Thoughts on the MLB draft and the Reds

Baseball America ranked the Cardinals farm system #1 in baseball on March 27th, 2013.  When the rankings come out next year, it’s highly unlikely the Cards will even be among the top 5 farm clubs in MLB.  Because of the unusual amount of injuries, the Cards have had to dig deep and make some tough decisions about promoting young pitchers.  If the Cards didn’t have the depth they’ve stockpiled, the team might already be looking to 2014, or they may have traded Oscar Taveras and/or Kolten Wong to try and weather the storm.

The Cards went right to work in this year’s draft on restocking some of that pitching, selecting two LHP’s in the first round in Marco Gonzales and Rob Kaminsky.  Taking a LHP was something the Cards hadn’t done in the first round since 1994.  The Cards Director of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz said the Cards ran through 5 or 6 different mock drafts, trying to anticipate who other teams would draft and who that might leave them with.  Kantrovitz said the Cards never ran through the scenario that played out, because they didn’t think it was possible the Cards would land Gonzales and Kaminsky, as well as their 2nd round pick, shortstop Oscar MercadoHere’s a clip from ESPN with Cards GM John Mozeliak and Kantrovitz about these picks.

Gonzales, the 19th overall pick, is a 6’1”, 185 pound lefty from Gonzaga.  He was said to have the best changeup in this year’s draft, which scouts graded as a 70 on the 20-80 scale.  Gonzales lives on the corners with his fastball that’s 89-91 MPH, and also mixes in a curveball and cutter that are pitches he needs to work on.  Polished and poised are the words for Gonzales.  The Cards expect Gonzales to move quickly through the system and hope is ETA is 2015.

Kaminsky, the 28th overall pick, is another lefty listed at 6’0”, 190 pounds.  Kaminsky can run the fastball up to 94 MPH, but his out pitch is the curveball.  Kaminsky has a commitment to North Carolina, but seems pretty excited to be picked by the Cardinals and looks like he’ll be signing soon.  In this piece by Kevin Kernan of the NY Post, Kaminsky said “This is a dream becoming a reality.”  Asked if he was sweating it out, Kaminsky admitted “To an extent, but I had an idea from my family advisor that I was going late in the first round, so it was going to be the Yankees or the Cardinals.  Thank God it’s the Cardinals because they definitely develop.”

Merchado is an interesting pick.  The Cardinals seem more than happy with it, and most scouts seem to think he was one of the best high school defensive players in the draft.  It seems to be a consensus that he’ll never hit for a high average or with power, but they say he’s one of the few players that can project to stay at shortstop all the way to MLB.  Both Kaminsky and Merchado are probably 3 or 4 years away from MLB, so patience will be the plan with them.

The Cards came into Cincy with a 3 game lead over the Reds.  Adam Wainwright and the offense extended it to 4 games last night, making sure the Cards will leave town up at least 2 games on the Reds in a worst case scenario.  The Cards stayed patient against Mike Leake, making him throw 97 pitches through 5 IP, and continued their trend of hitting with 2 outs and RISP.  Yadier Molina answered the boo birds with 2 hits and ran his league leading BA to .352.  Matt Carpenter worked a full count in his first 3 AB’s, and continues to set the table and be among the lead leaders in P/PA at 4.05.  Tyler Lyons takes the mound tonight against Mat Latos, who is 5-0 with a 2.90 ERA in 12 starts.

The thing on my mind is if Dusty Baker is going to order someone to be hit in this series.  With Mike Matheny replacing Tony LaRussa, it appears that the feud between the Cards and Reds may have died down some since LaRussa left.  It’s not just the Cardinals though.  In 3 of the last 4 series the Reds have played in, players from other teams have had problems with the way the Reds pitchers are going about their business.  Matt Garza of the Cubs, Nick Swisher of the Indians and several players on the Pirates feel that balls are more than just getting away from Reds pitchers these days.  This is something Matheny hasn’t had to deal with yet, and it will be interesting to see how he does if it does happen tonight or tomorrow.  When it comes to Baker, well, you just never know.

