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The Top Seven Cardinal Coming Attractions

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.

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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.

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Triple Play: Postseason predictions edition

In this week’s edition of the Triple Play, I take a look back at how well (poorly?) I fared with my second-half predictions, plus I make some postseason predictions (because why not?), and more, including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. Without further ado:

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Second-half predictions, revisited

AL MVP – Who I predicted: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit. At the All-Star break, he was having an even better season than his Triple Crown MVP 2012 season. He still is, although he has fallen off drastically this month. Two months ago, I wrote that Chris Davis was Cabrera’s primary competition. Davis still leads the American League in home runs and total bases, but he, too, has slowed down his unbelievable production as the season winds down. The third player I noted has not only ramped up his play, but he has carried his team all season as the big-money free agents and pitching staff crumbles around him. That player is Mike Trout. In my mind, he is the front-runner to win the AL MVP. But, just as last year, it will not be an injustice of Cabrera wins again.

NL MVP – Who I predicted: Yadier Molina, St. Louis. Buster Posey is an outstanding player, but I stand by my statement earlier this season that Molina is the best catcher in baseball. His balky knee (and the usual wear and tear of an everyday catcher’s workload) has led to a slowdown at the plate, but Molina’s value to the Cardinals remains undeniable. However, as Andrew McCutchen leads Pittsburgh almost certainly to its first postseason appearance in 21 years, I believe he will win the MVP award over Molina and Paul Goldschmidt.

AL Cy Young – Who I predicted: Yu Darvish, Texas. I still think he is the best starter in the AL this season, but there’s one number that will likely work against him in the voting. The number 20 – as in the number of wins for Detroit’s Max Scherzer. While Crazy Brian Kenny will stamp his feet and yammer incessantly about the win statistic, the fact remains that Scherzer has been consistently great this season. The award will go to him. Deal with it, Brian.

NL Cy Young – Who I predicted: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles. Didn’t exactly go out on a limb here, but why would I? This was spot on. The best pitcher in baseball.

AL Rookie of the Year – Who I predicted: Jose Iglesias, Boston. I’m calling this one a win, even if Iglesias was traded to Detroit eight days after I made this prediction. If anything, it’s a slam-dunk case now. Iglesias was acquired to replace Jhonny Peralta, who was suspended as part of the Biogenesis matter. He did far more than that; he made Peralta obsolete. Wil Myers should get some votes too, but Iglesias was thrown into a tough situation and flourished.

NL Rookie of the Year – Who I predicted: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles. Puig might have been the one who really kick-started the Dodgers’ turnaround, but Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke and Kershaw have been the true anchors of the team. That said, Puig deserves serious consideration for the award. I’m not one of the cranks who thinks Puig should be banished to the bench because of the occasional baserunning blunder or overthrow. However, Miami’s Jose Fernandez should win this award in a landslide. He is the most electric 20-year-old to take a major-league mound since Dwight Gooden.

American League division winners – Who I predicted: Boston, Detroit, Texas. Two out of three ain’t bad.

AL Wild Cards – Who I predicted: Tampa Bay, Oakland. This one is still too close to call. I think the Rays will hold on, but the Rangers are clearly running out of gas down the stretch here. Cleveland is going to hang on and grab the second wild-card spot. And if the Indians win that game, they could give Boston some trouble in the division series.

National League division winners – Who I predicted: Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles. Again, two out of three, with potential for a clean sweep. The Cardinals just have to hang on while the Reds and Pirates beat each other up over the season’s final week.

NL Wild Cards – Who I predicted: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati. Lookin’ pretty good here too.

Postseason predictions

Wild Card games – Pittsburgh over Cincinnati, Cleveland over Tampa Bay.

ALDS – Boston over Cleveland in four, Detroit over Oakland in five

NLDS – Los Angeles over Pittsburgh in five, St. Louis over Atlanta in four

ALCS – Detroit over Boston in seven (MVP – Miguel Cabrera), Los Angeles over St. Louis in seven (MVP – Hanley Ramirez)

World Series – Los Angeles over Detroit in seven (MVP – Clayton Kershaw)

