Tag Archive | "Rookies"

Home-field advantage could be vital for St. Louis Cardinals

Although the St. Louis Cardinals did not have full possession of first place in their own division heading into play Sunday, they were just three games away from having the best record in the National League, which could be a vital advantage come October.

Busch_Stadium Retired Numbers

The Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates had identical 86-62 records as of Sunday and both trailed the Atlanta Braves by three games for the best record in the league, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, until the World Series, of course, because the American League won the All-Star Game in July.

But that nonsense aside, home-field advantage is a strong reward for having the best record. The term includes the word “advantage” for a reason. Part of what doomed the Cardinals in the 2012 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants was the same factor that helped St. Louis win the World Series the year before.

Those winning teams played games 6 and 7 at home where they felt more comfortable and could feed off of the energy from their fans and the home environment.

Now, home-field advantage certainly does not guarantee success. The Cardinals won every postseason series in 2006 despite never having home-field advantage, and they beat the Washington Nationals in the 2012 division series even though the final three games were in Washington, D.C.

But home-field advantage certainly does help, and it could help the Cardinals this year more than normal, especially with the glut of young pitchers on the roster and potential postseason starters in second-year pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and rookies Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

Along with a much better record against teams below the .500 mark, the Cardinals other lopsided record is their home and away splits.

St. Louis has played 20 games above .500 at Busch Stadium compared to four games above .500 on the road. Not surprisingly, their stats fall in line with those records.

The Cardinals hit for a .271 batting average at home compared to .260 on the road, but the bigger difference is how the pitching staff performs in away games. The Cardinals’ staff has a 3.29 earned-run average in home games but a 3.73 ERA on the road.

It would also be important for the Cardinals to finish with the best record in the National League because their potential postseason opponents have even more dramatic home and road splits.

The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers pitch to a 3.13 ERA at home compared to 3.47 on the road, and the NL East-leading Braves have a National League-best 2.47 home ERA but a 3.70 ERA away from Turner Field.

The only aspect of the game that would benefit a road team is the Dodgers offense, which hits .258 at Dodger Stadium and a Major League Baseball-best .274 on the road.

The Cardinals also lost three of their four games at home to the Dodgers in early August, but that was also during a stretch when they lost 13 of 17 games that included a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta.

Once the Cardinals got their season back together, they took three of four from the Braves in late August at Busch Stadium. They have also won six of nine games against the Pirates at home while losing seven of 10 in Pittsburgh. Against the third-place team in the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals have also won six of nine home games and split the away games 5-5.

The Cardinals are nearly guaranteed a spot in the 2013 playoffs and have an excellent chance to win the NL Central with just one opponent with a winning record, the Washington Nationals, remaining.

But they also still have a chance to catch the Braves for the best record in the National League, and that accomplishment could make a large difference in which team represents the league in the World Series.

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St. Louis Cardinals need Lance Lynn in starting rotation despite struggles

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn may have saved his spot in the starting rotation with a solid six innings Wednesday when he held the Milwaukee Brewers to one run in a game the Cardinals eventually won 5-1.

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But his spot in the rotation should have been safe regardless, even if he might not have deserved it with his recent performances.

Lynn has a 13-10 record but had been awful or close to awful in his five previous starts before Wednesday as the second half of his season fell apart for the second consecutive season.

He began the season nearly the same way he did his rookie year in 2012. He won 10 of his first 12 decisions in 2012 and won 10 of his first 11 this season, but what happened next is what keeps Lynn from being a force in the rotation.

Lynn went 3-3 after the All-Star Break in 2012 until the Cardinals sent him to the bullpen in late August to rest and work on his mechanics.

That decision helped, as Lynn all four of his starts in September as the Cardinals made their push to qualify for the second wild-card spot. Of course, the Cardinals could afford to let Lynn regroup in the bullpen for a couple of weeks because they had a rotation that still had Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia, and Chris Carpenter was on the way back from the disabled list.

They had no such luxury this season when Lynn lost five of six decisions between Aug. 4 and Sept. 5 and saw his earned run average jump from 3.78 to 4.37.

