the plate and a fluid lefthanded swing with some elements of an uppercut. He's not flummoxed by southpaws, hitting .308/.384/.415 against them at Triple-A. Scouts still expect him to develop the gap power that hasn't manifested itself as quickly as hoped. Pitchers say he calls a good game. Anderson continues to improve as a catcher, becoming more adept at receiving and blocking balls. His throwing mechanics aren't traditional, costing him accuracy, but he has gotten quicker and caught 38 percent of basestealers in 2008. He tends to snatch at pitches. There's some concern he lacks the size to thrive through a full big league season. If Anderson does shift positions--perhaps to second base?--the Cardinals say it will be because he's blocked by Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina, not his lack of ability. While he offers an intriguing long-term lefthanded complement to Molina, Anderson's immediate future is in Triple-A. He could be the best trade chip St. Louis has.
Mortensen became the first Cardinals pitcher to merit an invite to major league spring training the year after being drafted since Braden Looper in 1997. A 2007 sandwich pick who signed for $650,000, he made two spring starts and impressed the big league staff with his diving fastball and his promise. He skipped past high Class A and finished 2008 in the Triple-A rotation. Mortensen operates mainly with a 90-93 mph sinker and a hard slider. His sinker is good enough to induce strikeouts and grounders. He posted a 1.9 groundout/airout ratio in 2008, and righthanders hit .188 against him. He still has room to add more strength to his body and velocity to his body. Propelled to Triple-A in June, Mortensen was too fine around the strike zone and pitched himself into mechanical issues. Control and command troubles cost him late in his college career and returned at Memphis, where he gave up 42 walks and 12 home runs in 80 innings. He needs to improve his changeup to handle lefties, who hit .354 against him last year. Like Jess Todd, Mortensen has been promoted aggressively and will pitch in the Memphis rotation in 2009. The Cardinals believe the kinks in his delivery have been fixed and he'll return to big league camp, this time to leave an impression for a September callup, at the least.
Dripping with athleticism and tools when he chose pro baseball over college football, Jones hit just .221 in his first three seasons and could not get past low Class A. He regained his prospect status with a breakout 2008, when he was named Cardinals minor league player of the year after batting .316/.407/.483. Jones rivals Colby Rasmus as the finest athlete in system, and he's certainly the speediest. His quickness serves him well at the plate, where he's able to turn line drives into doubles; on the bases, where he's improving as a thief; and in the outfield, where he's adept at all three positions. He had an epiphany at the plate, learning to be aggressive in the right counts instead of overanxiously getting himself out early in at-bats. While he finally has the stats to match his ability, Jones remains raw and his power is only beginning to develop. He's still prone to striking out and needs to emphasize getting on base so he can hit near the top of the order. He's good but not instinctive in the outfield, and his arm is fringy, so he could wind up in left field. Still just 21, Jones will return to Double-A in 2009. A repeat performance could put him in line to compete for a starting job in St. Louis the following season.
Motte's rapid transformation from light-hitting catcher to lights-out reliever is complete. He was a superb defensive catcher, but a .188 average in his first three pro seasons forced him to the mound. He experienced almost immediate success and has gotten better each year, and he blew away big leaguers last September. Motte has the best fastball in the system, sitting at 95-96 mph with the ability to crank it up to 98 consistently. He's relentlessly aggressive on the mound, usually throwing strikes and daring hitters to catch up to his heat. His past life as a catcher adds deception to his delivery, as he cocks his hand near his ear before firing. He has a fresh, resilient arm. Motte showed no effective second pitch during his big league stint. He has worked on a slider, cutter and splitter but none is reliable yet. His fastball is arrow straight, enhancing the need for something with a lower gear. He battles his command on occasion. Spring training will be a laboratory of sorts for Motte to work on expanding his repertoire so he can be a late-inning reliever in St. Louis. Chris Perez may have the edge in experience, but there are some who see Motte as a viable contender for the long-term closer role.
