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As if the hesitancy of Taveras' steps rounding second base in May wasn't enough, the slam of his batting helmet as he got to dugout revealed just as much any MRI could. The top hitting prospect developed by the Cardinals since Albert Pujols lost a majority of the 2013 season because of an ankle sprain that three times knocked him off the field and eventually required high-ankle surgery. The lefthanded-hitting Taveras was limited to 173 at-bats and 46 games at Triple-A Memphis, but general manager John Mozeliak became fond of repeating, "When he played, he hit." Taveras always has. Signed for $145,000 from the Dominican Republic in 2008, Taveras has a .320/.377/.518 batting line in five professional seasons. In his first three seasons with a domestic affiliate he won a league MVP, a low Class A Midwest League batting title and three championships at three different levels. He was a comet streaking toward the majors with a scheduled debut in 2013 until his ankle gave out and chronic discomfort slowed his trip around the bases--and his arrival. Taveras has a preternatural gift for hitting, one honed by trying to hit the caps of water jugs spun fast to veer like a Frisbee, and thousands of swings against a tire lashed to a fence. He has electron-quick bat speed. He barrels pitches in the zone, and he can drive any pitch he can reach, sometimes going outside the zone to do so. He's a bad-ball hitter who doesn't strike out often, and whose 57 extra-base hits at Double-A show the power ahead. He displayed his knack during spring training against big league pitchers and had some staff members arguing he was ready to open the season in the majors. The other elements of his game, including attention to detail and constant effort, are catching up to his hitting. Taveras' zest is at the plate, and his game can wander away from it. His best position is right field, where his plus arm and range play, but the Cardinals believe his athleticism is a fit for center. The high-ankle injury cost him valuable experience in center, where he played well at times in 2013 and drifted at other times. Mozeliak said the big question because of the lost time "is where he can play defensively and how confident we are with him in center." Taveras had a turbulent 2013, one buffeted by the injury, fickle changes to his representation, two off-field matters that required returns to the Dominican and other instances that reminded the organization he's young and still adapting. He will have to mature on the job. Taveras would have been on the postseason roster in 2013 and perhaps the starting center fielder if not for injury. He will arrive in spring training with a chance to win a spot on the major league roster, and if he can prove reliable in center, an everyday job awaits him. The Cardinals want his bat in the lineup and believe that given health and given playing time he's a Rookie of the Year candidate and all-star in the making.
A delay in securing a work visa cost Martinez all of 2013 spring training but didn't slow his accelerated arrival to the majors. He leapfrogged from Double-A Springfield to his big league debut, rode the St. Louis-to-Triple-A Memphis shuttle, and by the World Series was the club's eighth-inning flamethrower. Known as Carlos Matias when he originally signed with the Red Sox in 2009, Martinez was suspended a year when his paperwork couldn't be verified. The Cardinals spent a year gathering a 40-page binder, shepherding him through an investigation and to a $1.5 million bonus. The lithe righty draws comparisons with Pedro Martinez for his build. From the small frame, Martinez unleashes an action fastball at 97-101 mph. Of his first 117 pitches in the postseason, 10 were 100 mph or faster and 21 were sinkers at about 96. He abandoned his curveball in 2013 for a hard slider, one that he could throw with the same delivery as his fastball and gave him something in the 80s to offset the power. A former shortstop, Martinez is flamboyant--bordering on frenetic--on the field, eager to field any grounder he can reach, but also has learned to control and repeat his delivery for greater consistency. He won't need a changeup if he remains in the bullpen. Martinez drew a lot of interest from other teams at the trade deadline and will continue to do so. He'll come to big league spring training as a starter, ready to compete for the rotation, but his high-voltage stuff will assure him a late-inning role in the bullpen for 2014.
