A comment by CariocaCardinal on the Teixeira/Pujols thread where he suggested the St. Louis Cardinals minor leagues may be peaking got me to thinking.
There is no sure way to quantify this, yet one simple measure is readily available and doesn’t require years to play out before getting an answer.
During the 2008 regular season, the Cardinals called up eleven different players from the minors for their first exposure to the big leagues. Some did very well, while others barely had time to finish their cup of coffee before being sent back.
While this is clearly a measure of quantity, not quality, this total of eleven is the largest number of first-timers to don the Cardinals uniform in any single season since the second year of the Tony La Russa era which began in St. Louis in 1996. 12 players debuted in 1997.
Nine of the 11 in 2008 came up through the Cardinals system, the exceptions being Brian Barton and Rico Washington. Two of them have already departed for other organizations – Washington and Mark Worrell.
Here, we’ll take a quick look back at all eleven 2008 arrivals. I will score each in one of three categories (high, medium, low) to illustrate my view as to their level of 2008 contribution as well as long-term success potential with the Cardinals.
It is worth noting that three players made the MLB debuts during each of the first three months of the season. During the second half, only two newbies arrived.
1. Kyle McClellan. (left) Made the club out of spring training and was a solid performer out of the bullpen all season long, though his numbers tailed off. Was named Rookie of the Year by the Cardinals.
Looking ahead, he could either remain a setup man in the pen or perhaps return to starting in 2009. The latter might require one step backward (a first-ever stop in Memphis) to take two steps forward later on.
2. Brian Barton. High hopes for the Rule 5 outfield pick coming off a nice spring were deflated when Barton seemed quite often to be the second-to-last player off the bench. (The backup catcher is always number one.)
In September, any player that could hold a glove was started in the outfield while Barton just rode the pines more often than not. Turning 27 years old in April, Barton seems destined to be lost in Memphis next season.
3. Rico Washington. A heart-warming story if there ever was one, making the team out of spring training after 11 years of ill-fated minor league attempts. Scott Spiezio‘s self-destruction and Brendan Ryan‘s injury were also big contributors. After registering a sub-Mendoza line batting average, Rico was back in the minors before April was out, never to return with St. Louis. He is currently a minor league free agent again.
4. Mike Parisi. Not overwhelming, but was serviceable when called upon. It was telling that his starting debut occurred when the Cardinals gave up on Anthony Reyes and needed someone to take the hill. Late-season Tommy John surgery scuttled his 2009 season, giving a whole year for others to pass him. Removed from the 40-man roster in November.
5. Chris Perez. (left) The “closer of the future” arrived in mid-May and did fine until he hit a rough start that soon returned him to Memphis to work on his secondary pitches. Despite club dalliances with experienced closers this offseason, Perez has shown he can grow into the role. Here’s hoping he receives the chance.
6. Joe Mather. After tearing up the Pacific Coast League, the man affectionately known as “Joey Bombs” showed not only his power, but also demonstrated very good outfield defense in the majors. Before going down with a hand injury that required season-ending surgery, Mather managed to get enough at bats, 133, to exhaust his rookie eligibility. Expected to compete strongly for a reserve outfield position in 2009.
7. Mark Worrell. The reliever with the odd motion didn’t stay long and was not asked back, even in September when rosters expanded. Worrell spoke up about his concerns and within 24 hours, was traded to San Diego. Perhaps that was just a coincidence.
8. Mitchell Boggs. The 2005 fifth-rounder received his chance to make his first ever appearance on an MLB roster and to start his first big league game at the expense of Parisi, who was returned to Memphis. Boggs was the anchor of the 2008 Memphis staff, but had a real problem with free passes while in the majors (22 walks in 34 innings). Should be the first starter recalled from Memphis in 2009.
9. Nick Stavinoha. The outfielder earned his call-up after pacing the Redbirds offense during the first half. He looked overmatched at the plate with St. Louis, both in June and again in September. I hope his ceiling is higher than John Gall‘s, but I cannot erase the comparison from my mind. Seems destined to return to Memphis, where playing time for outfielders should be very competitive.
July new arrival
10. Jaime Garcia. (left) The top left-handed pitching prospect in the entire system by a considerable margin started with Double-A Springfield, yet found himself on a big-league mound three games prior to the All-Star break. Garcia mostly relieved, but also was given one MLB start.
His pitching elbow, which had ended his 2007 early, gave out, requiring him to undergo Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. If Garcia actually comes back stronger in 2010 as do some post-TJ, NL hitters had better watch out!
11. Jason Motte. Last to be called up, but far from least. The reliever with the upper 90′s heat fanned 15 in his first ten innings during his initial time on the Cardinals roster (in September). His changeup remains a question mark, but if Perez falters, Motte could make a play for the job himself. The numbers game could end up causing him to start 2009 back in Memphis, though even if so, Motte should be back soon enough.
In subsequent articles, I will look backward and forward. I will review past rookies each season during the La Russa years and will also attempt to forecast the MLB debuts for the 2009 Cardinals. Even before doing the analysis, my gut says not to expect another 11 first-year players this coming year.