In the deal that sent icon Jim Edmonds to the Padres last offseason, the Cardinals were willing to cover more of Edmonds' salary if the Padres parted with Freese. At the time, Freese filled a hole on the organization depth chart--a third baseman who could hit--and brought the added virtue of being a native, a graduate of suburban Lafayette High, Ryan Howard's alma mater. St. Louis skipped Freese past Double-A and watched him lead the system in OPS (.911) and RBIs (91). Freese has hit for average throughout the minors and has the ability to drive the ball the opposite way with authority. Of his 26 homers last year, 20 went to center or right field. Billed as nothing special at third base, he impressed the Cardinals with steady play that was more superb than serviceable. Freese can tumble into stretches where he'll get himself out, as he did when striking out 59 times in his first 178 Triple-A at-bats. He's a below-average runner. Though he tried catching in instructional league with the Padres, he offers the most realistic value at third base--a problem with Brett Wallace in the organization. The clock is ticking on Freese, who will be 26 in 2009. Wallace is going to start at third base in Triple-A, so Freese will hope there's room on the big league club for a righthanded bat.
Kozma had just led Owasso High to an Oklahoma 6-A state title with a three-homer playoff game when the Cardinals picked him 18th overall in 2007. Signed for $1.395 million, he admits what scouts say about him--he's not a flashy talent. But he's a well-rounded middle infielder who should advance steadily through the system. Kozma has a good feel for hitting and a line-drive swing. The best defensive shortstop in the system, he's a nimble fielder with soft hands and a fluid actions. He has an average arm and enhances it with a quick, accurate release. His solid-average speed and fine instincts could allow him to develop into a basestealer. Ideally, Kozma would thrive as a No. 2 hitter, but his bat hasn't progressed as rapidly as hoped. There's no indication he'll generate the bat speed to hit for much power. He struggles to drive the ball to the opposite field and was overmatched following a late-season promotion to high Class A Palm Beach. Kozma will take another crack at high Class A in 2009. How he fares at the plate will dictate how rapidly he makes the next leap.
The Cardinals felt like they were able to bring in a premium arm when they took Reifer in the 11th round of the 2007 draft, after he had thrown just seven innings during his junior season at UC Riverside. Bone spurs and elbow tendinitis didn't spook the Cardinals, and they signed him for $100,000 and then gave him the rest of the summer off to recover. The investment has returned a high-caliber arm who has back of the bullpen potential. Reifer was rated the top pitching prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League, with the best pure stuff in the league. Radar guns regularly clocked his fastball at 96-97 mph and he touched 99. One scout rated it an 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale and said his slider could be a 70. The slider regularly sits in the low 90s, and he has a developing changeup that sinks in at 86-87 mph. Reifer held lefthanders to a .086 average, and he converted 22 of 24 saves for the championship Batavia club. He's athletic, with a smooth delivery, and he's both aggressive and assertive enough to remain as a closer. One of the biggest arms in the system, Reifer is ticketed for the ninth inning at a full-season club, with a leap to high Class A possible.
After losing 2007 to a string of injuries--two trips to the disabled list for a shoulder injury and one for wrist soreness--Jay recovered and picked up where he left off in 2006, when he was healthy and had the most impressive debut of the anyone in the Cardinals' draft class. The lefthanded-hitting outfielder has an exceptional command of the strike zone and a knack for slashing, driving and even guiding base hits. His swing is built to win a batting title, and early concerns it wouldn't translate at higher levels were allayed by his performance at Triple-A. Jay returned to Double-A to start 2008 but quickly showed he was ready to get back on the fast track, with 114 hits in 96 games, including 11 homers. He has a distinctive hand pump and bat waggle as his timing mechanisms, and while they turn off some scouts, they work for him. What doesn't work for him is the depth chart. Speedy enough to steal a base and cover ample ground in center field, with an average arm, he's hidden behind Rick Ankiel and Colby Rasmus at center and doesn't have the pop for the corners. He'll return to Triple-A to start 2009, where he'll continue to ripen in case there's an opening in St. Louis or elsewhere. His future playing time will be dictated by how high an average he gets with that bat waggle.
Garcia would be the top-ranking starting pitching prospect in the organization--by a good margin--if not for elbow surgery that ended his 2008 season just after he'd found a niche in the Cardinals bullpen. He started the season in the Double-A rotation, had a 4-4, 4.44 turn in Triple-A and finished in the major league bullpen as an apprentice lefty, though he's still viewed as a starter. He had Tommy John surgery and will miss most of the 2009 season. It was the second consecutive season that Garcia has ended with elbow soreness, though the team isn't alarmed by the trend and believes the surgery will correct the soreness that cut short his 2007, too. Garcia has two plus pitches: a fastball that he fires at 88-92 mph and has late bite, and a 12-to-6 curveball that is the best in the system. He has remarkable poise on the mound for his age, but he has had splotches of flighty command, an issue that could be traced to two years of pitching with a tender ligament. The surgery will delay Garcia's shot at being a big league regular, but if his rehab goes well and he returns with the same snap on his pitches, he could find a spot in the rotation waiting for him in 2010.