Random Thoughts

  • Not that it did the Texas Rangers any good, but I was correct in predicting that they would acquire Matt Garza.
  • Turns out they would have been better off with Jake Peavy.
  • Predictions on which I completely whiffed: Francisco Rodriguez-to-the-Tigers and Alex Rios/Alexei Ramirez-to-the-Pirates.
  • The Orioles have been satisfied with K-Rod in their bullpen though.
  • Pittsburgh went two different directions, acquiring Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. You could quibble that they need a shortstop, but you can’t argue with the results of what the Pirates have done this season.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. Last Wednesday, in Denver, Wainwright was a regular one-man gang. In addition to tossing 7 2/3 innings of three-hit ball, he went 3-for-3 at the plate with a double and two RBI. For the season, Wainwright is 17-9 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.081 WHIP, 209 strikeouts and just 34 walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 6.15, good for 2nd in the National League (Matt Harvey is juuuuust ahead of Wainwright at 6.16). Wainwright will next start against the Washington Nationals, where he will have perhaps his last chance to pass Harvey’s mark.
  • Not only have the Athletics blown past Texas, but they are only two games behind Boston for best record in the AL. It’s time to stop thinking of Oakland as baseball’s Island of Misfit Toys.
  • Their stadium (and the plumbing), on the other hand…..YIKES.
  • Something for future Indians opponents to consider: with their 9-2 steamrolling of the hapless Astros yesterday, Cleveland became the first team in 52 years to sweep a four-game series six times in the same season.
  • The last team to do that? The New York Yankees, who won the World Series.
  • Incidentally, the Indians are 16 games above .500 for the first time in six years (when they reached the ALCS).
  • Where they blew a 3-1 lead to Boston, which was managed by their current manager, Terry Francona.
  • Little coincidences like are part of what make baseball so much fun, if you ask me.
  • I’d also love to see Cleveland get a little payback, but I digress.
  • There’s always a worse-case scenario: after watching that bee delay in the Mariners-Angels game, I vow not to grumble the next time I get rained on at a baseball game.
  • Sure was nice of former Royals closer Joakim Soria to groove that fastball that Justin Maxwell crushed for a game-winning grand slam to give Kansas City a 4-0 win over imploding Texas.
  • Watching the Rangers this month, I wonder if their window is closing or if this is a nasty pothole in the road.
  • Then I looked at the standings again and realized that Texas is only a game out of the wild-card race.
  • Baltimore is about done, though. Just not enough pitching. Manny Machado can’t do EVERYTHING.
  • Jeff Locke has had an unexpectedly good season for Pittsburgh, but he is absolutely killing them right now. The Pirates cannot afford to start him again this season if they want to win the NL Central or even host the wild-card game.
  • Given the dearth of steals in fantasy baseball these days, Billy Hamilton might be worth a first or second round pick next year.
  • Why did the Reds wait so long to call him up?
  • News: Scott Boras wants the first two games of the World Series played at a neutral site. Views: Scott Boras is an idiot.
  • How do you know it’s been a bad year for the Cubs? When a former player gets hired as manager of the Phillies.
  • How do you know it’s been a bad year for Marlins baseball? When one of their wins clinches a postseason berth for two other teams.
  • Watching Andy Pettitte pitch yesterday (seven innings, two hits, two runs, six strikeouts), I wonder how many general managers thought to themselves, “we sure could use a good lefty like that?”
  • It’s truly unfortunate that the Yankees couldn’t muster more than one run against those tomato cans the Giants sent out there yesterday. Enter Sandman would have been much more enjoyable to hear if Mariano Rivera had been entering a save situation.
  • Finally, farewell to the great Rivera. Of all the things that have been said or written about him in his career, I think this stands above all: he will be the final major leaguer to wear the number 42 and there is no one for whom that is more suitable.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Moustakas and Hosmer giving hope to Kansas City Royals’ nation

Mike Moustakas blasted a walk-off homer in the 13th inning to give the Kansas City Royals a 7-6 win over the Mariners on Thursday. In the same game, Eric Hosmer had two hits, bringing his season average up to .300. The standout performance by the duo was more of the same in a post All-Star break campaign that has been marked by a vast improvement for the sluggers.

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While a playoff spot this season is improbable for the Royals, a strong second half by Moustakas and Hosmer should have Royals fans feeling good about the future.

The start of the season was rough for the two young cornerstones for Kansas City. In 80 games before the All-Star break, Moustakas floundered to a slash line of .215/.271/.327, with six home runs and an embarrassing 17 RBI.

In just 36 second half games, the talented third-baseman is hitting .287/.333/.465 and the power has come around to the tune of five home runs and 19 RBI.

Hosmer didn’t even hit a home run until May 9 and in 344 first half at-bats only notched nine long-balls.

In just 193 at-bats after the All-Star break, Hosmer has six home runs and 30 RBI. His slash line is extremely impressive at .326/.391/.477.

These corner infielders should be fixtures in the Kansas City lineup for years to come. It was widely assumed that this would be a breakout year for the duo, but the slow start had Royals’ fans concerned about where these two would lead the team in the future. After trading Wil Myers to Tampa Bay, the Royals’ offense is counting on Moustakas and Hosmer to deliver in a big way.

