How About That Farm System Now?

The St. Louis Cardinals called up Matt Carpenter and Mark Hamilton before Friday night’s tilt against the Chicago Cubs. That pushes the number of Minor League call-ups to four this week alone. The active 25-man roster now contains 16 players who were drafted/signed and developed by the Cardinals, and a couple others (Mitchell Boggs, Kyle McClellan) figure to be back in short order. And the Cards remain in first place, having just lost their first series since mid-April.

The bad news, of course, is that this influx is partially necessary because of injuries to key players like Adam Wainwright before the season started and Nick Punto, Matt Holliday, Gerald Laird, and David Freese currently. But those four will return at some point this season, and the experience their Baby Bird replacements gain now will only serve them and the franchise well.

The knock on the Cards’ farm system has always been that aside from guys like Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Colby Rasmus, the Minor League ranks lacked true star-producing power. Recently, players like Brett Wallace and Chris Perez had to be moved elsewhere—sometimes, as in the case of Wallace, multiple times—before they could make the leap to Major League success. And there are some high-ceiling bright spots in the system now; Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Zack Cox come to mind. But everyone else projected as a role player, or a back-of-the-rotation/bullpen pitcher.

Surprisingly enough, those were exactly the types of players the Cardinals have needed in 2011. It never seemed right that baseball people would rank the Cards’ farm system in the lower third of Major League Baseball, but then the Memphis Redbirds would win their league championship. Something didn’t add up. And now it seems the answer is clear: even though the Cardinals’ Minor Leaguers lacked star power and name recognition, they still have Major League skills and know how to win as a team.

Obviously not every call-up this season has been crazy good, and it’s probably unrealistic to expect Allen Craig to continue to hit around .350 with a .970-ish OPS for four more months. But this team, as a whole, continues to battle adversity while numerous veteran stars are on the DL and a couple more (Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Ryan Franklin) continue to search for their groove more than two months into the season.

And perhaps some of the success of these players can be attributed to the environment. They have been thrust into a situation of being on a Major League team in first place in the division with a couple of teams in hot pursuit. Not exactly getting called up to the Baltimore Orioles in September, is it? That’s not to say prospects affiliated with bad teams dog it when they get the call-up. But coming into a situation where they are playing for a team in contention certainly ratchets up the stakes a bit.

As summer weather bears down on Cardinal Nation, the baseball mentality will heat up in parallel. It will be interesting to see what, if any, moves the front office makes as the trade deadline approaches. Because it goes without saying this Cardinals team has needs, and the blockbuster trade always captivates the fan base. But no one should be ashamed of this franchise’s minor league depth. What they lack in star power and name recognition, they make up for with the ability to win. And that bodes well for the St. Louis Cardinals both now and in the future.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he wants. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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