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The Cardinals' most-heralded righthanded pitching prospect in nearly two decades, Miller spent most of the summer hearing from coaches how he needed to embrace his secondary pitches for the good of his development. It was only halfway through the season that pitching coordinator Dyar Miller wondered: "What if he doesn't? Maybe the fastball is good (enough) to get him there." Miller may be able to ride his fastball all the way to the majors, where he's expected to arrive in the near future. The 19th overall pick in 2009, he became the first high school pitcher selected in the first five rounds by St. Louis since 2005 and the first prep arm taken in the first round by the club since 1991. Signed for $2.875 million, Miller hasn't wilted under the hype. In his two full pro seasons, he has ranked as the No. 1 pitching prospect in each of his three leagues. His only difficulty came in August, when an alcohol-related incident led to a week-long suspension. The Cardinals were pleased with how he responded. In his final start of the year, he struck out nine in eight scoreless innings to punctuate what St. Louis hopes was a season of maturation both on and off the mound. Miller embraces his Texas gunslinger lineage and has the heat and mound presence to match. His overpowering fastball cooks consistently in the mid-90s and spikes to 97 mph. The fastball comes with late sinking and boring life that's just as notable as its velocity, and the ease of his delivery makes it seem to explode on hitters. Both Miller's curveball and changeup could become plus pitches with further refinement. His high-70s curveball has tight drop and his mid-80s changeup has nice fade that allows it to slide in on lefthanders. The Cardinals hoped his midseason jump to Double-A Springfield would reinforce their insistence that he utilize his secondary offerings more often and effectively. For a while he pitched with an offspeed pitch quota, even if his curve and changeup got hit, and both came out the better for it. True to the organization's preference, Miller has pitches that invite meek contact, and he has proven economical even when he gets fastball-happy. Throughout the 2011 season, he showed improved stamina and sustained velocity. As his brawny frame continues to fill out, he'll be able to maintain his power and his command later into games. He's a good athlete who might have punted in college had he followed through on a baseball scholarship from Texas A&M. Set for his third consecutive nonroster invitation to big league camp, Miller could open the season in the Triple-A Memphis rotation if he has a strong spring. He'll have to display increased dexterity with his secondary pitches to succeed at the highest levels. He could earn a callup to St. Louis late in the 2012 season and claim a permanent job in the majors in 2013. He's an ace-caliber starter and the most talented pitcher the Cardinals have developed since Rick Ankiel.
The Red Sox originally signed the righthander then known as Carlos Matias for $160,000 in 2009, but he failed to pass an MLB investigation because his name didn't match his paperwork. The Cardinals helped him piece together the required proof, then signed him for $1.5 million in June 2010. In his first season in the United States, he pitched in the 2011 Futures Game and reached high Class A Palm Beach at age 19. Martinez has an easy delivery, an overpowering fastball and plenty of bravado. His fourseam fastball routinely sits in the upper 90s and reaches 100 mph, even late in games. He also can fire a sinker at 92-93 mph. After he was pushed to high Class A, his mechanics faltered and his command followed. Martinez has a devastating curveball at times, but it was more loopy after he got to Palm Beach. He also has a changeup that features some fade but loses effectiveness when he throws it too hard. Some scouts wonder if his size lends itself to the durability needed in a starter, though he does have wiry strength. Martinez will return to high Class A to get his delivery and command back on track. Once he does, St. Louis may have a hard time holding him back. He has the ingredients to become a frontline starter or a closer.
Another product of the Cardinals' revived presence in Latin America, Taveras signed for $145,000 as a 16-year-old Dominican. Not yet 20, he won the Midwest League batting title in 2011 with a .386 average, the highest in the low Class A circuit since Deacon Jones hit .409 in 1956. The verb most often used to describe Taveras' game is "barrel," because of his preternatural ability to get good wood on pitches in all areas of the strike zone. His fluid mechanics and superb hand-eye coordination aid a swing that stays balanced as it sweeps through the zone. He's an aggressive swinger but doesn't strike out much. His line drives to the gap hint at the average power he'll have as he matures. Taveras has played all three outfield positions, though his average speed and solid arm will point him toward right field. He remained at Quad Cities all year because his baserunning and defense weren't ready for a promotion, and at times his effort waned. St. Louis shipped him to the Arizona Fall League as the second-youngest player there. He started slowly but caught up quick. He could make the leap to Double-A in 2012, and if his power continues to develop, he'll profile as a No. 3 hitter.