Lohse signed with the Brewers in the offseason, Garcia blew out his shoulder in May and Carpenter never could get back from his arm injuries. Plus, manager Mike Matheny does not yet have enough confidence in Jake Westbrook to move him back into the rotation from the bullpen, which is where he’s been since he returned from a back injury.

The Cardinals also have two rookies already in the rotation with Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and their only other options are rookies Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, who have both been inconsistent in their first seasons in the major leagues.

So Matheny must continue to give the ball to Lynn every fifth day regardless of his performance. The pressure in this situation is not on Matheny; it’s squarely on Lynn, who must consistently pitch well for the Cardinals to maintain their slight lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division to avoid having to play in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, as they did against the Atlanta Braves in 2012.

Lynn often gets frustrated when his outing does not go perfectly. For example, he gave up three homeruns and four runs total in five innings Sept. 5 against the Reds in Cincinnati, and his body language after each was terrible.

It’s fine to be frustrated. The Cardinals certainly wouldn’t want their pitchers to be happy after they give up a homer, but they also need their pitchers to refocus immediately and get the next hitters out to avoid a bad at bat becoming a bad inning and a bad game. The Cardinals lost Lynn’s latest start against the Reds 6-2 in part because he struggled to bear down and push through the adversity that is part of nearly every Major League Baseball game.

He was much better Wednesday against a much weaker lineup. The Brewers don’t have near the quality hitters of the Reds, who could easily be a playoff opponent for the Cardinals this year.

But the Cardinals don’t necessarily need Lynn to be a postseason starter. They can find three pitchers to take care of the starts in October. They instead need Lynn to be at his best in September so they are positioned for success once the playoffs begin.

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John Axford not enough for St. Louis Cardinals to give up Michael Blazek

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak made his first and only trade of the season Friday when he got right-handed reliever John Axford from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jun 25, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay (19) celebrates with relief pitcher Michael Blazek (67) after defeating the Houston Astros 13-5 at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Axford is a nice pickup for the Cardinals. He brings a veteran presence to the team’s young bullpen and has shown flashes of dominance in the past. The problem is the Cardinals gave up right-handed rookie Michael Blazek in return.

Blazek pitched in 11 games for the Cardinals this season and gave up eight runs in 10.1 innings, but he is the 24-year-old who has the tools to be an effective major-league reliever for years to come.

Sure, he had an earned-run average of 6.97 with the Cardinals, but Blazek allowed runs in just four of his 11 appearances and allowed more than one run in only two of those games. Otherwise, he averaged a strikeout per inning while he dealt with getting called up to the big leagues and sent down to the minors three times in one season.

It would be tough for any young pitcher to find consistent success while in such a tenuous position. Even highly touted rookies such as Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha have struggled at times as they’ve taken the road back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis several times this season.

Yes, Blazek also walked 10 hitters to nearly match his number of strikeouts, but the Cardinals have had plenty of pitchers who struggled with their control but steadily improved as they matured at the big-league level.

For example, Jason Motte came to St. Louis as a 26-year-old in 2008, and it wasn’t until 2010 that he got his career ERA below four. However, the Cardinals stuck with Motte and he became the pitcher who not only closed out the 2011 World Series but also the team’s closer who saved every one of the team’s 42 save opportunities in 2012.

But, perhaps the Cardinals though Blazek would not grow out of his control issues and decided to cut their losses. Unfortunately, they got a pitcher who is not substantially better.

Axford was much better at one time, but not anymore. He broke into the big leagues with Milwaukee in 2009 and by 2011 was one of the best closers in Major League Baseball, with 46 saves, a 1.95 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 73.2 innings.

Those were the good days. The more recent days have not been so nice.

Axford’s ERA ballooned to 4.67 in 2012, and he gave up twice as many homeruns (10) during that season than he had in his entire career (five) and lost the closing job in the process as the Berwers fell from a team two games from the World Series in 2011 to a third-place team that barely finished above .500 in 2012.