For a decade, the Cardinals had a carousel at second base, twice converting players--outfielder Skip Schumaker, third baseman Matt Carpenter--to handle the pivot. Wong was drafted to bring an end to the merry-go-round. The first second baseman taken in the first round in 25 years by the Cardinals, Wong signed for $1.3 million in 2011 and advanced rapidly, reaching the majors in 2013 but struggling in his first swing at big league pitching. He earned a spot on the World Series roster for his baserunning and improved feel at second base. Wong uncoils from a compact stance for a balanced, lefty swing that sprays line drives and hints at the high average and gap power that will be his hallmark. Wong made strides as a fielder and base thief at Triple-A Memphis in 2013, two priorities for him. He improved his footwork and instincts to become above-average at second, though his arm is fringy. He picked the brains of Willie McGee and Lou Brock for baserunning advice, and he got sharper at his jumps and reads to go 23-for-24 in steal attempts. Wong comes to spring training with a range of options, ranging from Triple-A to starter at second. His immediate role is tied to the club's decision with Carpenter, who could move to third, creating an opening for Wong at second as soon as this summer or next.
The Cardinals used the two compensation picks they got for Albert Pujols on Michael Wacha and Piscotty, a polished college bat. Piscotty sped to Double-A early in 2013 while shifting from third base to right field, where his skills were a better fit. He responded well to the new position and continued to hit above his level after getting experience. He recovered from a midseason hamstring injury to hit .330 with 18 RBIs in August. Piscotty has a mature feel for the strike zone and profiles as a hitter for average, batting right around .300 at every level. He keeps both hands on the bat and maintains an ability to drive the ball the opposite way. He teases at hitting for more power. His frame and his swing say he will. An official described how he hits mistakes hard, but that 20-homer power may not manifest until he's in the majors. Piscotty's range improved in right field, and he sports the organization's best outfield arm. He will get time during big league spring training before reporting to Triple-A Memphis as the everyday right fielder and middle-of-the-order hitter. Some in the organization believe he'll debut in 2014 as an injury replacement or young bat off the bench.
With the 19th pick in the 2013 draft, the Cardinals followed a familiar formula, taking a college pitcher who had a winning pedigree, athleticism and a plus changeup. That profile fit Michael Wacha in 2012 and Gonzales in 2013. The Gonzaga lefty is the son of Rockies short-season pitching coach Frank Gonzales. Marco checked all the boxes--including the character ones--the Cardinals use for evaluation, and he signed quickly for $1.85 million. With Wacha's promotion, Gonzales has the best changeup in the system. The lefty pitches with purpose, starting with a fastball that hums in the 88-91 mph range with late tail. He's improving two breaking pitches to give him something else to play off the command of his fastball, flashing an average curve with depth. Gonzales has an easy, refined, metronome-like delivery that he can repeat, adding to above-average command of his pitches. Gonzales threw and 106 innings for Gonzaga in 2013, so the Cardinals used him sparingly in his pro debut to manage his workload. He'll have a chance to start 2014 in the rotation at Double-A or higher, and the Cardinals expect him to move rapidly and arrive as a mid-rotation starter.
Cooney first earned attention as a prospect with a strong turn in the Cape Cod League in 2011. That gave way to an erratic junior year and a slip in the draft. After signing for $404,400, he's been the pitcher envisioned on the Cape. The trickle-down effect of injuries at the upper levels forced Cooney to Double-A Springfield earlier than planned in his 2013 full-season debut. Cooney thrived in the challenging Texas League because of a seasoned approach and four accessible pitches. He had 12 quality starts out of 20 and did not miss a scheduled outing. The tall, angular lefty has a fastball that sits at 90-92 mph and has late, natural movement. He has a workable curve in the 75-76 mph range and continues to improve his above-average changeup to go with a burgeoning cutter. A scout described how Cooney adds and subtracts velocity well to upset timing, and he doesn't shy from challenging righthanded or lefthanded hitters with strikes. He is constantly around the zone and was one of the stingiest with walks in the whole organization. The Cardinals like Cooney's pitchability and durability. His consistency and pitch mix puts him in the Triple-A Memphis rotation and near the big league conversation as a potential No. 4 starter less than 24 months after his draft.