Cox parlayed his status as the best pure hitter in the 2010 draft and his extra leverage as a sophomore into a $3.2 million big league contract that included a $2 million bonus. He quickly reached Double-A in his first full pro season, batting .335/.388/.500 in his final 61 games after a slow start that resulted from him bending too much at his waist, cheating to reach outside pitches and growing vulnerable to inside ones. A more upright stance allowed him to pull pitches with more power. Scouts believe he'll continue to hit for average, though whether he'll have more than average power is a subject of debate. Cox has the arm to handle third, though he'll need to continue to refine his footwork to enhance his range. He's a below-average runner. Cox will begin 2012 in Double-A with the expectation that he'll be in Triple-A by midseason. A potential No. 3 hitter, he could earn his first big league callup in September, though David Freese looms ahead of him.
Twenty-five years after they last drafted a second baseman in the first round (Luis Alicea), the Cardinals did it again because they were so smitten with Wong's bat. He had won the MVP award in the wood-bat Cape Cod League in 2010 before hitting .378 at Hawaii last spring. The 23rd overall pick last June, Wong signed quickly for $1.3 million and helped Quad Cities win the Midwest League title. Wong's small frame hides a compact swing with pop and his innate ability to hit for average. He uncoils to generate line drives from corner to corner and could grow into 15-homer power. He has the ability to bunt or hit-and-run, and the patience to draw walks. Wong is not a burner, but he's aggressive and instinctual enough to steal a few bases with slightly above-average speed. He has a plus arm for second base, along with solid range and improving footwork. St. Louis may send Wong to Double-A for his first full pro season. Wong could become the Cardinals' first all-star second baseman since Tommy Herr in 1985. He could be big league-ready by 2013.
Jenkins could have been running routes as a Baylor wide receiver instead of strong-arming Rookie-level Johnson City to the Appalachian League title. A four-sport star in high school, he turned down a football scholarship to sign for $1.3 million as the 50th overall pick in the 2010 draft. The youngest player in Johnson City, he drew plaudits from scouts as the league's best pitching prospect. Jenkins has a lithe and loose but raw delivery that was all high leg kick and arm when he came out of high school. It has become traditional, as he uses his legs more and puts less stress on his arm, also resulting in improved command. He works both sides of the plate with his fastball, sitting at 91-93 mph and touching 95-96. Jenkins abandoned his slider, favoring a 12-to-6 curveball with tighter spin. He also is developing a changeup. The Cardinals are setting a path that could put him two levels behind Carlos Martinez. More time in extended spring is possible in 2012, though a stretch in low Class A is the goal. He'll require patience but ultimately could develop into a frontline starter.
Lynn made his name as a workhorse who never missed a scheduled start after signing for $938,000 as a 2008 sandwich pick, but he was a revelation as a reliever in the majors. His performance was reminiscent, in short bursts, of his 16-strikeout start in the Triple-A playoffs in 2010. After straining his oblique in early August, he returned to earn victories in the National League Championship Series and World Series. As a minor league starter, Lynn mixed a darting 88-92 mph sinker, a curveball that could get loopy and a so-so changeup. As a reliever, he became more aggressive with a four-seam fastball that sits around 93 mph and zooms as high as 98 with late life. He also developed a harder, sharper curve that gave him a true second weapon. He also has created more downhill plane with less rotation on his delivery, an adjustment that has improved his command. The Cardinals have five starters returning in 2012, earmarking Lynn for set-up duty.