Axford has given up long balls even more frequently in 2013. He already allowed 10 in 62 appearances for the Brewers with a month yet to play.

Cardinals officials figured they needed veteran depth in the bullpen, and that’s exactly what they got. Axford is nothing more nor nothing less at this point in his career.

Maybe he will fill the role Octavio Dotel held during the 2011 run to the World Series championship. He could be a knowledgeable reliever who gets crucial outs during the late stages of a ballgame that is packed with the pressure that is certain to come with September games when the top three teams in the division are separated by fewer than three games.

But he could also be the 4.50-ERA pitcher who gives up back-breaking homeruns late in those same games while Blazek becomes an integral part of the bullpen renaissance the Brewers sorely need to return to relevance in the National League Central Division.

The Cardinals took a gamble not only for the rest of the 2013 season but also for many years to come.

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Bike Spokes and Shoe Boxes – 2013 Topps Pro Debut

Spokes
2013 Topps Pro Debut

Per box items:
24 packs per box
8 cards per pack
2 autographs per box
1 patch per box
1 relic per box

The standard sized base set cards feature a full color action shot of the player. Bordered in white, the card fronts have the player name and team logo at the bottom. The card fronts are trimmed with the team’s primary color. The card backs are photo-less and are horizontal in design. The backs include moderate biographical information, complete career statistics, and moderate career highlights or a player quote. The backs are also trimmed with the team’s primary color.

What I Pulled:
188 unique cards, no duplicates
183 base set cards, 183/220 = 83% of the base set
1 gold parallel
1 relic
1 manufactured patch
2 autographs

Base card front and back:

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The Parallel:
Gold #/50

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The Hits:
Odor Autograaph
Asencio autograph
Romero Relic
Mascot patch #/50

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I really like the design of this year’s Topps cards. Pro Debut cards are identical to Series 1 and 2 in design. The very simple clean design is very appealing. I think that the photography from Topps has really improved over the past couple of years. Topps has issued several short prints cards of players. With some of the biggest named rookies this set is a prospectors dream! Unlike other Topps products, Pro Debut is very light on inserts.

The Bottom Line:
I give 2013 Topps Pro Debut a buy rating. It will be very easy to complete a base set with a box, a few extra packs or some light trading. This product will appeal mostly to prospectors and set collectors.

The Final Score:
Final Ratings (Out of 10):
Base set collect-ability: 8/10
Big-hit Hunter: 8/10
Prospector Hunter: 10/10
Value: 8/10
Overall Quality: 10/10

Overall: 44/50 (88% = B)

Thanks to Topps for making this review possible!

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Bike Spokes and Shoe Boxes – Trade Deadline

This is the time of year when we find out who the contenders and pretenders are. Does your team sell for prospects for next year? Or do they buy a player with pending free agency to be a hired gun for the last part of the season? In this fan’s case, the Tigers need to pick up an experienced closing pitcher.  As the season winds down, teams make roster moves to squeak out a few more wins. Or in some cases pick up an available player so a rival does not. If nothing else, trading players is the professional version of what many of us do everyday in trading cards.

Spokes

In 1974 Topps introduced the first “Traded” cards. These cards highlighted players who switched teams throughout the season and pictured the player in the new team’s uniform. The cards were inserted in packs of both low and high series base cards. The cards had bold, block letters across the card front that read ‘TRADED.” Even though they were produced later in the year, these cards were produced in the same quantity as the regular base cards and are not considered any harder to obtain.

In 1981 Topps, and other card companies started making stand alone ‘traded’ sets. These sets varied in size, but the cards themselves could look very much like the regular base set card designs. Often the only thing to differentiate a base card from a ‘traded’ card would be a different picture and the numbering on the back. Each company had their own ‘traded’ set. There was Topps Traded, Fleer Update and Donruss “The Rookies.’ These sets not only included players who changed teams during the season, but also in-season call-ups of rookies. Companies would often race each other to produce the first card of a player who changed teams or the first true rookie card (RC) of a promising call-up.

