Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
The Cardinals hadn't taken a high school pitcher in the first five rounds of the draft since 2005, when they took righthander Tyler Herron 46th overall. The perception that they were unduly leery of high school pitchers stung them when they bypassed Rick Porcello in the 2007 draft, and they didn't let history repeat itself when another elite prep arm slipped in 2009. St. Louis took Miller with the 19th overall pick, making him the first high school pitcher taken by the franchise in the first round since Brian Barber in 1991. Cardinals officials knew it would take an above-slot bonus to land the Texas fireballer, and he signed at the Aug. 17 deadline for $2.875 million. Miller profiles as the possible No. 1 starter that had been obviously absent in the Cardinals farm system, making him worth the risk St. Louis cited for avoiding Porcello's price tag two years earlier. For his part, Miller doesn't shrink from the expectations. He moved to Houston, five hours from his home in Brownwood, Texas, so he could work out at a baseball-specific facility and improve his conditioning while waiting for a deal with the Cardinals. Miller, who had committed to Texas A&M, worked out for the major league staff at Busch Stadium and made two brief appearances at low Class A Quad Cities after signing. True to his Lone Star State roots, Miller describes himself as gleefully chucking Texas heat in the tradition of his heroes Nolan Ryan and Josh Beckett. He embraces the comparisons. Miller has a fastball that sits easily at 92-93 mph and touches 97. He has a power attitude and a muscular delivery that hints he'll veer into the mid-90s as he matures. His height, reach and deception increase the perceived velocity of his fastball, and it has heavy life that keeps it low in the zone. Taking in all those factors, some scouts thought he had the best fastball of any high school pitcher in the 2009 draft. Miller also snaps off a 12-to-6 curveball that has the potential to be a plus pitch. He has made significant improvements with his changeup over the last year. He's a quality athlete who made the Texas 3-A all-state second team in football last fall as a tight end and punter. His mechanics and durability also bode well for his durability. Harnessing his stuff is Miller's top priority. His command comes and goes, and the Cardinals believe he'll more easily repeat his delivery and be more consistent from pitch to pitch with some fine-tuning of his mechanics. His curveball and especially his changeup need more work to become reliable secondary pitches. Learning how to exploit and not just use his stuff will come with experience. Harnessing his stuff is Miller's top priority. His command comes and goes, and the Cardinals believe he'll more easily repeat his delivery and be more consistent from pitch to pitch with some fine-tuning of his mechanics. His curveball and especially his changeup need more work to become reliable secondary pitches. Learning how to exploit and not just use his stuff will come with experience.
Garcia missed most of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but returned to become the ace for Triple-A Memphis as the team won the Pacific Coast League championship. His postseason performance included a scoreless six-inning, six-strikeout start in the first round of the palyoffs, which manager Chris Maloney described as good enough "to pitch anywhere that night, at any level." Garcia commands a biting 12-to-6 curveball that's a genuine swing-and-miss pitch. He sets it up with an 88-92 mph fastball that has late, downward movement. He used his rehab to add a pitch that's a cross between a cutter and slider. His minor league playoff performance validated his reputation for being unflappable. After his 2007 and 2008 seasons ended early because of elbow soreness, and he pitched just 38 innings last season, Garcia still has to prove his durability. He has battled his command at times, and those problems may be related to endurance as well. The Cardinals want to fill a spot in their 2010 rotation from within, and Garcia is a leading candidate to do so. He left a favorable impression in a brief callup in 2008, and should make the club if he has a strong spring. He projects as a No. 3 starter.