Less than a year after pitching a perfect inning in the 2010 Futures Game, Sanchez made quick work of his major league debut and validated a new frontier for the Cardinals with each pitch. He received a cameo at closer and settled in as a hard-throwing set-up man before a shoulder injury in mid-June all but ended his season. Sanchez's stuff is far more imposing than his reed-thin frame. He repeatedly delivers 94-95 mph fastballs and can reach back for upper-90s heat. His fastball has natural movement that he exploits further by commanding the pitch to both sides of the plate and down in the strike zone. Sanchez's hard, quick slider handcuffs righthanders, who hit .136 with 24 strikeouts in 59 at-bats against him in the majors. He can dominate big leaguers as long as he's throwing strikes, which becomes a problem at times. Sanchez's shoulder soreness relented late in the season, though St. Louis left him off its playoff roster. He won't need surgery and should have a normal offseason. He should make the big league bullpen in 2012, with his role to be determined.
Adams starred at Slippery Rock (Pa.), leading NCAA Division II in hitting (.495) in 2009 while setting school records for single-season and career (.454) batting average. Signed for $25,000 as a 23rd-round pick, he moved from catcher to first base and hasn't stopped hitting. He won the Texas League MVP award in 2011, setting a Springfield record with 32 homers and leading the Double-A circuit with 101 RBIs and a .566 slugging percentage. Adams has a hulking frame but doesn't rely solely on muscle to catapult his moonshot homers. He has a compact swing that doesn't need an uppercut or loop to create distance. A coach called the stroke fool-proof because it gives him the ability to punish more than mistakes. One scout likened him to Freddie Freeman with more power and less defense. Though he's big and has below-average speed and quickness, Adams has improved defensively and shows soft hands and an accurate arm. There's a starting spot waiting for Adams in Triple-A, and his long-term future brightened when Albert Pujols signed with the Angels. Adams won't have to move to the outfield to battle for a big league job in 2013.
Though few pitchers in the system sport as much closer pedigree as Swagerty, he began 2011 with a standout turn as a starter in Class A. The Cardinals wanted to give him regular innings and time to develop his pitches. Only when his innings started to climb did St. Louis shift him to the bullpen, where he posted a 1.64 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 27 innings. St. Louis graded Swagerty's breaking ball as the best curveball in the 2010 draft. It's actually more of a hybrid that he calls a slider, but the mid-80s offering that breaks down and away from righthanders is nasty by any name. His time as a starter allowed him to become more effective with his fastball and add a useful changeup. When he comes out of the bullpen, his heater sits at 92-94 mph and touches 96. Swagerty has some funkiness in his delivery and a slight build. Both lead to concerns about his durability, questions somewhat dispelled by his stamina in 12 starts. Swagerty soared through three levels in 2011, finishing the season as a Double-A closer. The Cardinals remain intrigued by him as a starter, though expediting him as a reliever would cut development time. He has the upside of a No. 3 starter or closer.
Like Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn before him, Rosenthal asserted his ascending status with a postseason gem. The broad-shouldered righty threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout in the Midwest League's Western Division Championship Series in September. He struck out three, didn't walk a batter and got 14 of his 27 outs on the ground. He punctuated his breakout playoff run with a win in the title clincher, during which he touched 98 mph. Unheralded coming out of Cowley County (Kan.) CC as a 21st-round pick in 2009, the Missouri native signed for $65,000. Rosenthal earned an invitation to the Cardinals' top-prospect camp last spring on potential, then quickly added production to that promise, striking out 11 in his first MWL start. Rosenthal has an athletic frame built for logging innings and a simple, repeatable delivery that aids his power and control. Last season he added zip to his stuff, sitting regularly at 91-95 mph with a heavy sinker. He also throws a biting slider that he can use effectively in the strike zone. His changeup shows life but is still in the early stages of development. Rosenthal will look to prove his worth as a frontline starter with Palm Beach in 2012.