A high school standout in New Jersey, Reyes circumnavigated the draft by moving to the Dominican and living there with family until becoming eligible as an amateur free agent. Born and raised in the United States, he received a $950,000 bonus on the international market. Like Carlos Martinez, the last Dominican youth to receive that kind of coin from the Cardinals, Reyes had the athleticism and power arm to attract scouts. Reyes is the raw clay that the Cardinals covet. He has two plus pitches and a third in development, scouts say. He starts with a fastball at 92-95 mph that will consistently hit 97. His frame and long arms project power, and he has a sharp plane to his fastball as it cuts through the strike zone. With a more consistent delivery, he'll have better command and some deception. Reyes has a hard curveball with two-plane break and precocious feel for a changeup, but he's only now learning to "pitch soft," as one scout said. Reyes shined as the top righthander in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, striking out 27 percent of batters faced. The Cardinals will keep him on a deliberate path, advancing to full-season ball at some point in 2014, when he won't turn 20 until August. If the Cardinals are right, he could reach the majors by the end of 2016.
The descriptions of Ramsey continue to trend more toward his character and constitution than his tools and production, but he brought them more in synch with a superb first full pro season. Ramsey's reputation for leadership, charisma and his Christian faith preceded him into pro ball. He was the first Florida State player to wear a "C" on his jersey and was a Rhodes Scholar nominee. Scouts call Ramsey a gamer with great makeup, while others don't see a standout tool. He doesn't have a glaring weakness, however, grading out at least average across the board. Ramsey proved adept in center field with improved instincts, above-average closing speed, smart range and a solid-average arm. He took advantage of Double-A Springfield's comfy home park and hit 15 homers but doesn't project for that kind of power. Rather, he's a gap hitter who will turn singles into doubles thanks to his above-average speed. His strike-zone discipline improved in 2013, but his 108 strikeouts in 347 at-bats at Double-A speak to the adjustments in store. The Cardinals love Ramsey's intangibles and will give him the chance to earn the center field job at Triple-A Memphis, with the majors on deck.
A strong frame, big hands and a huge curveball belie Kaminsky's frame and made him the 28th overall pick in 2013. He turned down a commitment to North Carolina to sign for $1.785 million. He ended his senior season at St. Joseph Regional High with a 0.10 ERA, 126 strikeouts and the chip on his shoulder that comes with being called undersized his entire career. Kaminsky has a lively fastball that touches 94 mph and ranges from 88-92. He has the makings of an above-average changeup, but it's his sharp curve that ranked No. 1 among high schoolers entering the draft and also tops in the Cardinals system. It misses bats. He can get curveball-happy because of its deceptive, downward break, and he'll have to gain confidence in his fastball, said two evaluators. He throws from a consistent high-three-quarters slot that gives him better success against righties. Kaminsky pitched just 22 innings in his pro debut to save his arm. He'll come into 2014 with an innings limit, but the Cardinals will give him a chance to win a spot in the low Class A Peoria rotation.
Grichuk always will be the guy the Angels took one spot ahead of Mike Trout in the 2009 draft, but he started making his own pro legacy in 2013, first with a career-high 22 home runs in his first crack at Double-A, then in the offseason, when he was traded to the Cardinals. St. Louis insisted on Grichuk's inclusion in the trade that brought Peter Bourjos to St. Louis and sent David Freese to Anaheim. Grichuk's calling card has been power since he hit four home runs during the 2004 Little League World Series, and he led the Texas League in extra-base hits (57) in 2013. The biggest key for Grichuk's success was health. He'd missed time in 2010 and 2011 with thumb, wrist and knee injuries, which limited him to just 117 games in those two seasons combined. He has wiry strength and excellent bat speed that helps him catch up to good fastballs, and while he's aggressive, he's made contact at an acceptable rate for a power hitter. Grichuk could use a bit more patience at the plate and more polish defensively, where he's solid and profiles as an average right fielder with a solid-average arm. He runs enough to man an outfield corner but won't steal many bases. Power is Grichuk's game. Triple-A Memphis should be his first assignment as a Cardinal.
