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When Taveras arrived at spring training last year, he was brought into meetings with club officials, including big league manager Mike Matheny. They presented him a challenge. His bat was fit for Double-A Springfield, but to skip high Class A Palm Beach he'd have to show his fielding and baserunning were ready, too. He did that, leapfrogged a level and continued a meteoric ascent. Taveras earned Texas League MVP honors one year after winning the low Class A Midwest League batting title with a .386 average. He led the TL in batting (.321), doubles (37), extra-base hits (67) and total bases (270) while leading his team to a league title for a third consecutive year. General manager John Mozeilak calls him the organization's top hitting prospect since Albert Pujols. Signed for $145,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Taveras has batted .321/.381/.525 in four pro seasons. Taveras has an innate ability to barrel pitches. Credit superb hand-eye coordination and the natural balance of his swing for the preternatural ease he brings to the plate. He's an aggressive hitter with a quick bat and the confidence he can drive any pitch he can reach within the strike zone-because he so often does. But he's not undisciplined, doesn't strike out often and has proven to be an effective bad-ball hitter. Taveras saw a spike in walks as his projected power blossomed in Double-A. He set career highs with 23 homers and 37 doubles, harbingers of more power ahead. The elements of Taveras' game that once lagged behind his offense started to keep pace in 2012. He improved enough in the field for St. Louis to consider him a center fielder going forward. He finished the Futures Game in center, earning praise from his manager, former Gold Glove winner Bernie Williams. Taveras has enough speed to be an average baserunner and provide average range in center. He probably fits best in right field, where his bat and strong arm profile well. His effort and attention waned at times in low Class A, and he has been benched a couple times for lapses. The Cardinals tied such moments to frustrations he had at the plate rather than apathy or a lackadaisical attitude, and he has acknowledged his need to eliminate them completely. St. Louis discussed bringing Taveras to the majors last September but opted not to push him without guaranteed playing time. He'll come to major league spring training with a chance to make an impression. He's positioned to replace Carlos Beltran in right field when the veteran's contract expires after 2013, but proving proficient in center could open a swifter route to the majors. The Cardinals want him to play regularly at the start of the year, and that could mean some seasoning in Triple-A Memphis.
The 19th overall pick in 2009, Miller signed for $2,875,000. He struggled for the first time as a pro last year, going 4-8, 6.17 in his first 17 Triple-A starts before resetting his mechanics and getting told he couldn't shake off his catcher. He went 7-2, 2.88 with a 70-7 K-BB ratio in 57 second-half innings and rode that success into a September callup and postseason role. Miller has an overpowering fastball that averaged 94 mph in the playoffs and can touch 97. It has late, heavy movement. He learned in 2012 that his heater is more effective when he utilizes his plus curveball and developing changeup. His control and command improved late in the year as well. St. Louis was concerned that he adopted a diet and workout plan that cost him muscle, so the team helped him choose a different approach to add strength and stamina. A potential No. 1 starter, Miller will come to spring training with a chance to win a spot in the rotation.
Then known as Carlos Matias, Martinez was suspended for a year by MLB when he couldn't present the paperwork needed to finalize a $160,000 deal with the Red Sox in 2009. The Cardinals spent weeks piecing together the proof needed to sign him for $1.5 million in 2010, with most of the legwork done by scout Aaron Rodriguez. Martinez has blistered opponents ever since, shaking off shoulder tendinitis early last year to reach Double-A at age 20 and throw seven shutout innings in the Texas League championship series. He is an aggressive pitcher with a fastball that regularly hums at 94-98 mph and hit 100 in his first Springfield appearance. He has a biting curveball and a changeup that's more effective when he doesn't throw it too hard. Both could develop into plus pitches. Martinez has a natural delivery but sometimes strays from it and his command wobbles. Some scouts see him as too small to handle starting, but he has wiry strength and his efficient mechanics will help. Martinez is set to return to Double-A in 2013 with a chance to advance to Triple-A.