One of the final cuts in big league camp last spring, Carpenter won praise and playing time with his keen eye and live bat throughout exhibition play. He made his St. Louis debut in June, getting a brief 15 at-bat sip of the majors. Drafted as a fifth-year senior out of Texas Christian and signed for a $1,000 bonus, he's aware that time and age aren't on his side. Talent is. Carpenter led the system with a .418 on-base percentage in 2010 and followed that with a .417 OBP in 2011. His lack of batting gloves and his early-bird workouts got attention during spring training, but he projects as a high-average hitter because of a quick, elegant swing and advanced feel for the strike zone. He stopped swinging from a standstill and added a weight shift that elevated his power and led to 44 extra-base hits in 2011, including 29 doubles. He could hit 15 homers annually as an everyday player in the majors. Carpenter is a below-average runner but he can make some slick plays at third base when he gets moving. His arm and range at third are adequate, and he's working to become more comfortable on his backhand. He's pinched with David Freese in St. Louis and Zack Cox closing from behind him. Carpenter hasn't played the outfield in pro ball but he may get a look there in spring training in hopes that added versatility could help him win a spot on the big league bench.
When Nick Punto visited Springfield on a rehab assignment last summer, he saw one hitch in Jackson's otherwise fine defense. Jackson had a habit of pausing to wait on a better hop, an approach that works fine in college but is too slow at higher levels. Punto worked with him because Jackson is headed to those higher levels. He has validated his reputation as the best defensive college shortstop in the 2009 draft. He's a nimble fielder with a high baseball IQ and strong instincts, and his footwork and accuracy give him an aboveaverage arm. Some scouts think he can play defensively in the majors right now. Jackson helped his cause in 2011 by answering some questions about his bat. He improved his ability to make sharp contact by maintaining his strength and swing all year long. He hit a career-high 11 homers and ranked among the Texas League leaders in doubles (34) and total bases (221). He's a fringy runner and little threat to steal. Jackson continued to swing a productive bat in the Arizona Fall League and projects as a big league regular if he continues to do so. He'll advance to Triple-A and could break into the majors in a utility role in 2012.
Cleto made his major league debut last June, six months after St. Louis acquired him from Seattle in exchange for Brendan Ryan. Originally signed by the Mets, he became a Mariner in a threeteam, 12-player deal that sent Franklin Gutierrez to Seattle and J.J. Putz to New York in December 2008. The Cardinals traded for Cleto because they coveted his raw velocity. The strapping righty had a flamboyant delivery and a habit of flying open or falling to the side of the mound in an attempt to increase his velocity. By getting him to keep his front shoulder closed and, in the words of pitching coordinator Dyar Miller, "throw more like a Ferris Wheel than merry-go-round," Cleto pitched more under control in 2011 without sacrificing heat. In one May start, Cleto hit 102 mph and topped 100 a dozen times, per the opponent's radar gun. The Cardinals had him hitting 101. His fastball sits at 95-99 mph with late life, though he leaves it over the middle of the plate too often. He also throws a big-breaking, mid-80s slider that he also struggles to harness. What he calls his changeup is more of a 90-92 mph two-seam fastball that doesn't have enough separation from his four-seamer. Cleto has spent most of his pro career as a starter, but his lack of fine control or command and an offspeed pitch makes it likely that his long-term role will be as a fire-breathing reliever. He figures to open 2012 in Triple-A and be on call if St. Louis needs help in either role.
The Chicago-area prep star caught the Cardinals' eye and radically enhanced his draft status with a star turn at the 2010 Area Code Games. In three games, he stole seven bases and hit the lone homer in the wood-bat tournament. He also finished fourth overall in the SPARQ testing designed to gauge power, speed, agility and endurance. Though Tilson was a top student with a commitment to Illinois, St. Louis drafted him in the second round last June and signed him at the Aug. 15 deadline for $1.275 million. Scouts who saw Tilson outside of the Area Code Games view him as a bundle of unsharpened tools in need of tutelage. He's a lefty contact hitter with potential for a line-drive swing. He has the legs, rather than power, to produce extra bases. His speed rates a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his baserunning will get better with experience. Though he's one of several center fielders they drafted in 2011, the Cardinals will give Tilson priority access to the position because his range, instincts and arm all are better than average for the position. He may begin 2012 in extended spring training, though it's not out of the question that he could force his way to low Class A at some point during the year.
