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One of the Cardinals' representatives in the 2010 Futures Game, Miller validated his place in the organization not only with the sum of his season, but with his lone playoff start. Age 19 at the time, he promised a shutout before taking the mound--and delivered. Miller struck out five of the first six batters he faced, finished with a career-high 13 whiffs, hit 95 mph in his final inning and pitched seven scoreless innings to get low Class A Quad Cities a victory. "We saw him rise to the challenge," pitching coordinator Dyar Miller said, "in a way you can't predict." St. Louis broke from tradition to draft Miller in 2009. The 19th overall pick, he was the first prep pitcher taken in the top five rounds by the Cardinals since 2005, and the first selected in the first round by them since 1991. They did so knowing that he would command an above-slot bonus, eventually signing him for $2.875 million. St. Louis projected him as a potential No. 1 starter and thought he was mature beyond his years. As his pre-playoff pronouncement indicated, Miller embraces the lofty expectations. He turned down a Texas A&M scholarship to pursue pro ball, and he quickly made an impression on the major league staff. Though Miller had pitched just three innings in his 2009 pro debut, pitching coach Dave Duncan kept him in big league camp in March, actively seeking Grapefruit League innings for the unflappable teen to see what he could do against major leaguers. (He froze Duncan's son Chris with a changeup in one opportunity.) By the time Miller started the season, he already was considered the most talented young gun the Cardinals have had since Rick Ankiel. Miller earned his spurs as a true Texas gunslinger--a legacy he not only relishes, but invokes--by overpowering the Midwest League with his fastball. Quad Cities coaches claim he went at least his first five starts without giving up a hit on his explosive fastball, which sits at 94 mph and can regularly touch 98 mph. Some scouts see his heater as major league-ready right now. His brawny frame and simple delivery hint at sustained and perhaps improved velocity in the future. For most of June, the Cardinals pulled Miller out of the rotation and had him throw a series of bullpens designed to manage his workload and give him a laboratory to improve his secondary pitches. He emerged from that hiatus with more faith in a tighter 12-to-6 curveball and more command of what could become a plus changeup with deception and sink. Miller's fastball hops partially because of the ease of his delivery, and he needs only to refine the consistency of his mechanics to improve his command of his pitches. He combines an aggressive disposition with a cucumber-cool poise. Further improvement of his secondary pitches will speed Miller's ascent. He'll get another nonroster invitation to big league spring training, where his performance will determine his next stop. The Cardinals are open to Miller reaching Double-A Springfield's rotation in 2011, possibly starting the season there. He could reach St. Louis by the end of 2012.
Cox was the best pure hitter in the 2010 draft, but his $6 million asking price and extra leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore allowed him to slip to the Cardinals at No. 25 overall. He signed a $3.2 million major league contract at the Aug. 16 deadline. St. Louis threw him into the Arizona Fall League after only four pro games, and he batted a respectable .262/.333/.446. Cox's balanced and refined swing enabled him to set an Arkansas record with a .429 average last spring. He modified his approach after being too home run-conscious as a freshman, flattening and shortening his stroke and using the opposite field more. Some scouts question how much pop he'll have, but he's a gifted hitter with strength and strike-zone awareness, so he should have at least average power. Cox has the arm strength and instincts for third base, though some evaluators think his actions are better suited for second base. He has fringy speed and quickness, but he has the work ethic to improve his defense. The Cardinals will keep Cox at third base until he shows he needs to move. He may begin 2011 in low Class A, but he should get to St. Louis well before his contract forces the issue.
