Playing at Triple-A, the adage goes, is one phone call away from the big leagues. Right-hander Lance Lynn spent the entire 2010 season with Memphis in the Pacific Coast League, but that phone never rang.
But here's the thing. Lynn, the 2008 sandwich pick who comes in at No. 9 on the Cardinals' Top 10 prospects list, was just fine with that.
"You see the guys going up and down, so you feel like you're close," Lynn said. "In my instance, I was there to work. They wanted me to throw some innings, do some things that way. I knew that for some guys, they're just a phone call away, they were going to help. For me, I was there to try and get better and learn as much as I could that year."
Adversity can be a very good teacher and Lynn took a master class from that instructor the first half of the year. For the first time since coming out of Ole Miss, Lynn struggled. His command was off, walking 17 batters over 25 2/3 April innings. And while he turned things around in May, he had a 9.28 ERA in six June outings. After finishing the first half with a 5.56 ERA, he went 7-3 with a 3.58 ERA in 11 second-half starts before going on to pitch masterfully in the postseason.
Lynn had always been one to adopt a fairly simple approach: Get on the mound and pitch. When things started going wrong, however, he realized he needed to pay more attention to the finer points of his craft. The results are there in the stats as well as in some extra ticks on the radar gun as the season went along.
"I was never one to be big on mechanics or anything like that," Lynn admitted. "I just pitched my whole life. I just knew how to pitch. When I got there, I struggled with my mechanics, I started leaving balls over the plate where I was getting by with it before. I had to really fine-tune what I was trying to do and really concentrate more on pitch selection and things like that.
"It really helped me grow as a pitcher, which you need to do, grow as much as you can to be prepared for the next level."
Cardinals' Top 10 Prospects
1. Shelby Miller, RHP: Miller came in at No. 20 on the Top 50 prospects list and No. 7 among all right-handed pitching prospects after a first full season that saw the Cardinals monitor his workload carefully. He went to the Futures Game and finished the season with a flourish. His curve and changeup have improved tremendously to back up his plus fastball. He's making his second straight strong impression in big league camp and he could start moving more quickly up the ladder.
2. Zack Cox, 3B: No. 8 on the Top 10 third base prospect list, Cox will officially get his Cardinal career going this season after signing at the deadline and going to the Arizona Fall League last year. The most advanced college hitter in last year's class, his solid approach and ability to spray line drives to all fields should help him move quickly. Some question if he'll have the power for a prototypical third baseman, but that's where he'll start for the time being.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
4. Seth Blair, RHP: Arizona State's ace in 2010 performed his way into being a sandwich pick, taken No. 46 overall. He didn't pitch last summer after a heavy college workload, but the Cardinals are excited to see his plus fastball and above-average curve in action. How quickly an offspeed pitch comes could determine whether Blair is a starter or reliever long term, though he'll begin his career in a rotation at the start of the season.
5. Jordan Swagerty, RHP: The Cardinals went back to ASU in the second round taking this draft-eligible sophomore as a quick-to-the-Majors college reliever. He's got a plus breaking ball, outstanding command of his above-average fastball and even has a changeup, too. Even if he starts the year in a rotation to work on all of his pitches, most feel he'll be in the back end of the St. Louis bullpen before long.
6. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP: As "safe" as Blair and Swagerty may have been as picks, Jenkins represents the more risky end of the Draft, a high-ceiling high school pitcher. A terrific athlete signed away from playing football at Baylor, Jenkins already has good pitching mechanics and a very projectable frame. His fastball should be plus and he's at least shown some feel for three secondary pitches. It may take a while for it to come together, but when it does, the NL Central should look out.
7. Oscar Taveras, OF: Turning 18, Taveras made his United States debut last summer and promptly was an Appalachian League All-Star, hitting .322/.362/.526 in 53 games before going 8-for-16 to help Johnson City win the Appy League title. Like many young hitters, he needs to be more selective at the plate, but he should hit for average and a good amount of power down the road. He won't turn 19 until June, so going to the full-season Midwest League should be a good test for him.
8. Joe Kelly, RHP: While the 2009 third-rounder spent the majority of last season starting in the Midwest League, it remains to be seen what his long-term role is. He showed improvement with his secondary stuff to go along with his plus sinking fastball, though his overall command still wasn't consistent. He generates a ton of ground balls (3.15 GO/AO) and he was very effective when he relieved. If that becomes his permanent spot, he could end up closing games in St. Louis one day.
9. Lance Lynn, RHP: He started slow and finished strongly, showing a lot more power as the year went on. He's just about ready to contribute in St. Louis and while he was likely the odd man out to start the season, Cardinals fans should see him in the big leagues at some point during the 2011 season.
10. John Gast, LHP: The 2010 sixth-round pick had a stirring debut with Batavia in the NY-Penn League, with a 1.54 ERA over 35 innings. The lefty had been a solid high school prospect, but had Tommy John surgery after his senior season and headed to Florida State. After two solid years in relief, he started last year and saw his performance go backwards as the season wore on. What he does in his full-season debut will speak volumes about what kind of prospect he is.
Under the Radar
Matt Carpenter, 3B: The 2009 13th-round pick, Carpenter has done nothing but hit and get on base since he joined the organization out of TCU. He finished second in the system with his .309 average and had a .418 on-base percentage. He hit 13 homers and there might be a little more to come. He's close to knocking on the door in St. Louis.
Brandon Dickson, RHP: Dickson has gone from signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2006 to being in the conversation for a big league roster spot this spring. He's had to prove himself at every level and last year, in Triple-A, was his best. Dickson was a Pacific Coast League All-Star, finishing second in the system in ERA and third in strikeouts. Already far surpassing expectations, a big league callup in 2011 would be icing on the cake.
Hitter of the Year -- Cox
It might be a little ho-hum to go with the top hitter in the system, but Cox's ability to hit should allow him to move quickly and compete for an organizational batting title. Don't be shocked if there's a little more pop in the bat than people expected.
Pitcher of the Year -- Miller
It might be a little ho-hum to go with... well, you get the point. Miller will jump on the fast track in 2011, play at two levels and top the organization in ERA and strikeouts.