During consecutive starts at Palm Beach in May, Kelly took no-hit bids into the eighth inning. Both of his gems were microcosms of his potential. He overwhelmed hitters with a power sinker, coaxed 24 groundouts in 15 total innings, had fits of wildness (walking five in one start) and hit a few batters. "I want to go inside to every hitter at least once," he explains. "Eventually I'll get strikes." Kelly's 2011 season took a downturn after May, as he worked just 12 innings in June due to circumstances and because he didn't pitch well following a promotion to Double-A in July. He set a UC Riverside career record with 24 saves but the Cardinals launched him as a starter to get innings. What was a temporary assignment has become his means to advancement. Kelly sports upper-register velocity, sitting around 93-94 mph with his fastball and touching 98 as a starter. He hit 100 mph working as a reliever in 2010. His fastball has darting sink, and he succeeds when getting grounders rather than strikeouts. When he commands his fastball, he's able to better utilize his hard slider and his changeup. His slider has some bite to it, but his command of the pitch can be flighty. He also has a curveball that's mostly just for show. Kelly's wiry frame and long-arm delivery may not fit a starter's workload and eventually could recast him as a classic sinker/slider reliever. He'll return to the Springfield rotation in 2012 to get innings to work on command to give him grounders and ownership of the inside edge of the plate.
Jaime Garcia was so enamored with the pickoff move Gast flashed during a couple of major league exhibition games last spring that he sought out pointers from the prospect. Gast has a deceptive, accurate and whip-quick delivery to first base--traits that also serve him well when he comes to the plate. The lefty put another successful season between him and the questions that cost him in college, reaching Double-A in his first full year as a pro. The Rangers made Gast a fifth-round pick out of high school in 2007, but he opted to have Tommy John surgery and reignite his draft stock at Florida State. He rushed back from injury and his performance suffered with the Seminoles. A 6-0, 1.54 pro debut after signing for $140,000 reset his status. Gast has good poise and a fluid delivery. Some scouts describe him as a finesse lefty, though he has a fastball that ranges from 87 mph all the way up to 93. He mixes it with a hard curveball that falls out of the zone and a changeup that is blossoming into a plus pitch. While he's able to locate his fastball, command remains the primary focus in his development. It wasn't there in college and has been sporadic in pro ball. After Gast makes a cameo in big league camp, a return to Springfield is likely for the system's top lefty starter prospect. He has a ceiling as a No. 3 starter but more likely will fit into the No. 4 slot in a major league rotation.
Before he agreed on a $510,000 bonus last summer, McElroy took batting practice at Busch Stadium and mingled with major leaguers. Sitting at a locker assigned to him in the clubhouse, he talked about his baseball vs. football dilemma. "Baseball is in my family," he said. "It's in my blood." It's now his future. The son of longtime major-league reliever Chuck McElroy, C.J. was one of the fleetest talents in the 2011 draft and a multisport threat. As a senior at Clear Creek High (League City, Texas)--the alma mater of Jay Buhner and former Cardinals first-rounder Mark McCormick--McElroy rushed for 1,523 yards and scored 28 touchdowns, stole 33 bases and finished seventh in the long jump at the Texas state 5-A finals. He committed to play football at Houston, where he would have been a wide receiver. St. Louis clocked him at 6.37 seconds in the 60-yard dash, giving him 75-80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he stole eight bases in 23 pro games. McElroy's quickness gives him plenty of range in center field and helps him compensate for a below-average arm. He shows promising instincts and jumps both in the outfield on the bases. McElroy has a reliable righthanded swing that should translate to pro ball. He won't offer much power, but he recognizes pitches well and can handle good fastballs. He's earmarked for extended spring training but could play his way into a full-season assignment at some point in 2012.
