Spirited St. Louis system stars in 2013

Wacha, Martinez, Wong show promise with Redbirds, Cards

Michael Wacha owned a 0.99 WHIP at Triple-A Memphis last season. (Jamie Harms/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | December 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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.

The Cardinals captured the National League Central Division title during the regular season and reached their second World Series in the past three years, their fourth since 2004.

That consistency is a sign of a strong organization -- one that's built itself for success from the bottom up -- and that is certainly a way to describe St. Louis. Of the team's eight regular position players during the past season, veterans Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday were the only ones who hadn't been drafted by the Cardinals or hadn't at least come up through their system.

What's more -- the future looks even brighter, given the contributions of Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist -- each of whom started the year in the Minors -- during the playoffs.

On the Minor League side, Cards affiliates didn't quite the same success on the team level as their parent club, finishing with a record of 408-418. The .494 winning percentage placed them 16th among the game's 30 organizations.

Nonetheless, the individual performances across all levels, including those of Wacha and Martinez, provide hope that one of the deeper Minor League systems should be able to provide the big club with top talent for years to come. Many of them can be found below as part of the Cardinals Organization All-Stars.

Catcher -- Casey Rasmus, Peoria (25 games), Palm Beach (12 games), Springfield (15 games): The younger brother of Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus, the 23-year-old backstop shared duties behind the plate for much of the season, but he impressed when he was in the lineup. The Cardinals took note and promoted him twice, allowing him to finish at Double-A in his second full Minor League campaign.

The switch-hitter finished with a .298 average across the three levels and threw out 42.5 percent of would-be base stealers. He projects to be a backup catcher as he continues to climb the ladder.

"He showed defensively that he can handle a staff quite well, and he worked hard at calling a game when he was back there," said Cardinals senior advisor for player development Gary LaRocque. "His tools really played at every level he went to. Offensively, he gives you a good at-bat, particularly against right-handed pitching. … We were very pleased with his progress and are looking forward to how he can provide for us in the future."

First base -- Brock Peterson, Memphis (122 games), St. Louis (23 games): There may not have been a more feel-good story in the organization than Peterson. After playing in just 21 games for Triple-A Memphis in 2012, the first baseman, who turned 30 in November, led the Pacific Coast League with 25 homers and finished second with an .895 OPS and fourth with 86 RBIs. He finally received his first Major League at-bat on July 20 after 11 years and more than 1,100 Minor League contests. He went only 2-for-26 in the Majors while being used mostly in a pinch-hitting role. Peterson is currently a Minor League free agent. (Update: Peterson signed with the Nationals on a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training.)

Honorable mention -- Jonathan Rodriguez, Palm Beach (126 games): LaRocque pointed out Rodriguez, who owned a .284/.373/.481 line with 18 homers and 72 RBIs during a repeat stint in the Florida State League, as a player who deserved a nod at first base.

"He gained some experience when he was there at 23 and then was able to push ahead of the level at 24," LaRocque said. "Sometimes it just takes more time. We need to be patient with some guys, and he certainly delivered."

Second base -- Kolten Wong, Memphis (107 games), St. Louis (32 games): The 2011 first-rounder and No. 2 Cardinals prospect continued to build on an already impressive profile with a .303 average and .835 OPS in 107 games for Memphis. He flashed impressive speed with 20 steals and was solid in the field as well. He was called up to St. Louis in mid-August and earned a spot on the postseason roster.

With the trade of David Freese to the Angels and the possibility that Matt Carpenter could slide across the diamond, Wong should be considered the early favorite to be the Cardinals' starting second baseman come Opening Day, barring any other offseason moves.

"He goes in there to Spring Training competing for it right away," said LaRocque. "It shows you how far he's come and how he's used every level as a stepping stone. He's put together quality seasons wherever he's been, and he's certainly put himself in the position for that opportunity."

Third base -- Ruben Gotay, Springfield (133 games): Among third basemen, the 30-year-old's performance with Springfield stood out, even if it came in his first Texas League season since 2005. The switch-hitter slashed .279/.366/.438 with 16 homers, 89 RBIs and 16 steals in 133 games for the Cardinals. Like Peterson, he enters the offseason as a Minor League free agent.

Shortstop -- Kenneth Peoples-Walls, Johnson City (59 games): The 20-year-old struggled some in the Gulf Coast League the previous two seasons before breaking out at Rookie-level Johnson City. He batted .300 with an .820 OPS, seven homers, 35 RBIs and nine steals in 59 Appalachian League games. Although he's slotted here for now, this is likely to be his last mention at shortstop as the organization moves him to the outfield.

"We think enough of that bat that we're going to move him out there," LaRocque said. "He's an excellent athlete and has already taken to the new role [in instructs]. We're excited to see what he comes back to being this spring. He had a good year, a solid year offensively, but he can create more value for the organization out there."


Mike O'Neill, Springfield (98 games), Memphis (32 games): O'Neill's time through the Minors has been marked by his incredible eye at the plate, and 2013 was no exception. The 2010 31st-round pick out of USC walked 91 times and struck out just 37 times across two levels. He finished with a .424 OBP, good enough for eighth-best among full-season Minor Leaguers.

