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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals first-year players and rookies – 2009 forecast


Earlier, in the first article of this series, I broke down the 11 first-year players that debuted with the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals. In part two, I reviewed past first-year players and rookies each season during the La Russa years, designating whether or not the player exhausted his rookie qualification that season.

Here in part three, I look forward to 2009, considering which St. Louis Cardinals minor league players may debut along with the subset that may stay up long enough to exhaust their rookie qualification.

In contrast to parts one and two, which reported fact – what happened in the past – this article is based on my personal assessments. By definition, some of you are going to see it differently. That’s ok; just sound off below.

Just remember that the scope of this article is the entire 2009 season, not the opening day roster. My annual forecast of how I see that shaking out will be a separate piece.

As another reminder, here are the rookie qualification guidelines: More than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or more than 45 days on the Major League active roster during April-August, excluding time on the disabled list.

The other first-year players that are projected to fall short of rookie qualification are noted as such, “Cup of java”.

There is another set of important considerations – those players that must be protected by November by being added to the 40-man roster or risk being lost in the December Rule 5 Draft.

As a refresher, here are the 11 first-year players and rookie qualifiers from 2008.

Pitchers Tot # Met rookie # Cup of java Hitters Tot # Met rookie # Cup of java
2008 7 2 Chris Perez 5 Mike Parisi 2008 4 2 Brian Barton 2 Nick Stavinoha
Kyle McClellan Mark Worrell Joe Mather Rico Washington
Mitchell Boggs
Jaime Garcia
Jason Motte

Let’s go around the diamond by position as we consider 2009.

Catcher

Bryan Anderson should make his major league debut during the 2009 season, but unless either Yadier Molina or backup Jason LaRue spend time on the disabled list, Anderson’s call up may not occur until September when rosters expand. Anderson would become Rule 5 eligible if not protected.

Catcher # Meet rookie qual Cup of java
1 none Bryan Anderson

* already on 40-man

italics: not on 40-man

First base

Not only is there not a first baseman high in the system threatening to break into the bigs, the Cardinals already have two qualified reserve first basemen on the roster in Joe Mather and Chris Duncan. Nothing to see here. Move along, folks…

Second base

Minor league non-roster invitee Joe Thurston has a chance to make the Cardinals coming out of spring camp and if not, still could see 150 at-bats at some point this season as an interim fix if injury strikes one of the players in St. Louis. Assuming a major DL stint somewhere seems most reasonable and I am guessing that up the middle will be such a place.

Not having ever seen Thurston play, I am basing my push of him to the front of the line primarily due to Jose Oquendo’s support and the shakiness of the current Adam Kennedy – Brendan Ryan combo.

Still, I would be far more optimistic about Thurston if he only batted right-handed, as we all know how well La Russa likes his match ups. Neither Kennedy (.596 OPS vs. LHP in 2008) nor Schumaker (.423 OPS vs. LHP in 2008 – not a typo!) can hit lefties worth a lick.

Thurston backers point out that at least in the minors last season, his OPS against lefties and righties were basically the same (.831 vs. .832) solid nums. While that is true, his 2008 seems an outlier, as the 29-year-old hasn’t been nearly as good against left-handed pitching in past years.

Thurston’s Triple-A splits

OPS vs. LHP vs. RHP
2008 0.831 0.832
2007 0.706 0.841
2006 0.675 0.831
2005 0.648 0.732

I don’t see Thurston as a long-term answer, but may serve as an ok 2009 fill-in if needed. It is worth noting that if necessary, Thurston can be removed from the 40-man at the conclusion of the season to make room for a prospect needing protection. (Update: As DD17, reminded me below, though Thurston would make his Cards debut in 2009, he has had several cups of coffee in the past with the Dodgers, Phillies and Red Sox.)

Jarrett Hoffpauir has been on the 40-man roster for over a year now, but hasn’t sniffed the majors. He seems closer to being removed from the roster than making his MLB debut.

Until proven otherwise, I will also continue to question the successful conclusion of Skip Schumaker’s attempt to execute a mid-career transition to second base. He played a little shortstop in a college career that ended eight years ago and has never been at second – until now.

Shortstop

What Brian Barden needs is an injury to starter Khalil Greene or to beat out current reserve Brendan Ryan to get a chance beyond a third straight September call-up. This seems another place to expect some DL time, though it is hoped Khalil won’t be punching any more storage cabinets in frustration.

Since Barden is not a first-year player, he isn’t the focus of his piece, yet he and Ryan have a direct an impact on the others. There is another factor to consider in that Ryan is out of minor league options, but Barden still has one remaining. If for some reason, the Cardinals wanted to open 40-man space by dropping Barden instead of optioning him out, I suspect he could clear waivers if necessary.

I will forecast a September call up for former first-rounder Tyler Greene, as dependent as anything on his ability to put together a solid season with the bat as well as continue to work defensively at third, short and second. Greene seems aligned to replace Ryan when ready and like Barden, is already on the 40-man.