As the Cardinals made their late September run for a wild-card berth, Chambers emerged as more than a courtesy callup. In the span of five days, he drove in the winning run in the 11th inning against the Phillies and drilled a bases-loaded triple against the Mets. He saw 16 pitches total in those at-bats, fouling off nine of them. Four days later, he scored on a wild pitch for a walkoff win against the Cubs. A former wide receiver and cornerback at Mississippi State, Chambers was dismissed from school in 2006 after being charged with simple assault and indecent exposure. He reinvented himself the next spring as a baseball player at Pensacola (Fla.) JC, with St. Louis offering him a tryout if he could get to Memphis within 24 hours. He bought a bus ticket, showed enough to get drafted in the 38th round and earn a $40,000 bonus and hasn't had to look back. Chambers has taken his best tool, above-average speed, and outfitted it with a polished game. He profiles as a leadoff type with a feisty approach at the plate and a sharpened sense of the strike zone. He emphasizes contact over power, especially against lefthanders. A quarterback and pitcher in high school, Chambers has plus arm strength and can handle all three spots in the outfield. His September audition positioned him for a chance to serve on the Cardinals' bench as a spare outfielder and tactical speedster in 2012.
Each offseason, the move the Cardinals try to make first is signing (or, in some cases, re-signing) a backup for starter Yadier Molina. Cruz ended their search early after getting a cameo in the majors in 2011 and winning the trust of the rotation and coaching staff. During a 2007 tryout for the Cardinals, Cruz arrived as a third baseman, spent an inning behind the plate and left with a new route to the majors. Each year, he has improved defensively while losing some but not too much of his proficiency at the plate. Cruz has good bat speed and a level swing built for average. He uses the whole field and if he got regular at-bats in the majors, he could hit 10 homers per season. Cruz's crash course in catching in the minors has helped him blossom with agile feet and an average, accurate arm. He threw out 31 percent of basestealers last year, including two of four in the majors. While he has below-average speed like most catchers, Cruz can adroitly handle first and third base and isn't lost in the outfield, giving him more versatility than past St. Louis backup catchers. He also wasn't flummoxed by pinch-hit appearances in the big leagues, going 4-for-15 with two walks. His temp work in the majors and studious approach in pregame planning gives him the edge in competition this spring with Bryan Anderson for the job as Molina's caddy.
What set up to be a breakout year for the hard-throwing reliever turned instead into a lost summer when Reifer leapt from the mound to field a bunt in mid-April. He shredded a ligament in his right knee and required reconstructive surgery that ended his season. Given good health, Reifer sports pure heat. He has touched 98 mph throughout his pro career, though he has found more command and success by dialing back his fastball to 93-96. His fastball cuts, especially against lefties. Reifer has a slider that can be overpowering when he locates it in the strike zone, and he was developing a splitter before he got hurt. His control has improved markedly in the last two years, though he hasn't dominated minor league hitters as much as his stuff would indicate he should. He battled bone spurs and elbow tendinitis at UC Riverside in 2007, when he was a teammate of Joe Kelly, but lingering questions about Reifer's durability vanished after he thrived as a worker-bee reliever in 2009 and 2010. The Cardinals are confident enough in his health to keep him on the 40-man roster and believe he'll be 100 percent for spring training. He'll likely begin 2012 in Triple-A but could contribute in St. Louis later in the season. He has a ceiling as a set-up man.
Undrafted and unassuming, Dickson found himself in uncharted waters last spring when the Cardinals pulled him into the competition to replace injured Adam Wainwright in the major league rotation. The lanky righty was a longshot candidate, but St. Louis coaches were intrigued by his durability, easy delivery and one trait that always gets noticed in the organization--the ability to get groundballs. Dickson spent most of the year in Triple-A, echoing his 2010 performance as Memphis' most reliable starter, though he did pitch eight innings in the big leagues. Dickson garnered little attention coming out of Tusculum (Tenn.), an NCAA Division II program, and it took a teammate to urge the Cardinals to give him a tryout. He has climbed steadily through the minors because he has easily repeatable mechanics and keeps the ball down in the strike zone. He has a classic, biting sinker that sits at 89-91 mph when he starts and has touched 93 mph when he relieves. His height and high arm angle help his sinker, and he has become more adept at moving it to both sides of the plate. Dickson has improved his command of a hard curveball that he can throw when behind in the count, and he also has a changeup that plays nicely off his fastball because it too features some sink. He has nothing left to prove in Triple-A and will get a chance to make the big league team this spring as a long reliever.
