This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
It was a memorable and rewarding season for the St. Louis organization, and not just at the Major League level, where the Cardinals claimed their 11th World Series crown. Two of the club's Minor League affiliates won titles, with Rookie-level Johnson City capturing its second consecutive Appalachian League championship and Class A Quad Cities rolling to its first Midwest League crown since 1990.
Triple-A Memphis finished 11 games over .500 and 2 1/2 games out of the Pacific Coast League playoffs, while Class A Advanced Palm Beach and short-season Batavia fell just shy of the .500 mark. Double-A Springfield posted a 62-78 mark, despite featuring Texas League Player of the Year Matt Adams, who led the system with 32 home runs.
Cardinals Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Bryan Anderson, Memphis (98 games): In his seventh professional season, all in the Cardinals organization, the 24-year-old was solid both at the plate and behind it. After a slow start -- he hit .210 over the first two months -- the California native was a force the rest of the way, batting .311 after June 1.
Anderson reeled off a streak of six consecutive multi-hit games from Aug. 3-10 and continued to make strides as a receiver. Although he threw out only 24 percent of would-be basestealers -- his lowest mark since his rookie season at Johnson City in 2005 -- Anderson allowed only two passed balls in 92 games.
First base -- Matt Adams, Springfield (115 games): After hitting .310 with 22 homers for Quad Cities in 2010, his first full season as a pro, Adams skipped a level to Double-A Springfield. The move more than paid off as the Slippery Rock product was named Texas League Player of the Year after bashing 32 homers -- most in the Cardinals system -- and driving in a league-best 101 runs. Adams' .300 average ranked fourth among Cards' full-season farmhands and his .566 slugging percentage led all qualifiers in the system.
The Cardinals named Adams their Minor League Player of the Year, with farm director John Vuch noting that, "Not only did he compile a remarkable offensive season with the bat, but he also was very solid in the other aspects of his game while demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities."
"It's basically getting the footwork down," said Adams, who was named to the All-Prospect team in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. "Being a catcher, just having those soft hands, helps out at first base, too, being able to pick the ball coming from those infielders."
With Albert Pujols departing for the Angels, there's a vacancy at first base in St. Louis. Although the 23-year-old Adams may need more seasoning, he'll arrive at Busch Stadium soon enough if he continues to hit like he did this year.
Second base -- Eric Duncan, Springfield (103 games): Duncan, a Yankees' first-round pick in 2003, established career highs in homers (22) and slugging (.527) in his first season in the St. Louis organization. His .274 batting average was his highest since hitting .301 as a rookie in 2003.
The New Jersey native signed a Minor League contract with the Cardinals in April but got off to a slow start at Springfield, batting .222 with one homer in his first 32 games. The 26-year-old broke out in June, hitting .326 with nine homers and 21 RBIs in 23 games. Duncan spent time at left field as well as at first base, second and third.
On Aug. 28 at Arkansas, he hit for the cycle after collecting his first triple of the season. After finishing third in the system in both homers and slugging, Duncan signed a Minor League deal with the Royals in November.
Honorable mention: Jose Garcia and former first-round pick Kolten Wong
Third base -- Matt Carpenter, Memphis (130 games), St. Louis (seven games): After being named a Topps Double-A All-Star in 2010, Carpenter made his Triple-A and Major League debuts this year. While he went just 1-for-15 in seven games with the Cardinals, the TCU product hit .300 with 12 homers and a career-high 70 RBIs for the Redbirds.
The 26-year-old led the system with 84 walks (against 68 strikeouts) and his .422 on-base percentage was the highest among Cardinals farmhands who played at least 80 games.
"It's really important, especially [in the PCL]," said Carpenter, who led all St. Louis Mionr Leaguers with a .418 OBP in 2010. "Guys try to get you to hit their pitch a lot more often than [at] most levels. That's the key to hitting -- you want to make them get it over the plate, give you something you want to swing at. I've always tried to really bear down on that part of my game, really be disciplined at the plate and look for a good pitch to hit."
"He has a real good approach," Vuch added. "He's a hard worker. He's smart enough to take it at-bat to at-bat. He focuses on the task at hand, he doesn't get wrapped up in the bigger picture."
