There’s always a surprise team in MLB each year and in most cases, one in both the NL and AL. In the NL Central, the Pirates are starting to put it together and the Brewers still have some talent to make things interesting. The Cubs have some pitching, but losing fewer than 90 games will probably be progress as Theo Epstein continues to rebuild his new club. In the end, it will come down between the Cardinals and the Reds in 2013, and the Cardinals recently ranked #1 farm system in all of MLB will be their weapon of choice.
The last time the Cardinals had a farm system ranked #1 was in 1984. As some of you know, along with being the manager from 1980-1990, Whitey Herzog was also the GM of the Cardinals from 1980-1982. Some of the top players from that developing system were Vince Coleman (10th round, 1982), Terry Pendelton (7th round, 1982), Danny Cox (13th round, 1981) and Todd Worrell (1st round, 1982). On top of these picks as GM, Whitey traded for Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Lonnie Smith along with signing Darrell Porter as a free agent as well.
The point here is what that system and those players did for the Cards and how it correlates to what the team is doing now. After winning it all in 1982, the Cards reached the WS again in ’85 and ’87. Under GM John Mozeliak, the Cards have stockpiled young talent and resisted the temptation to make trades. The Cardinals have to do this to compete in short and long term with the market they’re in, and this will be a recipe for success for years to come. The most amazing thing about this is what the Cards have been able to do on the big club, avoiding rebuilding like almost any other team has to do to stockpile these young players.
Many players in the Cardinals system that aren’t among their top 15 prospects would be in the top 10 for many other clubs. Some of these players in the minors include 23 year old Michael Blazek, who has averaged 8.9 S0/9 in his career. Eric Fornataro had a 2.39 ERA and 1.06 WHIP at AA in 2012 while finishing 17 games. Greg Garcia, a shortstop, had a .400 OBP in A+ in 2011 and a .408 OBP in AA in 2012. This is the great depth I’m talking about. These are the names of a few prospects that would crack most MLB teams top 10 prospects.
In my opinion, even without Chris Carpenter, this is why the Cardinals have a great shot at not only winning the NLC in 2013 and avoiding the WC one game winner take all, but again making another deep run in October. The pitching depth is still a strength. Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly will battle for the 5th spot in the rotation. If Jaime Garcia goes down with his shoulder again, another from this group will step in. The BP is deep enough in that if Garcia stays healthy, at least 1 of the 3 mentioned will probably start the year at AAA.
Here’s what the 25 man roster will probably look like on opening day, save for injuries:
- Miller or Rosenthal
- Rosenthal or Kelly
That 25-man roster leaves off one of Miller, Rosenthal or Kelly, along with Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson and Shane Robinson. For now, I’ll assume that Matt Carpenter will be the primary 2B, given the push for how hard they want his bat in the lineup on a regular basis. Adron Chambers will be the 4th OF’er, and I think they’ll go with Carpenter as a 5th, allowing Daniel Descalso to play 2B on those days unless Carpenter just doesn’t adjust well on defense at 2B.
Where it gets interesting for position players is if Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday or David Freese go down with an injury. If it’s Craig, Matt Adams is waiting in the wings at AAA. Adams is one of the few power bats in the Cards system that is handicapped to one position, which is 1B. Mozeliak says Adams has little left to prove in AAA, so expect to see Adams if Craig goes down. If it’s any of the other 3, along with possibly Jon Jay, the Cardinals might go ahead and bring Oscar Taveras up. The Cardinals would prefer if Taveras and Kolten Wong (2B) spent a full year at AAA, but they’re not going to hesitate and leave a hole in the lineup if an injury occurs. Taveras is the clear cut #1 hitter in all of minor league baseball right now, with many comparing him to a left handed hitting Vladimir Guerrero. The only thing left for Taveras to improve on is defense in CF although the Cards see him as a corner OF as his body fills out.