A 2011 season that began with a spot on the 40-man roster and included a rocky twist through the Springfield rotation ended where Kopp felt he belonged all along: the bullpen. After going 2-5, 7.98 in nine starts, he posted a 2.50 ERA as a Double-A reliever, though he later got hit hard in that role in stints in Triple-A and the Arizona Fall League. Coming out of the bullpen betters suits Kopp, who missed chunks of his first two full pro seasons with shoulder irritation. He feels less inhibited by the need to throw starter's innings and his stuff takes a step forward. Kopp went from averaging 91-92 mph on his sinking fastball as a starter to working at 94-95 as a reliever. He started throwing his three-quarters breaking ball more often in the low 80s and with more bite. He was able to focus on those two pitches and not worry about refining his changeup once he left the rotation. Kopp has a career 8.18 ERA in Triple-A, and he'll start 2012 by returning there. If he can correct the command that faltered in the AFL, he has a chance to eventually become a big league set-up man.
For a catcher who was considered completely raw behind the plate when he signed as a fourth-round pick in 2010, Stanley evolved into a comforting and capable presence at catcher last season for Quad Cities standout pitchers Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and Boone Whiting. Stanley has proven a quick learner, radically enhancing his average footwork and agility behind the plate. His arm strength is more fringy than average, yet he threw out 39 percent of basestealers last year. He moves well enough to occasionally fill in as an outfielder. All that said, Stanley's most marketable trait is his bat. He hit eight homers in the final two months of last season as his lefthanded swing grew from gap power to legitimate pull power. He also can drive some balls to the opposite-field gap, though he doesn't control the strike zone well enough to hit for a high average. If everything comes together, Stanley could be a .260 hitter who provides 10-15 homers and decent defense as a major league regular. He'll be reunited in high Class A this year with most of the batterymates he thrived with at Quad Cities.
DeLeon's statistics from his 2011 U.S. debut didn't sizzle, but the number that matters most for him did: 98. He was able to show that his fastball could operate consistently at 94-96 mph and peak at 98. His control and command waver when he reaches back for more velocity. His frame could add some strength, which would enhance his stamina as well as the consistency of his heater. DeLeon's secondary pitches are still works in progress. He's still developing feel for his slider and his changeup, and he throws the latter pitch too hard to get enough separation from his fastball. He's still learning to find the strike zone on a regular basis, too. DeLeon is extremely raw but has one of the best arms in the lower levels of the system. The short-term plan is to keep him as a starter so that he can get the innings and experience he needs more
There was a growing sense late in the 2011 season that the best move for Ottavino and the Cardinals would be a separation. Like longtime roommates, both sides had grown irritated. The first sign of an armistice came in November when St. Louis returned him to the 40-man roster a year after irking him by leaving him off. The 30th overall pick in the 2006 draft and recipient of a $950,000 bonus, Ottavino remains an attractive though beguiling talent. His frame and stamina are carbon copies of the starters the Cardinals rely on in the majors. He has a low-90s two-seam fastball and a four-seamer in the mid-90s. His slurvy breaking ball and sinking changeup aren't particularly sharp. Cursed by inconsistent mechanics early in his pro career, Ottavino has improved but start-to-start inconsistency still foils his advancement. He has spent the last three seasons in Triple-A, missing much of 2010 with a sore shoulder. That July, St. Louis announced he would require surgery to repair a torn labrum. He sought a second opinion and decided to follow advice that the irritation would subside with rest and rehab. Ottavino has advocates in the organization and some think a move to the bullpen could unlock his potential. The Cardinals will give him a look as a reliever during spring training.