The Cardinals favor college pitchers with a track record of production and durability. Lynn aced those traits, and his sinker clinched St. Louis' decision to draft him 39th overall and sign him for $938,000 in 2008. In his first full season of pro ball, he was a Double-A Texas League all-star and the Cardinals' minor league pitcher of the year. Lynn throws a 90-92 mph fastball with sink, and he complements it with control of three other pitches. The rest of his arsenal consists of a sharp slider, workable curveball and improved changeup. Consistency is the bedrock of his game, and he relies on his defense with about half of the balls put in play against him going on the ground. Being able to rely on his breaking pitches and developing a second pitch that will miss bats will be crucial as Lynn nears the majors. He can't overpower batters with velocity, which makes command all the more important and limits his ceiling. He's viewed less as a dominant starter than an innings-gobbler. Lynn will continue a steady climb with a move to Triple-A. He should slide into the back of St. Louis' rotation by mid-2011, if not sooner.
A raw athlete with intriguing tools coming out of high school, Jones turned down a football scholarship to play wide receiver at Rice. He has become a more refined ballplayer with far more than just the speed and hope that fueled his first few seasons. After a breakout season in 2008, he played in the Futures Game in 2009 and was added to the 40-man roster after the season. Jones is the finest all-around athlete in the organization. His feel for the strike zone has matured, eliminating the anxiousness that sabotaged him early in his career and replacing it with a keen eye fit for a spot high in the order. His speed allows him to turn line-drive singles into doubles and gap doubles in triples, and it gives him the range to play center field. With his lack of arm strength, Jones may fit best defensively in left field. His lack of power (26 homers in 1,475 pro at-bats) doesn't profile for the position, however. He still has a lot to learn as a baserunner and basestealer. Tendinitis in both knees hampered him in 2009, as did a strain in his quadriceps, and reinforced how essential his legs are to his success. The logjam of outfielders in the system has relaxed enough that Jones is primed for Triple-A. He's on pace to make his big league debut in September, though how exactly he fits in St. Louis' future isn't clear.
Freese made the Cardinals' 2009 Opening Day roster, but his stay was fleeting. An ankle injury from a January car accident caught up with him in the spring, prevented him from seizing the wide-open third-base job and led to surgery in May. Freese was arrested in December on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the fourth time in less than three years that a member of the team faced drunken-driving allegations. The Cards acquired the St. Louis native from the Padres in a December 2007 trade for Jim Edmonds, and the club picked up more of Edmonds' salary to pry Freese away. Freese has been a consistent .300 hitter, while also showing the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. Memphis won two playoff games by 1-0 scores, both times on Freese homers. His short swing and good bat speed already have translated well in a few major league at-bats. When healthy, he has been more than serviceable at third base, where he shows solid arm strength. Freese can bury himself in whiffs at times, such as when he struck out 24 times in 85 at-bats last August. It's not clear his power will translate immediately in the majors, though he figures to keep his average up. He's a below-average athlete and runner. Encouraged by Freese's production after his foot surgery, St. Louis will give him every chance to start at third base. He'll be 27, so he needs to seize the opportunity.
An unheralded acquisition from the Cardinals' expanding presence in Latin America, Sanchez wasn't big and his mechanics were raw when the Cardinals signed him. He threw 92-93 mph when he joined their Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League affiliate in 2006. Three years later, he was the system's breakout prospect of 2009. After Double-A Springfield made him a full-time closer at the end of July, he had a 2.25 ERA and converted eight of 11 save opportunities. Despite his size, Sanchez is a true fireballer. His fastball consistently works at 95 mph and reaches 97. Unlike several other Cardinals relief prospects, he has the makings of good command to go with his velocity. His sharp slider gives him a second strikeout pitch and is especially tough on righthanders. He has the poise to handle the closer's role. Sanchez's build is a concern for some scouts, who wonder if he can hold up over the long grind of a season. He was able to maintain his velocity through 60 appearances last season, however. His control was an issue at times in Double- A. Sanchez is a candidate for a nonroster invitation to big league camp. While he may open the 2010 season by returning to Double-A, he could make the leap to the big leagues during the summer.