Then known as Carlos Matias, Martinez agreed to a $160,000 bonus with the Red Sox in 2009 but failed to pass a MLB investigation and was suspended for a year. His velocity soared while he was off limits, and the Cardinals offered him $1.5 million last June. While he went through another investigation, he was able to pitch for St. Louis' Rookie-level Dominican Summer League affiliate. After confirming his true identity, MLB signed off on the deal in October. With an athletic frame and a whippy arm, Martinez consistently unleashes 96-99 mph fastballs in short stints. His fastball has a hard, natural cutting action that has some calling it an 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. He complements the pitch with a sinking 86-87 mph changeup and a sharp curveball. He has a sinker that sits at 92-93, but his command of the pitch is spotty. Martinez will come to the Cardinals' campus in Jupiter, Fla., early this spring so some coaches and officials can see him first hand for the first time. He'll be assigned to a U.S. affiliate, possibly a full-season club if his performance merits it. His rise could mirror Shelby Miller's, and St. Louis is eager to see if he can surpass Miller's debut.
Billed as the most athletic pitcher available in the 2010 draft, Jenkins turned down a football scholarship to play quarterback at Baylor to sign with St. Louis for $1.3 million, almost twice the recommended bonus for the No. 50 overall slot. He also lettered in basketball and ran a 49-second quarter-mile in a relay race--sans training. The Cardinals saw Jenkins run a sprint in a track meet, then race to the diamond and throw low-90s fastballs. In his first pro inning, he retired the side on six pitches, inducing a strikeout and two weak groundouts. Jenkins has a loose, quick delivery that fires fastballs consistently at 92-93 mph and as hard as 95. His athleticism allows him to repeat his smooth mechanics, maintain his velocity deep into games and throw strikes. As he adds strength to his frame, his velocity could climb. He has a curveball with a tight spin and projectability and he's comfortable with a slider and changeup. However, he's relatively inexperienced on the mound and will need time to develop. Jenkins' aptitude as a starting pitcher should rise as he gains experience. The Cardinals may start him in extended spring training to soak up instruction before moving him into the rotation at short-season Batavia or Quad Cities.
Craig put himself in the Cardinals' plans with a breakout 2009 season in which he hit .322/.374/.547 at Triple-A Memphis. He made the Opening Day roster last April as a reserve, but he found it difficult to adjust to scattered playing time. Shipped back to Memphis after going 1-for-19, he found his swing and drove in 81 runs in 83 games before carrying that success to St. Louis at the end of the season. A seasoned hitter, Craig has improved his feel for the strike zone and his ability to turn on pitches. He has power to all fields and is learning the areas of the zone where he can drive pitches. When he gets regular playing time, he has shown a knack for making in-game adjustments. Craig continues to work out at third base, but he lacks range and arm strength, and the major league staff sees him as an outfielder. He has playable range on the corners and a decent arm for left field. He's a below-average runner. The Cardinals are on the lookout for a run-producing hitter like Craig. He may begin the 2011 season in a right-field platoon with Jon Jay.
A sandwich pick in 2008 and St. Louis' minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, Lynn lacked his usual consistency last season. He punctuated his up-and-down year by striking out 16 batters in a Pacific Coast League playoff game, setting a Memphis franchise record for any contest. He got the 16 whiffs in a 20-batter stretch, overpowering most with a fastball that routinely hit 95 mph. Lynn remains the prototypical Cardinals draft pick--a durable and predictable college pitcher who can be relied on to gobble innings at the back of a big league rotation. His velocity markedly increased in 2010, as he went from using a 90-92 mph sinker to a mid-90s four-seamer. He took to working high in the strike zone, an approach that won't play well in the majors. To shift his crosshairs down, St. Louis is working with his mechanics so that he's throwing downhill more. His curveball also improved last year, though he continues to work on his changeup. Lynn did his best pitching at the end of 2010, setting the stage for him to compete for a big league job this spring. He has a ceiling of a No. 3 starter.
