The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.
It's often been written -- in this annual preview, in fact -- about the barren desert that has been the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system. What few elite prospects there were in the organization were used in a variety of trades to improve the big-league club.
Clearly, that strategy has been successful, with the Cardinals making it to the National League Championship Series in four of the last five seasons and participating in two of the last three World Series. It should be noted, however, that their path to winning their first title in more than 40 years was paved with some major Minor League contributors.
Chris Duncan, a 1999 draft pick, hit 22 homers in 280 at-bats last season. Anthony Reyes, drafted in 2003, made 17 starts during the year and one huge one in the World Series. Tyler Johnson (2000 draft) became an invaluable lefty out of the pen and had a tremendous postseason. Even Adam Wainwright, one of the few prospects the Cardinals have brought in via trade as a Minor Leaguer, belongs here since the farm system helped him develop to the point where he became a key setup man and then, of course, the team's closer.
As valuable as these players have been -- Reyes and Wainwright will be key members of the rotation in 2007 and Duncan will get a shot to be the everyday left fielder -- there still hasn't been a marquee impact position player come up since Albert Pujols arrived on the scene in 2001. That will change when Colby Rasmus reaches St. Louis, and that might happen as soon as 2008.
Surrounding Rasmus are several interesting arms at a variety of levels, a college outfielder from last year's draft who's on the fast track, a raw toolsy outfielder who could break out in 2007 and a very good, underrated catching prospect ready to make a big leap. While the Cardinals still don't rank as one of the deepest systems in baseball, it would no longer be accurate to write about the organization as bereft of talent.
Climbing the Ladder
Cody Haerther, OF
Haerther won't turn 24 until July, so even with the slight "stall" in Springfield a year ago, he has plenty of time to make an impact. He profiles as an average hitter with a little power and the ability to hit the ball to all fields. He's a good baserunner, though he won't steal a ton of bases. He still needs to improve his outfield defense as a former third baseman before he gets a shot in St. Louis. He has the tools to be an adequate defender and will work on those skills in Memphis. If it all clicks, Haerther still has a very bright future.
Blake Hawksworth, RHP
Like with anyone coming off surgery, the question is whether all of his stuff will come all the way back. Pre-injury, Hawksworth had a plus fastball; in 2006, it was average. There's been a nice byproduct of that: Hawksworth has improved his command and his secondary pitches because he wasn't able to blow people away. He relied more on his changeup in 2006 and had success with it along with a curve he can throw for strikes. If the extra miles per hour come back to the fastball this year, he should have no problem competing in the Pacific Coast League. The Cards would love to give him a full year in Memphis before letting him get a crack at the rotation in 2008.
Others to watch: SS Brendan Ryan had a lost 2006, playing in only 28 games due to injuries. He may have put himself back on the map by hitting .310 in the Arizona Fall League. ... 3B Travis Hanson took a step backward in 2006 after a breakthrough 2005 campaign. He'll give Triple-A another try in 2007. ... OF Miguel Negron is a former first-round pick (2000, Blue Jays) who recently won the Puerto Rico Winter League batting tittle. The Minor League free agent adds some interesting depth to the Cards' growing outfield crop. ... OF Nick Stavinhoa has done nothing but hit (.315) and move up since being drafted in 2005. ... Remember Rick Ankiel? Even though the Cards non-tendered the pitcher-turned-hitter, they signed him to a Minor League deal and could challenge him to see if he can hit PCL pitching. ... With a good spring, RHP Chris Lambert could land in the Memphis rotation with Hawksworth ... RHP Mark Worrell has racked up 74 saves since 2004 and likely will serve as the Redbirds' closer in 2007.
Colby Rasmus, OF
Rasmus is a prototypical five-tool player who someday soon should be able to take the reins from Jim Edmonds in St. Louis' center field and could develop into a .300 hitter with 20-25 homers per season while playing excellent defense. The Cardinals would love for Rasmus to start in Springfield while turning just 21 in April, but they also know there's a lot of outfield depth at the upper levels that could trickle down and the Cardinals would rather have Rasmus play every day in Palm Beach to start the year rather than be the fourth guy in Springfield. Either way, he should see Double-A at some point in 2007.