A defensive hot potato since his days in college, Craig played shortstop, left field and first base for California and has seen time at all four infield positions and both outfield corners as a pro. In big league camp last spring, he hit well in exhibition games but didn't get a single inning at third base despite the position being wide open. He ranked third in the Pacific Coast League in homers (26) and fourth in hitting (.322) last season and was added to the 40-man roster. Craig has a level swing with good torque and bat speed. He generates the best and most consistent power, and he has hit at least .304 with at least 22 homers in each of his three full seasons. Scouts say his bat is major league ready. The Cardinals aren't sure where to play Craig and don't consider him an option to fill their hole at third base. His lack of range and arm strength, plus a quirky throwing motion, work against him at the hot corner. First base isn't an option with Albert Pujols in St. Louis, so Craig played mostly left field in 2009. His below-average speed and arm make him an adequate defender at best, but he works hard and his bat does profile for the position. Craig's hitting has forced the Cardinals to consider him for at least a big league bench role, even if they haven't figured out his position. He's also an option in case they don't re-sign Matt Holliday and don't find a more established left fielder.
Hawksworth signed for $1.475 million in May 2002, the third-highest bonus ever as part of the now-extinct draft-and-follow process, and ranked No. 1 on this list two years later. Then ankle and shoulder problems ruined his 2004 and '05 seasons and required surgery, and he missed time in '07 (toe) and '08 (knee) with other ailments. He stayed healthy in 2009 and emerged as a surprise boost for the big league bullpen. Hawksworth's fastball can still cook in the low 90s with late movement. His changeup gives him a second plus pitch. He has a hard-won and battle-tested poise along with a quick, consistent delivery. Hawksworth is best when he's aggressive, though he has lapses of confidence as a starter that lead to command trouble. Because he doesn't have a reliable breaking ball, he becomes changeup-happy when he decides he can't trust his fastball. He'll need a third pitch if he's going to make it as a starter. Though the Cardinals need a starter and may give Hawksworth a look in that role in spring training, some club officials believe he should remain in the role in which he blossomed. As one coach said, "We never saw him this good as a starter."
Descalso hit a soft .258 in his first two years of pro ball before breaking out when he reached Double-A in 2009. He hit .385 in April and was leading the Texas League in total bases (153) when he was promoted to Triple-A in early July. He won a gold medal with Team USA at the World Cup in September. Descalso's quick, level swing is built for gap power and the occasional home run. He has good feel for the strike zone, which heightens his ability to get on base when he's not hitting. His average speed plays up on the bases because he has good instincts. He has a very strong arm for a second baseman, enhancing his ability to turn the double play. He also has reliable range and soft hands. His pop wasn't as evident once Descalso reached Triple-A. If he can't produce a steady supply of doubles, he's unlikely to be a regular. He's limited in a utility role because he doesn't cover enough ground to play much at shortstop. The Cardinals lost Jarrett Hoffpauir on waivers, marking Descalso's arrival at the top of the system's depth chart at second base. After his first trip to big league camp, he'll return to Memphis and hope his bat gets going again.
Stock was Baseball America's Youth Player of the Year in 2005, and a year later he graduated high school early so he could enroll at Southern California. His bat and defense tailed off after his freshman year with the Trojans, and scouts got more interested in him as a pitcher last spring. But he prefers to catch, and the Cardinals are giving him a chance to do that after drafting him as a 19-year-old junior. He signed for $525,000. Stock has a cannon for a right arm, and his fastball hit 95 mph in college. He has a quick transfer and makes accurate throws, nailing 29 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. He has good lefthanded power, makes consistent contact and had no problems hitting with wood in his first pro summer. Stock batted just .263 in college and still has to prove he can hit enough to be an everyday player. His supporters think his age mitigated his college performance, while his detractors think he'll wind up as a pitcher. His biggest need defensively is to improve his receiving. He has below-average speed but isn't bad for a catcher. St. Louis hopes to advance Stock and 2009 first-rounder Shelby Miller together through the minors, and they'll begin their first full pro season in low Class A.