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Moving to

In the next few months, I will be moving to  I will continue to post here until then, although not as much, and the site will be under construction from time to time and you may not be available to login for comments.  Thanks to all of those who follow me and will continue to do so….JD

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Cards #1 farm system continues to be tested

The Cards made an interesting roster move this morning, calling up Victor Marte and sending down Carlos Martinez.  Marte is probably only up until Thursday, and then the Cards have to move someone into the rotation to start for John Gast.  We all know that Marte is the true definition of a 4A player, but it’s only for a few days, at least I think.  Martinez going down makes sense.  With the loss of Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, Gast and the recent setback once again of Chris Carpenter, the Cards need to stretch Martinez out and bring him back as a starter.  It looks like Westbrook’s injury may be more serious than originally thought, so the Cards need to prepare for the worst.

Michael Blazek got the call up from AA after the Gast injury.  I’m curious to see what he can do from the BP.  Blazek is another one of those diamonds in the rough, a 35th round pick from the 2007 draft.  The Cards tried him as a starter for his first 6 years in the minors, but recently moved him into the BP this year.  The results are hard to ignore.  As the closer in Memphis, Blazek has a 0.92 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.  He has 25 K’s in 19.2 IP and 7 saves.  I think we’ll see Blazek in close games right away, mixing him in with Seth Maness in close situations in the middle innings.

Tyler Lyons was impressive in his first start with the big club.  Completely off the radar, Lyons came up currently ranked somewhere between the 30th-36th best prospect in the Cards farm system at the time, depending on which prospect list you pick from.  Lyons was a 9th round pick in 2010.  At the time, it appeared he would make a spot start or two, but as the Westbrook injury appears to worsen, Lyons might be here for a while.  Another SP that lives on location, I actually like what I’ve seen from Lyons more than I have from Gast.  Lyons provides a bit more deception and uses his 6’4” frame to get maximum effort without appearing to do so.  He sets up his pitches well with his 4-seam fastball, even though he maxes out at 91 MPH.

The Cards have a decision to make on Thursday as to who will start for Gast.  I think it will be Joe Kelly as the team doesn’t want to start the clock on Michael Wacha yet.  What should be noted though is that Wacha was scratched from his start in Memphis yesterday, so the possibility is there.  If the Cards can tread water without rushing Wacha for the injured Gast, I would be on board.  Rushing someone as talented as Wacha when he’s still learning to pitch in a 5 man rotation could be a costly mistake, but sending Martinez back to the minors might mean he is on the way, with Martinez being down as the extra insurance for a future injury. 

The Cards clearly won’t have the #1 farm system in 2014.  They’ll fall out of the top 10 with all of the promotions and we’re not even out of the month of May yet.  This is what the minors are for though.  Gone are the days when Tony LaRussa and Walt Jocketty saw these kids as nothing more than trade chips.  This system is deeper than any that Tony and Walt ever had, but I still don’t think we would see these kinds of promotions from within under the old regime.  John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny are on the same page, which is to exhaust all internal options before looking to make a trade using these youngsters.  This is how the Cards will contend for years to come going forward, and it’s why they made the cover of Sports Illustrated as the best organization in baseball now and for the future.

The Cardinals are a MLB best 32-17 and have lost 2 series this year.  Without the stockpiling of young talent in recent years, this season would be over.  I hate to say something as cliché as it’s as simple as that, but it is.  The Cards will be tested, and are sure to go through some rough stretches as the season wears on, but I’m looking forward to the young kids getting a chance to take their lumps and learn from it rather than dumpster diving for has been or never had been veterans.  The Cards are doing things the right way and are now the model organization for every team in MLB when it comes to planning ahead.  With the right key veterans surrounding the kids, the transition is all that much easier for them.  I’m not saying the Cards should never trade for a Matt Holliday type player ever again, I’m not saying that at all.  What I am saying and have been saying for years now is that you make sure you trade the kids for the right players like Holliday, sign a few key veterans here and there, and keep a good balance.