The Cardinals pushed the then-18 Kelly to a full-season club to start 2013, an aggressive move that needed a correction when he moved down a peg to short-season State College in June. There, he took off. A second-round pick in 2012, Kelly was the highest-drafted Oregon prep player in 15 years and received the highest bonus ($1.6 million) in his round that year. He has a sturdy frame that has started to add muscle with maturity. He has a calm, quiet approach at the plate with a furious, balanced swing. He gets the barrel to pitches in the zone and does not strike out often for a player with his latent power. As Kelly ages and gains strength, the Cardinals expect the power will come, and the eye for a high on-base percentage should remain. At third base, Kelly's best tool is his arm. He moves forward well and handles routine grounders, but his range is limited, which prompted the Cardinals to try a conversion to catcher during instructional league. Kelly will report to spring training to gain more experience behind the plate. In limited game exposure, he appeared comfortable and agile enough for the position. If his bat develops and his move behind the plate takes, he could grow into a top-ranked prospect.
Back from a season-stealing shoulder that wiped out his 2012, the lefthanded-hitting Tilson surged at low Class A Peoria in 2013, batting .303/.349/.388 in 100 games after a slow start. During extended spring training 2012, Tilson attempted to make a diving catch and tore the labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder. Surgery followed. What was supposed to be his first full pro season was spent recovering. In 2013, Tilson played every day, showed durability and shook any rust off his swing. The Chicagoland high school star first caught teams' attention with a sublime showing at the 2010 Area Code Games. The Cardinals signed him for $1.275 million after making him a second-round pick in 2011. The question that followed him into the pros was whether the Area Code jubilee was his peak or a peek. Given health, Tilson proved it was the latter. He improved his plate discipline and was able to use his speed to raise his average. He runs from home to first base in 4.1 seconds, and using that plus speed to conjure extra bases will be necessary unless power develops beyond 20 extra-base hits in 410 at-bats he showed in 2013. Tilson will receive priority playing time in center field, where's he's a plus defender, with a likely assignment to high Class A Palm Beach in 2014.
One of three third basemen the Cardinals took early in the 2012 draft, Wisdom is the fielder who has remained at the position--and the one with the skills necessary to advance at the position. Taken 52th overall, Wisdom was bookended by Stephen Piscotty and Carson Kelly, both of whom have gravitated toward other positions and into the organization's top 11. Wisdom is the best fielder of the trio, with a strong, true arm that earns 70 grades and exceptional instincts at the position. His above-average range is predicated on a swift first step. One official called him the best defensive prospect the Cardinals have had at third base in at least a decade. Wisdom compiled a .925 OPS in the wood-bat Alaska League during college, but his junior-year slump allowed the Cardinals to nab him for a $678,790 bonus. His success with a wood bat revealed a swing and future pop that will translate to the pros. Wisdom hit 13 homers in low Class A Peoria but had hiccups because he struck out 114 times, chewing into his productivity. He undermines his swing when he tries to pull for power. But he has the ingredients of hitters before him who have thrived at Double-A Springfield once he harnesses the ability to drive the ball the ball to right field. A profile third baseman if he hits, Wisdom is slated to report to high Class A Palm Beach in 2014.
A Western Athletic Conference first-team selection at shortstop, Garcia came to the Cardinals with a solid defensive reputation--including a strong arm and good feet--at several positions and an on-base-centric approach at the plate that needed refining. He broke out in 2012, leading the organization with 80 walks, seizing the shortstop job, batting .284/.408/.420 and teaming with former Hawaii teammate Kolten Wong to boost Double-A Springfield to the Texas League title in 2012. The Cardinals have had a carousel at shortstop--in 2014, Jhonny Peralta figures to be the eighth different Opening Day shortstop in eight years--and Garcia's performance at Double-A brought him to spring training where, amidst the scramble, he asserted himself. "He opened a lot of eyes," an official said. But after earning a starting job at Triple-A Memphis, he hit just .235 in the first half. He had to hit his way back into the conversation and onto the 40-man roster with a brilliant finish, hitting .368/.471/.529 in August and pushing past Ryan Jackson on the organizational depth chart. Garcia is a lefty hitter at shortstop who, during Peralta's contract, could emerge as a versatile complement as soon as 2014. He has an average arm some scouts see as better suited for second baes, and he maximizes his average speed, which augments his utility profile.