Ottavino progressed nicely in his first three seasons after signing for $950,000 as a 2006 first-round pick. But he has been hammered in the upper minors the last two years, and some Cardinals coaches wonder if he bought too much into the organization's emphasis on a natural, fluid delivery and became too undisciplined. His 2009 highlight came when he shut out a stacked Venezuela lineup for three innings while pitching for Italy in the World Baseball Classic. With a strong build and quick arm, Ottavino cuts the image of a power pitcher. His four-seam fastball climbs into the high 90s, and he can command it in the mid-90s. He also throws a twoseamer in the low 90s, and he has tightened his once-slurvy breaking ball. Ottavino is experimental to a fault. He has tinkered with his delivery each year, adding a high hand swing, then subtracting it, speeding his leg lift, then slowing it, and so on. All of that has contributed to erratic command and the stunted development of his other pitches, such as his changeup. He's running out of believers who think he can stick in a big league rotation. After the Cardinals staged a delivery intervention, Ottavino showed improvement down the stretch, and was added to the 40-man roster after the season. He'll return to Triple-A in 2010, which is probably his last chance to prove he can cut it as a starter.
Slight of build but strong-armed, Samuel has some of the most electric stuff in the system. If he's ever able to harness it, he's capable of bolting to the big leagues and possibly becoming a closer. The reed-thin reliever has become the headliner from the Cardinals' campus in the Dominican Republic, which the team opened in November 2005, and was added to the 40-man roster last fall. His fastball touches 98 mph regularly, but that's when he's just letting it loose. He has better control of his heater at 94-95, and control is the key to his future. He has walked 153 batters in 162 pro innings, and his inability to throw consistent strikes cost him the closer's job to Eduardo Sanchez in Springfield last summer. The combination of Samuel's high-speed fastball and his 85-90 mph slider makes him virtually unhittable. He has has an easy, explosive delivery with none of the high-exertion mechanics of other fireballers. Sometimes his delivery wavers, causing him to leave his pitches up in the zone. But most believe his command troubles are mental rather than mechanical. As one club official said, "Someday it's going to click." That's the day Samuel speeds to the majors.
Back when Jay was a high-average hitter for Miami, some scouts winced at the trigger he used to set up and then ignite his swing. Rather than apologize for the bobbing hands and quick loop that started his stroke, he gave it a nickname: "helicopter hands." Jay hit .308 in his first three seasons in pro ball, but when he started slowly in 2009, he tried to ground his bat waggle. He hit .324 over the final two months, joined the 40-man roster and then headed to the Venezeulan League to continue fine-tuning his swing. Jay is built to hit for average. He makes consistent contact with a level, slashing swing and shows the ability to guide line drives to the outfield. He doesn't provide much power, and while he has good speed he doesn't steal many bases. He puts the bat on the ball so easily that he doesn't get many walks, either. Jay profiles as an extra outfielder who's capable of playing left, center or right with good range and a fringy arm. Jay could break into the majors as a lefthanded-hitting fourth outfielder, just like Skip Schumaker did. Schumaker became a regular by playing multiple positions and hitting .300, and Jay has the same upside.
The career surge that started in the second half of 2008 continued through last season for Greene, who signed for $1.1 million as the 30th overall pick in the 2005 draft. He caught the eye of the major league coaching staff in spring training and turned that into a 48-game stint with the Cardinals. Greene's athleticism is his most marketable tool and was on full display in his first full pro season, when he hit 20 homers and stole 33 bases. But in June 2007, he dislodged his right kneecap on a swing. It took time for him to regain trust in his knee, and it took longer to regain traction with his career. Greene has plus speed and good pop for a middle infielder, but he continues to fight his freewheeling, all-or-nothing approach at the plate. He has more than enough arm strength to play shortstop, but he can get erratic at times and may not be able to play there on an everyday basis in the big leagues. Greene played all four infield positions as well as center field for St. Louis last season, and he'll try to win a utility role in spring training.