No team in MLB is going to win without a good mix of talent, grinders, veterans, rookies and everything in between.  The Cards have a great mix of that.  What the Cards do have that no other team does is a player like Yadier Molina, who makes these young pitchers feel at ease by calling a good game every night and getting the most out of guys who have a limited arsenal of weapons.  I’m not sure there’s another team in baseball that has a player they absolutely can’t lose as the Cards do with Molina.  He’s the foundation for this team, and he alone allows the Cards to make some of the decisions they’re making with the farm system.  Mozeliak and Matheny know this, and they won’t be hesitant to try anybody at any time on the mound from the minors.

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Tyler Lyons, Michael Wacha and Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP)

Originally thought of as just a quick fix for the injured Jake Westbrook, John Gast may end up being in the Cards rotation for quite a while with the recent news of Jaime Garcia.  I’m surprised Garcia lasted as long as he did with a partial tear of the labrum in his shoulder.  I understand wanting to try and avoid surgery and make it a last option, but I’m expecting Dr. James Andrews to give Garcia the news that he needs to go under the knife.  Tyler Lyons will step in for Garcia on Wednesday in San Diego, but I’m not sure he’ll be a long term answer. 

Wednesday will also bring an answer as to who will be sent down from the BP.  My guess is it will be between Joe Kelly and Mitchell Boggs.  I was surprised to hear that Boggs got the call back up so soon.  His problems have followed him to Memphis, and there doesn’t appear to be a quick fix as he’s staying with his new stance on the mound.

If either Boggs or Kelly aren’t one of the choices to go down and it’s Carlos Martinez instead, I’ll be a little confused to say the least.  I know the Cards want to stretch him out as a starter, but I’m not sure how many games you can expect to be in late when your only reliable arms are Randy ChoateSeth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica.

Getting back to the starting rotation, right now all eyes are on Westbrook.  He had a setback with his elbow which prompted another cortisone injection, and that elbow may determine the arrival date of Michael Wacha.  Lyons may get away with a few good starts…hopefully anyway, but he hasn’t done anything in the minors nor does he have the pitches to stay in MLB for long as a starter.  If he can end up being a decent LOOGY down the road I’ll take it.  Cardinal Nation wants Wacha now, but we need to temper those feelings and remember that this kid was pitching for Texas A&M at this point last year.  I watched him pitch a few games in ST, and Yadier Molina made the comment that he was “ready now” at that time, but this is a dangerous situation for the Cards.

When the Cards drafted Wacha, the experts covering the draft compared him to Jon Garland.  Because of his success so far in the minors and how he impressed during ST, he’s now being talked about like the next Chris Carpenter.  It’s not fair to him or his development as a SP.  It’s a tough situation for the Cards, and a lot of factors come into play.  If the Cards really feel he is going to be the steal of the 2012 draft and a front of the rotation starter for years to come, they’ll want to have him under team control as long as possible.  Calling him up too early cuts into that time of team control, and here’s a good article from FanGraphs which explains some of that.  The Cards 28-15 record also helps the delay of Wacha’s arrival.  They have the wiggle room to take chances right now.  If the Cards were 4 or 5 games below Cincy in the standings, Wacha might be here instead of Lyons.  Rushing Wacha could be dangerous in a number of ways, and it isn’t necessary until the Westbrook situation is clearer.

The Cards are still leading all of MLB in pitching with a 3.16 ERA, led by the SP’s ERA of 2.63.  Because of how bad the BP was for the first month, the BP ERA is still only down to 4.55, which is 13th in the NL.  The offense is coming alive, ranking 3rd in both AVG (.266) and OBP (.329).  The Cards are doing it without the power of the HR, as their 33 HR’s rank 13th in the NL.

Matt Carpenter is solidifying his place as the leadoff hitter for the rest of the year and in the future.  He continues to take pitches (4.04 P/PA) and set the table (.378 OBP).  Jon Jay has really turned the corner with his new stance, hitting the ball with more authority to all fields.  I’m really surprised anyone who has been doing something so long can make such as drastic change and see results as quick as Jay has.  I want to tip my cap to him, I just don’t want to hear anymore about him winning or even being in the running for a Gold Glove Award from Al Hrabosky.  Jay has a -4.1 UZR and a -17.7 UZR/150 on defense, which means his range is just awful, and 17th out of 21 qualifying MLB CF’ers.  It’s no secret why, which is because he gets awful jumps on most balls.  So please Al, just stop.  Pete Kozma keeps on getting it done in the 8 hole and Yadier Molina is tied for 5th in the league with a BA of .333.