Shortstop -- Matthew Williams, Johnson City (59 games): A 15th-round pick in the June Draft out of Liberty University, Williams kicked off his pro career in style, reaching base three times in his debut on June 21. The 22-year-old Tennessee native went on to hit .293 with six homers and finished third in the system with 20 stolen bases, despite playing only 59 games.
Williams collected multiple hits in 20 of 59 games and closed the regular season on a 13-game hitting streak. He was instrumental in leading Johnson City to its second straight Appalachian League title, collecting five hits and five RBIs in five postseason games. Williams also was second on the club during the season with 47 runs scored.
Honorable mention: Ryan Jackson
Andrew Brown, Memphis (107 games), St. Louis (11 games): Brown, who can play both corner infield spots as well as the corner outfield positions, had a phenomenal first half, batting .324/.412/.588 with 14 homers in 63 games. Those numbers helped earn a spot in the PCL starting lineup at the Triple-A All-Star Game.
The 27-year-old Nebraska product made his big league debut on June 12 and went 4-for-22 (.182) in 11 games before returning to the Redbirds.
"He's got a great stroke and a hitter's mentality," former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said during Brown's stint in St. Louis. "He's a very intelligent hitter, he's got a good idea of what it's all about. I would say he's got a good big league future."
That future won't come with the Cardinals, however. Brown batted .224 in 44 games over the second half for Memphis and was claimed off waivers by the Rockies on Oct. 12.
Jermaine Curtis, Springfield (90 games): Curtis did a little bit of everything for Springfield this season: He played 19 games at third base, 16 at second, 31 in the outfield and even pitched 1 2/3 no-hit innings. Meanwhile, he batted .315 and reached base at a .414 clip, which would have ranked third and second, respectively, in the system -- and the Texas League -- had he the plate appearances to qualify.
Curtis batted .349 against right-handed pitching and .357 in the second half of the season -- his average climbed each month from April to August. In 20 games in August, he hit .383/.479/.450 with 10 walks and only four strikeouts in 70 at-bats.
The 24-year-old's 31 strikeouts overall were the fewest by anyone in the system who played at least 65 games.
Oscar Taveras, Quad Cities (78 games): The 19-year-old entered the season as the Cardinals' No. 7 prospect and the second-youngest player in the Class A Midwest League. In both cases, he was more than ready. The Puerto Rico native went 8-for-12 with two homers and seven RBIs in his first four games before a hamstring injury sidelined him for the rest of April and much of May.
Taveras recovered to hit .402 with 27 RBIs and 25 runs scored in 25 games in July (earning Topps Midwest League Player of the Month honors) and .376 in August to nab the Midwest League Player of the Month award. He finished the season at .386/.444/.584 to capture the league batting crown.
Taveras wasn't done with his remarkable campaign, however. He went 9-for-24 (.375) with seven RBIs and seven runs scored as Quad Cities won all seven of its playoff games to capture its first Midwest League title since 1990.
"He's one of the better hitters I've seen in a long time," River Bandits manager Johnny Rodriguez said. "He puts the barrel on the ball. He has that knack with his swing to put the ball in play with the sweet spot. A young Tony Oliva, it says a lot.
"I think in time he'll develop more power, too. It's going to come, and he can hit 'em to left-center just like he can hit it to right-center. He's learning the game in all aspects, but he can swing it. He's 19, that's one of the things you have to look at it. He's young mentally."
Taveras went on to hit .307 in the AFL, pointing the way to even greater things next season.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Shelby Miller, Palm Beach (nine games), Springfield (16 games): Miller began the season as the Cardinals' top prospect, 20th overall in the Minors. Like Taveras, he proved more than worthy of the accolades. The 2009 first-round pick went 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 25 starts while being named a Florida State League midseason All-Star, a Texas League postseason All-Star and the Cardinals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the second straight season. (The last Cardinal to accomplish that feat was Rick Ankiel in 1998-99.)
"Shelby had another tremendous season in 2011," Vuch said. "He had success against hitters at two very different levels while simultaneously continuing to make steady progress working on the things he'll need to do in order to be effective at the highest levels. It's exciting to watch him continue to mature into a more polished and complete pitcher."
Not only did Miller learn a lot on the mound -- he worked on his curveball and changeup with Palm Beach pitching coach and four-time All-Star Dennis Martinez and Springfield pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd -- he picked up some lessons off the field after being suspended for a week by the organization for reportedly violating team policy in August.