Perhaps Kozma put it best when he was asked to describe himself and said there was nothing flashy about his abilities. Though he was the 18th overall pick in the 2007 draft and signed for $1.395 million, not one of his tools sparkles likely the prototypical first-round pick. Rather, it's Kozma's steady play that defines him as a prospect. He's a well-rounded player whom managers rated as the best defensive infielder in the Texas League last summer. He isn't the high-wire act that some more athletic infielders are, preferring instinctual jumps, quick exchanges and reliable range to dirt stains, wild throws and highlight dives. Kozma's defense is good enough for the big leagues, but his bat has been slower to develop. When they drafted him, the Cardinals acknowledged then that his feel for hitting and line-drive swing might take time to provide results. He rarely chases bad balls, and the Cardinals believe his ability to hit for average and gap power will improve when he makes better contact with pitches in the zone. Kozma will return to Double-A in 2010, with St. Louis hoping that he'll improve the second time around. That was the case for him at high Class A Palm Beach, where he hit .130 in 24 games in 2008 but jumped to .315 in 18 games last April, earning a swift promotion to Springfield. He grows on people the more they see him play, but many scouts still see him as more of a utilityman than an everyday player.
Though he pitched just seven innings while battling bone spurs and elbow tendinitis as a UC Riverside junior, the Cardinals invested an 11th-round pick in the 2007 draft and a $100,000 bonus in Reifer. He rated as the best pitching prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League in his 2008 pro debut, then skipped a level and closed games in high Class A last season. He features one of the best fastballs in the system, hitting 96-97 mph consistently and peaking at 99. He also has a slider that grades as a plus-plus pitch at times. His control and command don't score as high, however. Reifer lacks life on his four-seam fastball and often struggles to find the strike zone, getting into more jams than someone with his stuff should. St. Louis will keep him in the closer's role as he advances, though he'll need more command and more cool under duress to succeed at higher levels.
The Cardinals aren't afraid to aggressively promote prospects, and they've pushed Castillo as fast as any of their recent international signings. He made his U.S. debut in high Class A as an 18-year-old in May 2008, coming over from extended spring training when Palm Beach needed a spot starter. He acquitted himself well for three weeks and then pitched well when he was sent to low Class A to start on a regular basis. Castillo returned to Palm Beach in 2009 and spent the entire season there as the youngest starting pitcher in the Florida State League. Though he's undersized, Castillo has a loose delivery and St. Louis expects that he'll add hop to his 90-91 mph fastball as he fills out. His curveball has good snap and can be a true swing-and-miss pitch. He also has made progress with his changeup. Though he's advanced for his age, Castillo still has a lot to work on. He needs to throw strikes more consistently, and the Cardinals would like to see his conditioning and between-start work habits improve. That should come with maturity. So too will another promotion.
Henley sprinted to a .313/.370/.531 start in high Class A in April 2008 before he took his reputation for gritty, gutty play to an unlucky extreme. A fastball cut in on his hands as he squared to bunt, and his finger got pinched between the ball and bat with such force that it severed the tip. He had the finger sewn back together and missed seven weeks, but added oomph to his nickname "Psycho T." Given a full, healthy season in 2009, Henley cracked the dense thicket of outfielders in the system and emerged as one of the best. He earned Texas League all-star honors, showing an ability to hit for average (.303) and gap power (31 doubles). He has worked to improve his weight transfer so that he can develop more power, most consistently. An aggressive hitter, he rarely takes a strike and often pounces on the first pitch, but he makes consistent contact. With solid speed and arm strength, he's capable of playing all three spots in the outfield and fits best in right field. An invitation to the Arizona Fall League boosted his chance to show there's more to his game than grass stains. He'll advance to Triple-A in 2010.