With little fanfare, Sanchez breezed through his three batters in the 2010 Futures Game, getting three routine groundballs on a series of 96-97 mph fastballs. It was a familiar script. Unheralded when signed out of Venezuela, the slight reliever began a meteoric rise in 2009 and continued his ascension last year, succeeding as a closer in Double-A and a set-up man in Triple-A. The engine behind Sanchez's fastball, which sits at 95-97 mph and threatens to hit 100, is an agile and consistent delivery. He has enough command and movement with his fastball to keep it down in the zone, and he gets most of his outs on grounders and strikeouts. Sanchez's slider has good depth and terrorizes righthanders, who hit .157 against him in 2010. Control troubles surfaced at times in 2009, but he did a better job throwing strikes last year. Durability remains his biggest concern, as his small frame leaves some scouts wondering how his stuff will hold up at the major league level. Added to the 40-man roster in November, Sanchez will come to big league camp but probably open 2011 closing games at Memphis. He has a steady pulse in save situations, which will enhance his chances of sneaking into St. Louis' crowded righthanded relief picture.
It's hard to imagine St. Louis going through a draft without taking a pitcher like Blair. He displayed start-to-start reliability in a top conference and Cape Cod League success, two traits the Cardinals value. After a 12-1, 3.64 All-America junior season at Arizona State, Blair went 46th overall in the 2010 draft and signed for $751,500. Blair flashes electric stuff. He touched 98 mph in his first start last spring, and his fastball usually operates at 92-94 and tops out at 96. His heater has good life and some sink. His curveball projects as a possible plus pitch, and he's working on both a changeup and cutter. He slashed his walk rate in 2010 but still floats too many pitches out of the strike zone. Cleaning up his mechanics would improve his control and make him more economical. After throwing 106 innings in the spring, Blair took a break and didn't sign until late July, so St. Louis elected not to push his arm back into game action. He spent time at Batavia, throwing on the side and getting acclimated to pro ball, and will make his debut this spring in Class A. The Cardinals will develop him as a starter, but if he can't refine a third pitch and his command, he could become a late-inning reliever.
Swagerty starred as both a pitcher and catcher in high school and saw action at both positions at Arizona State. Selected 29 picks after Sun Devils teammate Seth Blair last June, he used his leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore to get an above-slot $625,000 bonus in the second round. Swagerty signed too late to pitch in the minors, but did make four Arizona Fall League appearances. The Cardinals graded Swagerty's curveball as the best in the 2010 draft. He throws it in the mid-80s with both vertical and horizontal break, and it's becoming more of a hybrid pitch that he calls a slider. He relies heavily on his breaking ball, and also pounds the strike zone with a 92-94 mph fastball that peaks at 96. He'll add in an occasional changeup. He has a hitch in his delivery that adds deception, though that funkiness and his lack of size lead to concerns about his durability. He relished pitching the late innings as Arizona State's closer. As evidenced by his AFL assignment, Swagerty could move swiftly. However, St. Louis may use him as a starter in 2011 to give him innings to work on his changeup and enhance his stamina. He may open his first full pro season in the Quad Cities rotation, but his future is still as a set-up man or closer.
Kelly set a UC Riverside record with 24 career saves, but the Cardinals made him a starter at the beginning of his first full pro season in 2010. It was meant to be a temporary assignment, giving him innings to improve his secondary pitches, but the results could prolong it. Kelly made adjustments with his delivery and showed enough command with his curveball to spend the entire year in Quad Cities' piggyback rotation. Kelly has an electric fastball, ranging from 93-99 mph last year, and he has touched 100 mph as a reliever. When he gets on top of the ball, he creates good sink to go along with raw velocity, and he can run his fastball in on righthanders. He throws two breaking balls, with his slider a better pitch but his curve featuring more command. Both have the potential to be above-average offerings, and his changeup has moments of effectiveness. Further improving his command will be key to Kelly's development, and his long arm action and wiry frame have some wondering if he can handle a starter's workload. When he's at his best, he generates more groundballs than strikeouts. Kelly has closer upside and will advance to high Class A Palm Beach this year.