Area scout Aaron Looper advocated selecting Rosenthal in the 21st round of the 2009 draft after seeing him throw all of one inning, believing the athletic righthander personified the gut-feeling picks the Cardinals encourage their evaluators to make. A shortstop at the start of his Cowley County (Kan.) CC career, he signed for $65,000 and emerged as a prospect when he struck out 11 in his first full-season start in 2011. He skipped a level last year, advanced from Double-A to the majors and became St. Louis' shutdown middle reliever in the playoffs. Rosenthal was a revelation in the postseason, with half of his fastballs in October clocked at 99 mph or faster. He works in the mid-90s as a starter and consistently hits 98 and tops out at 101 as a reliever. He spots his fastball low in the strike zone. Rosenthal also has a hard curveball and a solid changeup, pitches the Cardinals believe will allow him to be a big league starter. The key for him will be able to maintain the improved command he showed late in the year. Like Shelby Miller, Rosenthal will come to spring training with the opportunity to take a spot in the rotation. If he doesn't win one, he'll slide easily into a late-inning relief role.
The Cardinals hadn't drafted a second baseman in the first round in 25 years (Luis Alicea) before taking Wong 22nd overall in 2011. Since singing for $1.3 million, Wong has hit .300, reached Double-A, played in the Futures Game and won two league championships. He slumped late in the season due to fatigue, but went to the Arizona Fall League and batted .324. Wong springs from a compact stance to deliver consistent sharp contact. He has surprising power for his size, mostly to the gaps but also the potential for double-digit home run totals. He's so proficient at bunting that Texas League opponents had to reposition their defenses against him. Wong doesn't walk a lot, but he has a keen sense of the strike zone and enjoys a slash-and-attack approach as a leadoff hitter. His arm is fit for second base and his instincts have improved, making him a solid fielder. He has average speed and good baserunning sense. Wong will bring some stability to the position in the near future, and he'll get a chance to audition for the starting job this spring. He figures to open the season in Triple-A and arrive in St. Louis during the summer.
Wacha and Shelby Miller were the jewels of Texas A&M's 2009 recruiting class. While Miller signed out of high school, Wacha went 27-7 in three years with the Aggies before turning pro for $1.9 million as the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Cardinals eased him into pro ball as a reliever, and he responded by striking out 45 in 24 innings (including the Texas League playoffs). Wacha pitches with a 90-93 mph sinking fastball as a starter, though he worked from 94-97 while coming out of the bullpen in his pro debut. What makes his fastball devastating is his changeup, the best available in the 2012 draft. He uses a circle grip and throws it with deception and a late fade. Wacha would have gone toward the top of the draft if he had a better breaking pitch. His slider shows more promise than his curveball, though neither figures to become better than average. His command and competitiveness are two more pluses in his favor. After reaching Double-A in his pro debut, Wacha will return to Springfield in 2013, this time as a starter. It's easy to project him as a mid-rotation starter, and he could turn into something more if he finds a reliable breaking ball.
Like Trevor Rosenthal, Adams has become an emblem of the Cardinals' ongoing success in later rounds of the draft. He signed for $25,000 as a 23rd-round pick in 2009 after leading NCAA Division II in hitting (.495). He has continued to rake, hitting 74 homers in the last three years, including two for St. Louis last summer. Adams has a muscular, stout frame, but his light-tower power doesn't come from his physique alone. He has a compact, spring-loaded swing that means he doesn't need a loop or uppercut to generate distance. A coach called his stroke foolproof, one that should allow him to hit for power and average. He's an adequate defender at first base, but his well below-average speed makes playing left field a stretch. Adams missed the final month of the season to have bone chips removed from his right elbow, a condition that had bothered him for more than a year. He should be healthy for spring training. Though he has nothing left to prove in the minors, he's blocked by Allen Craig and has no apparent path to a starting job with the Cardinals.
The Cardinals wooed Jenkins from a football commitment to Baylor by paying him $1.3 million in 2010. They knew his development would require patience and didn't give him a full-season assignment until 2012. He missed a month with shoulder soreness and two weeks with a strained lat muscle at low Class A Quad Cities, and he was inconsistent when he took the mound. Jenkins has a long, lithe frame that made him a successful quarterback and sprinter in high school. It creates the leverage to unleash 93-96 mph fastballs and the strength to maintain velocity throughout his starts. He'll develop more power as he matures and more command as he tames his delivery. He has ditched an exaggerated leg kick and has sought to settle on more fluid mechanics that he can repeat. Jenkins gets depth on his curveball, but he doesn't always throw it with enough power. He's developing a solid changeup. A spot in the high Class A rotation awaits Jenkins in 2013, when a mix of maturity and pitcher-friendly Florida State League parks could elicit the breakout the Cardinals are hoping for.