Some of the more famous and valuable of these early traded/RC cards are of Hall of Fame quality players. 1982 Topps gave us the first RC card Cal Ripken Jr. 1984 Fleer Update is still a popular set with the first cards of Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett. This week Bike Spokes and Shoe Boxes will look at some traded and update cards.

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1985 Topps Traded Rickey Henderson. One of his first cards as a Yankee, this card is numbered 49T on the back.

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1989 Topps Traded Rickey Henderson. Headed back to the A’s, Rickey has the distinction of being the only other player in MLB history to be traded for the same player twice! He and Eric Pluck swapped spots on the Yank’s and A’s in 1985 and 1989.

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Actually an insert card from the 1994 Score Rookie/Traded set, this “Changing Places” card shows Rickey with starting his third stint with the A’s.

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1994 Topps Traded has the same design as the regular cards, just a different picture and card number on back.

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1998 Upper Deck SPx ‘Trade Winds’ sub-set card. Actually a regular base set card and one of my all-time favorite card designs shows Rickey embarking on his fourth tour of duty with the A’s.

Enjoy the thrill of the chase tracking down your favorite players who moved or your team’s new pick-ups this year with traded cards!

Until next week, keep collecting, collect for the joy of the hobby and collect for the fan in all of us.

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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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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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Adam Wainwright becomes even more important as St. Louis Cardinals injuries mount

Right-handed starter Adam Wainwright has been a leader on the St. Louis Cardinals staff for years as he became co-ace of the pitching rotation with Chris Carpenter, but the team needs Wainwright’s leadership now more than at any other time in his career.

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Wainwright, 31, is now the lone veteran in the Cardinals rotation after 35-year-old right-hander Jake Westbrook went on the disabled list May 9 with elbow inflammation.

Left-handed starter Jaime Garcia is only 26 years old, but he was in his fifth season in the big leagues and had made 90 career starts before he had surgery earlier this week that ended his 2013 season. The four other pitchers now in the Cardinals rotation have a combined 55 career starts, and 41 of those are from right-hander Lance Lynn, who is in only his second full season with the team.

Wainwright will make his 162nd career start Monday when he takes the mound in Kansas City against the Royals, and each start becomes all the more important as the Cardinals hold their breath every time rookies John Gast, Tyler Lyons or Shelby Miller make a start.

Their worries don’t come from those pitchers’ performances, they have combined for a 2.40 earned-run average, but young pitchers don’t have a track record to reassure management and fans that they’ll consistently have more good games than bad ones.

For example, Miami Marlins right-handed starter Jose Fernandez is touted as one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in Major League Baseball. Although he has a 3.31 ERA, he is 2-2 in nine starts and has failed to pitch past the fifth inning five times.

Gast, Lyons and Miller have pitched at least into the sixth inning in each of their combined 12 starts heading into play Saturday, but the chances of them maintaining that pace are slim, at best.

That means the bullpen will likely see more action in coming weeks, so Wainwright’s responsibilities could become two-fold every time he pitches. He’ll likely have to go deep into games to save the bullpen for days when the young pitchers start, and he’ll have to pitch well enough to win if the other starters hit a rough stretch and the team enters Wainwright’s start on a losing streak.

But Wainwright is capable of being a do-everything pitcher. He has a 6-3 record and 2.38 ERA in 10 starts and is returning to the type of dominant pitcher he was before he had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2011 season.

Plus, he has the experience that comes with nine years in the big leagues and has learned how to be a leader from the 38-year old Carpenter, who won the Cy Young Award in 2005.

Carpenter might join Wainwright in the rotation in late June or early July if his rehabilitation from nerve problems in his arm continues to go well, and Westbrook could return even sooner if he doesn’t suffer any more setbacks in his recovery.

Until then, Wainwright is going to have to be the starting rotation’s best pitcher, mentor and leader. Good thing he has strong shoulders.

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St. Louis Cardinals reinvent bullpen sooner than normal in 2013

The St. Louis Cardinals began their yearly bullpen revolution early this year as three of the team’s projected relievers are already off the active 25-man roster just a month into the season. Buckle up as another group of extremely young pitchers try to guide the team through the late innings.