A fifth-year senior who signed for $1,000 as a 13th-round pick in 2009, Carpenter led St. Louis farmhands with a .418 on-base percentage in 2010. With his smooth lefthanded swing and feel for the strike zone, Carpenter has the tools to hit for a high average and get on base at a high clip. Some scouts question whether he has the power required for third base. He swings from a standstill, and the Cardinals have encouraged him to work on developing a weight shift and increasing his strength so he can have more pop. All 12 of his homers at Springfield came in a 58-game burst. Carpenter has good instincts at third, but his range and arm are merely adequate. He's a below-average runner but will steal a base if the opposition forgets about him. Caught between incumbent big leaguer David Freese and 2010 first-rounder Zack Cox, Carpenter has a small window of opportunity. He'll advance to Triple-A this season.
It didn't take long for Descalso's nickname to follow him from the minor leagues to the majors. "We call him Dirty Dan," manager Tony LaRussa said a few days after his September callup. The grass-stained infielder proved his worth quickly as he took to starting at third, despite not playing the position in years. Such versatility has improved Descalso's stock, as he has become a lefthanded-hitting option with good instincts and a stout arm at two infield positions. He won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2009 World Cup, and he carried that momentum into spring, when LaRussa found reasons to play him late in exhibition games. Descalso has a quick, level swing that gives him gap power and good strike-zone coverage. He has a keen eye, and his pop has improved (32 doubles in 2010), and if he can grow into a little more power he can win an expanded role at second, where the Cardinals are looking to upgrade offensively.
The Rangers made Gast a fifth-round pick coming out of high school in Florida in 2007, even though he needed Tommy John surgery. He had a 1.18 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 58 innings as a high school senior but couldn't find that same form in college, compiling a 4.96 ERA in 123 career innings. He came back quickly in a relief role and helped the Seminoles reach the College World Series as a freshman, and flashed his best stuff again early in his junior season, but he wore down as the spring went on and slid to the sixth round. He came back strong after signing with the Cardinals for $140,000 as a sixth-round pick, going 6-0, 1.54 for Batavia. Gast has poise on the mound and a mature delivery with deception that adds to his 92-93 mph fastball. He plays off that with a hard curveball that can generate swings and misses, and a changeup that shows flashes of being a plus pitch. He showed great control in Batavia, in contrast to his college career, and command will remain a focus for him. In postseason meetings, several minor league coaches listed Gast alongside Tyrell Jenkins and Shelby Miller as the top arms in the organization. With his level of experience, Gast will get a shot to jump to the Palm Beach rotation
Salas served as a human yo-yo during 2010, popping up seven different times for cameo relief appearances with the major league club after making his debut in May. His poise no matter the situation won him almost as many fans as his signature command. The Cardinals signed Salas out of the Mexican League in 2007 with the promise of giving him a shot to be a starter in high Class A. He struggled and was returned his Mexican team but got a second shot in 2008, this time in relief. He blossomed in the role and earned a spot in the 2008 Futures Game after a solid turn as the Double-A closer. In 2010, Salas returned to the ninth inning, working with with a low-90s fastball and a tight slider. He's able to use both pitches to tickle the edges of the strike zone, and he maintains his velocity while working with movement on his fastball. He rarely uses a changeup. Salas allowed one run in his first 10 major league innings, and he displayed a better ability to recover when behind the count. He'll settle into a permanent spot in the major league bullpen.
Reifer came out of college with a reputation for throwing hard but fighting to stay healthy, and over time he has learned that dialing back his velocity helps. He can throw pure gas, but he has dialed back his fastball a bit, dropping from 98 mph heat to a 93-96 range that offers him more command and supports his aggressive approach. His ball cuts more than it sinks, especially to lefthanded hitters, and he comes right after hitters. Reifer has a slider that at times can be a plus-plus pitch, and with better command last year he was able to get ahead in counts and deploy it more consistently as a put-away pitch. He has worked on a splitter that could be a plus pitch if he gets consistent with it. His strikeout-walk ratio jumped from 2.0 in 2009 to 3.3 in 2010. A compact delivery helps, and while command was key to his promotion to Triple-A, so was health. Reifer battled bone spurs and elbow tendinitis as a junior in college, and lingering durability questions have dissipated after his workload the last two seasons. He'll battle for the closer job in Memphis after being added to the 40-man roster for the first time.