Though he was the Cardinals' sixth pick (second round) in 2012, Kelly tied for the second-highest bonus ($1.6 million) in their draft class. The highest-drafted Oregon prep player since 1996, he drew some interest as a pitcher with a low-90s fastball. St. Louis coveted his power at the plate, which he showed off by hitting nine homers at Rookie-level Johnson City. Kelly has a sturdy build and has already matured into muscle. He has a calm, quiet stance at the plate and an easy, balanced swing that creates natural carry. His batting average sagged as he struggled with quality secondary pitches and the overall speed of the pro game, but he has the tools to develop into a solid hitter. Kelly has a strong arm and reliable hands at third base. He doesn't run well and will have to enhance his lateral movement to remain at the hot corner. Kelly won't turn 19 until the middle of his first full pro season and there's no need to rush him. Patrick Wisdom, a 2012 supplemental first-rounder, is ticketed for third base at the Cardinals' new low Class A Peoria affiliate, so Kelly likely will head to short-season State College. He could make his full-season debut by the end of the year.
Even with a new scouting director, Dan Kantrovitz, helming their draft, the Cardinals continued to load up on polished college performers in 2012. They used the 36th overall pick on Piscotty, who won the 2011 Cape Cod League batting title (.349) and hit .340 in three seasons at Stanford. After signing for $1,430,400, he immediately went to low Class A, where he impressed observers with an .824 OPS and a big league approach. Piscotty has a seasoned sense of the strike zone and a good read on pitches. His line-drive swing is built more for high batting averages with plenty of doubles. The soft spots in his robust rÃ©sumÃ© that kept him from being a first-round pick followed him into pro ball. Piscotty lacks true home run power and went deep just four times in 210 at-bats. Though he has a strong arm, he lacks the hands and range to play a good third base and made 22 errors in 36 pro games there. St. Louis will move Piscotty to right field and advance him to high Class A in 2013. The position change will put even more pressure on him to add more home run power. His ability to do so will determine if he emerges as an everyday outfielder or a high-average utility cornerman.
Wisdom had a breakout sophomore season at St. Mary's in 2011 before posting a .925 OPS in the Alaska League, a wood-bat college summer circuit. But he didn't live up to expectations last spring, batting .262/.385/.476 as a junior. That slump allowed the Cardinals to grab him with the 52nd overall pick and sign him for a discounted $678,790 in June--a savings that helped them pay fellow third-base prospect Carson Kelly $1.6 million in the second round. Wisdom's numbers with wood in his pro debut nearly matched his college numbers with metal, hinting at his raw power. He has a workable swing and could be an average hitter once he lets his pop come naturally, instead of sabotaging his approach by trying to force it and pull everything. Wisdom is a fringy runner with good athleticism that really emerges in the field. He has good instincts for third base and a strong, accurate arm. A quick first step gives him above-average range. One evaluator called him the best defensive prospect St. Louis has had at the hot corner in more than a decade. Widsom will start his first full pro season in low Class A, and his offensive improvement and adjustments will dictate how quickly he rises.
Ramsey was the Tim Tebow of college baseball for his combination of leadership, charisma and Christian faith. The label also fit the divergent views of his potential. To some, Ramsey is a talented player and a standup individual with no standout tool. To others, he's a potential starter in center field who could hit near the top of a big league order while galvanizing a clubhouse. Count the Cardinals among the latter after they drafted him 23rd overall in June and signed him for $1.6 million, the fifth-highest bonus ever for a college senior. He turned in a first-team All-America season last spring, batting .378/.513/.652 and leading Florida State to the College World Series after turning down second-round money from the Twins as a 22nd-round pick in 2011. In an aggressive move, St. Louis pushed Ramsey to high Class A for his pro debut and he struggled. His 59 strikeouts in 56 games were attributed to a mechanical glitch in his swing, one coaches think he can correct with experience. Most scouts agree that he can hit for a solid average, but many wonder if he'll have even average power. Ramsey has above-average speed and puts it to good use in center and on the bases. He'll turn in plus-plus times down the first-base line, a tribute to his constant energy and effort. His arm is average. There's no doubt about his stellar makeup, as Ramsey was the first Seminole to wear a captain's "C" on his uniform, won an award for his community service and was both president of Florida State's student-athlete advisory council and a Rhodes Scholar nominee. He'll return to Palm Beach to start 2013.