Anderson was in the midst of the worst season of his five-year pro career when a June 25 collision at home plate left him with a dislocated left shoulder and two torn ligaments in the joint. Anderson originally thought he'd need season-ending shoulder surgery, but on the day the operation was scheduled, the Cardinals' team doctor suggested he try rest and rehab. Anderson returned to get in a few games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League at the end of the season and was able play in the Arizona Fall League. The Cardinals also added him to the 40-man roster. He's still young and still has the fluid lefthanded swing that enabled him to hit .299 as a pro. However, his bat may be his lone solid-average tool. He has yet to develop the gap power that St. Louis projected for him, and he's still shaky behind the plate despite special instruction from former Gold Glove winner Mike Matheny. Anderson has fringy arm strength and unorthodox mechanics that cost him accuracy, and he threw out just 28 percent of basestealers in Triple-A last season. He also needs to improve his receiving and blocking skills. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner. Anderson will return to Memphis, possibly in a time share with the defensive-minded Matt Pagnozzi, and try to re-establish his worth within the organization.
As a freshman at North Central Texas CC, Freeman stood out more as a fleet-footed outfielder than as a pitcher. He started to realize his arm was his ticket when he was a full-fledged two-way player as a sophomore, and he became a full-time pitcher after transferring to Kansas in 2008. The Cardinals failed to sign him as a 24th-round pick in 2007 but landed him in the 32nd round a year later, after he had posted an 8.53 ERA as a swingman for the Jayhawks. They believe he could scoot swiftly through their system as a lefty specialist or even a set-up man. Despite his relative inexperience, he reached Double-A at the end of his first full pro season. Wiry and athletic, he has a quick arm that generates 92-95 mph fastballs. He also throws a cutter/slider and has toyed with a changeup. He came out of college with a herky-jerky delivery that he has smoothed out with more experience and instruction. Freeman likes to pitch inside, sometimes almost to a fault, leading to walks. In short-burst relief, he has done well against lefthanders, who batted 9-for-60 (.150) with no extra-base hits and 15 strikeouts against him in 2009. A sprained elbow ended his season in late July, but the Cardinals think he'll be healthy for 2010, when he'll return to Double-A.
Kelly set a UC Riverside record with 24 career saves, and the Cardinals signed him for $341,000 as a 2009 third-round pick to be a reliever. But it didn't take long for the organization to decide to try him as a starter. He'll begin 2010 in a rotation, probably in low Class A. He may not cut the image of a power pitcher with his skinny 6-foot-1 frame, but Kelly has a 94-95 mph fastball that has been known to hit 98. He has an aggressive flair for using his fastball, which has biting sink and generates a lot of swings and misses and weak grounders. His hard slider and changeup both have a chance to be at least average pitches, which is why the Cardinals think he can make it as a starter. The biggest questions for Kelly in that role will be whether he'll have enough command to keep his pitch counts down and enough durability to log the heavier workload. He had shoulder problems early in his college career and throws with a lot of effort in his delivery. Scouts aren't in love with his mechanics because he has a big arm sweep in the back of his delivery that makes it difficult for his arm to catch up with the rest of his body. At the least, working out of the rotation will give him the opportunity to work on his secondary pitches.
Every bit of scouting the Cardinals did on Bittle screamed "quick-moving college reliever" with a true out pitch, and then they got his medical records. Intelligence gathered about his problematic shoulder before the draft was a red flag and a team physical reinforced those concerns. The Yankees drafted Bittle in the second round in 2008 but didn't sign him because of worries about the wear and tear on his shoulder, and he missed the last six weeks of his senior season with a strain in his shoulder capsule. He also sat out the 2006 season at Northeast Texas CC with rotator-cuff tendinitis. After signing for $75,000 as a fourth-round pick, Bittle reported for rehab at the Cardinals' facility in Jupiter, Fla. St. Louis believed he could have pitched but didn't activate him. When healthy, Bittle owned the Southeastern Conference for three years with an 84-86 mph cutter. He averaged 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings at Mississippi, even though hitters were looking for the cutter. Bittle also throws an upper-80s sinker that tops out at 92, and an average changeup. Besides his shoulder, the only real concern is that his cutter moves so much it's often a ball if hitters lay off it. Ticketed to make his pro debut in high Class A, he has a lot of bite in his game as long as his shoulder doesn't bark.