After signing Ryan Theriot to take over at shortstop, the Cardinals sent Brendan Ryan to the Mariners for Cleto. It was Cleto's second trade in two years, as he came to the Mariners from the Mets as part of the 12-player, three-team trade that sent J.J. Putz to New York and Franklin Gutierrez to Seattle from Cleveland. Cleto has a live arm, but his below-average control and lack of command prevent him from getting the most out of his stuff. His fastball sits at 94-98 mph and touches 100 with explosive life. He can blow his heater by hitters, but focuses on velocity at the expense of throwing quality strikes. Overthrowing causes him to fall off the mound toward first base and miss to that side of the plate. The Mariners tried to point Cleto more to the plate with his delivery, having him focus on maintaining a rhythm and getting better extension out front. His curveball and changeup are both below-average pitches but show flashes of being at least average. His curve has tight downward action, almost like a slider. Cleto made progress with his delivery and maturity in the Arizona Fall League, but his future role is likely as a power arm in the bullpen. He may continue to start in Double-A this year so he can get more innings to work on his deficiencies.
A former college football player trying to reinvent himself as a baseball player, Chambers got a call in junior college that if he could get to Memphis in 24 hours, he would work out in front of the Cardinals. He hopped on a bus, and got off just in time to go straight from Greyhound to the 60-yard dash and batting practice. His athleticism was enough to get him drafted with the 1,153rd overall pick in 2007 and he signed for $40,000. The Cardinals described him as agile and speedy, a cornerback in the outfield, and raw with lots of baseball to learn. Three years of cramming later, Chambers has started to translate his tools into performance and grabbed a spot on the 40-man roster. In 2009, he led the high Class A Florida State League with 16 triples, and last season he earned a taste of Triple-A. Chambers' best tool remains his above-average speed, allowing him to hold down center field even as he's improving his routes and reads out there. He should be a basestealing threat as his instincts improve. He played quarterback and pitched in high school, so he has a plus arm. He's a leadoff type who has improved his approach but still is learning to shorten his stroke and take contact over power. He holds his own against righthanded pitchers but can bail out against lefthanders. One scout said last season that Chambers has already proven productive enough to be a fourth outfielder. Securing a starting job in Triple-A will reveal if he could be more.
The strong-armed Kopp came out of a stacked Clemson rotation in 2007 that featured four high-round prospects. Health held him back in his first couple of years in the organization. He missed part of the 2008 season with significant shoulder soreness, a condition that flared again in 2009 and cut him off at 90 innings. In 2010, the stat that sang out more than the groundballs and velocity was his 26 starts. He didn't miss a turn in the rotation and made the Double-A Texas League's postseason all-star team. Kopp has a two-seam fastball that he throws at 93 mph with biting sink. Look no further than the two groundouts he got for every flyout. He mixes in a slider that's becoming a swing-and-miss pitch, and a four-seam fastball at 95-96 mph. Kopp went 0-5, 8.63 in a five-game stint in Triple-A, reinforcing his need to develop a changeup. His sinker is good enough to lean on, especially if he conditions his mechanics for a consistent release point. Added to the 40-man roster after the season, Kopp will get a crack at the Memphis rotation in 2011. He reminds people of Mitchell Boggs, another college pitcher with good sink who climbed the ranks as a starter and then emerged in the majors as a strong-armed reliever.