Before he emerged as the most reliable member of the rotation that pitched Quad Cities to the 2011 Midwest League title, Whiting had to begin where few aces do--in the bullpen. Pegged as a long reliever after signing for $30,000 as an 18th-round pick in 2010, he seized a June opening in the River Bandits' six-man rotation. He wound up leading the minors in WHIP (0.89) and the MWL in opponent average (.191). A heady pitcher with meticulous pregame prep and notes on opponents, Whiting is a typical Cardinals small-college find. He changes hitters' eye level by mixing 86-91 mph fastballs at the top of the strike zone with swing-and-miss sliders. He also has a changeup with good deception and splitter action. Whiting has the best command in the system, spotting his pitches to all four corners of the strike zone. He also throws batters off with his over-the-top delivery. He'll advance to High Class A, where a spot in the rotation is waiting for him with no early-season bullpen work necessary.
One of the traits that drew the Cardinals to Blair with the 46th overall pick in the 2010 draft was the one that failed him most in his pro debut last summer: start-to-start reliability. He posted a 5.70 ERA in the second half of the Midwest League season, averaging barely four innings per start while walking 30 batters in 36 innings. He spent three weeks on the disabled list in August to rest and reboot, then was suspended before the MWL playoffs for a violation of organization policy. As the Pacific-10 Conference pitcher of the year in 2010 and during successful stints in the Cape Cod League, Blair had demonstrated consistency and blistering stuff. At his best, he has a fastball that hums at 92-94 mph and touches 96 with good sink, though he often worked at 88-93 mph in low Class A. His curveball has the makings of a plus pitch, while his changeup lags far behind. Blair's command and concentration betrayed him throughout 2011. One observer described him as "pitching distracted," and both his velocity and control suffered. Blair still has the stuff to become a No. 3 starter if he can improve his focus and stop sabotaging himself.
A St. Louis native, Jeffries wore No. 4 for years before changing, like so many other local youths, to No. 5 because of Albert Pujols. A self-professed baseball nut, Jeffries is a product of a local Boys & Girls Club, where he developed as a toolsy center fielder. He committed to Iowa Western CC and wasn't considered a tough sign, yet he lasted until the 10th round of the 2011 draft before turning pro for $95,000. Jeffries generates significant bat speed from the right side of the plate and has at least average power potential, though he'll need to level an uppercut swing. He has plus speed that he flashed during a workout at Busch Stadium. ("Like a dream," he called taking batting practice at the Cardinals' home.) He used that quickness to swipe 10 bases in 34 pro games, and it also serves him well in center and right field. Jeffries has sound outfield instincts and an arm that delivered 90-mph fastballs in high school. Area scouts said his stacked, compact frame reminded them of former all-star Ron Gant. Jeffries is one several raw, young Cardinals outfield prospects. He'll probably start 2012 in extended spring and move to short-season Batavia in June.
A full, healthy season removed from Tommy John surgery, Freeman is poised to pick up where he left off as a rising lefty specialist. A wiry athlete, he spent most of 2011 trying to regain arm strength, watching his velocity return steadily to the high 80s and finally to 90-91 mph. He took to Venezuela for extra innings this winter, earning a spot as the lone minor league lefty on the Cardinals' 40-man roster by allowing one earned run in 15 appearances. Once a fleet-footed outfielder, Freeman became a full-time starter at Kansas a year before signing for $10,000 as a 32nd-round pick in 2008. Despite his inexperience, he reached Double-A in his first full pro season while not allowing an extra-base hit to a lefty. Elbow soreness halted his progress that July, and he didn't return to the mound until 21 months later. Freeman pitches mainly off his fastball. Neither his sweeping curveball nor his tailing changeup was effective in 2011, in part because he slows his arm when he delivers his offspeed pitches. His control and command have never been his strong suits, though St. Louis hopes he'll gain more feel for pitching as he puts his elbow reconstruction further behind him. Freeman will get an extended look in big league camp this spring and is positioned to be a late-inning reliever in Triple-A and the first lefty specialist summoned by the Cardinals.
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