Top Seven Baby Birds

At the midway point through September, our brethren of Untied Cardinal Bloggers (UCB) band together to determine who the top seven prospects are in the franchise. A special hat tip goes out to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Derrick asked the UCB to help him compile this list a few years back and it has since become a staple around these parts.

When it comes to my list of prospects, and I admit that I am not a card carrying member of the Hyperventilating Prospect Geek Fraternity (#HPGF), I fear it may read just a little differently than some of the others. If you would like to keep track of everyone weighing in on the subject, simply click here and you will find links to all of these similar articles.

Here is my top seven prospects, listed here in reverse order to build the suspense (it works for Letterman):

Number Seven: Matt Adams, First Base

I think the easiest way a prospect ends up on my countdown is when I can say “I really didn’t see this guy coming a year ago”. I may not be a huge prospect geek, but I do keep tabs on the baby birds and Matt Adams has been impressive.

The Cardinals drafted Adams in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft. Adams came out of Slippery Rock University, a Division II school. He is what Cards announcer Mike Shannon would describe as a “big boy”, standing in at six foot three inches tall and weighing 230 pounds.

The athletic first baseman has shown that his size does not have a large impact on his glove, which raised his stock above that of just a hitter this season. What kind of hitter is he, you ask? In a word…impressive. Adams finished second in the Texas League with 32 home runs and led the league in runs batted in with 101. A .300 batting average to go along with 40 walks and 90 strikeouts projects a pure power hitter in the making. The rest of the world will take notice of Adams for a few reasons: 1 – should Albert Pujols resign, he is a blocked prospect for the team and 2 – he was named Texas League Player of the Year today.

Do not get your hopes up too high, fans, just because he comes in at number seven does not mean that everyone above him is better than the impressive young man at the entry point of this countdown. Adams ranks seventh due to being blocked at the Major League level and my belief that he will help this club more from the player they get in return for him in a trade then he will by reaching the majors with the birds on the bat across his chest.

Number Six: Zach Cox, Third Base

I think I rank Cox lower than most of my fellow UCB members. A lot of this has to do with the position he is still playing despite the fact that no one in baseball, let alone the organization, feels that he can and will be playing that position at the major league level.

Cox was the first round pick of the Cardinals just last season out of Arkansas and, despite his college playing days being at the hot corner, was projected as a major league second baseman from the start. Cox is a small frame guy who tips the scales at 215 pounds and stretches to a six foot even height.

Cox did what he needed to do in 2011: he played average defense, hit for a decent average, found ways to get on base, and kept his head down and learned from the staff at Palm Beach and Springfield. He will need to work on his patience at the plate, however, if he expects to be around at the major league level. He has some pop in his bat, driving 13 home runs out of the park this year to go with 27 doubles, but with 98 strikeouts he either needs to be hitting for a lot more power or learning to draw a few more walks.

Cox comes in at number six due to the fact that he is still playing a position that the team feels he will not contribute at, and he’s not playing it overly well on the defensive side of things. Cox will most likely make his impact felt with another major league team, possibly as early as 2013 as I have to agree with Daniel Shoptaw in the thought that Cox may not wear a Cardinal uniform of any kind by the time Spring rolls around.

Number Five: Kolten Wong, Second Base

Wong is a player in the organization that is playing the position he should be, playing it well, and squeezing fellow prospect Zach Cox out of the picture because of it.

The talented Second Baseman was the first round pick of the organization this season and went right to work at Class A Quad Cities. A prototype figure at middle infield, Wong stands five foot nine inches tall and weighs 190 pounds. At the ripe old age of 20, Wong seems virtually ready to be at the major league level sooner rather than later.

Wong has a few things going for him in his young career: he is a patient hitter, a solid base runner, does not hurt himself in the field, and finds himself playing his natural position for a team that needs someone to step up at that position. By no means do I think Wong will see major league action in 2012, but he will have the Cardinals looking for a bridge type player at second instead of looking for someone long term. The goal of the organization at second base this offseason will be to acquire someone to hold the position down until Wong arrives. In a 47 game sample this season, Wong was able to produce five home runs, 25 runs batted in, 15 doubles and nine stolen bases. All of this while hitting for a .335 batting average and posting a .401 on base percentage. He would strike out 24 times but he would also draw 22 walks, showing patience, a good eye, and an ability to potentially be the catalyst at the top of the Cardinals order that they so desperately desire.

Wong is my first ranking that projects to be a strong part of the organization by staying in the organization. Look for the young man to get some playing time in Spring Training next year and head off to Springfield for some seasoning immediately afterwards. I would anticipate him arriving in Memphis around the midway point of 2012 and in St. Louis as they break camp in 2013.

Number Four: Ryan Jackson, Shortstop

Jackson makes this list as another one of those players that opened my eyes this year without previous knowledge of him coming into 2011. He ranks high on the list due to his position because it has been a while since the Cardinals have developed a shortstop within the organization worth getting excited about.

The tall and lanky Jackson finds himself at six foot three inches tall and an mere 180 pounds, but finds a way to turn that small frame into a combustible element at the plate.