The strong second half by Moustakas and Hosmer has been mirrored by the team as a whole. In the first half, the Royals were 24th in the MLB in runs and 14th in batting average. In the second half, the team is up to 6th in the majors in scoring and in batting average.

The Kansas City offense is often viewed as a weak point of the team. The rotation, led by James Shields and Ervin Santana, has been great the whole year. Greg Holland has been lights out as the closer and the bullpen as a whole has been dominant.

If Moustakas and Hosmer can lead a turnaround of the offense, the Royals should finish this year strong and have a lot to look forward to next season.

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Pirates Gear Up For Playoff Run

A day after major changes for both franchises, the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets completed a trade that alters the remainder of the season for both.

Marlon Byrd

The Mets were told their ace pitcher, Matt Harvey, would miss the remainder of the season due to a UCL tear.  Meanwhile, the Pirates fell out of first place when the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Cincinnati Reds in dramatic fashion.  The events of yesterday got the gears turning for both clubs and an agreement was reached.

The news was first reported by Anthony DiComo, the Mets beat writer for MLB.com.

The Pirates have acquired Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the Mets in exchange for second base prospect Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later.

Byrd is the notable piece of the deal for the Pirates as his stellar play this season shores up an outfield that has struggled for consistency.  His bat plugs nicely into the heart of the Pirates order and he brings with him 21 home runs and 71 runs batted in.  He has continued to produce in a season that was all but written off before it started.  Byrd was not expected to be a key piece at his age but he has provided a consistent bat and above-average defense to Pittsburgh and, more than likely, play right field alongside Andrew McCutchen while Starling Marte continues to recover from hand issues.

Buck, meanwhile, is a depth move that adds veteran leadership, solid defense, and a inconsistent bat to the bench.  He continues to throw out 30 percent of would-be base stealers and can drive in runs from time to time when he is playing well.

The Pirates part ways with a minor league second baseman who projects to be a decent hitter when he arrives at the big league level.  Herrera is only 19 years old and ranks just outside of the top ten prospects in the Pirates organization.  He benefits well from above average speed and surprising power, according to Baseball America, who ranked him 20th among Pirates prospects prior to this season.

The Pirates added two veteran pieces and a solid bat to their lineup as they enter the final push of a playoff run.  It is the type of mood that the Cardinals would have made under the Tony LaRussa leadership.

Cardinals fans hope it is not worthy of the same results LaRussa normally found.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
You can find his work on Yahoo!InsideSTL, and here on i70.
Talk baseball with him on Twitter @poisonwilliam

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With Wong Promotion, Cardinals Go All In

After Thursday’s thrilling walk off win, the Cardinals continued to make the future the present, by promoting second baseman Kolten Wong from Triple-A Memphis. The latest pull from the club’s minor league talent pool is sure to spark an immediate debate about who should be in the daily starting lineup (a la Matt Adams), but what’s for certain is that the club is completely committed to putting its absolute best talent into this pennant chase much sooner than later.

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It has not been John Mozeliak’s style to pull prospects into up and to have them not contribute. But already this week, the club has promoted top pitching prospect Michael Wacha to bolster the bullpen, and has already flirted with Carlos Martinez in a similar role, and he’ll most likely return to that capacity when the rosters expand in a few weeks. On the heels of the team’s non-involvement in recent trade deadline, it has become clear that the team is going all in on using its system to add what’s needed, and will be pulling as much of its top talent as possible to the 25-man roster.

No matter how it is viewed, there are not 25 better players in the organization than Wong. The 2011 first round pick hit .303 in 412 at-bats in his first season in Triple A and made his second consecutive MLB Futures Game at the All-Star Game, all while clearly being in a holding pattern due to the success of Matt Carpenter at second base.

And while he is clearly qualified and ready to be with the Cardinals, the timing is curious for a variety of reasons, mainly because there still isn’t a clear route to him regularly contributing to the team…or is there? While Carpenter has not relented, David Freese has continued to yield more and more grasp on his everyday value to the team. In 391 plate appearances, Freese has hit six home runs on the season, which is just one more than Daniel Descalso has managed in 150 less opportunities in a utility role. Run in the fact that he is also due for an arbitration-mandated raise this winter, and it suddenly makes a lot of sense why Wong is here now.

Wong’s presence on the roster also adds a much needed boost to the depth of the team. While Adams has been a constant impact presence from the bench all year, the team has struggled to find identity and consistent impact outside of its regulars mostly. Wong will give Mike Matheny a similar flexibility that Wacha can bring to the bullpen: a flex option that can put higher level of available talent at all times.