No Cardinals farmhand more radically altered his standing in the organization than Kozma did in 2012. He has a .652 career OPS in the minors but was thrust into a starting job at shortstop in August when Rafael Furcal went down with an elbow injury. Kozma helped propel St. Louis into the postseason by hitting .333/.383/.569 in 26 games, and his 14 RBIs were the most by a Cardinals rookie in September since Albert Pujols. Kozma's success carried into the playoffs, where he drove in the National League Division Series-winning runs in the ninth inning of Game Five. Before his stunning breakout, he spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he was replaced at shortstop by Ryan Jackson and told to prepare for a utility role in the majors. Necessity made him more. When Kozma signed for $1,395,000, his tools were described as average across the board. His solid defense and strong arm carried him, as his bat didn't develop as expected-until St. Louis needed it most. His realistic offensive ceiling is as an average hitter with gap power and decent speed. Almost removed from the 40-man roster several times in 2012, Kozma enters this year with a shot at the big league bench.
Siegrist has all of the ingredients to be a big league lefty, though health has eluded him since he signed for $85,000 as a 41st-round pick in 2008. His development has been hampered by neck pain, lower-back stiffness and a right (non-throwing) shoulder strain that landed him on the disabled list last summer, though he has avoided surgery each time. He returned in time to pitch in the Texas League playoffs and then broke through in the Arizona Fall League, where he went 2-1, 2.39 with 27 strikeouts in 19 innings. When healthy, Siegrist is hard to hit thanks to a 91-93 mph fastball, solid curveball and developing changeup. He throws them all from a low three-quarters slot, and that coupled with his frame adds deception. His command has improved with increased innings. Siegrist has enough promise and stuff to remain a starter, but the Cardinals have an immediate need for lefty relief. Added to the 40-man roster, he's earmarked for Triple-A, where he'll continue to start until the big league club requires another lefty reliever.
The Cardinals cleared the way for Jackson to be the starting shortstop at Memphis last summer by shifting Pete Kozma into a utility role. By the time Rafael Furcal hurt his elbow and St. Louis needed a replacement at shortstop, the roles had reversed. Jackson's playing time had all but vanished, a sudden and curious development for the young infielder who remains one of the best gloves in the system. He was considered the finest college shortstop in the 2009 draft and has validated that reputation as a pro. He has a strong and accurate arm, high baseball intelligence and enough first-step quickness to overcome fringy speed. Jackson has decent bat speed and plate discipline and projects as maybe an average hitter with some gap power, especially against lefthanders. He struggled at the plate in his big league cameo and had a difficult game at second base in Philadelphia that seemed to secure his bench status. Jackson will come to spring training with a chance to erase that first impression, win a utility job and battle Kozma to reclaim the role as Furcal's potential successor in 2014.
When the major league workouts were over one day last spring, the coaches drifted to the back fields to see some of the Cardinals' youngest pitching prospects. One stood out. Well built and gifted with raw velocity, DeLeon drew the coaches toward his bullpen session. He can hit 98 mph with his fastball, and he sits at 92-95 mph as a starter. His low-80s slider improved last season, and he continues to tinker with a changeup. He shows good instincts for pitching and because he's able to repeat his delivery, the command should come. He made significant progress in 2012, which he finished with a strong seven-inning, no-walk start in the Rookie-level Appalachian League playoffs. St. Louis will push him to full-season ball as a 21-year-old in 2013. The plan is to get him innings as a starter to see if he can develop consistent secondary pitches. If that doesn't work out, he could be a late-inning lightning bolt from the bullpen.