"Just being away from the team was tough," Miller said. "Missing a start, I didn't like that much. But I've learned a lesson. It taught me a lot of things as far as how to go about the game in all aspects. The Cardinals did it for a reason, and I learned a lesson and it won't happen again."
Miller rebounded with three strong outings to close out the campaign, capped by eight two-hit frames against Tulsa on Sept. 2. He held opponents to a .219 average and led the organization with 170 strikeouts over 139 2/3 innings.
Still only 21, Miller hopes to make a run at the big league rotation.
"I'm going into Spring Training thinking I am," he said. "I think I'm ready. I think if they give me a chance and I do good, I might have a shot. I'm going to go into Spring Training acting like I'm going to make it, doing all the right things, performing and just trying to impress everybody."
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Kevin Siegrist, Quad Cities (nine games), Palm Beach (11 games): Unlike the heralded Miller, who commanded a $2.875 million signing bonus, Siegrist was a 41st-round selection out of Palm Beach Community College in 2008. He was similarly dominant, however, posting a 2.26 ERA and .212 batting average against over 107 1/3 innings.
The 22-year-old began the season with Quad Cities, where he was nearly untouchable, going 8-1 with a 1.15 ERA in nine starts. Five of the seven earned runs he yielded over 54 2/3 Midwest League innings came in his sole loss against Wisconsin on May 1. In his other eight outings, he posted a 0.37 ERA and .174 average against. Topps named him Midwest League Player of the Month for May.
The 6-foot-5 southpaw had two stints on the disabled list at Palm Beach but posted a respectable 3.42 ERA in 11 starts, despite walking twice as many Florida State League hitters in two fewer innings than he did with the River Bandits. He wrapped up the season on a strong note, fanning a career-high 10 batters on Sept. 1.
Among the 17 Cardinals farmhands who tossed at least 100 innings, Siegrist's 2.26 ERA ranked first and only Miller allowed fewer than his four homers.
Honorable mention: Anthony Ferrara and John Gast
Relief pitcher -- Justin Wright, GCL Cardinals (one game), Quad Cities (17 games), Palm Beach (14 games): Wright allowed an earned run in only four of 32 outings. Of the six earned runs he yielded, two of them (and one of the two homers he surrendered) came in his season debut on April 8. The rest of the season, he was as close to a sure thing as baseball has to offer.
The 2010 47th-round pick put himself in elite company with his performance in his first full season. He was named to the Midwest League All-Star team after going 5-1 with a 1.26 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings for Quad Cities. After an upper-back injury shelved him from mid-June to mid-July, he made 12 consecutive scoreless appearances for Palm Beach before allowing a homer on Aug. 30.
Though hardly an imposing figure on the mound -- he's listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds -- the Virginia Tech product racked up 70 strikeouts while allowing 27 hits (for a .148 average against) over 52 1/3 frames at three levels. His 12 strikeouts per nine innings were tops in the organization.
Wright struggled in the AFL, where he made seven scoreless appearances but was roughed up for 11 earned runs in his other three games and finished with a 11.42 ERA.
Honorable mention: Keith Butler, Dean Kiekhefer and Victor Marte
Utility pitcher -- Jordan Swagerty, Quad Cities (five games), Palm Beach (22 games), Springfield (nine games): Swagerty's first pro season was so impressive and unusual that we had to create a category just for him. A 2010 second-round pick out of Arizona State, the right-hander made 12 starts and 24 relief appearances at three levels, going 5-3 with a 1.83 ERA over 93 2/3 frames.
Swagerty, 22, worked primarily out of the bullpen in college but began his pro career in the Quad Cities rotation. After posting a 1.50 ERA with a .178 average against in five starts, he was quickly promoted to Palm Beach. Swagerty made seven starts with the FSL Cardinals, then shifted back to the bullpen in late June. In 15 relief appearances, he allowed two runs on nine hits while fanning 22 over 18 frames for a 1.00 ERA.
Swagerty made his Double-A debut on Aug. 13 and converted three of five save opportunities while posting a 2.89 ERA in nine outings. For the year, he held foes to a .204 average. With a sinking fastball, slider and plus changeup, he has the stuff to be a starter. His aggressive approach, however, may be better suited to the bullpen.