As he waited with friends through the third day of the 2012 draft, Petrick passed the time surfing the Internet and trying to avoid a creeping dread. When the name of the 1,238th selection was announced, it was official. Not one of the names was his. Less than 18 months later, Petrick learned he was the Cardinals' minor league pitcher of the year. Signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Northwestern Ohio in 2012, he zoomed through three levels in 2013 with mature command of three pitches and enough velocity to excel. The angular righty with an easy, repeatable delivery touched 91 mph in college. A move to relief untapped some additional speed--up to 94 mph--and he maintained it with a move back to the rotation. Petrick's sinking fastball sets up his slider and an above-average changeup. His command, based on reliable mechanics, is keen. He had more strikeouts (122) in 113 innings in 2013 than hits and walks combined (116). Petrick might receive an invitation to major league camp and exposure to the coaches there before returning to his audition for the Triple-A Memphis rotation.
A fourth outfielder in the making, O'Neill is an on-base monster who has mastered the crafty art of working a walk. He led the minors with a .458 OBP in 2012, led the minors with a 2.4 BB/SO ratio in 2013 and sports a career OBP of .435 through four seasons. He hit .320 at Double-A Springfield in 2013 to finish second in the Texas League in batting. In a 32-game exposure to Triple-A Memphis, O'Neill continued to have a better feel for the strike zone than anyone other than the umpire, walking his way to a .402 OBP. Signed for $1,000 as a 31st-round senior pick in 2010, O'Neill embraces the role of table-setter and is eager to test his eye at the big league level. He has built a lefthanded swing for contact and average, not for power. That lack of pop makes him a tough fit for an everyday role. But sharp, fundamental instincts in the field, average speed and a fringy arm have allowed him to play all three spots in the outfield. Scouts laud his energy but acknowledge his unique profile. O'Neill earned a spot on the 40-man roster in the offseason and has positioned himself for a chance to be an extra outfielder when the Cardinals inevitably call on the minors for depth.
What set up to be the season the hyper-athletic Jenkins would affirm his prospect status became corrupted by an injury that had slowed him for several years. Jenkins surrendered to shoulder surgery in August 2013 to patch the latissimus muscle in his right (throwing) shoulder. The Cardinals expect recovery from the injury to take at least six months, but the result of the repair and the rehab should be an end to the shoulder discomfort that nagged at the talented righty. Jenkins has been limited to less than 85 innings in each of his first three full pro seasons, and each of the past two seasons have ended with a shoulder injury. The abbreviated seasons have given a staccato feel to his development since signing for $1.3 million with the Cardinals in 2010 and leaving behind a football scholarship to Baylor. The soreness in his shoulder could be a reason for inconsistent mechanics that hampered his control. When healthy, Jenkins showed a 93-96 mph fastball and can touch higher registers. His curveball has improved with more velocity, and he had gained movement on his fastball. The Cardinals knew they would have to be patient with Jenkins. He has the frame, power, and raw athleticism of a top-shelf starting pitcher. Once he finally has health, he may connect it all at high Class A Palm Beach.