Even during the lengthy bus trips in the Appalachian League, McElroy didn't feel regret for walking away from a football scholarship to play wide receiver at Houston. The son of former major league reliever Chuck McElroy and nephew of former all-star Cecil Cooper, C.J. signed for $510,000 as a 2011 third-rounder. The swiftest player in the system, he stole 24 bases for Rookie-level Johnson City, becoming more aggressive as coaches worked with him on getting a quality lead instead of just relying on his feet. His speed earns 80 grades on the 20-80 scale from some scouts, and the Cardinals clocked him at 6.37 seconds in a 60-yard dash. Stealing second base wasn't the issue, however; getting to first was. McElroy drew just two walks in his final 31 games because he was determined to enact improvements to his swing. He lowered his back elbow to create fewer grounders and popups. He has little power, so his focus is getting on base. He should develop into a plus defender in center field, though his arm is below-average. During instructional league, McElroy worked on switch-hitting, a new skill he'll continue to refine during spring training. His first full-season assignment awaits in April.
After reaching Double-A in his 2011 pro debut, Swagerty arrived in big league camp last spring with a chance to lay the groundwork for a big league promotion later in the season. He left knowing he wouldn't throw a pitch at all in 2012. Pain radiating from bone spurs in his elbow led to Tommy John surgery, a proactive move to repair a ligament that would have unraveled at some point. When at full strength, Swagerty has a 92-94 mph fastball that climbs to 96. The Cardinals graded his curveball as the best available in the 2010 draft, and it's a classic knee-buckler. They broke him into pro ball as a starter so he could get innings to refine a third pitch and improve his command, and he showed promise in that role. But a return to relief could be a compromise St. Louis makes to monitor Swagerty's innings and put him back on his quick climb toward the majors. Reports from his rehab were encouraging and he still has a ceiling as a closer.
What should have been Tilson's first full pro season ended before it began. During a scrimmage in extended spring training, he separated his right (non-throwing) shoulder and tore his labrum while attempting a diving catch. Surgery followed and the summer was a loss. He returned in time for instructional league, where he impressed coaches with solid production while regaining his strength. The Chicagoland prep star caught the Cardinals' eye and improved his draft stock with his performance at the 2010 Area Code Games, and the Cardinals signed him the next summer for $1,275,000 as a second-rounder. Tilson is a contact hitter with a line-drive swing and the potential to hit for a solid average. Speed is where his extra-base hits will come from, as he rates as a 65 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale but has below-average raw power. His injury puts him behind fellow 2011 high school center fielder C.J. McElroy, but Tilson will get priority playing time in center because St. Louis believes his speed, arm and instincts fit the position. A jump to a full-season club at some point in 2013 is likely, though probably not to start the season because he has just 27 pro at-bats.
The initial plan to push Bean to Johnson City proved a little daunting and perhaps unfair for the prep catcher whom the Cardinals took with the 66th overall pick last June. He struck out 32 times in 80 at-bats in the Appalachian League but rallied to hit .320/.424/.400 after he was drawn back to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Bean had committed to Texas before a $700,000 bonus lured him to pro ball, where he instantly became the system's best defensive catcher. His arm rates a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he threw out 37 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. Despite some youthful hiccups, he's a nimble and sound receiver who should grow with experience. Bean doesn't hit for much power now, but his developing strength hints at more down the road. He has a feel for the strike zone and a quick bat. He does have excess movement at the plate that makes him vulnerable against quality pitching, so St. Louis will try to quiet that down. He's a below-average runner but plays with more athleticism and energy than most catchers. Given his initial struggles, Bean may open his first full pro season in extended spring training before going to State College in June.
A burly righty with an aggressive demeanor on the mound, Fornataro is a late comer to the prospect tag and arrives without the usual trappings. He was a sixth-round pick in 2008 who received a $150,000 bonus and had suitable but not sizzling early success. It all changed when he moved to the bullpen and blossomed as Springfield's surefire set-up man in 2012. Instead of trying to shoulder the innings of a starter, Fornataro was able to let loose in short bursts. The result was a fastball that jumped to elite status, sitting at 96-98 mph and hitting 99. His hard curveball has good rotation and power in the low 80s, giving him a plus second pitch, and his splitter has late drop. Fornataro still is learning to harness and use his newfound stuff, as his strikeout rate actually dipped to a pedestrian 5.5 per nine innings last season despite his jump in stuff. He keeps the ball in the park and gets plenty of groundballs when he's on. The Cardinals added Fornataro to the 40-man roster in November and think he'll contribute in the major league bullpen soon. That depends on whether he can maintain his progress in Triple-A this year.