It took one start at Wrigley Field for Walters to show both what he's capable of and what he has to do to win at the major league level. The righthander with the devilish changeup struck out seven Cubs in four innings during a spot start on April 17, but many of the whiffs came on pitches out of the zone, something coaches have told him won't always work in the big leagues. In his next four outings, Walters fell behind in the count and gave up four walks and three homers over six innings, earning a return to Triple-A. Walters has a serviceable fastball that he can crank up to 89-91 mph consistently. He has improved his breaking ball to give him a third pitch, but it's his changeup that's the key to his success. It has screwball life and rides in on righthanders, and his easy delivery masks the true speed of the pitch. Walters slashed his home runs allowed from 22 in 2008 to just six in Triple-A last season, though he gave up six longballs in 16 major league innings. If he can find a way to live on the fringes of the strike zone, he'll find regular work in St. Louis, most likely as a middle reliever.
After three pro seasons, Hill still finds himself without a definite position, bouncing from catcher to first base to the outfield corners. The constant remains his bat. He has cracked 48 homers in 268 pro games, after hitting 31 homers in his lone season at Eastfield (Texas) JC and a school-record 38 longballs in two years at Stephen F. Austin State. The Cardinals drafted him 412th overall in 2007, intrigued by his power and his ability to play multiple positions. His bat speed and strength allow him to drive the ball to all fields. His aggressive approach may catch up to him at higher levels, but he has hit .298 in pro ball while reaching Double-A. Short and stocky, Hill is a below-average athlete and runner who would enhance his chances of carving out a big league role if he could handle the defensive responsibilities of catching. He has enough arm strength, but his inconsistent release undermines his throwing and he nabbed just 21 percent of basestealers last season. He has improved his footwork and intuition with more experience behind the plate, but his receiving still needs polish. He lacks the desired height of a first baseman and has below-average range in the outfield, so his ultimate role could be as a righthanded power bat off the bench, capable of filling in at catcher. He'll move up to Triple-A in 2010.
The best defensive shortstop in college baseball in 2009, Jackson lasted until the fifth round of the draft because of questions about his bat. After hitting .360 and helping Miami reach the College World Series as a sophomore, he saw his average plummet to .263 last spring. Signed for $157,500, he batted just .216/.297/.241 in his pro debut at short-season Batavia. Jackson is thin and lacks strength, and he'll never hit for much power. He's also a below-average runner, so all of his offensive value is going to come from getting on base. He does have good discipline, though advanced pitchers aren't going to be afraid to challenge him. Jackson's defense is asset enough to buy him opportunity to work on his swing. He's nimble and slick at shortstop, and his instincts and innate footwork give him plenty of range. He has a strong arm and the confidence to improvise when needed. If Jackson can hit .250 with a respectable on-base percentage, he's a good enough defender to play regularly in the majors.
Hamilton slugged his way out of Tulane and into the second round of the 2006 draft with a trove of honors in his wake. He was an All-American and the Conference USA player of the year in 2006, as well as a two-time Cape Cod League all-star. After hitting 20 homers in his final season with the Green Wave, he didn't show that kind of power in pro ball until last season. He staked his place as one of the top sluggers in the system by helping revive a pedestrian Memphis lineup in time for the Redbirds to make a Pacific Coast League title run. Hamilton has a stout, muscular frame and bat speed to go with the strength that allows him to catapult balls. He's comfortable working deep counts and isn't easily fooled. All his value lies in his bat because he's a limited athlete and defender who profiles best as a DH. He has below-average athleticism, speed and arm strength. He's a substandard first baseman and he's not going to dislodge Albert Pujols anyway. Hamilton headed to the Dominican League to try to play left field, but his team released him after he batted .191 in 15 games. The Cardinals added him to the 40-man roster, and he'll return to Triple-A in 2010 and try to force them to find a place for his bat.