A regular bench of Adams, Descalso, Wong, the backup catcher (Johnson or Cruz) and the returning Shane Robinson makes for much better strategic usage of the full roster throughout later games. The fact that Yadier Molina will be on a managed time schedule for the remainder of the regular season will also factor into the caliber of lineup options that are available, further the need to have as much impact possible spread around the rest of the lineup as well. The less than thrilling 7-8-9 combination of Johnson, Kozma and the pitcher spot showed that having more offense punch available is a must. And as this week’s matchups with the Pirates have proven, the entire roster maybe needed to win on a day-to-day basis, let alone series and season.

While the long-term implications of the presence of Wong on the roster are clear and unavoidable, in an immediate sense, his presence is just as strategic as it is symbolic. Time will tell, in an immediate sense, just how that strategy plays out.

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The Red Hot Royals

The Kansas City Royals have caught fire after the All-Star break, winning 11 of 13 games and nine in a row after a 7-2 victory over the Twins on Thursday afternoon. The only problem is that their AL Central foes, the Tigers and Indians, are also red hot. The Indians have won eight straight games and sit 2 games behind the division-leading Tigers. Kansas City is now 6.5 games back.

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Royals fans now have a sense of excitement after the way the team has opened the second half. Keys to the Royals’ second half surge have included:

Stellar starting pitching

Jeremy Guthrie leads the Kansas City rotation with a 3-0 record in the second half. James Shields and Ervin Santana each have two wins. Wade Davis and Bruce Chen both have one win in two starts. Santana has a sparkling 1.21 ERA while Davis isn’t far behind at 1.80. Chen and Shields both have a 2.25 ERA and Jeremy Guthrie’s is the highest of the starters at 4.00. Chen has solidified his spot in the rotation for now and Davis has improved on what was a rough first half of the year.

A lights out bullpen

Four Royals’ relievers have yet to give up an earned run after appearing in at least four games. Luke Hochevar leads the group with 8.1 innings of scoreless relief. Tim Collins and Aaron Crow have 4+ innings without allowing a run and Louis Coleman has 3.2 innings without a run to his name. Not only has the bullpen been great, but they have also excelled in pressure situations, protecting six one-run wins for the Royals. When you combine the starters and the bullpen, Royals’ pitching sports an incredible 2.25 ERA since the break, good for second in the majors, ahead of the Tigers and behind only the Indians.

Mike Moustakas is heating up

Moustakas has struggled for most of the season, but he has recently found his swing. He has a team-leading three home runs and eight RBI in 12 games played in the second half. He even has a .325 batting average, bringing his season average up to .229. Moustakas had the big two-homer game against the Twins on July 30.

Royals batters are hitting for average

Jarrod Dyson is setting the pace for the Royals with a .389 average in 18 at-bats. Four other players are hitting above .300. Billy Butler is at .327, Moustakas and David Lough are in at .325 and Miguel Tejada owns a .313 average. As a team, the Royals are hitting .266, tied for fifth in the American League (up from .256 pre-All Star break).

Greg Holland is shutting the door

Holland has been great all year and has only continued his dominance after the break. He has converted all six of his save opportunities and has allowed only one earned run. Opponents are hitting .280 against the hard-throwing right-hander. If the Royals continue their amazing run, Holland should only have more opportunities to close out tight ball games.

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Grading the Cardinals at the Half

To say the first half of the season for the Cardinals was good would be a gross understatement; they set a club record for first half wins and go into the break with the best record in the National League. Yet, to get to this point, it took a complete effort from not just the organizational mainstays, but also a coming of age of the youth movement throughout the entire organization.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks

Overall, 38 players have worn the birds on bat at some point during the year, including six All-Stars and a club-record 12 rookies, already. But in the end, the parts create the sum, and here is the rank of the how each portion of the club played into the first half, 1-38.

