The Seven Brightest St. Louis Cardinals Prospects

I don't want to jump all over a guy when he hits a walk-off anything, but honestly, could that have been a more pathetic swing? I'm pretty sure the commissioner's office is reviewing tape of Cesar Izturis' at-bat right now, trying to decide whether or not they can actually let a game be won on a hit like that.

A couple of days ago, when writing about Tony La Russa possibly leaving St. Louis to go and be a general manager somewhere, I wrote something that I think needs to be clarified. I wrote about La Russa having it easy with the St. Louis media; I believe my exact phrasing was something involving the number of softballs he fields versus the number that Jennie Finch sees on an everyday basis.

Well, after a couple days' reflection, I think that comment may have come across in a way that I didn't mean for it too. In no way was I trying to denigrate any of the baseball writers or reporters who cover the team on an everyday basis. By and large, most of those individuals do an excellent job. It simply isn't a part of the sporting culture in this town to go after members of the organization the way that you see in places like New York, or Boston, or Philadelphia. Hey, we also don't boo Santa Claus or throw batteries at players on the field, either. It's just not what we do here. I feel like my comments probably reflected poorly on the media members themselves, when that wasn't my intention. There. I feel better now.

Not too long ago, Cardinal70, who runs a truly excellent blog of his own, did one of his United Cardinal Blogger events, focusing on the farm system. At the suggestion of Derrick Goold, C70 was looking for the Cards' top seven prospects. I don't usually contribute to the UCB projects, but it is an excellent idea. The minor league seasons are pretty much all over now, with the New York Penn league holding playoffs right now. (The Cards' short season affiliate, Batavia, is playing Lowell, one of Boston's farm teams.) So, with the 2008 season in our back pockets, I thought I would take a stab at my own list of seven.

Note: this is a very preliminary, off-the-cuff list. I reserve the right to change my mind or even deny ever having made this list if I end up looking foolish at some point in the near future. Also, I'm leaving off a couple of players who are still technically prospects, such as Chris Perez. Perez is still technically a prospect, but to me, I'm more interested in the guys who are still in the minors, rather than the ones that are already here.

1.) Colby Rasmus, OF - First things first. Colby absolutely did not have the year we all hoped he would. He played very well in spring training, putting up an absurd on-base percentage, then seemed to become discouraged when he was sent to the minors anyway. He carried that disappointment into the beginning of the Memphis season and was hitting just .217 at the end of May. To top it off, there was some very weird drama going on with the Rasmus family, involving a sibling, the Rasmus patriarch's screen name and a Cardinal message board. Those of us who follow Cardinal prospects were getting more than a little antsy.

Colby turned it around, playing very well in the summer months, and was selected to the Olympic squad. Unfortunately, a knee injury knocked him out just before the games got under way, and Rasmus only got back into games the last few weeks of the season.

Rasmus is still the jewel of the farm system, even with a tough year. He possesses all five tools, and a keen batting eye, as well. Even when he was hitting only .217, he was getting on base at a .315 clip. His defense is projected to be Gold Glove-caliber as a pure center fielder, and his arm is a plus as well. The fact is, Rasmus is the best bet in the Cards' system to become a true impact player, and in the very near future. He'll play winter ball somewhere this offseason, trying to make up for some of the time he lost this year.

2.) Bryan Anderson, C - Strangely, it seems that Anderson's prospect stock has taken a pretty serious hit amongst many this season. Personally, I think that probably has more to do with the emergence of Yadier Molina as a legitimate hitter than it does Anderson's performance.

Anderson came into the year known for his bat, while his glove was a big question mark. Well, you can consider most of those questions answered. Anderson's passed balls have dropped each year of his professional career, from 17 in 2006, to 15 in '07, to just 10 this year. He also did a better job of throwing out runners this season, catching better than 36% of would-be base stealers. With the improvements Anderson made this year, he looks to be at least an average defensive catcher, maybe even a tick above average.

Where the story with Anderson really gets interesting, though, is with a bat in his hands. Bryan started the year at Double A and absolutely dominated. He hit .388 in the early going before being promoted to Memphis. He continued to hit well there, though he did endure a tough late-season slide. Anderson's power is still much more projection than reality at this point, though for a player with his swing, power could very well continue to develop gradually down the road. The most important thing about Anderson may, in fact, be his age. With two thirds of a Triple A season already under his belt, Anderson won't turn 22 until December.