Thrust into the major league rotation as an injury replacement, Boggs debuted with a 3-0 start that included a 51⁄3-inning gem at Fenway Park on national television. Inexperience and control problems eventually caught up with him, but the brush with the big leagues helped mark him as one of the best pitchers in the Pacific Coast League last year. He won the Pacific Coast League ERA title at 3.45 and made Baseball America's Triple-A postseason all-star team. Boggs features two different fastballs: a four-seam pitch that he can locate and cut and a two-seamer that sinks. He throws in the low 90s and augments his heaters with a put-away slider. Boggs is both consistent and durable, throwing more than 140 innings for the third consecutive season. Observers applaud his smarts and laud his bulldog approach, describing him as an assertive pitcher. Boggs was a two-sport star who tried small-college quarterbacking before transferring to Georgia, where he worked primarily as a reliever. If he can improve his changeup and his command, he has the guile to stay a starter. If not, righthanders' .189 average against him and his fastball/slider combo could return him to those bullpen roots as strong setup righty.
In many ways, Lynn is the prototype pick for a franchise that favors college pitchers, particularly college pitchers with a tangible, steady line of production and a sinking fastball. Lynn fits the Cardinals' mold. He's hulking and has proved his durability in college, and he throws a 90-92 mph fastball that has heavy sink to it. Lynn was drafted in the sixth round in 2005 by the Mariners, but he elected to improve his draft spot and did so with an All-America turn at Mississippi. He has command of four pitches, including a slick slider and a fringy changeup and curve. But he wasn't billed as a first-round pick because his ceiling seems to be as a rotation's innings-eater. The Cardinals put a high value on that and believe he's a safe bet to reach that ceiling, which is why they drafted him 39th overall last June and signed him for $938,000. They expect a bankable prospect whose climb to the majors can almost be plotted by the start. Lynn made eight appearances in his pro debut before missing time with forearm stiffness, but it's not a long-term concern. He pitched as expected in his first pro turns and will likely return to the low Class A Quad Cities rotation to start the year. It will be a short visit.
The Cardinals planned to take Greene with the 28th pick of the 2005 draft but caught wind of interest in Colby Rasmus, so they switched their picks and got both players. Greene, a decorated college player, arrived with a $1.1 million bonus and heady expectations. Only in 2008 did he start to reach them, thanks in large measure to regaining trust in his knee. In July 2007, Greene took a swing that ripped his kneecap loose and dislocated it. For a shortstop whose game was based on speed, the injury was a major setback. It took him a year to find his stride again, and he hit .328 after the all-star break in Double-A and left an 18-game hitting steak behind when he was promoted to Triple-A. Overall, he finished four homers shy of a second 20-20 season. The Cardinals added him to the 40-man roster after the season, and he headed to the Arizona Fall League to continue refining a freewheeling approach at the plate. Greene struck out 134 times in 485 at-bats last season, still fighting his habit of chasing pitches. He has the footwork and the arm strength to play short, though he has worked at third and second to give him more versatility. Second base could be the best long-term fit. The Cardinals say Greene has earned an audition for a major league bench job, if not out of spring training then certainly sometime in 2009.
For the second consecutive season, Walters was among the organization leaders in strikeouts and strikeouts per inning, though he's able to do it by mystifying batters more than overpowering them. He has a workable fastball, one that clocks at 86-89 mph and sometimes touches the low 90s. But his best pitch is so good that people have a hard time describing it. He calls it a changeup, but its rotation and late movement has some scouts and coaches still calling it a screwball. Walters lives in the lower reaches of the strike zone and has impeccable command when he's at his best. His changeup breaks against the grain, and his delivery is deceptive enough that it also makes his fastball look quicker. He has an average breaking ball. He scaled three levels in 2007 and settled in at Triple- A in 2008, but his walks spiked and he allowed 22 homers overall, indicating he needs to throw more quality strikes. Walters was unheralded coming out of college, but now Cardinals officials have no doubt he'll pitch in the majors. After a handful more innings at Memphis, he'll get there as a back-end starter or bullpen arm relying on unerring control and that unnerving changeup.
