JUPITER, Fla. -- Though the learning curve has been steep in his first season as a big league manager, Mike Matheny stepped into the position with the advantage of already knowing the organization. He understood the organizational philosophy pegged as the Cardinal Way, and he had an accurate pulse on the Minor League system. The latter was developed through his work as a special assistant in player development last year.
It appears, however, that even Matheny underestimated how much talent is on its way to St. Louis. The opportunity to get extended looks at several of the organization's top Minor League players during Spring Training had Matheny recently gushing about the pipeline of ascending prospects.
"I think to look at the range of [talent], you have to go down to the Minor League level and look at what's happened through this spring when guys got opportunities," Matheny said. "I think we all saw some things that we didn't expect to see."
Pitchers Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Tyrell Jenkins, as well as position players Matt Adams and Ryan Jackson, were among those Spring Training participants who left particularly positive impressions. So, too, did 19-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras, who, though not officially a part of big league camp, made several appearances in Grapefruit League games.
Externally, there is also agreement that the Cardinals' farm system flaunts much more depth this year than it has recently. A year after being ranked as having the 24th best Minor League system by Baseball America, the same publication put St. Louis in its top 10 this year.
With the Minor League season getting under way, fans can keep track of the Cardinals' top prospects throughout the season on Prospect Watch. And get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of St. Louis' Minor League teams on the Cards' affiliates page.
where to watch
A look at where the Cardinals' Top 20 prospects are starting the 2012 season:
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Looking to find the largest concentration of talent? Keep an eye on the highest two affiliates in the Cardinals' system. Close to a dozen of the organization's Top 20 prospects, as ranked by MLB.com, are on those two rosters.
The Triple-A Memphis club begins the year with the Cards' most recent Minor League player (Adams) and pitcher (Miller) of the year. Zack Cox, the club's first-round pick two years ago, will be in Memphis, too. While Cox is likely at least a full season away from making a push for a big league roster spot, Adams and Miller are both seen as quite close. What transpires at the Major League level will play a role in their eventual ascensions, but Miller and Adams can push their way into the discussion by minimizing the learning curve in their jumps up from Double-A.
One rung down, in Springfield, the Cardinals have a Double-A club worthy of plenty of attention. First-round Draft pick Kolten Wong will make the sizable jump there from low-A Quad Cities in what will be his first full professional season. Also highlighting the Springfield roster will be Taveras, ranked by MLB.com as the organization's top position player prospect. Rosenthal, John Gast and Scott Gorgen are other prospects starting the season at Double-A.
Debuts and Draftees
While it will be years before anyone can accurately grade the Cards' 2011 Draft class -- the last one headed by former vice president of scouting/player development and now-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow -- this will mark the first full professional season for these selectees.
Wong headlines the class and, because he signed quickly enough last summer to still have time for nearly two months worth of Minor League games, is slated to begin the season all the way up in Double-A. That large a leap is unusual, but Wong, who participated in Major League Spring Training, was already quite polished since he was drafted out of college.
Many of the other top '11 Draft picks will remain in Jupiter to participate in extended spring camp before heading out to various affiliates. Outfielders Charlie Tilson (second round), CJ McElroy (third round) and Kenneth People-Walls (fourth round), along with catcher Adam Ehrlich (sixth round), fall in this category. Right-hander Sam Gaviglio (fifth round) and outfielder Nicholas Martini (seventh round) begin the year in low-A Quad Cities.
Though he wasn't taken in last June's First-Year Player Draft, right-hander Andres Serrano is another newcomer worth watching in 2012. Signed out of the Dominican Republic last October, the 17-year-old Serrano will make his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League. Though he hasn't yet thrown a pitch in professional ball, Serrano is already ranked as one of the organization's top 20 prospects by MLB.com.
Teams on TV
The Memphis Redbirds are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2012 MiLB.TV package will include more than 2,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.