While the Cardinals have dedicated hundreds of thousands of dollars to establishing a better toehold in the Dominican Republic, one of the finest prospects they've pulled from the island was in their backyard. Scouts first saw the wiry Castillo as a teen infielder playing at a baseball academy in Miami, a reasonable drive away from the Cardinals' training complex in Jupiter, Fla. There are coaches within the organization who believe Castillo is the finest defensive shortstop in the system. He brings the aggressiveness, surehanded play and spring-loaded arm needed at the position. His instincts, quick first step and plus speed give him plenty of range. Much like Ryan Jackson, his offensive potential is sketchy. Castillo is so raw at the plate that he didn't draw a single walk in 50 games at Rookie-level Johnson City in 2009. Farm and scouting director Jeff Luhnow visited him during the season to stress the need to take pitches and work some counts, then watched Castillo take several strikes. He has modest power and is still learning how to turn his speed into steals. If he can find a happy medium between his itchy trigger and patience this spring, he'll advance to low Class A.
When the Reds set their 40-man roster for the offseason, they knew there was a decent chance they could lose someone in the major league Rule 5 draft. Cincinnati added seven minor leaguers to its roster but couldn't find room for Jukich, a lefty with average stuff. The Reds weren't shocked to see him picked after he had shown a solid feel for pitching in Triple-A. The first player ever drafted out of Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.), he led the NAIA in strikeouts (144) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.7) before the Athletics selected him in the 13th round in 2006. A year later, Oakland traded him and Marcus McBeth to Cincinnati for Chris Denorfia. Though Jukich has pitched primarily as a starter in pro ball, the Cardinals will use him as a lefty reliever. He doesn't have a plus pitch, but he has very good command of an average three-quarters breaking ball, an 87-90 mph fastball and a fringy changeup. He hides the ball well in his delivery and gets good downward plane on his pitches. If the Cardinals are looking for a lefty specialist, Jukich may not be able to stick, but if they employ him as a long reliever, he might be useful. Rule 5 guidelines dictate that he stay on the big league roster for a year, or else he has to be placed on waivers and offered back to the Reds for half of the $50,000 draft price.
Hearne ranked second in the low Class A Midwest League with a 2.25 ERA in 2006, but after he got torched for a 5.95 ERA the following season in high Class A, the Cardinals loaned him to Minatitlan in the Mexican League for the 2008 season. He pitched well and was selected to pitch in the all-star game there, but his season ended in May when he came down with elbow tendinitis. In his return to the United States, he led Cardinals farmhands with 14 wins and ranked second with a 2.92 ERA. He began the year in Springfield's bullpen, but in his second start he set a franchise record with 13 strikeouts in six innings. Hearne doesn't delight the radar gun with velocity or defy gravity with his breaking ball. What he does is throw with uncanny control and enough movement and deception to make his assortment of pitches hard to read and harder to hit squarely. At its best, his fastball zips at 88-89 mph, but his smooth delivery and quick release allow the ball to get on hitters quickly. He also throws a curveball and changeup, teasing the edges of the strike zone with all of his offerings. Hearne projects as a middle reliever and could get a big league look in 2010 after opening the season in Triple-A.
The Cardinals sought to make a big international splash this past summer with a $3.1 million bonus for Wagner Mateo, a highly sought after center fielder from the Dominican Republic. The deal was celebrated as a statement move, but it crumbled a month later when a check of Mateo's vision led St. Louis to void the deal. The development of other players such as Valera could soften the hit. When the Cardinals went scouting Yorman Rodriguez, a Venezuelan outfielder who got $2.5 million from the Reds in 2008, the Cardinals became enamored with Valera. He showed the ability to lay off bad pitches and a line-drive swing that could generate damage as he matures. He doesn't have the raw power potential of Dominican third baseman Roberto de la Cruz, a $1.1 million bonus baby, but Valera outperformed him in the Gulf Coast League last summer. He has solid speed and defensive tools, though it's possible that he may have to move off shortstop once he matures physically. The Cardinals project him as an offensive middle infielder and likely will promote him to Johnson City in 2010.