The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
ALL GRADES ARE PRELIMINARY AND SUBJECT TO CHANGE. No grade is final until January 5th, 2013
1) Oscar Taveras, OF, Grade A: One of the easiest grades in the book. Outstanding hitter for power and average, and he improved his baserunning and defense. Next great Cardinals star? Seems like it to me.
2) Shelby Miller, RHP, Grade A: Terrific second half of the season saved his A rating from last year. Still looks like a rotation anchor to me, just needs to stay healthy.
3) Carlos Martinez, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+: Still has some rough edges but he made enough progress that I'm comfortable bumping him up a notch. Like Miller, he can be a top of the rotation guy if he avoids injury. He's moved very quickly and if I were the Cardinals I think I would slow things down a little and avoid bringing him to the majors in 2013 unless nobody else is available.
4) Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline A-: Another very live arm who could pitch at the top of the rotation eventually, or perhaps become a power closer.
5) Michael Wacha, RHP, Grade B+: Exceeded expectations in pro ball, granted the sample is small, but still. . .40/4 K/BB in 21 innings? Dang. I thought he was a future number three starter, but if he maintains the uptick in velocity he showed in pro ball, he's another guy you can build the rotation around.
6) Kolten Wong, 2B, Grade B: Solid but unspectacular season in Double-A, with his defense looking quite good and a decent hitting line. Looked good to me in Arizona Fall League. I still see him as a future regular second baseman who hits for average, gets on base, and provides a steady glove.
7) Matt Adams, 1B, Grade B: Poorly-timed injury, but he destroyed Triple-A pitching and given his track record I think he will eventually adapt to the majors. Like Wong, I don't see him as a star, but rather as a solid regular.
8) Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, Grade B-: His upside is as high as the guys above him, but injuries and command problems short-circuited him in Low-A. Disappointing, but the talent is still here.
9) Anthony Garcia, OF, Grade B-: I absolutely do not understand why this guy doesn't get more press. His power is very real, and even marginal improvements in the strike zone would result in a huge breakout. Crushed Low-A pitching.
10) Carson Kelly, 3B, Grade B-: Highest-ceiling and youngest of the third basemen drafted in 2012 by the Cards. Will also take the most time to develop. Needs more patience and defensive work. Profile is similar to Diamondbacks prospect Matt Davidson at the same stage of his career.
11) Patrick Wisdom, 3B, Grade B-: Excellent glove, and he hit better in the New York-Penn League than he did in college. Expect power and patience, we'll have to see about the batting average.
12) Stephen Piscotty, 3B, Grade B-: Nice solid line drive hitter, but he doesn't have Wisdom's glove nor Kelly's pure upside. That's a problem, since Piscotty's bat won't look as good in the outfield or at first base unless he boosts home run production.
13) Greg Garcia, 2B-SS, Grade C+: Wong's double play partner at Springfield is a strong yet overlooked prospect in his own right with very sound on-base skills. Stretched at shortstop, he's better at second base but that's Wong's position.
14) Seth Maness, RHP, Grade C+: Truly outstanding command helps mediocre velocity play up. Seems like he can be a sound inning-eater to me, or at worst an attractive trade chit for another team.
15) John Gast, LHP, Grade C+: A good arm from the left side, but erratic with his command and more likely to fit in the bullpen than the rotation for St. Louis.
16) Starlin Rodriguez, 2B, Grade C+: Another overlooked prospect who would get a lot more attention if he played in a weaker farm system. Good fielder, hit for average with some pop, strong performance in High-A. Good showing in Double-A will get him on the conveyer belt towards an opportunity of Wong doesn't pan out.
17) Ryan Jackson, SS, Grade C+: Very sound defensive player and can surprise you with his hitting at times. If you really need a shortstop, you could do a lot worse than just sticking Jackson in the lineup, hit him low in the order, and enjoy his fundamental play. More value for a real team than a fantasy one.
18) Maikel Cleto, RHP, Grade C+: Gotta respect the arm strength. Will he ever throw strikes well enough for the 100 MPH fastball to matter?
19) Tyler Lyons, LHP, Grade C+: Sleeper prospect who has more talent and pitched better than his 4.00+ ERA in Triple-A indicates. Would be a sneaky rotation candidate for some teams due to strike-throwing ability, but he gets lost in the crowd here.
20) Breyvic Valera, INF, Grade C+: Another sound infielder, this one advancing to Low-A for 2013. Hits for average, defense is promising at second base, could develop more power than people expect.
OTHER GRADE C+: Tim Cooney, LHP; Victor De Leon, RHP; James Ramsey, OF; Boone Whiting, RHP
OTHERS: Steve Bean, C; Michael Blazek, RHP; Keith Butler, RHP; Adron Chambers, OF; Victor De Leon, RHP; Adam Ehrlich, C; Eric Fornataro, RHP; Sam Freeman, LHP; Silfredo Garcia, RHP; Sam Gaviglio, RHP; Pete Kozma, SS: Jake Lemmerman, INF; Dixon Llorrens, RHP; C.J. McElroy, OF; Mike O'Neill, OF; Jorge Rondon, RHP; Kevin Siegrist, LHP; Lee Stoppelman, LHP; Jordan Swagerty, RHP; Charlie Tilson, OF; Colin Walsh, OF-INF
What can you say? This is one hell of a farm system. There is impact talent. There are future stars. And there are a lot of guys who project as solid role players to back them up.
The pitching. . .you have four guys in Miller, Martinez, Rosenthal, and Wacha who could be and should be rotation anchors. Jenkins has that kind of talent too, if he can refine it. There is a ton of pitching behind them, with a good mixture of strike-throwers (Maness, Lyons, Boone Whiting) and guys with hot arms. The Cardinals should never want for good relief pitching, and if even if some of the top guys get hurt or don't pan out, one of the efficiency experts could step in.
As history shows (Oakland's Four Aces, Generation K of the Mets, the Royals a couple of years ago), having a great batch of pitching prospects is no guarantee of success. There will be injury attrition, and someone will be a disappointment. But the point is to gather as many pitchers as possible to provide depth to cover for the inevitable failures, and the Cardinals are masters at doing this.
But the Cardinals also have lots of hitting to go with the pitching. Taveras will be a star, Wong and Adams look like regulars, and there are a bunch of guys who should be role players or strong contributors at least. The 2012 draft brought in additional bats, with particular depth at third base. If those guys thrive in 2013, this list will still look strong next year even if the top guys graduate.
Overall, this is an amazing system, a prospect factory. They find guys at big colleges, they find guys at small colleges, they find guys in junior college, they find and develop high school guys, they find and develop Latin American guys. They do everything.