Jaime Garcia, LHP
It was quite a debut year for Garcia in 2006. The southpaw tossed 155 innings across two full-season levels, finishing with a 3.37 ERA and leading the organization with 131 strikeouts. Not only did he level-jump last year, he also represented the Cardinals -- and his native Mexico -- at the All-Star Futures Game. His best pitch is a knee-buckling, 12-to-6 curve that he can command and throw for strikes. His fastball was at least average and there were reports he was up to the mid-90s in winter ball, which would elevate his draft status to another level. He's also been working on a changeup and has shown a good feel for it thus far.
Like any pitcher, the key for him to continue to move quickly will be health. He's had some issues with conditioning in the past, but it seems he has developed a good work ethic as he matures. He won't turn 21 until July, so there would be nothing wrong if he has to start back in Palm Beach before moving up to Springfield. But don't be surprised if he pitches his way to Double-A this spring.
Others to watch: RHP Mitchell Boggs should be in the rotation and has terrific stuff that should allow him to develop into a durable innings-eater. ... A year after recording 35 saves and a 1.10 ERA at Palm Beach, RHP Mike Sillman will handle closing chores for Springfield in 2007. ... He may have to battle with Rasmus over who plays center (hint, it won't be Jay), but 2006 draftee Jon Jay could very well leap to Double-A to start the year.
Class A Advanced Palm Beach
Bryan Anderson, C
Anderson is a natural leader behind the plate and a very capable receiver. He's got a slightly unorthodox throwing motion, but it's effective as his pop times to second were under two seconds and he threw out 36 percent of would-be base stealers in 2006. There is no question, then, about his ability to stay behind the plate. That's good news because it appears his bat would play just about anywhere. After hitting .331 in the Appalachian League in his debut, he batted .302 as a teenager in the Midwest League last year. A left-handed hitter, Anderson has shown doubles power early in his career, but the Cardinals feel those two-baggers will become home runs as he matures. He could be a 15-20 homer guy down the line.
Chris Perez, RHP
Others to watch: The Cardinals of the FSL will have a pretty deep rotation, with 2006 draftees Adam Ottavino, Gary Daley and Tyler Norrick joining Trey Hearne and perhaps Mark McCormick all starting games. ... They could be backed by an offense led by 1B Mark Hamilton, another 2006 draftee, and SS Tyler Greene, back for another go-round.
Class A Quad Cities
Daryl Jones, OF
At this point, though, Jones isn't making contact enough and his swing hasn't reached a level of consistency. The tools are all there for him to be a terrific leadoff type with some pop once he puts it all together. He'll spend time playing with Palm Beach during Spring Training and likely will settle in at Quad Cities. If things start to click with the Swing, the Cards won't hesitate to move him up a level during the season.
Brad Furnish, LHP
Others to watch: Eddie Degerman, a finalist for the Roger Clemens Award at Rice University last year, is a big right-hander with an unorthodox delivery. After throwing a ton of innings in 2006, the Cardinals are excited to see what he does after an offseason of rest. ... Blake King, a 2005 draft-and-follow who will be just 20 in April, should join Furnish and Degerman in the Swing rotation, as could RHP Tyler Herron. ... The Quad Cities infield should have shortstop Tommy Pham, a 16th-round pick last June, up the middle. ... He'll have offensive help from OF Jon Edwards.
Under the Radar
Jose Martinez, SS/2B
He made his debut in the Cardinals' system in 2005, hitting .300 in 55 games for Johnson City in the Appalachian League. He also had a very respectable .887 OPS for a teenager just getting started. Last year, he played at 20 in the Midwest League and held his own. He hit .270 and struck out only 26 times in 326 at-bats. The Venezuelan returned home and scored the winning run for Aragua in the Venezuelan championship, earning a spot on the Caribbean Series roster.
Martinez's best attribute is his baseball instincts, though he's got a decent bat and has shown some extra-base pop. While he doesn't run all that well, he makes up for it in the field with oustanding positioning and defensive instincts at both positions. He'll move up a rung and play one of the middle infield positions -- or perhaps both -- at Palm Beach, at the ripe old age of 21. He's the kind of guy who'll continue to climb the ladder quietly but wouldn't shock anyone in the organization if he snuck into the big leagues and established himself as an everyday player -- or a valuable utility man at the least -- in the future.