Walters' season started with tragedy when his daughter, born 14 weeks premature, died of related complications in April. The club gave him as much time as he needed with his wife, but he ultimately found solace in his job. Walters bookended his season with five shutout innings in his first start and seven shutout innings in his final start in the majors. He's durable and has an easy, relaxed delivery. Coupled with his plus changeup, it helps him mess with hitters' timing and mask average velocity. In Triple-A, Walters was able to live outside the zone, getting hitters to swing at pitches they couldn't reach. He found major leaguers weren't so easily tempted. Working with an 87-90 mph fastball and his changeup at 77-79 mph, he was able to locate the edges of the strike zone with better consistency in 2010. He throws a two-seam changeup, one that veers in and down on righthanders. He has an effective slider to reach the other side of the plate. While still prone to homers (17 in 139 innings last year), Walters has strikeout and groundball rates that hint at the long relief/swingman role he's suited for in the majors.
Even as he inches toward the majors, Samuel remains an untamed talent. He has a live arm but hasn't been able to consistently show the command necessary for success at the higher levels. Reed-thin with an easy and explosive delivery, Samuel throws a fastball that regularly hums at 98 mph and can touch triple digits. It's when he has to throw a strike that his velocity plummets, as he works in the low 90s to assure he'll find the strike zone. He also throws a high-80s slider that he also struggles to harness. In each of the last three years, Samuel has allowed more walks than hits. His wildness was most pronounced in Triple-A, where he walked 18 batters in 12 innings in the final month of the 2010 season. He has the pure stuff to be a closer and hitters can't make consistent contact against him, but it won't matter if he can't control throw strikes. He'll probably open 2011 back in Memphis.
Kozma was first held to inflated standards when the Cardinals took him over pitcher Rick Porcello in the 2007 draft, giving him a $1.395 million bonus as the 17th overall pick. Then expectations were probably tamped too low when he was called a utility player. The truth is somewhere in between. After a repeat of Double-A and .269/.329/.433 performance in the Arizona Fall League, Kozma earned a spot on the 40-man roster in November. He has no true plus tool, but the only real deficiency in his game is power, which shouldn't be a huge issue as a middle infielder. He has a short stroke and makes contact, though he hasn't made adjustments to Double-A pitching and struggles against pitches low in the strike zone. He does have a little bit of pop, including 43 extra-base hits in 2010. Kozma is generally a surehanded defender with good instincts who makes all the routine plays, but he committed 34 errors last year. Some scouts thought he looked worse in his second time around in the Texas League, and that he was down after not moving up to Triple-A. Twenty-two of his errors came in the first half as he played himself into bad hops and poor throwing positions, flaws that he corrected late in the season. He has a solid, accurate arm and is an average runner. Depending on spring training, Kozma could return for another season at Springfield, but the Cardinals hope he'll ride his second-half improvement and AFL assignment into Triple-A.
When King signed it was big news, but not because he was an endangered draft species due to the end of the draft-and-follow process. He's related to Mickey Mantle, and that baseball legacy brought a phalanx of family to his signing. King cuts the figure of a country slinger, complete with the husky frame and hard stuff. The Cardinals drafted him out of high school, and he got a year in at Eastern Oklahoma State before going pro. King has been considered one of the better relief arms in the system, but his progress has been slow because consistency and command have eluded him. His 93-94 mph fastball and a sinister slider are both plus pitches. His command of the fastball is flighty, partially because the over-the-top delivery that benefits the vanishing, downward break of his slider can cause his release point for the fastball to waver. He also throws a curveball and changeup, though both are average and inconsistent. King has the right mix of pitches, and establishing a consistent delivery and command in Triple-A will put him on the brink of the big leagues. St. Louis added him to the 40-man roster in November.