Our friend over at Diamond Diaries, Erika Lynn, might keep a close eye on Jackson as he has been described as “Brendan Ryan with a bat” by many scribes. While Jackson has made his share of errors this season at 19, that number is influenced by the sheer number of balls the young man can get to. His defensive ability has been that of a highlight reel player that you never take your eyes off of for the fear of missing that “Holy Cow” moment. While his defense has been impressive, his stroke at the plate has suddenly pushed him onto the scene. With 34 doubles, 3 triples, 11 home runs and 73 runs batted in, Jackson has become a respected bat at the plate in a potent Springfield (AA) lineup this season. If he can draw a few more walks above this year’s 44 and cut down on the 91 strikeouts a bit, his numbers will improve and St. Louis will find their shortstop of the future.

Jackson is the reason the team is looking at players like Rafael Furcal currently. The franchise has seemingly lost faith in Tyler Greene and will look for a player that can contribute through 2012 in order to get to the arrival of Jackson in 2013. Expect Jackson to open the season at Memphis next year if the organization either promotes or trades Greene. Otherwise, he may remain at Springfield until the team can find an appropriate home for Greene.

Number Three: Carlos Martinez, Pitcher

Projecting minor league pitchers is one of the most tedious processes any scout or pundit can find himself in. Arms come and go, control is erratic and pitchers can seem dominate in one league and less than impressive in another. Martinez seems to have all the stuff to be effective and impressive at the major league level but he has a few levels to go through first.

At six feet tall and only 165 pounds, you would not expect Martinez to be striking fear into opposing hitters very often. With an array of pitches, impressive control, and a keen sense of the game, the Dominican right hander is doing just that, however, and doing it all at 19 years of age.

Martinez signed with the Cardinals last season and went to work in the Dominican league before coming to the United States and playing at Quad Cities and Palm Beach this season. In 11 starts this season, Martinez posted a 5-2 record with a minuscule 2.14 earned run average. Our stat heads will tell you neither of those stats matter much, especially at the minor league level, but there are a few stats that show the maturity of this young man. In 54 2/3 innings pitched this season, Martinez struck out 66 hitters while only walking 17 and allowing only 43 hits. That equates to a 1.098 Walks/Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP), 2.8 walks per nine innings, 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.88 strikeout to walk ratio. Add into all of that the fact that he surrendered just two home runs and you can see that he is both dominant and effective at the lower levels. His array of pitches suggest he will remain a starter, though his style may see him end up as a swing man/reliever early on in his career.

Expect the team to handle Martinez with a little bit of care (see: Rick Ankiel) but push him just a bit. He will see some action in the Spring next season and most likely start his year at Springfield (AA).

Number Two: Shelby Miller, Pitcher

Here is where I break rank from most every other list I have seen. Shelby is the highest ranked prospect in the Cardinal organization by many, but has slid down my list a spot due to recent developments in the youngster’s career.

The six foot three, 195 pound lefty from Texas is truly one of the baby birds at age 20. His fastball clocks mid to high 90’s and has movement. His curveball buckles batters and he relies on his defense when he does not have his best stuff.

Miller’s ability on the field shows that of a mature ball players that knows how to get out of trouble on the mound in multiple ways. His 2011 season opened at Palm Beach but he quickly found his way to Springfield and the AA Cardinals. Dominant would be the best way to describe Miller on the mound, posting 140 strikeouts to 33 walks over 139 2/3 innings pitched shows that he has hitters figured out beyond what any 20 year old should. He limits his damage and is learning to pitch to contact, which will have fans drooling over his arrival in the very near future.

Miller slides to number two for me due to off the field issues this past season. While rumors have circulated that the issues are alcohol related, those rumors have not been officially confirmed by the club despite a suspension of the young man this season for a second offense. A pitcher who shows maturity on the field will need to ensure maturity off of it or he will simply become known as a dominant minor league player. Should he get these issues under control, look for Shelby to see time at Memphis in 2012 and most likely make his major league debut next year as well.

Number One: Adron Chambers, Outfield

Another Junior College product (Pensacola State), Chambers is the player on this list most likely to be in the majors when Spring Training closes next year.

He is five foot ten inches tall and 185 pounds and is a more typical prospect age of 24 years old. His speed on the base paths is something to marvel at and his patience at the plate may be just what the Cardinals need. If the team wants a prototype lead-off hitter for the first time in decades, they need look no further.

Chambers showed some pop this season at Memphis, driving 10 home runs when his previous career high was six. Beyond that, it was more of the same from the young center fielder. Strong defense, a good arm, a good batting eye and flat out speed have led the young man to a September call up for a cup of coffee at the major league level. Chambers set career highs in stolen bases (22), walks (53), slugging percentage (.415), runs (73), home runs(10) and doubles (19). He projects as a lead off hitter and center fielder in an organization that is transitioning in the outfield and the top of the lineup.

Chambers is in a position to control his destiny and take advantage of a situation with a team that needs someone to step into the roles that he can fill. Expect Chambers to get a long look at Spring Training next season and break camp with the club. Chambers will get every chance to be a part of this team for the immediate future.

There you have it, I-70 Baseball’s look at the top seven prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals organziation. Let us know how you think they rank in the comments below.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

Author: Bill Ivie

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