  1. Yadier Molina: Basically, he’s the best player on the club because he’s been the best player in the league as well. He’s leading the National League in hitting, as masterfully directed the Cardinal staff to a club record in first half wins.
  2. Adam Wainwright: With a NL-best 12 wins and top 5 totals in strikeouts and ERA as well. Waino is having his finest year, and would have been a legitimate candidate for adding a third Cardinal All-Star starter, if he was eligible.
  3. Matt Carpenter: The team’s offense took off when Carpenter was moved to the top of the lineup in May. He is leading the National League in doubles with 28 and runs with 72, and has hit over .320 since moving to the leadoff spot.
  4. Allen Craig: The RBI machine is up to his same tricks from last year, coming in second in the league with 73. He’s been the biggest part of the Cardinal assault with runners on base, with an insane .480 average with runners in scoring position.
  5. Carlos Beltran: If it is his farewell tour, it’s a greatest hits collection for sure. Headed into his 8th All-Star team, he’s the only Cardinal to top .300, with 15 home runs and 50 RBI, and among only five NL outfielders to meet the level overall.
  6. Edward Mujica: Last season’s seventh inning fireman moved back to the ninth with the same results. He cashed in on his first 22 save opportunities and sits at second in the NL with 26 overall. A last second selection to the All-Star Game to “replace” Wainwright was made his late Sunday night.
  7. Trevor Rosenthal: He’s settled in as the club’s eight inning stopper nicely, striking out 65 in just over 43 innings on the season, and posting 22 holds, second in the NL.
  8. Shelby Miller: The rookie righty has exceeded expectations in many ways in an equally young season. He leads all rookies in wins (9) and strikeouts (112).
  9. Matt Holliday: His totals have not been up to the accustomed levels he’s set over the years, but his 47 RBI and 13 home runs keep him at the heart of Cardinal production. If injuries don’t curb his second half much, he’ll be in range for his usual total of 90+ RBI.
  10. Lance Lynn: He’s posted another typical Lynn effort: upheld leads and racked up the wins (11), in a somewhat up and down effort. But he’s been consistent and is on pace to yet again push close to 20 wins.
  11. Matt Adams: The odd man out has made the best of his opportunities. He’s punched out seven home runs in just over 120 at-bats and 40% of his hits have been of the extra base variety.
  12. Jake Westbrook: An injury interrupted what was off to a phenomenal first half for Westbrook, but he has posted a 2.88 ERA across 12 starts and has continued to steady the boat around the up and down young starters.
  13. Jon Jay: His bat has been down tremendously this year, but his defense has stayed top tier. He set a Cardinal record with his 227th consecutive errorless game. He’s been a nomad in the lineup, but has shown life over the last few weeks.
  14. Seth Maness: More credit should be paid to what Maness brought to the club for half of the season thus far. He’s won five games out of the bullpen, but not of the vulture variety: he’s been a seventh inning fireman, producing nine double plays in 30 innings.
  15. David Freese: He’s off to his toughest start at the plate in his career. His numbers are down across the board, and health has been an up and down battle again, but he hasn’t shown much life in his swing this season.
  16. Pete Kozma: The value of Kozma has continued to be debated, but for what it is worth, he’s been what he was supposed to be: a solid glove, with an adequate (at times) bat. Not too great, not too bad.
  17. Randy Choate: He’s been exactly what he’s supposed to be as well: a situational lefty that does what he’s called on to do, and that’s win matchups. Left handers are hitting .202 against him.
  18. Daniel Descalso: The idea of him being in a platoon with Matt Carpenter was put to sleep quickly by no fault of his own, but he’s done well around the infield where needed and has rediscovered his swing as well, hitting .275 on the year.
  19. Kevin Siegrist: One of the season’s biggest revelations thus far has been this hard throwing lefty. Against the former 41st round pick, batters have just three hits in 42 at-bats, an .071 average against.
  20. Jaime Garcia: He pushed out as much as he had left to make it through nine starts, but ultimately his shoulder gave out and he finally had to give in to surgery.
  21. Joe Kelly: He’s spent much of the year as a nowhere man, and there’s no guarantee that couldn’t continue again soon. But his has been willing to step up to every role asked of him, regardless of how sporadic, and it has been commendable.
  22. Michael Wacha: The hype was huge, but the result was more realistic of a guy that made it to the Majors in under a calendar year. He showed promise (1-0 record, two quality starts out of three), but needed more seasoning.
  23. Shane Robinson: The light-hitting Robinson didn’t bring his huge spring bat with him to St. Louis, but has continued to be a solid fill as a defender at each outfield spot.
  24. Tony Cruz: He didn’t get many opportunities to contribute early in the season, but performed well at the end of the half when Molina was injured, and stands to get more at-bats in the second half.
  25. Carlos Martinez: His talent has been too tempting for the Cardinals to leave in the minors. And they have twice brought him to the St. Louis bullpen, where he has shown why, striking out 11 in ten innings.
  26. Kevin Butler: He started off has a fill in fresh arm, but has become a very solid part of the middle of the bullpen. He’s posted a 1.98 ERA in his first 13 MLB innings.
  27. Fernando Salas: Taken out by injury and seemingly relegated to the minors since, Salas may be finding himself lost in the shuffle of young arms making their way to St. Louis.
  28. Tyler Lyons: A tale of two stories: Lyons won his first two starts after being promoted, but then lost the next three before being chased in under two innings in his final start in June and returning to Memphis.
  29. John Gast: The finesse left-hander was the first call to replace the injured Jaime Garcia, but then fell victim to a shoulder injury himself. Results were varied, return is uncertain.
  30. Michael Blazek: The promise is there (1.38 ERA in 26 games between Memphis and Springfield), but the chance for regular work hasn’t manifested yet in St. Louis.
  31. Rob Johnson: The call up when Ty Wigginton was let go, and he made the best of his return to the Majors in a hurry, hitting a tripling and scoring a run in his second day on the job.
  32. Ryan Jackson: He’s been among the most consistent performers in Memphis, but hasn’t gotten the call back to St. Louis since the second series of the season.
  33. Mark Rzepczynski: Was too hittable, and really replaceable to hold off the brimming young arms in the Cardinal system, and hasn’t done much to regain favor since being demoted in May (44 hits, and 15 walks in 41 innings in Memphis).
  34. Ty Wigginton: The season’s biggest reach consequently his biggest headlines when he was signed, and then released. The Cardinals waved the white flag on Wigginton after he showed, well, not much at all.
  35. Victor Marte: The Triple-A mainstay didn’t show much in his brief return to St. Louis again this season (6.00 ERA spread across four games).
  36. Jermaine Curtis: Two spot plate appearances don’t equal much, coming or going, for Curtis.
  37. Maikel Cleto: The Brendan Ryan era completely came to an end when Cleto, the return for him three years ago, was released in June.
  38. Mitchell Boggs: One of the most rapid and remarkable falls from grace was Boggs’, which saw him fall from closer to two unceremonious exiles to the minors, and eventually a trade for the rights to spend more freely in the international market down the road. No one had a rougher year than Boggs did, in barely three months time.

