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

Looking back at Law’s number 10 Cardinals prospects

Late last week, in a series of insider articles, ESPN’s Keith Law released his organizational rankings for Major League Baseball farm systems for 2014. He followed that up with his top 10 prospects for each organization.

Each year, I compare and contrast what the national analysts are saying and how they are ranking Cardinals prospects, both within the context of all 30 systems and among just Cardinals.

While up-and-coming raters appear and others fade back, the ones there every year include Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, MinorLeagueBall.com, Scout.com and ESPN. Law is the analyst responsible for ESPN’s annual rankings.

Most of the time, the same names appear on every top 10 list, perhaps in slightly different sequence. Once in awhile, though, a different name shows up among the top 10s and my theory is that Law is often the source.

This year, Law’s naming of infielder Chris Rivera at number 10 in St. Louis’ system generated some attention among Cardinals watchers. It was clearly a “lone wolf” pick, as none of the Cardinals lists I have seen have even named the second baseman among their “honorary mentions.”

I am not here to drill down into Law’s selection of Rivera, as he did not discuss the strengths of the former California high school shortstop in his write-up. Therefore, I don’t know what he saw in terms of potential. That is fine, but I admit that the choice drove my writing of this article.

For purposes of completeness, here is a bit about Rivera. After being drafted in the seventh round in 2014, the 18-year-old signed for a below-slot $150,000 that was lowest among the three middle infielders taken by the Cards in the first 10 rounds. Rivera was moved to second base by the Cardinals before posting a line of .195/.255/.353/.609 in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

For what it is worth, I tend to agree with those who feel Law placing Rivera at number 10 in a system he ranks in the top half of MLB (number 12 overall) could be a stretch. After all, Rivera did not make The Cardinal Nation top 40 this year.

Yet, as I mentioned above, it reminded me of a past pattern of Law, making unusual choices for his final Cardinals pick.

To test my theory, I went back the last six years and pulled out the number 10 prospect in Law’s Cardinals top 10 from each year. Here they are.

Year Keith Law’s number 10 Other top 10′s TCN top 40
2014 Chris Rivera none * not ranked
2013 Anthony Garcia TCN, Sickels #9 #9
2012 Joe Kelly none #18
2011 Joe Kelly BA #10 #27
2010 Audry Perez none not ranked
2009 Francisco Samuel none #22
* to date

Sure enough, I was right. Rivera marks the fourth time in the last six years that Law’s 10th pick was not named in any other major rater’s top 10 for that year. (Caveat: Not all 2014 Cardinals top 10’s have been released, but I would be very surprised if any others will include Rivera.)

At the far right of the above table, you will note that two of Law’s six number 10′s missed the The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 entirely those years and two others were ranked in the second 20.

Mind you, I see nothing wrong with what Law has done. After all, anyone who uses the words “right” or “wrong” in ranking prospects is foolish at best.

I can’t speak to what Law does for other organizations, but it seems that he has regularly used his Cardinals number 10 spot to draw attention to a player not on others’ top 10 radar screens.

In 2009, Law liked hard-throwing Francisco Samuel a lot, but control problems derailed the right-hander before he reached St. Louis. The Dominican native last pitched in a minor league game at the end of the 2011 season and was released in the spring of 2012.

The next year, Law hopped on the Audry Perez bandwagon after the catcher co-led Johnson City in home runs and logged what is still a career-best .840 OPS in 40 games. At that point, he hadn’t yet cracked TCN’s top 40. Though Perez went on to taste a cup of coffee with St. Louis last summer, the jury remains out.

The one recent Law #10 player who has clearly made it is Joe Kelly. Both Law and Baseball America were on the right-hander before the 2011 season, but after Kelly’s initial Springfield ERA was over five that summer, only Law still backed Kelly as a top 10 player the following off-season. Soon, Kelly was with St. Louis and he hasn’t looked back.

Both John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com and The Cardinal Nation joined Law in labeling Anthony Garcia a top 10 player one year ago. Hopes were high as the outfielder came off a strong Midwest League performance. Still in A-Advanced ball, the 22-year-old had a wasted 2013 due to injury, but could yet rebound.

That brings us back to Rivera. To fairly criticize that choice now, one would have to know years ahead of time that he has more of Samuel in him than Kelly. Truly, only time will tell.

Footnote

I am pretty sure most of the national prospect raters are accused of being biased against every organization at one time or another. I’ve seen Law take hits over the years from some for a perceived anti-Cardinal stance. If you are among those who agree, the numbers do not support you.

In four of the last five years, Law’s Cardinals system ranking was better than the industry average. The other year, 2010, his was on the average.

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7 Responses to “Looking back at Law’s number 10 Cardinals prospects”

  1. Lou Schuler says:

    Last week I read an article by a Brewers blogger who suspected an anti-Brew bias somewhere — BA, BP, MLB, maybe all of the above.

    And I certainly fell into that hole back when the Cards’ system was at its lowest point. In retrospect, it almost looks they were generous with some of the guys who did show up on those lists. (Although I’m sure at the time Blake Hawksworth, Jimmy Journell, and Brent Butler were all coming off good seasons and looked like real prospects.)

    The Cards have a pretty good list of guys who didn’t show up on top 100 lists. Yadi, for sure. I can’t recall anyone including Craig, Freese, or Matt Carpenter. Going even farther back, I don’t think Placido Polanco ever made a list, and he’s at 41 bWAR. For comparison, Red Schoendienst is in the Hall of Fame with just 42.

    But almost all those guys fall into the “late bloomer” category, so I don’t think any evaluators were remiss. It’s really hard to project college seniors who’re older than the MiLB guys they play against (Stavinoha being the cautionary example of someone who tore it up against younger players but was overmatched in MLB), or defensive specialists whose hitting develops unusually late.

    I don’t know any of the prospect gurus personally, but I’d guess that the best way to get them to develop an anti-team bias is to accuse them of it.

  2. Nutlaw says:

    Nice story about the middle infield over on the main site!

  3. [...] Saturday, reader Lou Schuler commented about the challenge of prospect raters identifying late bloomers, specifically mentioning St. Louis [...]

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Kieth Law likes projecting from tools. He also must like to throw in a couple of unheralded sleepers, in order to create interest among readers, not a bad idea. These two tendencies can explain nominating high velocity Kelly and Samuel. Audry Perez hit well during his US debut at Johnson City, not a bad choice as a sleeper. One year, Law nominated sleeper CF Aldon Chambers. Not a bad choice as a sleeper, at the time.
    Chris Rivera was a famous or near famous high schooler, ie, well known to scouts. Law would know this. When Rivera popped 5 HRs in the GCL, this was enough grounds for Law to pick him as a sleeper. I don’t think this is a serious nomination as the 10th most promising talent in the system. Its more a case of wanting to be provocative by nominating someone fresh who is not on other lists.

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