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

Cardinals minors all-star representation down

In the last post, we reviewed recent Cardinals system minor league won-loss records. Observations included a decline in winning in 2009 over 2008 from over 54 percent to under 49 percent with that latter rate being the second-worst across the system in the last five years.

Here, we will consider another indicator of farm system strength.

All-Star representation down 18%

Following is the quantity of league all-star selections for the nine Cardinals minor league clubs year-to-year. I also included two important elite squads, Team USA and the Futures Game participants, drawn from the same pool of players.

While not every all-star squad is selected in the exact same manner, common threads among voters are that they are those who see these players regularly – peer managers, coaches, league officials and media.

Like placement in top prospect lists, these measurements are certainly not absolute. Yet since their selection criteria are basically the same each year, an annual comparison can be relevant in my view, especially when there is a major difference year upon year.

Note that all-star teams are not the same size across leagues, so comparing the number of representatives between different levels is not valid.

Cardinals 2009 2008 YTY
All-Stars Total Mid-seas Post-seas Total Mid-seas Post-seas Chg
Team USA 1 2 -1
Futures Game 3 5 -2
Pacific Coast 1 1 0 1 1 0 0
Texas 13 9 4 11 8 3 2
Florida State 3 3 0 7 6 1 -4
Midwest 1 1 3 3 -2
NY-Penn 3 3 6 6 -3
Appalachian 3 3 1 1 2
Gulf Coast 0 0 1 1 -1
Dominican 3 3 2 2 1
Venezuelan 1 1 0 1
Total 32 39 -7

As the data indicates, 2009 Cardinals all-star representation was down considerably from 2008 – 18 percent in aggregate.

Does that mean the system as a whole is 18 percent worse than last year? Of course not, but the difference is significant enough that it seems that others are seeing an overall decline in top talent across the organization.

In 2009, four of the eleven categories saw an increase of all-stars, Double-A and short-season rookie levels in the USA and the two overseas academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Triple-A remained flat while the other six had a decline in Cardinals participation from as low as one to as many as four fewer selections than last year.

The core of the year-to-year falloff was in A-ball, with a total decline of nine all-stars from last year to this in the Florida State, Midwest and New York-Penn Leagues.

The Cardinals were shut out of the 2009 Gulf Coast League all-star team and had fewer invites to both Team USA and the Futures Game, despite the latter having been played in St. Louis and managed by a pair of Cardinals legends.

Seven of 71 mentions have been traded

While the Cardinals have been busy dealing prospects, it is interesting to note that only three names of traded players appeared a total of seven times among the 71 all-stars represented in the two years of data in the table above.

Jess Todd, dealt to Cleveland in the Mark DeRosa trade, was named four times, Shane Peterson, part of the Matt Holliday deal with Oakland, was a two-time all-star and Luke Gregerson was the other, sent to San Diego for Khalil Greene last winter.

In 2008, Todd was an anomaly in that he was all-star at two different levels and was also named to the Futures Game. The Cardinals had no such triple-category star in 2009.

As the Cardinals continued aggressive promotions in 2009, one might wonder if in-season moves hurt players’ all-star chances, yet it could be a factor every season.

If early performances are memorable enough, they are not forgotten. For example, Daniel Descalso (pictured) was both a mid-season and post-season Texas League all-star in 2009 despite having spent only the first half of the summer in Double-A.

The central point here being that while the Cardinals lost top-end talent via trades, it did not clean out all their best players. The bottom line is that fewer Cardinals minor league players were recognized by knowledgeable outside observers as having stepped up to an all-star level of play this season.

Instructional League canceled

In another less-than positive occurrence, last month the Cardinals announced the cancellation of their 2009 instructional program. The yearly fall camp is designed to help the youngest players in the system become more acclimated to professional play.

The Cardinals believe they can accomplish necessary development activities on an individual basis and made headway with 2009 draftees during the season using roving instructors. Yet coming on the heels of the backslide in winning across the system and the organization’s acknowledged relative youth at every level made this decision a real head-scratcher for me.

It is difficult to come to any conclusion other than that the cancellation was ultimately driven by a desire to cut expenses.

The move, made in concert with the Mets and Marlins that train near the Cardinals facility in Jupiter, Florida, is counter to the vast majority of MLB organizations. Others are putting more emphasis on “instructs”, not less.

The Nationals have sent 2009 number one overall draft pick Steven Strasburg to their Florida fall camp. In Arizona, a new semi-formal fall instructional league was recently founded among the growing number of clubs that train in the Cactus League.

Fewer top prospects?

On the Cardinals message board, the yearly community top 50 Cardinals prospect voting is underway. My read is that while excitement over the system in whole remains, there seems to be fewer clear high-end and breakout prospects this season.

With further individual player advancement, another strong season like 2008 is possible next year. If not, the system may remain in its current sub-.500 team won-loss and lower individual recognition neighborhood in 2010.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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