Youth has been served this season for the Cardinals, as the prophecy of their top ranked minor league system was fulfilled. From near perfect games and no-hitters to home runs and shutdown bullpen efforts, the fortune of the club has been decided in large part by its least experienced components.
While some comings are more heralded than others, many aren’t that difficult to see coming. The depth of the Cardinal system has left even more talents that have a chance to make a breakthrough impact next season. The rules for determining these players is simple: it is not a look at the “top” prospects for the team currently exclusively, but rather players that will be rookie-eligible in 2014, that are within reasonable reach to push through to the Majors next spring.
1. Oscar Taveras: The most obvious choice is perhaps baseball’s best talent to not see the Majors yet. While injuries kept his season from making his debut this season, the 21-year-old outfielder still put forward an exciting .306 mark at the plate. While the roster is packed with both veterans and youngsters alike, Taveras will receive a chance to give the club every reason possible to keep him with the team in some capacity. His talent is such that it has put the status of Carlos Beltran’s future with the team in doubt, who has been an All-Star in both of his St. Louis seasons thus far. While the popular idea is that he can contribute in center field, he is a right fielder all the way in skill set, but has the type of bat that plays wherever room can be made for it…and his glove can be tolerated.
2. Carlos Martinez: Maybe the greatest enigma in the Cardinal pitching picture is Martinez, but not for any questions about his readiness. Rather, it is about where to fit him in the roster as soon as possible. With a starting rotation that could have no less than three completely open spots, and the likes of Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, John Gast, Jaime Garcia, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Tyler Lyons and Kevin Siegrist vying for it, Martinez still could be the best option of that entire group, and that is saying something. Yet, with his plus fastball and developing arsenal, he could easily bring to back of the pen yet another presence like what Rosenthal has done this year.
3. Kolten Wong: Wong hasn’t torn the cover off of the ball in his initial appearance with the Cardinals this year, but then again, neither did Matt Carpenter. But what he has made clear is that he can bring the team speed like it has from no other, as well as an instant improvement defensively. While his exact place is yet to be seen, due to the presence of Carpenter and Freese, Wong should be considered a favorite to not see minors again when camp breaks next spring, one way or another.
4. Greg Garcia: Wong’s college and both Triple and Double A teammate up the middle in Garcia could be the next option in the ongoing auditions at shortstop. After hitting .271 and showing improved range, he could get a chance to figure into the big picture for no other reason than playing the right place at the right time.
5. Stephen Piscotty: Versatility could be his friend, but hitting .295 over his first two professional seasons while playing three different positions is encouraging as well. The 22-year-old was drafted as a third baseman out of Stanford in the first round of 2012 as a compensation pick, but has built up a .362 on-base percentage and learned the ropes as a corner outfielder in a hurry. With the likely move to Memphis coming in 2014, he could be a candidate to be a nice utility option in the model of a 2010 Allen Craig or 2012 Matt Carpenter going ahead.
6. Boone Whiting: One of the most consistent arms in the Cardinal system since joining in 2010 as a 18th round pick, Whiting could be on the verge of seeing his chance to breakthrough. In 21 starts this summer, he posted a 4.09 ERA and struck out 99 in 105 innings. He could emerge as a dark horse candidate to fill into the long-reliever role that plagued the team at times this year, as well as be the Tyler Lyons spot start type.
7. Marco Gonzales: The team’s first round pick this year was on a short leash after a college season that saw him throw over 120 innings, as well as play in the field as well, but next summer could see him fully unleashed. The lefty got better as he moved up this year, posting a 1.62 ERA across four starts after moving up to Palm Beach, striking out 23 in 23 innings. It would be a stretch, but if he rapidly succeeds as expected once put into a rotation next year, the string of fast-rising former college hurlers (Wacha, Maness) could continue for the organization.