SS # Meet rookie qual Cup of java
1 none Tyler Greene*

Third base

Much has been written about this position already. With Troy Glaus’ season-opening injury, David Freese seems poised to become the interim starter. If he wins the competition, he could reach his 150 at-bats relatively quickly. Joe Mather should be a reserve only.

I do see Brett Wallace most capable of playing well enough this season to warrant at least a September call-up. However as I noted in the Rule 5 article, there are also valid roster reasons to delay Wallace’s arrival in St. Louis until 2010. To beat that, he will not only have to play well, but will need a break or two as he got in 2008. If Freese stubs his toe, an earlier arrival in St. Louis by Wallace is not as unlikely as it once seemed.

3B # Meet rookie qual Cup of java
2 David Freese Brett Wallace

Outfield

I imagine that by now, we all know the current roster configuration makes finding room for top prospect Colby Rasmus (pictured) difficult, but not impossible. Without a trade or injury, his chances of making the team out of spring training still seem less than 50%, in my opinion here today on February 9.

Yet the players have not even taken the field in camp and a lot could change very quickly. Something will happen soon enough such that we should see Rasmus in St. Louis long before the summer is out. It could be a trade, it could be an injury to another, but I just do not see the door for Rasmus remaining closed all season.

I wanted to put Jon Jay on the cup of coffee list because I have a feeling that he is going to emerge this coming season. He has already been invited to big league camp and with a solid, injury-free season in Memphis, could at least receive a courtesy call-up for the final month. One small downside is that seemingly like every other outfielder, Jay hits left-handed. Like Rasmus, Jay will require Rule 5 protection by November, helping his case. A trade involving outfielders up the pecking order could further improve Jay’s chances, or maybe he is one sent packing.

OF # Meet rookie qual Cup of java
2 Colby Rasmus Jon Jay

Starting pitcher

As odd as it may seem, for now I am forecasting no new first-year starting pitcher debuts during 2009, despite 2008 call-ups Mike Parisi and Jaime Garcia being sidelined effectively all year.

If the club does bring in an experienced starting pitcher this spring, this already-tight position will get even tighter. Sorry to P.J. Walters and the others chomping at the bit, but I see some combination of Mitchell Boggs and Kyle McClellan as being the most obvious starters in reserve. Obviously, neither of them are roster first-timers.

Then we have Brad Thompson, Joel Pineiro and “the new guy”, who will all need homes, but all can’t fit on the current roster. I can’t bring myself to actually forecast another extended outage for Chris Carpenter, as much as I fear it.

Check the earlier Rule 5 article for a detailed explanation why I think top prospects Jess Todd and Clayton Mortensen making their 2009 debuts is a long shot no matter how well they pitch in Memphis. Yes, there is always a chance one could force his way up with a spectacular season, but I feel it would either take that or a devastating run of injuries in St. Louis or more likely, both.

Relief pitcher

Here is another position that is clearly stacked with different piece-part options. However, Josh Kinney remains an injury risk and Jason Motte and even Chris Perez could find themselves heading back down I-55 to Memphis if they struggle with their secondary pitches.

Fernando Salas and Francisco Samuel represent a pair of emerging right-handed alternatives. Salas is currently ahead on paper, having been the 2008 Springfield closer, while Samuel was the ninth-inning man for Palm Beach but is considered the better prospect. Each scored a spring training non-roster invite, but Samuel is heading toward Rule 5 exposure this winter. Since both have such a long way to go, neither should be a factor to start the season. Still I can see Samuel at least getting a late-season look.

An unheralded candidate that may make his debut in 2009 is Memphis’ Matt Scherer, already added to the 40-man roster last fall. I think Scherer could come up sooner, with Samuel as a September possibility. I also think at some point during the summer, Mike Sillman may get at least a short look-see, especially if injuries strike.

From the left side, free agent signee Ian Ostlund has a shot, even in spring training. With three lefties already on the 40-man roster though, Ostlund will need help even if he pitches well in March. I can see him getting to St. Louis during the summer but fall short of 50 innings and 45 days like the other first-time relievers.

RP # Meet rookie qual Cup of java
4 none Matt Scherer*
Francisco Samuel
Mike Sillman
Ian Ostlund
total 10 2 8

Summary

Though I honestly did not plan it this way, note that my expected total of 10 first-year players is very close to what actually ensued during the 2008 season. My forecast of two being up long enough to exhaust their rookie eligibility is two off last year’s La Russa-era high-water mark.

While this is an aggressive number of players, my biggest concern is represented by the eight names noted in italics. Of the 10, only Scherer and Greene are on the 40-man today. For this scenario to play out, the Cardinals would need to add the other eight new players to the 40-man roster, which currently sits at 35.

Some space can be made by transferring players in-season to the 60-day disabled list, which does not count against the 40-man limit. Even if so, other players may find themselves removed from the roster during the season. Candidate names that immediately come to mind are Blake Hawksworth, Hoffpauir and Nick Stavinoha.

In the meantime, I will be closely watching spring training battles and regular season action to assess how accurate this forecast might actually become.

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