The electric athleticism that first drew Cardinals scouts to Peoples-Walls when he was a Los Angeles-area youth started to translate into production with Rookie-level Johnson City in 2013. One of the Appalachian League's top athletes, Peoples-Walls finished in the top 10 in average (.300), slugging (.468) and OPS (.820). The righthanded hitter connects with authority but had some stretches where his swing lengthened and his strikeout rate soared. He has worked to achieve better balance, a more level swing and to do so without limiting any power potential. Peoples-Walls doesn't project to hit many home runs but should have solid gap power. He played shortstop through the season until a change during instructional league, when the Cardinals shifted him to center field. His arm plays there, and given experience his strides and speed should excel at the free-range position. He'll have to prove his offensive upswing will continue at a rate that meets the higher demands of the new position. He'll vie in the spring for a chance to play center field for a full-season club.
Less than a decade after his family left Colombia to move to the U.S., Mercado had established himself as the finest-fielding high school shortstop available in the draft. Six years after moving from his homeland at 8, he had become the starter at Tampa's Gaither High. He was considered one of the few surefire shortstops in the 2013 draft class, one with the defensive agility and plus arm strength to remain at the position while the Cardinals work on the bat. Mercado hit .370 as a junior at Gaither but struggled in his senior year as draft hype took hold. He had a .286 average with just five extra-base hits all season. His commitment to Florida State further clouded his signability. The Cardinals went above slot ($1.5 million) based on their need for the position and his potential. A disconnect exists between Mercado's results and his approach. He has a sound righthanded swing, level control of the bat, and the backspin for gap power. However, he hit just .209 in an extended look in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He is an average runner, but his astute baseball savvy makes him a standout baserunner who stole 12 bases in his debut. Mercado is a project for extended spring training who could play his way to a full-season appearance at some point in 2014.
The Cardinals' search for a shortstop extended far beyond the major league level. They traded two big leaguers in 12 months for shortstops, drafted six shortstops in the first 20 picks of the 2013 draft and went the trade route. Herrera made the best first impression among the imports. Acquired from the Indians at the 2013 trade deadline in exchange for lefty Marc Rzepczynski, Herrera had been overshadowed in the Cleveland system but blossomed with a quick promotion from the Cardinals. He has a career .370 on-base percentage and had flashes of reliable offense at low Class A Peoria. He doesn't hit for power and will have to continue to find ways to get on base, and his swing can get big, but he has shown some bat speed and feel for the barrel. A scout called Herrera one of the best pure shortstop prospects in the short-season New York-Penn League, citing sure hands and body control, and the Cardinals believe his footwork, arm strength and feel for fielding are a good fit for the position. Upon joining the organization, he immediately challenged for the title of top fielding prospect at shortstop. Herrera has a chance to jump to high Class A Palm Beach for 2014.
Part of the parade of rookies who made their debuts in 2013 with the Cardinals, Butler showed in the majors what he has in the minors: stinginess with hits coupled with a need for better command to be successful. Another one of the Cardinals' late-round, small-college picks to reach the majors, Butler has a breaking ball that some call a slider, others say is a curve and sometimes acts as a slurve. He can throw it at different paces, from a Frisbee pitch with horizontal break to a harder-biting variety. In 20 big league innings, Butler averaged 74 mph on his curve, featured an improved changeup, and still sat at 91 mph with a lively fastball. In five pro seasons, opponents are hitting .201 against him, but his walk rate (3.6 per nine innings in the minors) remains too high for more than a set-up role. Butler is not an imposing figure on the mound, but he has a quick, snappy delivery and delivers the ball from a low angle that can confound. He's positioned to compete for a spot in a crowded major league bullpen, but will likely open as a depth option assigned to Triple-A Memphis.
Stoppelman earned an invite to big league camp in 2013 and put boosted his prospect status with a strong spring. Stoppelman had the frame and handedness of another spring sensation, major league-bound Kevin Siegrist. Stoppelman doesn't have Siegrist's velocity--he's more in the low 90s, not the upper 90s--but works with a sharp breaking ball that lefties have difficulty reading and a funky delivery that adds to its deception. In his first full pro season, the 2012 24th-round pick advanced through three levels, finishing at Triple-A Memphis. In an August split between Double-A Springfield and Memphis, Stoppelman limited batters to a .140 average and logged 21 strikeouts in 14 innings. He fits the mold of the Cardinals' other late-round, small-college picks, having gone 8-0, 1.25 with 75 strikeouts and nine walks in 65 innings as a senior at Division II Central Missouri in 2012. That control has translated to relief success and a meteoric rise that will put him in the Triple-A bullpen in 2014 and on the cusp of being the first lefty promoted when needed.
