Taveras not 'Lone Star' for Cardinals

But top prospect tore through circuit for champion Springfield

By Jonathan Raymond / Special to MLB.com | December 12, 2012 5:30 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com will be 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.

If there was a center of attention in St. Louis' farm system this year, it was in Springfield, Mo.

That was where the Cardinals' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year plied their trades for the Double-A Cardinals for most of the season and, in particular, where slugger Oscar Taveras established himself as one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

The 20-year-old outfielder who vaulted to No. 12 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list and the 24-year-old right-hander who posted 0.53 walks-per-nine innings over 169 2/3 frames led the Cards to a Texas League title. They went the distance to dispatch Tulsa in the first round before besting Frisco, 3-1, in the championship series.

St. Louis' lower-level affiliates -- Rookie-level Johnson City and the GCL Cardinals -- also made their respective playoffs in what turned out to be a strong year top-to-bottom for the Cardinals system.

But ultimately it was at Springfield where Taveras flashed his potent bat and slugged his way to the top of nearly every St. Louis system leaderboard.

Cardinals Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Jesus Montero, Quad Cities (10 games), Batavia (33 games): The 21-year-old out of Venezuela put together his best season a pro in 2012, hitting .287/.360/.434 in 43 games overall. He really shined in the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League, where he batted .308/.377/.453 with three homers, six doubles and 21 RBIs for the Muckdogs.

"Montero was at short season and I think he, offensively and defensively, had a pretty nice season there," said John Vuch, St. Louis' farm director."He really played a big role in the success they had, hit in the middle of their lineup and made improvements defensively. He seemed like he had the best year out of our catchers."

First base -- Matt Adams, Memphis (67 games): Thanks to an injury and some time spent with the Cardinals, Adams only appeared in a limited amount of games in the Minors this season, but he sure made them count. The 24-year-old slugger knocked 18 home runs (fourth in the organization), 22 doubles and plated 50 RBIs. He also hit .329 with a .362 on-base percentage and .624 slugging percentage, a mark that would have led the Pacific Coast League had he qualified. In 27 games for St. Louis, he also batted .244 with two homers and 13 RBIs. Adams is the club's No. 6 prospect.

"Matt had a really nice season. He followed up what he did in the prior season as the Texas League Player of the Year," said Vuch."He had great numbers, but the quantity was a little low because he was up in the big leagues and had an injury. He hit about .330, had 18 homers, a good OBP and slugged pretty well."

Second base -- Starlin Rodriguez, Palm Beach (114 games): Rodriguez put together a complete season in the Florida State League, earning mid- and postseason All-Star honors on the circuit. The 22-year-old Dominican Republic native amassed a .300/.373/.442 line, career highs across the board. He added eight homers, six triples and 25 doubles while driving in 48 runs and stealing 16 bases.

"That's a really tough hitters' ballpark [in Palm Beach] and the FSL is a pitchers' league in general, so he had a nice year," Vuch noted."He's got good speed, swings the bat well and he's a guy that really made a lot of progress this year, which was his first full year for him to put it all together."

Shortstop -- Greg Garcia, Springfield (124 games): The University of Hawaii product moved off second base for the first time in his career and assumed the starting shortstop role for Springfield with strong results. The 23-year-old hit .284/.408/.420, finishing third in the Texas League in on-base percentage. He showed decent power for a middle infielder as well with 10 home runs and 20 doubles while swiping 10 bags.

"Greg had a tremendous year at Springfield. He basically started the year in those first few weeks as a utility guy and grabbed that everyday shortstop job," said Vuch."We knew he'd be solid offensively, the question was could he handle job defensively, and he did a nice job. Offensively he had an OBP over .400 and was a really big part of that club."

Third base -- Jermaine Curtis, Memphis (17 games), Springfield (96 games): Like Garcia, the 2008 fifth-rounder was primarily a second baseman in 2011 who moved to the left side of the infield to win a regular role. After earning an Organization All-Star nod in 2011 for his work in the Texas League, Curtis flourished there once again, batting .313/.416/.378 for the Cardinals to lead the circuit in OBP and finish second to teammate Oscar Taveras in average.

"Jermaine was one of the big veteran leaders on that team in Springfield," said Vuch."He started in Memphis and came down, and guys sometimes when they go down it takes a little while to adjust 'cause they're moping. He hit the ground running and was a big part of that club's success, especially from a leadership standpoint. And in production, he was second in the league in hitting. He and Taveras were neck-and-neck down to that last week of the season. His OBP was well over .400, so he gets on base and hits for average."


Oscar Taveras, Springfield (124 games): The Cardinals' top prospect put up some eye-popping numbers for Class A Quad Cities in 2011 and was rewarded with an aggressive promotion to Double-A for this season, where he was the unequivocal star of the Texas League champions. He led the league in average with a .321 mark and was second with a .579 slugging percentage. The 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic got on base at a .380 clip, bashed 23 home runs, seven triples and 37 doubles and drove in 94 runs. He also managed to steal 10 bases while only getting caught once. His honors this year included Texas League Player of the Year, Topps Texas League Player of the Year and Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year. He also appeared in the Futures Game.