 

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The state of the Royals offense

If you are a fan of the long ball, the Kansas City Royals may not be the team for you.

billy 595

Kansas City has 54 home runs as a team this year. This puts them second to last in the MLB, in front of only the Marlins. The Royals are the only team in baseball that doesn’t have a player with 10 or more home runs. Eric Hosmer leads the team with nine homers, including five home runs in the teams’ last eight games. Alex Gordon is second on the team with eight home runs.

The Royals have only four players with five or more round-trippers. Billy Butler has six and Mike Moustakas has five. As a point of reference, the Orioles lead the league in homers and have eight players with five or more and four players with 10 or more.

Last year Butler led the team with 29 homers and Moustakas added 20, but both are well off the pace they set in 2012.

Not only does Kansas City struggle to hit home runs, but they also don’t walk and thus they are in the bottom half of the league in runs scored.

With 210 walks on the season, the Royals rank 26th in the majors. Kansas City is 21st in the league with 334 runs scored. They are also in the bottom half of the league in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.

The strengths of the Royals’ offense are hitting for average and being aggressive in the running game. As a team, Kansas City is hitting .260 on the year and is 4th in the majors with 60 stolen bases.

For the offense to get better, they must get more runners on base, especially via the walk. With more base runners, the Royals can attack on the base paths and have more chances to hit with runners in scoring position.

George Brett, the new Royals hitting coach, needs to stress the importance of drawing walks and having a patient approach. Kansas City has plenty of good hitters, even if hitting home runs is not their strength. With more walks the team should see a spike in runs scored and will give the Royals’ pitchers the run support they’ve been lacking.

The sixth inning of Thursday’s game against the Indians was a good example of the power of drawing a walk. Hosmer and Butler drew back-to-back free passes off of Ubaldo Jimenez and after Moustakas reached on an error, Lorenzo Cain launched a grand slam. It was nice that Cain came up with the big hit, but it was all set up by the lead-off walks.

The Royals took advantage of eight walks in the game and hit three home runs in a 10-7 victory over Cleveland.

More of the same would be nice for Royals fans.

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Francoeur had his chance, Giavotella gets another chance

Last Saturday, the Royals cut ties with outfielder Jeff Francoeur, designating him for assignment. Taking his place is infielder Johnny Giavotella, who will get regular playing time at second base.

Johnny-Giavotella

Royals fans clamored for these moves, but it’s too early to tell if they will make a difference. This year, Francoeur spent most of his time on the bench and ended up with a .208/.249/.322 line with three home runs and 13 RBI. Giavotella went three for four with two RBI in his 2013 debut against the Minnesota Twins and went 0-3 with a walk against the Cleveland Indians Tuesday night.