Bottom line, left-handed-hitting catchers who should hit .300 consistently and play solid defense are a rare commodity. It looks more and more as if Anderson will eventually be trade bait, but there's really no denying what kind of a prospect he is.

3.) Jess Todd, RHP - I've been on the Jess Todd bandwagon longer than almost anyone, and I'm certainly not hopping off now. He came into the season ranked the 12th-best prospect in the Cardinals' system and proved that ranking was probably way too low.

Drafted out of Arkansas just last year, Todd pitched at three levels this season, finishing up at Triple A Memphis. Along the way, he beat up on minor leaguers of all shapes and sizes.

Todd's repertoire is deep and impressive, beginning with an assortment of fastballs. He throws a classic four-seamer in the low 90s, a sinker in the upper 80s, and a cutter with almost the exact-same velocity as his sinker but with the exact opposite movement. To that he adds a plus slider and a change-up that's perfectly serviceable as a show pitch and could certainly improve. Todd's biggest strength is the fact that most of his pitches come out of his hand looking almost exactly the same, then move in different directions from each other.

Todd does have a funky, jumpy delivery, and the fact that his repertoire is more deceptive than overpowering has some people predicting middle relief inhis future. Personally, I think he has a very good chance to stick as a starter, and a mighty fine one at that.

4.) Daryl Jones, OF - Ah, Daryl Jones. All tools, no real production, at least until this year. The best pure athlete in the entire Cardinal system, Jones finally began to make good on all of that promise that made him a third-round pick in the 2005 draft.

Jones flashes all five tools in spades, with speed to burn. The weakest aspect of his game is probably his arm in the outfield, but he has enough to play center or left. He finally began to show game-usable power this year and fixed the load in his swing. Bottom line, Jones is a potential game changer, in a lot of different ways. He even showed outstanding plate discipline this season, particularly at Double A, where he walked more than he struck out.

Jones is only 21, even younger than Bryan Anderson. He'll most likely start back in Springfield next season but could easily score a promotion to Memphis in the first couple of months with a hot start.

5.) Brett Wallace, 3B - The only 2008 draftee on my list, Wallace looks, to this point at least, pretty much as advertised. He was one of, if not the, best hitters in the draft this year, and he didn't disappoint in his professional debut. He started in Quad Cities and dominated there, though he didn't hit for quite as much power as you might expect. He was promoted to Double A and continued to rake.

Of course, Wallace's defense is still a question, and probably will be for a while. Even if he's a little iffy with the glove, though, what Brett can do with the bat will likely make up for it. Unless, of course, he's an absolute disaster, and then all bets are off.

Wallace will likely start at Double A in 2009 but will probably be a candidate for fast-tracking. The Cardinals would certainly love for him to prove he can be their third baseman of the future, but he could also become a candidate for a trade next season, similar to what the Brewers did with their first-round pick from 2007, Matt LaPorta.

6.) Clayton Mortensen, RHP - If you were to go and look at Mortensen's numbers, you would probably come away unimpressed. Go ahead, go. See? Told you. If you were to look closely, though, at the player himself, you might have a slightly different impression. The kid with the power sinker wasn't so bad after all.

See, Mort was drafted just last year, as a college senior out of Gonzaga University. In his first professional season, Mortensen began in Double A, then was promoted to Memphis when Blake Hawksworth hit the DL. Triple A was, in all likelihood, too much for Mortensen, at least as early in the season as he got there. Still, he managed to hold it together, posting a respectable ERA. He struggled with his control at times, particularly when he began to nibble. Still, you have to like a player who can hold his own in the highest level of the minor leagues as a starter with less than 100 professional innings to his name. I'm a believer.

7.) Richard Castillo, RHP - Now this one is sort of my surprise pick. I would be willing to bet that pretty much no one else doing their prospect rankings will include Castillo in the top seven. So why did I, you ask?

Well, because Castillo began the year in High A ball and struck out nineteen batters in sixteen innings there, while posting a 1.13 ERA. He was actually demoted to Quad Cities, in order to work as a starter. There he struck out 69 batters in 79 innings, while walking only 20. His ERA in Low A was 2.62, though he had a FIP of 4.40. That was largely due to his being more than a little homer prone, with 11 of them on the year. Still, it's the only major blemish that Castillo has at the moment, and he still has plenty of time to work on keeping the ball in the ballpark. He's only 19 years old, after all.

There are plenty of players I didn't mention here; guys like Pete Kozma, Jason Motte, Jon Jay, and David Freese. Just the fact that there are so many good choices though, is indicative of just how far the farm system has come.

- Aaron Schafer

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