Two years after drafting the starting shortstop at Las Vegas' Durango High (Tommy Pham, who played in Class A last year), history repeated as the Cardinals plucked a Durango shortstop again. This time they think they may have landed a first-round bat with a third-round choice. Vasquez slipped in the draft because of uncertain signability, a commitment to Oregon State and an eyebrow-raising academic suspension. The Cardinals got him with the 91st pick and a $423,000 bonus, and he immediately looked like a steal. He dominated the Rookie-level Appalachian League and finished the year as a 19-year-old in low Class A. Vazquez has the arm to play shortstop, but probably won't have quick enough feet as he matures and fills out his frame, so he's expected to gravitate toward third base or second base. His feel for middle infield may be enough to keep him at second. While there is no guarantee he'll develop home run pop, Vasquez swings a solid bat and will hit for average. There are hints, however, that as he marches through the organization as a middle infielder and his game and body mature, the Cardinals think his sweet-spot contact could erupt into gap power, enough to turn him from a utility glove to an everyday contributor.
Starting with the campus they opened in the Dominican Republic five years ago and continuing with limited spending on free agents in 2007, the Cardinals had been deliberately preparing to make a splash internationally. Farm and scouting director Jeff Luhnow decided 2008's class was the right time, and de la Cruz was the right player. Cardinals executives flew to the Dominican to meet with buscones, who act as agents for the players, as a group in January, and lay the groundwork for what became a record outlay of bonuses. A total of three players received more each than the Cardinals had ever paid before, and atop that trio was de la Cruz, who received $1.1 million. Also known as Roberto Pina, he was among the best hitters available with speed and quick hands that hint considerable power will develop. The Cardinals were particularly excited by the polish he shows at the plate at a young age. Third base may not fit de la Cruz comfortably in the long term, but that's where he'll start. His bat impressed during instructional league before he returned to the Dominican campus for more work. Just 17, he'll likely get an assignment to Rookie-level Johnson City for 2009.
The Cardinals sought Salas in February 2007, enticing him to leave the Mexican League for a chance to be a reliever/piggyback starter at Palm Beach. When he struggled, going 2-3, 5.26 in 16 games at high Class A, the Cardinals lent him back to his Mexican team, Saltillo, for the remainder of the 2007 season. A few months into his second try in 2008, Salas represented the Cardinals in the Futures Game. He throws a 91-92 mph fastball and has a serviceable curveball. Yet his most marketable skill is a knack for throwing strikes and working to the four corners of the zone, with movement at every level of the zone. He struck out 100 batters against just 16 walks in 74 innings, and over his final 59 innings he walked just 10 batters. Coaches and scouts called him one of the best at locating his fastball in the league, and he rarely threw behind in the count. When Salas does fall behind in the count, he can be combustible as he allowed 12 homers. Movement at the major league level will dictate his role at Triple-A, but Salas has the ability and moxie to handle a late-inning role, possibly as a setup righthander to begin his major league career.
Samuel is the top candidate to lead the charge for the Cardinals' first generation of players identified and cultivated by their new campus in the Dominican Republic. He also continued a recent trend of dominant closers at Palm Beach. Samuel, a reed-thin reliever, has one of the true power arms in the organization, and one opposing manager last season called his stuff unhittable. He throws consistently from 94-96 mph, and has regularly touched 98 in save situations. He sweetens that pep with a slider that he can throw from 85-90 mph. He rarely throws anything soft because he hasn't needed to at the lower levels. Samuel finished 48 games for Palm Beach last year and ended up with more than twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed. He also had more walks than hits, however. His wildness is intimidating in the lower levels, but control will be the biggest hurdle for him to overcome as he tries to rise through the system. He complicates matters by sometimes allowing his mechanics to fall apart, which makes pitches drift up in the zone. Samuel will inherit the closing job in Springfield, but easily could pitch at multiple levels again in 2009. If his control improves, he will ascend quickly.