Giavotella will get plenty of playing time at second, with Chris Getz being sent down to AAA Omaha. Giavotella still doesn’t have the defensive prowess of an Elliot Johnson (or Chris Getz for that matter), but he does have offense, something desperately needed in the Royals lineup. Giavotella didn’t make the most of his opportunities at second base the other times he was on the team, but with Getz in Omaha, Giavotella will get an opportunity to see if he belongs in the Big Leagues.

As for Francoeur, it was a move that needed to be done. He couldn’t find his hitting stroke and with David Lough and Jarrod Dyson playing well, the Royals weren’t doing themselves or Francoeur any favors. The players and the team like Francoeur and he does have leadership qualities, but he wasn’t getting it done on the field. And Francoeur would be the first to admit he wasn’t playing well enough to stay with the Royals.

These moves needed to be done, but there’s still more issues the Royals need to overcome if they hope to become contenders in the A.L. Central. Mike Moustakas is improving with a .218/.279/.326 average, but he still has a long way to go. Wade Davis is 0-3 in his last three starts and Jeremy Guthrie went 1-1 with a no decision. In those games, the Royals went 1-5. Billy Butler is still being Billy Butler, but he isn’t hitting with power, with only one home run in June. Alex Gordon had a rough June with only three extra base hits, but with his grand slam Tuesday night, he appeared to be getting on track again. That is, until Gordon left Wednesday night’s game with a concussion and a hip contusion. Let’s hope Gordon makes a quick recovery.

Given all the Royals troubles this year, they’re still hanging in there. They had a 16-11 June and were 38-42 on July 2, 5.5 games back of the Indians. But they need to do more than tread water. They need to win games and win series to get above .500 and contend.

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Revisiting the Cardinals Top 20 Prospects

Entering the season, the St. Louis Cardinals wealth of top notch prospects was the spotlight of all organizations in baseball. But the season has proven that depth, not names, is truly the strength of the system. Over the course of the season, the youth has been heavily leaned on at a record clip to help the team have the strong start it has enjoyed. Over the course of only half of the season, 13 rookies have made an appearance with the club, including six current pitchers on the St. Louis staff.

Taveras

All of this is considered, there is still plenty of talent yet to peak into the Major League level. Four of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball, as well as two of the premier rookies in the National League are among the ranks of the team. But there is also a replenishment of talent at the lower levels as well, to renew the process of creating new high tier prospects in the place of those getting to the ranks the Cardinals, and sticking.

With that said, here is an updated look at the youth of the Cardinal system, with both rookies and prospects combined to give a complete look at the emergence of the organization’s touted prospects, and the realities of them as players.

 