"Oscar was tremendous, there's not much left to say about him," noted Vuch."He led the org in doubles, triples and homers. He led the Texas League in batting. He's a special guy as a hitter.

"The big thing with him is he improved his game defensively and improved his base-running. He's now more of a well-rounded player, we're very pleased. We had him down before start of Spring Training, wanted to see what he could accomplish, and he took it seriously and worked on all aspects of his game."

Mike O'Neill, Springfield (13 games), Palm Beach (108 games): O'Neill came into this season with a good track record for bat control and plate discipline, but even accounting for that, his numbers were head-turning. The 24-year-old hit .359 overall to lead the organization, including a Florida State League-best .342 while with Palm Beach. He posted an on-base percentage of .458 with 78 walks and just 26 strikeouts for the season, and he added 24 doubles and five triples en route to a .440 slugging percentage. The University of Southern California product was named an FSL postseason All-Star and earned a Texas League Player of the Week nod during his two-week stretch following a promotion in which he hit .563 (18-for-32) for Springfield.

"Mike is another one that came in this year and had to battle for everything he got," said Vuch."He had a great year for Palm Beach, led the league in hitting. He's a tremendous top-of-the-order hitter, gets on base, draws his walks, puts balls in play and does the little things well. We rewarded him with a promotion and he went up there and continued to hit. Really put himself on the map this year."

Anthony Garcia, Quad Cities (109 games): The 20-year-old Puerto Rican provided some of the best power numbers throughout the St. Louis system this year. Garcia hit .280 with a .354 OBP for the River Bandits, but more importantly slugged .525 with 19 homers, 34 doubles and 74 RBIs. He finished third in the system in home runs and RBIs and was named a Midwest League postseason All-Star.

"Anthony had a good year for being one of the younger players in the Midwest League. He showed power, swung the bat pretty well and got on base," noted Vuch."He's working to improve his defense, but overall had a really nice year, really his first chance at the full season level. I think it was a positive experience."

Utility -- Colin Walsh, GCL Cardinals (two games), Quad Cities (97 games): The Stanford University product mostly shifted between left field, second base and designated hitter duties this season with Quad Cities to keep his bat in the lineup. The 23-year-old flashed power, slugging .521 with 16 homers and 18 doubles, as well as patience, getting on base at a .413 clip while posting 60 walks and 65 strikeouts. He also hit .310, sixth in the organization, and was featured on the mid- and postseason Midwest League All-Star teams.

"Colin is a guy that really had a breakout season. He missed some time with injury, but really one of his strengths was the ability to play several positions. He has tremendous on-base abilities, a disciplined approach and his power broke out. It's exciting to see, he did a really nice job," Vuch said.

Right-handed pitcher -- Seth Maness, Palm Beach (seven games), Springfield (20 games): Maness was named the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year based on the strength of his command this season, which saw the 24-year-old out of East Carolina University strike out 112 while walking just 10 in 169 2/3 innings. He posted a 2.97 ERA between two levels while accumulating a 14-4 record to lead the organization in wins. He posted an improbable 29-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio for Palm Beach to earn a promotion to Springfield, where he fanned 83 while walking nine while managing a 3.27 ERA in 123 2/3 innings for the Texas League champs. He was a midseason FSL All-Star and a postseason Texas League All-Star.

"Seth wound up being our Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he was phenomenal with control," said Vuch."In 27 starts, he only had one game where he walked more than one batter -- so he had 10 walks in about 170 innings -- just outstanding command. He attacks hitters, gets ground balls, works quickly and throws strikes. He has confidence in all his pitches."

Left-handed pitcher -- Kyle Hald, Quad Cities (16 games), Palm Beach (eight games): Hald also earned his Organization All-Star nod with an efficient season bolstered by strong command. In 136 2/3 frames overall, the Old Dominion University product walked just 24 while fanning 115. He mustered a 3.36 ERA and went 7-9 between two levels. His performance for Quad Cities -- which included a 3.10 ERA and 77-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90 innings -- proved he could build on the 1.84 ERA he posted in his debut with Rookie-level Johnson City last year and earned him a midseason callup to Palm Beach.

"Kyle had a nice season. He was challenged up at Palm Beach and started well in Quad Cities to earn the promotion," said Vuch."He's another guy that's interesting to see. He goes after hitters, throws strikes."

Reliever -- Dean Kiekhefer, Palm Beach (46 games): Continuing the theme of pitchers who thrived thanks to strong control, the lefty out of the University of Louisville posted a 2.24 ERA in Palm Beach over 60 1/3 innings. He walked just four batters total for a 0.60 walks-per-nine innings rate. He also struck out 41 and saved 14 games, ranking him fourth in the organization.

"Kiekhefer was our guy at Palm Beach. He pitched high leverage innings late in the games and worked primarily as the closer. He's a guy that's really tough on lefties with his fastball and his breaking pitch. He's a guy who profiles well as a lefty specialist type down the road," said Vuch.

Jonathan Raymond is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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