Before the start of major league spring training last year, the Cardinals invited a select group of pitching prospects to what they called a "classic mechanics" mini-camp. Ottavino, the 30th overall pick in the 2006 draft and recipient of a $950,000 bonus, was a willing student. He threw himself into the program, which included scanning tapes of pitching greats and rediscovering what coaches called a "natural rhythm." Yet he may have gotten into it too much, as the power pitcher with the power build got powerfully out of whack and lost confidence. He got hit hard in his first Double-A experience, and the Cardinals shut him down for a couple of stints in May so he could rest a sore shoulder and try to regain confidence in his stuff. He pitched better later in the season, but his mechanics were never consistent all year. Ottavino has a four-seam fastball he can throw at 94 mph, and a two-seamer he has embraced that goes in the 90s. His slurvy breaking ball would be more effective if he used it more, and his changeup still needs work. But teetering mechanics can sabotage all of his pitches. The Cardinals gave him a break to reset and sent him to Arizona Fall League, where his mechanics looked better but he still compiled a 6.17 ERA in 23 innings. He ditched the high hand swing and went to a more compact delivery. He will return to the Springfield rotation in hopes of a bounceback year, and reaching Triple-A would put him back on schedule.
Among the youngest starters moving steadily through the Cardinals system, Herron is also usually described as one of the system's most polished players. He was the 46th overall pick back in 2005, taken out of a cradle of pitching, Wellington (Fla.) High and signed for $675,000. His alma mater also spawned first-round picks Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett and Justin Pope (a Cardinals choice after three years at Central Florida), and big leaguer Mark Brownson. Herron's stint at Palm Beach to open the 2008 season allowed him to live at home, and when he dominated in nine starts he quickly earned a promotion to Double-A. He was knocked around there, however, and returned to Palm Beach to get himself back on track in August. Herron has consistently shown effective control of three average to plus pitches. He throws a sinking fastball at 89-91 mph, and he has a trusty changeup as his second pitch. His curve is good enough to get strikeouts, though he continues to allow both his offspeed pitches stray too high in the zone. He'll need to sharpen his command to get more advanced hitters out. Herron's smooth, repeatable delivery and access to three quality pitches give the Cardinals faith that he'll be able to advance in spite of his first setback in Double-A. He went to Hawaii Winter Baseball after the season, where he shined as a reliever (0.69 ERA in 13 innings), but he's still viewed as a middle-of-the-rotation starter for now. He'll return to Springfield, where added strength and improved command will curtail the bruising he took there before.
A byproduct of the Cardinals' aggressive promotion of players was younger players moving quicker and to higher levels. Castillo, a product of the Cardinals' recent initiatives in Venezuela, was 18 when he arrived at Palm Beach because of an injury, and he pitched well above his age. Castillo compiled a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings at Palm Beach as the youngest starter in the league. He has the raw and loose look and live frame of a top-flight prospect, but the combination of his age, his frame and the lack of a track record keeps the Cardinals from getting too high on him. He throws a fastball at 89-90 mph now, and it should gain velocity as he gains strength. His curveball can be an out pitch, but he'll have to become more consistent with it. He also has a changeup that's a work in progress. It's command beyond his years that has helped him to 88 strikeouts in 95 innings against just 28 walks. He struck out 19 of the 65 batters he faced in high Class A. Castillo finished the year as a the headliner of a teen brigade that included center fielder Frederick Parejo, a starter on a championship team and the New York-Penn League's all-star game MVP. Parejo, too, was just 18. Both could be reunited at Quad Cities, where they'll be full-season starters before they're 20.
Hill broke a couple of bones in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch in June, but it did little to slow him down. When he returned to the field to start a rehab assignment, he ripped three home runs in his first game back. Quick starts at the plate are nothing new for Hill. Taken 412th overall in the 2007 draft, he was the Southland Conference player of the year after hitting 24 homers for Stephen F. Austin State. He intrigued the Cardinals because he has a bat for many positions. He played first and had experience in the outfield, and the Cardinals thought he would be willing to catch, too. And while his defensive future is still up in the air, he has been a productive offensive player since signing. Hill has a punchy and forceful swing, with good bat speed and an ability to make solid contact to all fields. He went to the Arizona Fall League as a catcher to work on those skills, and he also hit .304 with three home runs. He's becoming more fluid behind the plate and starting to handle the nuances of the position better. A return to Double-A is likely, with more playing time at catcher this go-round while keeping his other gloves handy. His bat will play in the majors; he just has to find the position that gets him there.