As Memphis made a second straight run to the Pacific Coast League championship series, Hamilton provided the power. A brawny, lefthanded hitter, he slugged 18 homers in 258 at-bats with the Redbirds--his 18th clinched the division for the Redbirds--with two more in the playoffs. After a decorated college career that included All- America and Conference USA player of the year honors in 2006, Hamilton took a few years to adjust to pro ball but finally established himself as one of the best power-hitting prospects in the system. He missed parts of the 2010 season with two stays on the disabled list (hand, groin) and still set a career high for homers. His value is in his bat. Hamilton has a quick-enough swing and the leverage to damage more than just mistakes, and he knows how to work the count in his favor. He slimmed down for 2010, improving his conditioning and stamina. An experiment in the outfield proved difficult, but with experience he could be serviceable there. He's also below average at first, and the Cardinals don't expect to have an opening there for awhile anyway. Because he is so limited defensively, Hamilton isn't a natural fit for the bench and is probably best suited as a DH. He'll return to Triple-A to open the season, trying to expand his resume or swing his way through the roadblocks or into a trade.
Less than two years after the Cardinals signed him as a 16-year-old athlete out of Puerto Plata, D.R., Taveras came to America and had arguably the best debut of any international signing from their recent wave. He seized the No. 2 spot in Rookie-level Johnson City's lineup with his aggressiveness and helped elevate the Cardinals to the Appalachian League title. Taveras was third in the league with a .322 average, fourth with 43 RBIs, fifth in slugging (.526), sixth in OPS (.889) and ranked as the second-best position prospect in the league. Scouts saw a teenager who played beyond his years, with a good feel for the game and bat speed that should allow him to hit at higher levels. Coaches see a five-tool type, with the solid-average arm and good range to play center if he gets more consistent with his routes. His speed is average. Taveras has a lefthanded stroke that preternaturally makes contact with the sweet spot and allows him to drive the ball to all fields. With two strikes, he limits his leg kick and adopts a streamlined swing that would work at other counts. He should make a full-season club before he turns 20.
Cruz had a reliable glove and intriguing bat to speed through the lower levels of the system as a third baseman, but moving to catcher propelled him into prospect status and earned him a spot on the 40-man roster. A couple of years learning the position culminated in a breakthrough season in 2010, one that ended in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .342/.393/.500 in 76 at-bats. Cruz played in the Cardinals' spring-training backyard in Palm Beach, Fla., and already looked like a 26th-round bargain when he consistently hit at four levels after the draft, but there were doubts that his bat would profile at third. His ascent slowed so that he could take a crash course on catching. Cruz has developed nimble footwork behind the plate, good receiving skills and a feel for calling a game. He has a strong, accurate arm, and good mechanics enhance his timing. He threw out 53 percent of basestealers last season. Cruz was trusted enough that he started at catcher in the Triple-A playoffs. Despite his power spike in Arizona, he always has been a hitter for average more than power. This season he worked on going the other way so that he could handle pitches on the outer third and climb back toward .300. He's a well below-average runner. Cruz as a hitter looks better now that he's catching, and he'll continue his climb at Triple-A this season.
Any hesitance the major league staff may have had about turning over one of its pitchers to Anderson dissipated when the lefthanded-hitting catcher gained an advocate in Gold Glove winner Mike Matheny. Matheny has tutored Anderson for a couple of years, trying to mold him into the fundamentals-first catcher the Cardinals insist on. Big league trust is the best gauge, and confirming his turnaround, a starter who once said he was uncomfortable throwing to him acknowledged Anderson's improvement in handling, if not calling, a game. Anderson doesn't snatch at pitches as much as he used to, is now average at blocking balls, and his footwork behind the plate has improved to make his throwing mechanics less awkward. Anderson's level, balanced swing remains his best asset. A .294 hitter in the minors, he hit .375 as a pinch-hitter in the majors, and his power took a step forward last year though it's below average. Still just 24, Anderson is ready to battle for major league time. But while Jason LaRue retired and defensive specialist Matt Pagnozzi was released, the Cardinals signed Gerald Laird as the backup to Yadier Molina. Anderson will battle for a bench role and if not will head back to Triple-A.