The only change I want to see is with Daniel Descalso.  He’s just not getting it done on offense or defense.  Ryan Jackson is tearing up AAA, hitting .385.  The only reasons the Cards must have for not swapping the two are because they think Descalso will turn it around and that Jackson might not be as good getting the sporadic AB’s in his place.  Another reason could be to use Jackson as a trade chip later on, or keeping him playing on an everyday basis in case of an injury to Kozma.  It’s hard to imagine Jackson looking as lost at the plate as Descalso does, but in John Mozeliak we trust.  Even with that trust, I wouldn’t mind giving Jackson a month or two to see what he can do and letting Descalso get everyday playing time back in the minors.  I don’t see how it can hurt.

It’s important for the Cards to win the games started by Shelby Miller, Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn.  While Gast has been good, the uncertainties of him along with Lyons aren’t something to take lightly.  What will make it tough is watching the pitch counts of the big 3, but also making sure they go deep enough into games to have plenty of BP arms ready for the games started by Gast and Lyons.  There are no easy decisions for Mike Matheny to try and keep a good balance. 

Right now, Miller, Lynn and Wainwright are all in the top 22 on the PAP (Pitcher Abuse Points) list, which is not a list you want to be on.  It’s not an exact science, but I think it does make some good points about extending SP’s in this day and age where pitch count is everything.  It’s simple really….SP’s are conditioned throughout their pro career to save wear and tear on their arms and when you go above that, you’re risking injury.  The fine balance Matheny must use just became more complicated with the loss of Garcia, but extending your big 3 too many times too early is asking for trouble.  All 3 were cut short in their last start because of the high pitch counts in their previous ones.  None of them were as sharp in those last outings, and you only hope it doesn’t carry over into the next one or further.  Westbrook was also in the top 20 on that list before he went down with an injury.  Coincidence…maybe, but it’s not something Matheny should mess with.

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Looking back and then ahead to the Mets series

The Cardinals were due for a bad game.  It happens.  Jaime Garcia pitched like he was on the road today, getting in trouble with 2 outs and no one on base.  Other than that, there’s not much to complain about except for the use of Carlos Martinez in a game when you’re down 5-0.  If the Cards have a couple of close ones the next few games where Martinez is needed, Mike Matheny might regret that decision.  I say this because of the Cards talking about limiting the action Martinez sees out of the BP early on until he gets used to it.  I know Matheny wants to get the BP some work because of the lack of opportunities this week from the two off days the Cards had this week as well as the two complete games by Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright.  However, today’s game had Joe Kelly and Fernando Salas only written all over it.  I would have liked to have seen Kelly stretched out a bit to try and get back on track instead of the use of Martinez.  Anyway, before looking ahead, let’s look back a bit.

What more can be said of Miller?  After giving up a leadoff hit to start the game, he put down 27 straight Rockies Friday night.  His 4-seam fastball seems to confuse hitters on both location and late explosiveness.  When it explodes into the spot Yadier Molina wants it, it’s not only a thing of beauty, but it leaves hitters guessing, which is odd considering Miller is a fastball/curveball pitcher mainly.  You know you’re going good when Troy Tulowitzki is baffled twice looking at strike three.  Miller is the real deal, but it will be interesting to see how teams (especially the NL Central teams) make adjustments to him over a long season.

Adam Wainwright tried to one up Miller Saturday, and a one out hit in the 8th inning ended the chance for a no-hitter for Waino.  If the playoffs started today, Wainwright would obviously be your game one starter, followed by Miller IMO.  What I like about what Wainwright, Miller and Lance Lynn are doing is that they’re all throwing the 4-seamer up in the zone.  I never disagreed with Dave Duncan’s philosophy, especially with most of the pitchers he had that lacked pure stuff, but I like that the Cards are letting some of the power arms experiment with the power pitching up in the zone.  The groundball on the 2-seamer is still there as a first course of action, but putting hitters away with 2 strikes with a different look is something I’m enjoying.