Players I haven’t mentioned yet that are knocking on the door are Carlos Martinez, who is commonly compared on the high side to Pedro Martinez, as well as Michael Wacha, the Cards 1st round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012. Wacha was moved all the way to AA in his first pro season, and many scouts project him to be ready as of the middle of 2013 if the need exists. Again, the Cards would prefer to give him a full season in the minors, but scouts say his changeup is MLB ready and his curveball is close.
The Reds appear to have an edge on the Cards right now on paper, but not by much. They added Shin-Soo Choo (CF) as their leadoff hitter, and with Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and a very nice complementary blend of other position players like Ryan Ludwick, Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart, I would say they have a very close edge on offense. One thing that is not likely to happen for them in 2013 as it did in 2012 is them being able to get through 162 games without an injury to one of their SP’s.
I’m not so sure Aroldis Chapman is going to give the Reds more value as a SP than he did as a closer. He certainly won’t be able to air it out at over 100 MPH through 6-7 innings every 5 days. The most he ever pitched in a season in Cuba was 118 innings. If it doesn’t work out, they do have Mike Leake to fall back on and still have a stocked starting 5 of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Leake. The Reds BP is also just as good as the Cards as currently constructed, and Jonathan Broxton as the closer is what affords them the opportunity to try Chapman as a starter. Middle relief will be led by Sean Marshall, with plenty of big arms leading up to him.
What the Reds don’t have is a great farm system. They do have a speedster in OF’er Billy Hamilton, who stole a minor league record 155 bases in 2012. After that, position player depth is scarce. Along with Hamilton in the minors is SP Tony Cingrani. SP Daniel Corcino is another prospect to top the top 100 minor league players that might be ready in 2013 if needed. After that, the Reds top position players and pitchers are in the low minors with an ETA of 2015.
There are more than a few things that stand out from 2012 that will make it difficult for the Reds to repeat their 9 game division win over the Cardinals. I’ve already talked about the depth the Cardinals have. When you consider that Rosenthal is the 4th or 5th best prospect the Cards have on most lists, and add in what he did at the end of 2012, it’s puts in into a better perspective.
The other things I haven’t mentioned are:
- The Pythagorean Winning Percentage—The PWP is an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed. Developed by Bill James, it can tell you when teams were a bit lucky or unlucky. The Reds were 97-65 in 2012 but had a PWP of 91-71. The Cardinals were 88-74 and had a PWP of 93-69.
- Extra-Innings—The Cards were 6-12, the Reds were 7-7.
- One-Run Games—The Cards were 21-26, the Reds were 31-21.
Now, I know the games are played on the field. I’m not a stat geek, but I do like to mix and match common sense and sabermetrics. One thing that almost certainly won’t happen in 2013 is the Cards blowing as many games in the middle innings as they did in 2012. After trading for Edward Mujica, things were fine, and that was even with Mike Matheny not having another LOOGY to use besides Scrabble. After Rosenthal was added, the BP was a strength. Fernando Salas had kidney stones to account for his bad performance to start the year, and Victor Marte and Sam Freeman were exposed a bit(Freeman has added a knuckle curve this offseason by the way). These things most likely won’t happen this year. Mo added Randy Choate this offseason, and he should also have Kelly out of the BP for a full year.
On the flip side, Walt Jocketty addressed the Reds biggest weakness by signing Choo as a leadoff hitter. No longer will Drew Stubbs be striking out over 200 times at the top of the Reds lineup, and there will be more opportunities with men on base for Votto, Phillips and Bruce. The Reds also did fine without Votto for an extended period last year, so it won’t be easy for the Cards if they fall behind early in the standings. We also know that Jocketty will address any needs the Reds have at the trade deadline.
I’m going to get into this more as the season approaches, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself at this time. The Cards and Reds should finish 1-2 in some order. I feel the Cards depth is enough to overcome almost any injury on the field, save for Adam Wainwright, who will need and who I fully expect to pitch like he did before TJS. I’d love for some of you to weigh in on this topic for now and as the season approaches….thanks for reading!