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Expected closer Jason Motte succumbed to an elbow injury in spring training and will now have Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out the rest of the season and possibly part of the 2014 season, so the Cardinals turned to 2012 right-handed setup reliever Mitchell Boggs to take his place.

Well, that didn’t work out so great. Boggs pitched in 14 games, blew two saves, walked 12 hitters in 10.2 innings and had a 12.66 earned-run average.

Meanwhile, left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski came in for nine appearances, gave up 13 hits in eight innings and had a 7.88 ERA.

Now both are pitching for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds while rookies Seth Maness, 24, and Carlos Martinez, 21, get a chance at the big-league level.

So far, so good.

Granted neither pitcher has appeared beyond their one inning of work in Friday’s 6-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, but they also didn’t walk anybody. Martinez gave up a single, but he quickly erased that blemish with a double play on a groundball to the mound.

That sample size can’t get any smaller, but neither pitcher looked overwhelmed in their debuts, and both could become very important parts of the Cardinals bullpen as the season progresses.

Edward Mujica has locked down the closer’s role for the time being. He replaced Boggs for ninth-inning duties April 22 in Washington against the Nationals and has converted each of his seven save opportunities heading into play Saturday.

Rookie Trevor Rosenthal has also started to settle in after a rocky start in which he gave up runs in four of his first eight appearances, but he hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last four outings while striking out six hitters and could take Boggs’ 2012 role as the eighth-inning setup reliever for Mujica’s ninth.

However, that leaves the sixth and seventh innings in flux. Fernando Salas has been solid thus far. He has a 2.86 ERA in 10 appearances, and Randy Choate has a nice 2.25 ERA, but manager Mike Matheny has primarily used him as a left-handed specialist. The other middle reliever, Joe Kelly, has struggled, giving up 18 hits and 10 runs in 9.1 innings.

So Maness and Martinez will likely be put to work early and often in their rookie seasons. The Cardinals starting rotation has pitched extremely well so far this season, but eventually the team will have to rely on a bridge from the starter to the late-inning relievers as the rotation’s ridiculously good 2.06 ERA regresses to a more normal level.

And that’s where Maness and Martinez will be extremely important. The Cardinals have already seen how much a bad bullpen can constantly stunt a team’s success, and they have made borderline desperate moves by bringing up two rookie pitchers at the beginning of May.

It’s a move that could blow up in the team’s face. Maness and Martinez could eventually become overwhelmed by the stress and pressure that comes with being on a Major League Baseball team at such a young age, but it’s a move the Cardinals had to make.

If nothing else, it bought the Cardinals time while Boggs and Rzepczynski refocused in Memphis and tried to recover their typically good form. Both pitchers are a large reason the Cardinals didn’t put together a great record in April, but they are veteran pitchers and could still be valuable later in the season.

Maness and Martinez will likely also have a few struggles along the way, but if they can capitalize on their first big-league experiences, and Boggs and Rzepczynski come back strong, the Cardinals bullpen could actually become a strength by the end of the season.

At least that’s how it has worked out the past two seasons.

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Yahoo: Shelby Miller s Making an Early Case for National League Rookie of the Year

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Through the first three weeks of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals have discovered some young talent in their pitching rotation. Shelby Miller, who had to fight his way into the rotation during spring training, has looked borderline dominant in his first four starts. The rookie hurler might be establishing an early case for the Rookie Of The Year Award.

The National League has a few rookies putting up notable numbers but few have shown the clear-cut edge of Miller. The right-hander has compiled an impressive 26 strikeouts, walked only seven batters, surrendered just one home run and six earned runs, over 25 innings pitched while winning three of his first four starts. His wins, earned run average, runs allowed, and home runs allowed rank first among all rookie starting pitchers.

His competition from rookie-level pitchers in the National League is sparse, but there are a few challengers that are not exactly falling flat to start the season.

To read about the competition for Rookie Of The Year in the National League, follow this link to the Yahoo Article.

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