Allen Craig, 3B
After Colby Rasmus, Allen Craig might just be the best bat in the Cards' system. He has huge right-handed power and a solid approach at the plate. Craig put up massive numbers in high-A and AA last year and will likely reacquaint himself with Springfield to begin the season.

Beyond what he offers with his bat, there is some debate as to Craig's value. He possesses below-average speed and athleticism, limiting his range in the field and his contributions on the basepaths.

Despite those shortcomings, by most defensive metrics Craig is an adequate defender at the hot corner. He catches what he gets to and possesses a strong arm. In fact, overall he profiles similarly to the Cards' current third baseman, Troy Glaus, though Craig is a little less of an all-or-nothing hitter.

Clayton Mortensen's sinker drops like an anvil — which explains why his stock as a major league prospect is rising.
J. Meric/Getty Images
Clayton Mortensen's sinker drops like an anvil — which explains why his stock as a major league prospect is rising.
Righty Chris Perez is poised to inherit the mantle of ace Cards closer from Jason Isringhausen.
JC Ridley/CSM
Righty Chris Perez is poised to inherit the mantle of ace Cards closer from Jason Isringhausen.

This season will go a long way toward determining Craig's future. Springfield is a hitter's park, so don't be surprised if the kid makes a big splash.

Andres Rosales, RHP
Looking for a good sleeper pick to tell your friends about so you can look smart down the road? Give Andres Rosales some consideration. He's a long way off, having pitched primarily for Johnson City, one of the Cards' lowest-level minor league teams, last year.

Still, there's a lot to like — namely the fact that he struck out 60 batters in 47 innings while walking only eight (!). It's far too early to begin assigning a ceiling to the kid, as he'll only be nineteen years old when the season starts, but one or two scouts have already tossed around comps to no less a talent than Pedro Martinez. Again, that's way too lofty for a pitcher so far out, but there are some similarities.

Rosales is an undersize right-hander, standing just six feet tall; Johnson City's Web site lists him at an improbable 140 lbs. He throws a fastball about 90 mph, with tremendous run and sink, and has one dominating secondary pitch, a hard curveball that accounts for most of his strikeouts. (Adam Wainwright, anyone?) He also throws a changeup that, like Andres himself, still has quite a way to go.

There's plenty of room for Rosales to mature physically, increasing both endurance and velocity.

We may not see him for a long time, if ever. He's an awfully intriguing prospect, though, considering his present ability, age and potential for improvement.

Bryan Anderson and Luis De La Cruz, C
When the Cardinals signed Yadier Molina to a contract extension, the move caused immediate debate among prospect followers. The reason: Bryan Anderson. A lefty-hitting catcher, Anderson batted nearly .300 as the youngest player in the Texas League (AA) last season. He doesn't have light-tower power, though, and his defense is merely adequate, leading many to believe he'll be ignored in favor of the defensive wizardry of Molina. Anderson won't turn 22 until this December, which gives him plenty of time to develop. And while he'll start the year at AA, he should see AAA at some point in the season, putting him only one step from the majors, and a very intriguing decision for the Cardinals.

Further off, but equally intriguing, is Luis De La Cruz. Part of the Cardinals' recent push into more aggressive scouting in Latin America, De La Cruz was signed out of Venezuela. He's a long way off — he's only eighteen — but he's got a very high ceiling.

He boasts tremendous bat speed from the right side of the plate, allowing him to make hard, consistent contact. He already has great catch-and-throw skills, with arm strength that rivals Molina's.

Catching talent has become a great strength of the Cardinals' system, and Anderson and De La Cruz, while at very different points on the development curve, represent the best of the lot. Whatever direction the team goes, be it Anderson, De La Cruz or sticking with Yadi, backstop is one position this ball club won't have to worry about for years to come.

Aaron Schafer is a Cardinals fan who lives in St. Louis. He contributes to the Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos (www.vivaelbirdos.com) under the screen name The Red Baron.

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