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

Identifying late-blooming Cardinals prospects

On Saturday, reader Lou Schuler commented about the challenge of prospect raters identifying late bloomers, specifically mentioning St. Louis Cardinals-developed players Placido Polanco, Yadier Molina, David Freese, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter never being considered national top 100 prospects.

While Baseball America was not singled out, its past histories are most readily available, both online and via BA’s annual Prospect Handbook. A stack of the latter, going back for a number of years, rests off to my left. So I selected BA for this analysis.

As Lou noted, none of the five aforementioned Cardinals ever made BA’s national top 100 prospect lists. Here are the Cardinals that did place in the top 100 in the years most relevant to the quintet. (The seasons during which the five debuted in the majors are noted by their names in parentheses.)

Cardinals in BA
national top 100
2011 (Carpenter) 13. Miller 62. Cox
2010 (Craig) 50. Miller
2009 (Freese) 3. Rasmus 40. Wallace 91. Perez
2008 5. Rasmus 85. Anderson 97. Perez
2004 (Molina) 47. Hawksworth 49. Wainwright
2003 none
2002 44. Journell 88. Narveson
1998 (Polanco) 18. Ankiel 33. Marrero 39. Looper 69. Butler
1997 25. Morris 29. Young 32. Looper 37. Marrero 68. Aybar

For the Carpenter, Craig and Freese years, it is hard to argue about competing with Shelby Miller and Colby Rasmus, but with the full benefit of hindsight, the other names are far less inspiring.

Other than some newcomer named Wainwright in 2004, Molina seemed to have little competition, however. Polanco came up in an era during which the Cardinals system was far more respected nationally.

To take it a step further, I went into BA’s Cardinals top 30 lists in those same years to see where these guys stacked up. In a couple of cases, Freese and Craig, the players were still prospect-eligible the season after which they made their respective St. Louis debuts, hence the “Debut+1” designations.

BA Cardinals




top 30 MLB debut Debut+1 rank Debut year rank Year-1 rank Year-2 rank
Yadier Molina 2004 4 10
David Freese 2009 5 9 Padres 28
Allen Craig 2010 5 7 26 15
Matt Carpenter 2011 11 NR

For comparison, I include below The Cardinal Nation’s rankings during those same seasons. We began our formal top 40 in 2006, so Molina and Polanco are excluded. The format matches the table above identically.

(Note: Freese is listed as “13a” in 2008, as we inserted him into the top 40 upon his trade to the Cardinals in December 2007. His BA ranking that year was with San Diego as their Handbook must have gone to press prior to the trade.)

TCN Cardinals




top 40 MLB debut Debut+1 rank Debut year rank Year-1 rank Year-2 rank
Yadier Molina 2004
David Freese 2009 4 6 13a
Allen Craig 2010 7 7 14 11
Matt Carpenter 2011 6 NR

Neither of us had any of these players among the top three prospects in the system at any point in time. Given that, it is not surprising they all fell short of the national top 100s as well.

I will note that we at The Cardinal Nation were generally more aggressive than BA in ranking these future Cardinals major leaguers.

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22 Responses to “Identifying late-blooming Cardinals prospects”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Freese and Carpenter signed as 5th year seniors, Craig was a 4th year. Their bonuses were $6K, $1K, and $15K, respectively. Small bonuses do not command headlines. Such signees are not going to excite prognosticators. But these guys hit solidly in college and were well prepared as hitters for pro ball.
    There were questions about whether Freese could defend 3B, the Padres tried him at catcher. There were questions about Craig’s position; he has wound up at 1B and corner OF, non demanding defensively. Polanco came up at SS, but had to shift to 2B and 3B in the majors. Defensive questions can dampen prospect rankings.
    In contrast, high school signee Bryan Anderson made the 2008 BA 100 and played in the futures game. He seemed exciting. However, Anderson must not have improved enough defensively and offensively. He is a good player, but AAA caliber. Lots of fine players at AAA.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Baseball America top 100 lists are strongly weighted toward picks who received high bonuses.
    Of the 17 prospects above, more than half were first rounders.:
    Round 1: Matt Morris, Dmitri Young, Braden Looper, Adam Wainwright (Braves), Colby Rasmus, Chris Perez, Brett Wallace, Shelby Miller, Zach Cox
    Round 2: Rick Ankiel, Chris Narveson
    Round 3: Eli Marrero, Butler
    Round 4: Jim Journell, Bryan Anderson
    Bonus baby at late round: Blake Hawksworth ($1.475MM, IIRC)
    The only guy to crack the top 100 who may have had a low bonus humble origin was Manny Aybar. It can happen, but not too often.

    For perspective, Allen Craig was an 8th rounder, David Freese 9th rounder, Matt Carpenter was drafted in the 13th round. They were generally drafted too low to break into the Top 100 list.

  3. blingboy says:

    Brian, I enjoyed your interview with Dan Kantrovitz that you have up on the main site. I still have a great heeping pile of interviews to listen to from over the winter. (Are you old enough to remember when winter was a baseball desert? I am.)

    Pop Quiz.

    Who is the last Ivy League shortstop drafted by the Cardinals?

  4. Lou Schuler says:

    Brian, thanks for digging out my comment on the other thread. I was wondering where it went!

    And thanks very much for doing the research here. I didn’t mean to give you a homework assignment, but I’m glad you jumped on it.

