Posted on 20 December 2011.
Over the past month or so, a lot of focus has been given to the minor league system and what players the Cardinals may have for the future. While the list of prospects and future major league contributors has grown, there has been the consistent focus that Shelby Miller is not just the “cream of the crop” but he is as can’t miss as anyone we have seen.
That scares me.
The Cardinals do not have a great track record with “can’t miss” prospects. This is not to say that the team cannot grow players from the farm system. Quite the contrary, players like Jaime Garcia, Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene and many more have made their way through the system and into roles on the big league club. Okay, Tyler Greene was stretching a bit, but you get my point.
Here’s a look at some of the players that have come through the farm system for the Cardinals:
I will start off with my “exception to the rule”. Wainwright was a key part of the Atlanta Braves system and the key component to the trade that sent J.D. Drew off to Atlanta. The prized piece of the trade for the Redbirds was to obtain Wainwright and get him working through the minor leagues as quickly as possible. He was, in fact, hit with the “can’t miss” label and in this instance, it was spot on. Wainwright has gone on to become the ace of the staff for the Cardinals and proved that sometimes, “can’t miss” is spot on.
Speaking of Mr. Drew, he makes our list next. A highly touted draft pick that the team picked up after he refused to sign with Philadelphia the year before, Drew was signed to a contract that put the team in a position to have him at the big league level immediately. Drew floundered a bit before finding his footing but found that the footing was a dangerous slope that kept him on the disabled list a lot more than expected. He has gone on to be a contributor with a few franchises, but I’m not sure he has become the star player we were all told he would be.
It may be possible to list Ricky on this list twice, in all actuality. Rick was the “can’t miss” pitcher of the 90’s that came in and dominated hitters with his fastball and sweeping curve. Of course, when you put a lot of pressure on a young hurler, sometimes it can backfire. The implosion of Rick Ankiel on the mound made it hard to accept that he failed, but his reinvention as a power hitting, left handed center fielder brought him quickly back to the forefront of everyone’s mind. This time as a “can’t miss” outfielder, Ankiel proved the old Spiderman mantra – “With great power comes great responsibility”. In this case, responsibility would be to the strike zone and Rick seemed to have very little respect for it, chasing anything and everything that a pitcher let loose.
The backstop for the Cardinals since 2004 might be laced in gold, but his arrival to St. Louis was not an expected surge. Molina came onto the scene as the heir apparent to the Mike Matheny catching throne, but was surrounded with stigmas of being a defensive catcher and a liability at the plate. His manager stood by him and today Molina has proven that he belongs both at the plate and behind it, but he makes this discussion simply because he was not labeled as “can’t miss” and was more of a surprise than an expectation.
The guy no one wants to read about right now was a home grown talent himself. However, a late round draft pick from a junior college did not label him as the next great thing early on. An injury to left fielder Bobby Bonilla forced Tony LaRussa to let a young Pujols onto the roster, despite Tony’s desire to have him play another season at Memphis first. Albert is the exact opposite of the discussion here, a prospect that came through the organization, but not one that everyone was talking about before he arrived.
The Most Valuable Player for both the National League Championship Series and the World Series, Freese is home grown and made his way through the minor leagues before arriving in St. Louis and taking over the hot corner. That being said, Freese was a cast off player from the San Diego Padres that was the proverbial “bag of balls” the team received when dealing Jim Edmonds. Even then, he was expected to be surpassed by Brett Wallace on his way to the majors and had many grumbling when he arrived at the big league level that he was a “stop gap” player at best.
The five-tool player that was one of the biggest prospects to come through the organization in a long time, Colby Rasmus never materialized into the player the team thought he would be. In addition, through his time in St. Louis prior to the trade that would banish him from St. Louis, the National League, and even the country, Rasmus began to prove that his tools might have well been overstated as well.
Greene was the Cardinals’ first round draft pick in 2005 and was the player coming through the minors that would put an end to the revolving door at shortstop, giving the team a legitimate, long term answer to the middle infield conundrum. As he continued to produce through the minor league system, the team continued to project him being a bit part of the major league answer. When given the chance to grab that brass ring, however, Greene has provided fodder for many writers questioning his place in the major leagues. The “can’t miss” shortstop has become such a minimal part of the Cardinals’ future that they have signed Rafael Furcal to a two year contract to hold down the position while they wait to see what is happening with some of the younger guys.
Do you remember “The Walrus”? There was one thing we were promised about the big guy, he would hit. At every level the team placed him, he did just that. His defense, however, never improved and before you knew it he was blocked by the sudden surge of David Freese and was on his way out of St. Louis in order to acquire Matt Holliday. The addition of Holliday makes the Wallace situation a win for the Cardinals, but Wallace himself has struggled to find his footing. On the back end of two more trades, he now plays for the Houston Astros and the team is trying to determine if he deserves a shot to prove that he will be in their future, as a first baseman.
The jury is still out on Jaime, trying to determine if he can find the magic he uses in April and May and spread it out over the course of the season in the near future. Another late round draft pick that has succeeded at every level in the minor leagues before arriving in St. Louis, Garcia is proving once again that sometimes it is the guys behind the “can’t miss” prospect that truly produce at the major league level. Garcia has been projected to have “ace type stuff”, but it was not until he was in the big leagues that we started hearing about it.
There are many players in the minor league system that may have a big impact on the big league club. There are a few that were with the big club last season that have the opportunity to contribute on a much larger scale. The track record for the Cardinals with “can’t miss” prospects suggests that Shelby Miller may not be the player that everyone should focus on going forward. It may be that guys like Matt Adams, Tony Cruz, Ryan Jackson, and even Daniel Descalso deserve some of that attention.
Shelby is a talented pitcher with a bright future. Due to recent history, however, that scares me.
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.
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