After losing the 2010 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Freeman made his major league debut last June and scored a place on the Cardinals' wild-card playoff roster. Primarily an outfielder at North Central Texas CC, he became a full-time pitcher at Kansas in 2008, recording an 8.53 ERA before signing for $10,000 as a 32nd-round pick. Still relatively inexperienced on the mound, Freeman has a slight frame that belies his velocity and stamina, which result from being one of the best athletes in the system. He regularly throws 94-95 mph with his four-seam fastball, mixes in a low-90s sinker and owns a decent 78-82 slurve. He has worked to correct his habit of slowing his arm when delivering his breaking ball or fringy changeup. Freeman still doesn't dominate lefties as much as he should because he doesn't command his pitches. St. Louis sent him to the Arizona Fall League instead of keeping him on its playoff roster for the next two rounds, but he came down with a sore shoulder. The Cardinals signed veteran Randy Choate to a three-year deal, which will put Freeman back in Triple-A to start 2013 but not out of mind when another lefty is needed.
By his own admission, Maness' fastball isn't overpowering, but he has the uncanny ability to put it wherever he wants. Signed for $1,000 as an 11th-round college senior in 2011, he went 42 innings into his first full pro season before he walked a batter. He led the minors with 0.5 walks per nine innings last year, a rate that was less than half of his closest competitor. Maness knows he has to rely on movement and pitch to contact, which he does by pinpointing an 89-91 mph sinker to both sides of the plate. Some scouts give him 70 command on the 20-80 scale. He relentlessly throws strikes and mixes in a slider and a changeup that both have a chance to be average. Maness started his East Carolina career as a two-way player before shifting to the mound full-time and setting school records for career wins (38) and strikeouts (334). He uses a lot of upper body in his delivery, though he's consistent with his mechanics and his arm speed. The Cardinals have a lot of talented pitchers in the high minors, but Maness' reliability could be enough to earn a spot in the Triple-A rotation this year.
A year after the undersized righty with the oversized fastball emerged as a closer in Springfield, Rondon asserted his place as a rising power arm in a system that's increasingly flush with them. He joined Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and Maikel Cleto as 100-mph flamethrowers when he tripped triple digits in the middle of the season. Rondon averages 95 mph with his fastball and did so with increasing command in 2012, though he still needs to get better in that regard. He maximizes his mechanics to gain velocity, but when he muscles his pitches he sacrifices location. He complements his fastball with a hard slider that can get swings and misses when it's on. Already a veteran of seven pro seasons, Rondon went unclaimed in the 2010-11 Rule 5 drafts before the Cardinals protected him on the 40-man roster this offseason. They likened him to Eduardo Sanchez, another small but hard-throwing righty who has helped them in the majors. Rondon spent the winter pitching in the Venezuelan League and is headed back to Triple-A.
The same fickle winds that carried Cooney to prominence after his strong showing in the Cape Cod League in 2011 slowed when inconsistency took hold in his junior year at Wake Forest. When he reached pro ball after signing for $404,400 as a third-rounder in June, performance finally took over. Cooney had far and away the best stuff on the short-season Batavia staff, according to one evaluator. His solid debut reflected the pitcher the Cardinals saw on the Cape, not the one challenged by flighty command. Cooney's fastball darts from 87-93 mph, sitting around 90. He pitches assertively with his cutter and mixes in an erratic curveball. At its best, his changeup can elicit swings and misses from righthanders. Cooney's control can unravel when he overthrows, but he avoided that at Batavia and issued just eight walks in 56 innings. A potential quick riser, he could advance to high Class A in his first full year as a pro.
Gast was a Rangers fifth-round pick out of high school in 2007, but he opted to have Tommy John surgery and try to enhance his stock at Florida State. That didn't quite happen, and the Cardinals were able to get him with a sixth-round pick and $140,000 bonus in 2010. He advanced to Double-A in his first full pro season, but Triple-A hitters took advantage of his spotty command last year. He fought shoulder troubles in the second half that complicated his control issues and landed him on the disabled list. Gast has a deceptive, whippy release that gives him the system's best pickoff move and helps his stuff play up. His fastball usually ranges from 87-91 mph, and he also has a solid changeup and average curveball. When he's unable to control his fastball, he slips behind in the count and into trouble. Gast lacks the standout breaking ball to be a lefthanded specialist, so he'll continue to develop as a starter in Memphis.