A collection of desirable tools, Pham hasn't had any trouble sending off sparks of potential every time he's on the field. It's just getting on the field that has been difficult. He has the arm and range for center field, the speed to steal bases and occasional bursts of hitting ability. The skill he hasn't shown is health. In his pro career, Pham has missed time with a wrist injury, several shoulder maladies and the eye disorder keratoconus that requires him to wear special contacts to correct his vision. He had shoulder surgery to end his 2013 season just as he surged toward September callup consideration. Originally a shortstop with an untamed arm, Pham has found center to be a better fit for his live-wire athleticism. He finally earned a promotion to Triple-A Memphis in 2013 with a .301/.388/.521 turn at Double-A Springfield, his fourth season there, and he clobbered lefties for a .328/.392/.522 line. He avoided free agency by signing a two-year deal with the Cardinals for 2013 and 2014. Injuries have kept him in the organization even though he has been exposed to the Rule 5 draft. But injuries have also kept him from securing his place in the Triple-A outfield, until now.
The speedy McElroy began the 2013 season working on switch-hitting to better feature his biggest asset, but five games into his low Class A debut, McElroy injured his foot. He spent most of the next two months trying to regain health, and he had to go to instructional league in order to make up for lost at-bats. The injury interrupted what was poised to be the breakout year for McElroy. The son of former big league reliever Chuck McElroy and nephew to all-star Cecil Cooper, C.J. was two years removed from dodging a football career at the University of Houston for a $510,000 bonus to play baseball. "It's in my blood," he said. He reached the pros with 80-grade speed on the 20-80 scale. The idea to have him switch-hit was intended to get him one stride closer to first base from the left side. He had to abandon the experiment early in 2013, though the Cardinals hope he revisits it. With little power, McElroy has to focus on walks, gap power and baserunning. He's got the goods to be a basestealer and has improved his instincts. Back up to speed this spring, McElroy will compete for a starting center field job at high Class A Palm Beach.
On the first day they could sign international amateur free agents in 2012, the Cardinals announced a pact with a 16-year-old Sosa. He received a $425,000 bonus, the largest for a Panamanian that year, and he was described as the best true shortstop available in his age bracket. In his 2013 pro debut, Sosa didn't disappoint. He led all Dominican Summer League shortstops with an .846 OPS. On raw ability, he hit beyond the level. Sosa has a frenetic style of fielding that is part athleticism, part improvisation. His fringe arm strength has some evaluators believing he's a better fit for second base, but he's too young to pigeonhole before he gains strength with age. Sosa is in the larval stage as a prospect and that comes with all the caveats of youth. He fits behind Oscar Mercado on the depth chart but shares a lot of the same traits. The sign of his place in the organization wasn't just his numbers but the Cardinals' reaction. They invited Sosa to instructional league to get a head start on the domestic assignment that could be a revealing test in 2014.
The steady, innings-eating Whiting is a pitcher out of his time. Less than a decade ago, before teams favored power to the exclusion of pitchability, the righthander would have ranked among the best in the Cardinals organization. Whiting made 27 starts in 2013, logged a team-high 21 at Triple-A Memphis, and averaged five innings per start. He had nine quality starts, seven at Triple-A. The workload helped answer questions of shoulder durability. Whiting pitches taller than his 6-foot-1 height and creates deception with a high arm slot. He's a detail-oriented pitcher, maximizing his ability and command with precise delivery. Whiting throws a fringe-average fastball that sits between 89-91 mph, and he builds off a quality sinker and a solid changeup. He's able to exploit the mix against both lefties and righties and for telling swings and misses. He misses bats despite fringy stuff and continues to average more than four strikeouts for every walk thanks to solid command. The Cardinals left Whiting unprotected in the Rule 5 draft despite four open spots on the 40-man roster, and he's ticketed to return to the Triple-A rotation.