Craig spent his career at California as a nomadic glove, bouncing from shortstop to left field to first base to third base and back around the horn again. His bat was always the constant, the reason to find him a spot--any spot--in the lineup. It's likely back on positional merry-go-round for Craig as the Cardinals find a spot for the player who was the top slugger on their Double-A team last year. He spent most of the season playing third, though when he missed time with a minor injury he returned to find a new reality: 2008 first-rounder Brett Wallace was at third. Craig is clearly pinched between an on-the-cusp David Freese and the fast-rising Wallace at the hot corner, so his versatility will be helpful. He saw time in the outfield last year and could try first base to get a spot in Triple-A. He has limited range at third and a quirky throwing motion that some thought would prohibit him from advancing at the position anyway. His bat should keep him moving. Craig has great bat speed and can drive the ball to all fields. He's coming off back-to-back, 20-plus home run seasons, so the Cardinals will find a way to get him into the middle of the Memphis lineup.
Cruz played in the Cardinals' backyard in Florida, showing flashes of the hitter he would become while playing for a junior college team near the team's spring training facility. In the matter of weeks after he was drafted, Cruz blazed through four levels, barely stopping to rake at each. When he topped out at Quad Cities, he hit homers in his first two games and drove in at least a run in his first seven. He followed it up with an all-star season in the high Class A Florida State League. But what could really enhance his value is a change of position. Cruz, a third baseman by trade, came to spring training last year as a catcher, and he went to Hawaii this winter to continue to working at the position. He also hit .323 there. A reliable glove at third, Cruz has proven adept, if not natural, at catcher. His arm is plenty strong for the position, he's a savvy game-caller and his footwork continues to improve. His bat, which hasn't shown more power than consistently ripping doubles, is also a bigger plus at catcher than at third. He has proven that he can turn around even major league-quality fastballs. No matter which position he plays, Cruz will open the season in Double-A.
Told often enough that he didn't have the size and strength to play in the majors and certainly didn't have the swing to get there, Robinson raised his hands, changed his stance and started trying to hit like the big bat he believed he had to be. At the start of spring training 2008, Springfield manager Pop Warner offered him an alternate route. Robinson shortened his swing, put his speed to work and let that carry him. Slashing line drives instead of trying to artificially create power with an exaggerated whip, Robinson hit .410/.451/.615 in April and dominated at Springfield to earn a promotion to Memphis. He turned every hit into a track meet. Robinson has plus speed, the kind that turns a single into a double and allows him to score easily from first on an extra-base hit. He has the range and smarts to play center, but can handle the corners as a middle-of-the-order outfielder must. His numbers slipped after a promotion to Memphis as he lost patience and struck out too much. The Cardinals sent him to the Arizona Fall League to work on his approach and he hit .280 in 107 at-bats, with just 13 strikeouts. His speed could be better utilized with an improved feel for stealing bases. He fits the profile of a spare, speedy outfielder and will play in center field this year at Triple-A.
The Cardinals are one organization that isn't afraid to use its future relievers as closers in the minor leagues, and Gregerson is a recent graduate from one of the organization's most productive roles: closing for Palm Beach. Like Chris Perez, Mark Worrell (sent to the Padres in the Khalil Greene trade) and Mike Sillman before him, and now Francisco Samuel after him, Gregerson is part of a parade to the majors of righthanders who have closed for the team. Gregerson had 10 saves for Springfield last season, pitching more in a setup role, but he continued to riddle opponents with a sinker/slider combination that gets strikeouts as well as ground balls. He has a tall frame, and his delivery adds to the late, boring sink of his fastball. His slider is a plus pitch, and hints of how he could race to the majors became clear in the Double-A bullpen. Gregerson, who has good control overall but whose control sometimes wanders against lefties, held righthanders to a .202 average and struck out 59 of the 217 he faced. Expected to work as a setup man again this season in Triple-A, his complement of pitches and specialist profile puts him in line for a big league cameo at some time in 2009 and the chance to establish a niche in the majors.
Additon is a finesse lefty who was a strong candidate for the Cardinals' organization awards last season, primarily for a 312⁄3-inning scoreless stretch he pitched at Quad Cities, a streak of shutdown pitching that lasted 41 days and included being part of a combined 13-inning no-hitter. Additon finished the season with more strikeouts (121) than hits allowed (103) and made 19 starts at low Class A before a late-season promotion to Palm Beach. In the bigger parks of the Florida State League, the Florida native was even better, and during the season he had four months when opponents hit .208 or worse against him. Additon works at 84-87 mph and lives off his ability to throw strikes with movement and deception. His breaking ball must be sharper for him to duplicate last year's success at the higher levels, especially when it comes to getting the swings and misses as he has in his first two pro seasons. His changeup will also need work. Additon will return to the high Class A rotation and continue to determine if his ceiling is at the back of a big league rotation.
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