Defensive metrics say the Cards aren’t very good as far as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), but they’re getting to the balls they can and making the routine plays as good as anyone in baseball.  They have the second fewest errors (14) in the NL to Arizona (8).  The Cards have a UZR of -5.8, which ranks them 10th in the NL.  To put it in perspective, the Cards had a team UZR of -34.7 in 2011, which was next to last in the NL and they won it all. Could this be something that the coaching staff realized might be the case before the season started which is why Wainwright, Miller and Lynn are going for the K more often?  That might be a stretch, but power pitching in the playoffs is something all teams long for.

I know there’s a lot of talk about the offense, but I’ll continue to say that’s the least of my worries with this team.  Even with the season long struggles of David Freese as well as the early struggles for Jon Jay and Allen Craig’s power outage, the Cards as a team are 4th in the NL with a .263 AVG, 4th in OBP at .326 and tied for 8th in SLG at .390.  The Cards are also keeping the K’s down on offense, only striking out 18.4% of the time, good for the 4th lowest rate.  Jay is making harder and more consistent contact with his new stance and approach, and Freese doesn’t look as completely lost as he did 2 weeks ago.  I feel I must also say again that I hope Matheny doesn’t move Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot.  He works the count every AB, and his 4.13 of pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) is something no one else on the team has come close to in the past except for Matt Holliday

Even with the struggles of the BP until the last week or so, the Cards have the best team ERA in all of MLB at 3.03.  Where it gets almost unbelievable is the SP’s ERA of 2.25, which is almost a full run better than the Nationals SP’s who are second at 3.22. 

As the Mets come to town with their 14-20 record, all signs point to the Cards taking at least 3 of 4 in the series.  The Mets have one SP with an ERA under 4.63 in Matt Harvey (1.44), and we don’t have to face him as he pitched today.

Here are the SP matchups:

Game 1:  Jeremy Hefner (0-4, 4.63 ERA) vs. Lance Lynn (5-1, 2.72 ERA)

Game 2:  Dillon Gee (2-4, 5.55 ERA) vs. John Gast (MLB debut)

Game 3:  Shaun Marcum (0-3, 8.59 ERA) vs. Shelby Miller (5-2, 1.58 ERA)

Game 4:  Jon Niese (2-4, 5.93 ERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (5-2, 2.30 ERA)

I hate having to say the Cards need to win 3 of 4 in a series in May, but when you’re playing at home against SP’s with numbers like the Mets have, I feel you almost have to.  Due to the injury to Jake Westbrook, John Gast will make his first MLB start.  Gast is 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA at Memphis in 7 starts in 2013.  He’s a lefty that lives with location.  He has a fastball around 89-91, a plus change-up and a better than average curveball.  Chalk another one up to the great Cards farm system, the gift that keeps on giving.

There’s not much to say about the Mets.  David Wright (.297 AVG, .417 OBP, 5 HR’s), Lucas Duda (.368 OBP, 8 HR’s) and John Buck (10 HR’s, 29 RBI’s) are having decent years, the Cards just can’t let those guys beat them.  The Mets are lucky to be at 14-20 with the numbers they have across the board.  They’re 14th in UZR at -9.9, 13th in AVG at .234, 11th in OBP at .306 and have the 4th highest K rate as an offense at 22.1%.  They have a 4.39 ERA as a team, which is next to last (Brewers, 4.70).  In other words, they’re awful.  The only bright spot on this team aside from Harvey is closer Bobby Parnell and his 1.10 ERA and 0.73 WHIP, but he’s just 3 for 5 in save opportunities. 

The only thing that will keep the Mets out of the cellar in the NL East are the Marlins, and it will be a coin flip to determine which club, either the Marlins or the Astros will have the worst record in all of MLB in 2013, with the Mets and Cubs close behind.  The Mets have also had the luxury of playing 21 games at home (9-12) and only 13 on the road (5-8).

Like I said, winning less than 3 of 4 in this series for the Cards would be a head scratcher.  The Cards have everything going for them right now…a fresh BP, dominant SP and an offense that can put up 6 with ease when they’re in sync.  Then again, these are exactly the types of teams I think some of us worry about playing.

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