The Cardinals announced in July that Ottavino would need surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder--which came as news to him. The strong-armed righthander had been pitching through discomfort in his shoulder for awhile, and he lobbied the Cardinals to give non-surgical treatment a try. After an extended rest he was activated--but not used--for the final weekend of the season, and the Cardinals outrighted him off the 40-man roster in November. The injury interrupted a season when Ottavino had taken a significant step forward. No longer sabotaged by a Quixotic search for mechanics, he pitched well in the Memphis rotation. He has become comfortable with a two-seam fastball that hums in the low 90s, and he can still crank his four-seam fastball in the mid- to high 90s. His sinking changeup has become an effective weapon, and his command has improved with a consistent, easier delivery. His slurvy breaking ball lags behind his other pitches. The condition of Ottavino's shoulder will loom over his every throw early this season, but if he's healthy he could get a big league opportunity. He intrigued pitching coach Dave Duncan enough last spring that he shifted briefly to relief, and while the organization still views him as a starter long-term, he could serve an apprentice role in the major league bullpen at some point in 2010, the same path used to groom Adam Wainwright.
Almost universally considered within the organization as the Cardinals' best position prospect after 2009, Jones has seen his star recede as suddenly as it soared. A loose collection of plus tools coming out of high school, Jones rewarded the organization's patience with a breakout 2008. He showed a feel for the strike zone and developed a sense for exploiting his above-average speed, and a jolt of confidence mixed with better baseball instincts combined for a .909 OPS at Double-A. He represented the Cardinals in the Futures Game in 2009, but an erosion of his game already had begun because of injury. He had tendinitis in both knees, and that sapped his best skill. Healthy for 2010, he still struggled to play to his tools. Jones hit .194/.315/.274 in April, went 2-for-6 on steal attempts in May, and other Cards farmhands gained ground. Jones moved to left field, and he seemed tentative at the plate. He has the legs to handle center, while his arm profiles for left, and where he fits for the Cardinals has never been murkier. He has played passively the last couple of seasons, and his ability to make contact has worked against him as he puts too many pitchers' pitches in play with weak swings. His power is below average. His speed and eye are equalizers, but he'll have to regain confidence in his game before the Cardinals can do the same.
In a pinch for a backup catcher because of injuries at the higher levels, the Cardinals promoted Hill in August and saw what keeps him moving through the system. On a 1-0 pitch in his only game, Hill launched an opposite field home run for his first major league hit. It was one of 25 homers the slugger hit in 2010, and it confirmed what the Cardinals already knew: the bat plays. Finding a place where Hill can get in the lineup is the quest. Stocky and strong, he has a short, swift, power-packed swing that bruises mistakes and can drive the ball to all fields. He isn't a great hitter for average and doesn't shore up his approach with two strikes. Hill got ample playing time at catcher, though he remains clunky at what really is his third position. He has difficulty blocking balls, and despite arm strength he's inconsistent under fire. He erased 34 percent of basestealers last season. Limited range at third makes him a better option at first, and he has taken some reps in the outfield, but he's a well below-average runner. Hill projects as a power bat off the bench, and his fringe ability at a variety of positions, especially moonlighting at catcher, makes that more of a possibility. He'll battle for a major league bench job in spring training.
Jackson validated his reputation as the best defensive shortstop in the college ranks in 2009 with a slick turn through his first pro season. He's nimble, with a strong arm, and his manager described him as having "educated feet," a high baseball IQ and those soft, bad-hop hands. He had six errors in his final 41 games. Jackson isn't the fleetest infielder, but his instincts, first-step accuracy and confidence to improvise give him a faster look in the field. The big issue will be whether his bat measures up. Jackson closed the year on a seven-game hitting streak that improved his average to .291 in high Class A. He has good discipline, average ability to make contact, and shows an understanding that his value is in getting on base. Strength is a concern. Jackson loses weight rapidly and has to work to maintain his strength through a full season. He's been called a throwback infielder, and his glove is good enough to keep him in the lineup as he refines a playable swing. A return to Palm Beach as the starting shortstop is likely, with a move to Double-A coming when that position opens or Jackson's play forces it.
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