  1. Oscar Taveras (OF, Memphis): It says a lot about what Taveras’ ceiling is that he lands in front of the potential National League Rookie of the Year here still. It hasn’t been the smoothest of seasons for everybody’s top prospect. He’s missed 38 games with a bad ankle that hasn’t quite been able to heal itself. Yet, when he’s played, he’s taken to Triple-A with the same ease of attack that he did the rest of the minor leagues. He will make his second appearance in the MLB Futures Game during All-Star weekend, where he’ll headline the International team. He’s put up a .306/.341/.462 split performance thus far, with five home runs and 31 RBI. (ETA 2013)
  2. Shelby Miller (RHP, St. Louis): The aforementioned potential Rookie of the Year has delivered on promise, plus some. In his debut half as a starting pitcher, Miller has been the second best pitcher on the NL’s best staff. He’s won eight games, with an impressive 2.98 ERA. His power approach has carried over, has his 101 strikeouts have him in the top 10 in the league. He’s stayed consistently impactful, but he will likely be managed a bit more carefully in the second half, but a rookie wall doesn’t seem exactly eminent, but has hit an adjustment period as of late.
  3. Trevor Rosenthal (RHP, St. Louis): His loss in the race for the rotation out of the spring has been the bullpen’s gain all season. Rosenthal has been one of the best relievers in baseball early on, (stats). While his pedigree seems to be pushing him quicker towards the end of games than back towards the beginning, the organization’s preeminent power arm has as high of a roof as any rookie hurler in the NL.
  4. Kolten Wong (Second Base, Memphis): Wong will return to the Futures Game along with Tavares, and has continued to be the steady leadoff hitter that he’s projected to be for the big league club for years to come. He’s hit .316, and stolen 11 bases as well, along with six triples as well. The emergence of Matt Carpenter has complicated his assent some, but talent finds a way, and he remains the most natural middle infielder on at any level of the organization. (ETA 2014)
  5. Michael Wacha (RHP, Memphis): Wacha is the best prospect to have a cup of tea, followed by a return this season. He struggled some with location at the big league level, and needs to continue honing his breaking ball. But he is not far away at all, as his Triple A performance indicates. In 10 starts at Memphis, he is 4-1, with a 2.34 ERA.  (ETA, a 2013 return)
  6. Carlos Martinez (RHP, Memphis): Martinez got a late start, but has shown flashes of dominance in his quick season that has seen him go from Springfield rotation, to the St. Louis bullpen and back to the Memphis rotation. Overall, the 21-year-old has notched 52 strikeouts in 55 innings across the three levels. (ETA 2013 return)
  7. Tyrell Jenkins (RHP, Palm Beach): The rawest of the high ceiling prospect arms, the 20-year-old righty is continuing to round out his arsenal at the high-A level, and through two starts has retained his electric fastball while rebounding from season-ending shoulder surgery in 2012. (ETA, 2015)
  8. Matt Adams (1B, St. Louis): “Big City” has shown he’s got the stroke to make a big impact at the Major League level, hitting .320 with six home runs and seven doubles on the young season. Finding at-bats could continue to be an issue, but for now, he’s a crucial part of the St. Louis depth and attack.
  9. Seth Maness (RHP, St. Louis): The organization’s Pitcher of the Year from 2012 has become perhaps its most essential relief find of the season. His timely impact as a fireman to pitch the club out of tough spots has notched him four wins in a bit over a month. The double play machine (9 in 25 innings) has quickly become a key part of the bullpen mix.
  10. Marco Gonzales (LHP, First Round pick): The first of the two left handers the club took in the first round profiles similar to Wacha a year ago: polished college arm, which has a plus changeup and should be a fast riser. (ETA 2015)
  11. John Gast (LHP, St. Louis): Gast is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, but was the first arm called up to replace the injured Jaime Garcia. Before his promotion, he posted a 1.17 ERA in seven starts at Memphis.
  12. James Ramsey (OF, Palm Beach): One of the more MLB-ready bats in the system, Ramsey is the most developed of a very good center field group the club is holding. After hitting .361 Palm Beach, he moved up to take over the Springfield centerfield, where he has increased his power output as well. (ETA 2014)
  13. Kevin Siegrist (LHP, St. Louis): One of the biggest revelations of the depth of the Cardinal system has been Siegrist, and his jump from Double A to the Cardinal pen. Since coming up, the hard throwing lefty has struck out nine, while surrendering only three hits in five games.
  14. Michael Blazek (RHP, St. Louis): Another quick riser, Blazek has been to St. Louis twice this summer; due to the 1.44 ERA he posted between Springfield and Memphis in 31 innings. He struck out 44 and surrendered only five runs as well.
  15. Jordan Swagerty (RHP, GCL Cardinals): The club’s second-round pick in 2011 missed all of last year with an elbow injury, but the returns have looked encouraging in his rehab returns at the rookie level in the Gulf Coast League. He’ll likely move up the ladder as high as Springfield before the end of the season. (ETA 2014)
  16. Carson Kelly (Third Baseman, Batavia): After hitting nine home runs as a 17-year-old first second round pick, Kelly has emerged as the club’s long-term project at third base. He has split his season between Peoria and low-A Batavia, but shows plenty of promise in his skill set still. (ETA 2016)
  17. Rob Kaminsky (LHP, First Round Pick): Small in stature (5’11), but big in results. The club’s second first round pick, and reward for Kyle Lohse’s departure posted an 8-0 record as a senior, with a 0.14 ERA. (ETA 2017)
  18. Tyler Lyons (LHP, Memphis): Lyons was surprisingly efficient in his chance in the rotation in St. Louis, during injuries to Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia opened up an opportunity. He struggled in his last few starts, and was returned to Memphis, where he promptly started a joint shutout in his return start. (ETA 2014)
  19. Seth Blair (RHP, Springfield): Blair hasn’t had great numbers this season (3-6, 5.01 ERA), but it’s more of a case of working through adjustments than not having what it takes. The 2010 first-round pick has what it takes to be mentioned among the other proven and more hyped names, he just has to miss more bats (.304 opponent batting average). (ETA 2015)
  20. Ryan Jackson (Shortstop, Memphis): Jackson continues to be a strong Triple A hitter, hitting a career-best .311 this season while contributing all around the infield. Yet, the consistent play of Pete Kozma has kept him sequestered in Memphis, yet he will likely get a chance to prove if his bat can carry over to Major again this summer. (ETA 2013)

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