    Of all the names on your charts, the one I still find most puzzling is Zack Cox. At the time of the 2010 draft we assumed that he fell because of his bonus demands. (And I think it’s telling that the rules about signing draft picks to major-league contracts were changed soon after.) But now I wonder if the teams that passed saw something in his swing or approach or personality that the Cards missed. And if they missed, is it because he wasn’t thoroughly scouted on the assumption he’d be a top-5 pick, and there was so little chance he’d be there when the Cards picked?

    In all my years of following the Cards’ system, I can’t recall another player who dropped off so much between AA and AAA. We’ve seen guys who crushed it in AAA but couldn’t hit in MLB — Tyler Greene, Brett Wallace, Mark Hamilton … — but I can’t think of a first-rounder and college star who tanked in AAA. Even in Miami’s system he’s no longer mentioned as a prospect.

    Even more surprising is that the Cards took Seth Blair, another hugely disappointing college all-American, with their next pick.

    Two huge misses, one year after what might be the best draft in franchise history.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I often get some of my best article ideas from these kinds of discussions.

      Regarding 2010, it is a good reminder that scouting and drafting are most imperfect activities. Although the jury is still out on a few guys, almost four years later, it is clear that it is not among their stronger drafts. I at least give the Cards credit for realizing what they had with Cox soon enough to get something of value for him.

      • blingboy says:

        Ty Wigginton is an NRI and Zack Cox is not.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Cox has never been an NRI. That is due to the ridiculous major league deal given him at signing. MLB often creates rules to protect themselves from themselves. Abolishing major league contracts to draftees was a particularly smart move. When Cox was taken off Miami’s 40-man last spring, no one claimed him. What a surprise.

      • blingboy says:

        2012 might be an even better example, at least as far as targeting a specific need. Two 1st round supplemental and a 2nd round pick took 3rd basemen, and there is no clear future MLB starting third baseman. Two have already been moved off the position, and Wisdom has not shown much stick since his sophomore year at St. Mary’s, as has been mentioned in a conversation on the main site board. On the other hand, the 3B we took in the 2009 13th round has worked out pretty well.

        (An imperfect process indeed, but the Cardinals seem to have made it less imperfect as to pitchers. I guess it could be debated how much of that is attributable to drafting prowess and how much due to the development program.)

        • Lou Schuler says:

          I saw 2012 as a power draft, vs. a position-specific draft. It looked like the Cards went after athletes with the ability to hit hard or throw hard.

          Wacha alone could make the draft a success, but everyone seems to like Piscotty as well. I’ve had a couple of conversations with strength coaches about him. Their praise was effusive. Both of them think he has a lot of potential to add strength and power, and they couldn’t possibly have been more complimentary of his work habits and athletic ability.

          Like you, I’m not sure what Wisdom has to offer. But Kelly is intriguing, especially if he can pull a Buster Posey and learn to catch in his late teens/early 20s, and if his contact skill translates to better results.

          Rowan Wick’s another power bat from that draft. But who knows if he has enough power to make it as a corner outfielder, probably the most competitive spot in the entire organization.

          Now, 2011 and 2013: those were position drafts. They went for athletes in ’11 — Kolten Wong and a bunch of outfielders — and middle infielders and LHP in ’13. I’m not a fan of those drafts, but if Mo and his team haven’t earned the benefit of the doubt by now …

          • blingboy says:

            Appeciate your take on the nature of the last few drafts, 2011 being the last with Luhnow and 2012 the first with Kantrovitz. If you had to guess, what approach do you think will be taken this year?

            Everybody seems to be slobbering all over Piscotty, for good reason apparently. I look forward to getting a look at him.

            • Lou Schuler says:

              I don’t know!

              If I had to guess, I’d expect more of a finesse draft — load up on skilled players, vs. tools — given that they have 4 top 100 picks, but none until #29. Maybe they emphasize catchers the way they did SS and LHP in ’13.

              But it’s probably most likely I’m seeing patterns that aren’t there, and they’ll just do what they always do: take what the draft gives them, with the first pick almost always being the guy they think is most likely to reach the majors.

              • blingboy says:

                Hard to find a Wacha or Gonzales at #29. I hope they stay away from ‘advanced college hitters’.

                • crdswmn says:

                  Why?

                  Both Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter were “advanced college hitters”.

                  • blingboy says:

                    Luhnow was good at that.

                    • Lou Schuler says:

                      We assume Luhnow was good at that. If his drafts in Houston produce a wave of productive guys like Craig, Carp, and Adams, with the occasional Mike O’Neill thrown in, and the Cards stop finding those guys, then sure, he deserves the credit.

                      The open question, for me, is whether those late-round finds were a feature of the systems and directives he put in place, or if they were a byproduct of his program.

                      If it’s the former, then he should be able to replicate it in Houston. If it’s the latter, then the scouts and analysts who’re still with the Cards should continue to find those guys for us.

                      Of course it doesn’t have to be either-or. It also doesn’t have to be exclusive to Houston and St. Louis. Every team in baseball is probably looking for that talent now, and may have been all along, and we only notice it because the Cards made some great choices and got lucky. Like we’ve always said about Pujols, if the Cards were really so far ahead of the pack, they wouldn’t have waited until the 13th round to grab him or Carp.

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