When the Cardinals needed a starter because of an injury, it wasn't Michael Wacha who got the first call or even Carlos Martinez or Tyler Lyons. Crafty lefty Gast did. The Florida State alum had a 1.16 ERA and 35 strikeouts in his first 39 innings (seven starts) at Triple-A Memphis, and he brought that changeup-based success with him to the majors. He also brought his tricky shoulder. Gast got through two games without incident, both wins, and then couldn't throw a second inning in his third start because of shoulder soreness he didn't tell the team about. The shoulder troubles that put him on the disabled list in 2012 also ended his 2013, and they could erase his 2014. Gast had surgery in July to have a muscle in his left shoulder reattached after it had torn loose. Understandably, his recovery could take a full year. At his best, Gast has a deceptive, slinging delivery that contributes to the organization's best pickoff and improves his stuff. He further challenges hitters with changes in speeds, averaging 10 mph difference between his 88-91 mph sinking fastball and changeup, and another 6-10 mph on his work-in-progress curve. He'll spend most of 2014 rehabbing.
Though the Cardinals' attempt to push him up a level early may have contributed to a sink in offense, Bean remained the organization's top defensive catcher, a complete-package prospect behind the plate. St. Louis selected Bean 66th overall in 2012 and lured him away from a committee to Texas with a $700,000 bonus. He hit .125/.263/.213 when pressed to Rookie-level Johnson City for a debut, so while he didn't hit great in his return, he did improve, taming some of the movement at the plate to help steady his lefthanded swing. He projects for more power as he gains strength with age. Bean's arm grades as a 65 on the 20-80 scale, and he has above-average accuracy on his throws and a quick transfer after receiving the pitch. He's thrown out 41 percent of basestealers at Johnson City in two seasons. He plays with more athleticism and energy than most catchers, and has merged his nimbleness with fundamentals. He'll get some tutelage in spring training and is earmarked for another push, his full-season debut at low Class A Peoria in 2014. He's talented enough behind the plate to advance while he works at becoming more potent at the plate.
The Conference USA Player of the Year in 2012, Wilson had the trappings for college hitters the Cardinals like: His offensive production satisfied the analytics, his approach assured the scouts, and his athleticism said that because he could hit they'd eventually find him a position. Like Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter--also seniors when drafted--Wilson entered pro ball with little leverage and less fanfare, signing for $125,00. His breakout came in 2013. Showing plus power for his position with 18 homers and 47 extra-base hits at two levels, Wilson has a swing for damage while controlling the strike zone. A college third baseman, Wilson took his arm strength and below-average speed and relocated to second base, where his footwork and range could improve to average with work. His bat earned him an invite to the Arizona Fall League, where he worked at second and in spot duty hit (.304/.373/.413). He should reach Double-A in 2014, which will test his bat.
Throughout his minor league career, Scruggs has provided a commodity that is always in high demand: big-time power. He slugged 29 home runs at Double-A Springfield in 2013--a total last seen there from Matt Adams and Colby Rasmus, though both hit lefthanded. Scruggs did his damage at age 25, and the Cardinals opted to go with journeyman Brock Peterson at first base in Triple-A Memphis rather than promote Scruggs. The gregarious "X-Man" has hit at least 20 home runs in three consecutive seasons. He has the high strikeout rates to go with the power and a three-true-outcome approach: 52.6 percent of his plate appearances end with a walk, a strikeout or a homer. His increased selectivity in 2013 (a career-high 81 walks) helped lessen the swings of his signature streakiness. He has that strong base and uppercut swing that launches mistakes. The Cardinals have thrice left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, and he's due to test his power at Triple-A in 2014.
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