The Cardinals liked enough of what they saw to place O'Neill on their 40-man roster this offseason, and that plate discipline was the biggest driving factor.

"His OBP is high everywhere he goes," said LaRocque. "He's a tough out and makes pitchers work. That's the first thing that stands out. … Mike keeps busting through all these levels, and it's really encouraging for us as an organization."

Stephen Piscotty, Palm Beach (63 games), Springfield (98 games):The 36th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Piscotty lived up to his promise in his first full season. He slashed .292/.348/.477 with nine homers and 35 RBIs in 63 games for Class A Advanced Palm Beach. The numbers (.299/.364/.446/6/24) remained fairly consistent in the 49 games following his promotion to Springfield. He performed even better in his stint in the Arizona Fall League, putting up a .371/.430/.506 line in the "finishing school" before being named to its Top Prospects Team.

"The progressions for him have been really solid," LaRocque said. "He doesn't give away at-bats by any means and hits mistakes hard. One of the big things about him is he loves to compete. Those first few at-bats, you can tell he learns as much as he can and uses it later in the same game. He's really developed just as we hoped."

James Ramsey, Palm Beach (18 games), Springfield (93 games), Memphis (one game): Ramsey was taken 13 spots ahead of Piscotty in the 2012 Draft, and it is appropriate that the two are slotted here in 2013. Ramsey pummeled the FSL (.361/.481/.557) to start the year before coming back down to earth (.251/.356/.424) in Texas. He finished with 16 homers and 51 RBIs in 112 overall contests.

Utility/DH -- Steven Ramos, Peoria (four games), State College (67 games): If patience was a virtue with Rodriguez, the same could be said of Ramos. The 23-year-old returned to the New York-Penn League for the second straight year (albeit in a different locale) and showed off plenty of hitting and base-stealing skills. He took the league batting title (.341) and finished second with 22 stolen bases.

Right-handed starter -- Michael Wacha, Memphis (15 games), St. Louis (15 games): Months before Wacha was putting up zero after zero in the playoffs, he was doing the same in the Pacific Coast League for Memphis. He finished with a 2.65 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 73 strikeouts and 19 walks in 85 innings with the Redbirds before moving to the Cardinals for good in August.

Now, after a dominant 2013 across the board, expectations will be high for his second year in the bigs. The organization thinks he can handle the pressure just fine.

"His expectations are very high, too," LaRocque said. "He's got great presence, great poise. Plus, he's got all the confidence in the world in himself and his stuff out there. All the experience he was able to get this year only allows him to build on that, and it was great for that reason."

Carlos Martinez, Memphis (13 games), Springfield (three games), St. Louis (21 games): Martinez deserves to share this spot with Wacha, given his 2013 Minor League campaign. The 6-foot right-hander owned a 2.49 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP, 72 strikeouts and 28 walks in his two stops in the Minors.

The Dominican Republic native came out of the bullpen for the big club, including 12 appearances in the playoffs, and there is some belief his future is as an elite reliever. He will enter Spring Training as a starter, however, and as it stands, the Cardinals are confident he'll handle whichever role he's given in the Majors come Opening Day.

"He's got the arm and presence on the mound to be that good out there," said LaRocque. "His stuff is still developing too. He has no fear at all of challenging hitters inside the strike zone. One thing that stood out about his time in the Minors is that he likes to compete like that. When he's out there, he wants to beat you, and it's worked well for him."

Left-handed starter -- Tim Cooney, Palm Beach (six games), Springfield (20 games): The 6-foot-3 southpaw didn't last long in Palm Beach, where he posted a 2.75 ERA in six starts, before moving up to Springfield. He finished the Double-A level with a 3.80 ERA, a significantly lower 2.57 FIP and a 1.27 WHIP over 118 1/3 innings. Cooney's most impressive trait is his control, as he amassed just 1.3 BB/9 across the two levels.

"Command plays a lot into [his success]," LaRocque said. "He mixes his speeds very well, has a good curveball, a developing slider. He doesn't beat himself at all. He has no fear of getting outs in the strike zone and is very productive because of it. Tim's right there. He did a nice job at the Double-A level, and he's right on track."

Relief pitcher -- Lee Stoppelman, Palm Beach (15 games), Springfield (37 games), Memphis (three games): He hasn't made the Majors yet, but the 6-foot-2 left-hander is already providing the Cardinals with a lot of value for their 2012 24th-round pick. Stoppelman posted a 1.50 and 1.35 ERA at Palm Beach and Springfield respectively, and he finished with a 1.50 mark with 78 strikeouts and 26 walks in 66 innings across his three levels. The Missouri native also owned a 2.89 ERA and held batters to a .143 average in the Arizona Fall League.

"When he first came out and we saw his stuff, we started to plug in exactly how we thought he could move," said LaRocque. "He's done all that and made some nice adjustments. Once he refines his off-speed stuff, works on his curveball and changeup, he'll keep getting better. We saw a lot of possibilities when we first saw him, and he's just taken it and run with it."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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