Originally signed by the Mets, Cleto went to the Mariners in a three-team trade that also sent Franklin Gutierrez to Seattle and J.J Putz to New York in December 2008, then came to the Cardinals prior to the 2011 season in exchange for Brendan Ryan. The hulking righthander has pitched briefly in St. Louis in each of the last two seasons, showing just enough raw power to intrigue and just enough inconsistency to merit a return to the minors. He posted the best K-BB ratio (3.0) of his career in 2012, he also had his worst ERA (5.37) since pitching for high Class A High Desert, one of the minors' toughest pitcher's parks. Heat is Cleto's game. He has hit 102 mph as a starter in the past and has topped 100 mph several times. Recast as a full-time reliever last year, he kept the velocity and maintained more consistency with his flamboyant, max-effort delivery. His fastball sits from 95-99 mph and he complements it with an exaggerated, mid-80s slider that can slip away from him at times. His changeup is more of a 91-mph sinker that he uses judiciously. Cleto is destined to open 2013 back in Triple-A, but the strides he made with his control have him in line for another big league promotion.
An afterthought as a $1,000 senior sign in the 31st round of the 2010 draft, O'Neill had a spectacular 2012 season. Bouncing back from a knee injury the year before, he led the minors in on-base percentage (.458) and ranked second in hitting (.359), won the Florida State League batting title (.342) and helped Springfield capture the Texas League championship. He also starred in the Arizona Fall League, batting .368/.463/.397. O'Neill relishes his role as a tablesetter, exhibiting a keen sense of the strike zone and unwavering patience. His swing is built for contact at the expense of power, which limits his ceiling. He has just one homer in 683 pro at-bats, which makes it difficult to profile him as a big league regular. Though he has played all three outfield spots and has good defensive instincts, his average speed and fringy arm strength fit best in left field--a position with a premium on pop. O'Neill will try to keep exceeding expectations when he returns to Double-A, where he hit .563 in 13 games last year, and eventually could carve out a big league role as a fourth outfielder and bat off the bench.
Some scouts see it and think it's slow enough to be a curve. Catchers decline to commit and call it a breaking ball. Some coaches term it a slurve. And Butler insists it's a slider. By any name, his breaking ball is effective. He can throw it at different speeds with different breaks, ranging from a Frisbee slider to a downer curve, using it for strikes or as a chase pitch. It's the main reason he has held opponents to a .203 average in four years of pro ball. Signed for $25,000 as a 24th-rounder in 2009, he contributed 25 saves to Springfield's march toward the 2012 Texas League championship. Though unimposing on the mound, Butler has a quick delivery and throws from a low arm angle, a tick above sidearm. His lively fastball arrives at 90-93 mph, his breaking ball runs in the low 80s and his changeup drops into the 70s. There are innings when he'll only throw changeups and variations of his breaking pitch, so hitters often are surprised when he uses his fastball and they take it for strikes. Josh Kinney turned a similar breaking ball into a ticket to the majors, and Butler could do the same after joining the 40-man roster in November.
Before Blair ever had a chance last year to reclaim his spot with the system's other high-round, high-expectations pitchers, he felt a recurring and crippling pain in his right hand. An MRI revealed an enchondroma tumor nestled into the knuckle on his middle finger. The tumor had caused microfractures that radiated out from his knuckle and required surgery that kept him off the mound until late July. The 46th overall selection in 2010, Blair salvaged 20 innings in the regular season and another 20 in the Arizona Fall League. It wasn't the bounceback he imagined but it did halt a downward spiral that began with a total loss of control and a suspension in 2011. The Cardinals were drawn to Blair because of his consistency at Arizona State, a trait that failed him in his pro debut. Rehab gave him a chance to reset. When Blair is right, he works with a 92-94 mph sinker and a curveball that could become a plus pitch. He has some feel for his changeup, giving it a chance to become effective. Blair has fallen behind pitchers drafted after him, but he'll compete for a spot in the Double-A rotation this year and try to regain lost ground.