Andres Cavazos, RHP
Cavazos still made 13 starts in 2003, though those would be his last. He finished that season in the Midwest League with a 3.99 ERA. Things seemed to stall when the Cards pushed him to Double-A in 2004 and he posted a 6.14 ERA in 46 relief outings. He struggled again in April 2005 in Springfield before being demoted to Palm Beach. That's when things finally started to click. Cavazos had a 3.41 ERA in 28 games in the Florida State League, striking out 43 in 31 2/3 innings. That earned him a trip back to Double-A, where he had a 3.38 ERA the rest of the way. From there, he traveled to the Arizona Fall League.
Cavazos responded to the Cardinals' vote of confidence by dominating in the Texas League to start the 2006 season, posting a 0.45 ERA and .094 opponents' batting average in 16 outings. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A, where the league hit just .228 against him and he finished with a 3.51 ERA in 44 games while striking out nearly a batter an inning. Now 26, after a wayward path, he's knocking on the big-league door as a member of the 40-man roster.
Troy Cate, LHP
From the time he began his pro career through 2005, Cate had thrown only 56 2/3 innings above Class A. When he joined the Cardinals and finished serving his suspension, he went to Palm Beach in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and posted a 1.54 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 41 innings while holding foes to a .139 batting average. He made it back to the Texas League, this time with Springfield, and continued to throw well, striking out 20 and holding opponents to a .096 average (for a 0.57 ERA) over 15 2/3 innings.
Cate was added to the 40-man roster last November and it looked like he might have a future as a lefty reliever. But that's when things got a little interesting. He went to Mexico for some winter ball and starred as one of Mazatlan's top starters. After two relief outings, Cate made four starts and finished with a 1.21 ERA (holding lefties to a .091 average, it should be noted). He also made a strong start in the Caribbean Series to finish off his winter and perhaps give the Cardinals some interesting options moving forward.
2006 Draft Recap
OF Jon Jay (second round) came in as an advanced college hitter but exceeded expectations by hitting .342 with a .416 OBP in 60 games with Quad Cities. He'll play a corner outfield spot at Double-A Springfield to start the year. ... OF Nathan Southard (17th round) was a senior sign out of Tulane and has quickly become an organizational favorite because of his makeup and attitude. He hit .306 and went 16-for-18 in steals while making the New York-Penn League All-Star team. He'll get the chance to make the leap to Palm Beach this spring. ... It's not often a draftee is in his 30s, but the Cards took OF Amaury Marti, a Cuban defector, in the 18th round. In his very first pro game with Palm Beach in Jupiter, Marti hit a ball onto the roof of the Marlins' offices. It's believed only two players had done that prior to Marti, who struggled with a move to Double-A but excelled in the AFL. He'll head back to Springfield to work on making more consistent contact. ... RHP Luke Gregerson (28th round) had nine saves and a 2.81 ERA in 27 outings across two levels, holding hitters to a .195 average and striking out 46 in 32 IP. ... OF Mark Shorey (31st round) won the Appalachian League home run title by hitting 13 for Johnson City. He finished third in RBIs and slugging, though he hit just .265. ... Shorey's teammate in Johnson City, infielder Isa Garcia (34th round) won the Appy League batting title by hitting .339. Both Garcia and Shorey were a little old for the rookie-level league. Outfielder Jim Rapoport, a 35th-rounder, won the NY-Penn League's stolen base crown, swiping 24 in 28 attempts. He only hit .216 in 241 at-bats, striking out 76 times in 66 games.
Organizational Player of the Year -- Colby Rasmus
Organizational Pitcher of the Year -- Jaime Garcia
"It is something we've been lacking -- position player depth -- for a lot of reasons. I feel we've turned the corner and have a number of players who could have an impact in the big leagues at various levels. They are a little less of a gamble [than pitching prospects] because they don't get hurt as much. Pitching is deep at the middle levels, in Springfield and in Palm Beach. Those are going to be two exciting teams this year. They have exciting position player prospects as well as some pitchers." -- Jeff Luhnow, vice president of player procurement
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.