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Right-handed pitching a staple of Cards' system

Right-handed pitching a staple of Cards' system

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Right-handed pitching a staple of Cards' system
ST. LOUIS -- When Lance Berkman was sidelined earlier in May with a partial tear in the meniscus of his right knee, the Cardinals needed someone to play first base and they needed him quickly.

Not long after, Matt Adams packed his bags and joined the club from Triple-A Memphis. The Cardinals' offense barely missed a beat. Adams made his first start on May 20 and hit .382 with five doubles and five RBIs in his first nine games.

Adams has since cooled off -- batting .294 in 16 games -- but his presence was felt right away. With a lot of depth in the farm system, the Cardinals are confident there are more guys like Adams available that will be ready to play in the big leagues whenever called upon.

Second baseman Kolten Wong -- drafted by the Cardinals in the first round with the 22nd overall pick last year -- is quickly proving his abilities. Wong joined Class A Quad Cities last summer and hit .335 with 15 doubles and 25 RBIs in 47 games. The University of Hawaii product has skipped Class A Advanced this year, and gone right to Double-A.

2012 Draft Central

"Kolten has done very well, despite making a big jump from Low A to Double-A this year," said John Vuch, Cardinals' farm director. "Our current plan is to let him continue to do what he's doing. As far as his upside, he's done nothing to lead us to believe that he couldn't become a starting Major League second baseman at some point."

The 21-year old Wong is batting .313 with Springfield this season. He's collected 21 RBIs and four triples with an .822 OPS. Wong is ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals' fourth-best prospect and the No. 4 second-base prospect in baseball.

Unfortunately, things are not going as well for another one of the Cardinals' top picks from 2011 -- outfielder Charlie Tilson. Tilson was taken with the 79th overall pick last year in the second round. He joined rookie ball in July and hit .333 in eight games in 2011.

Vuch said Tilson had been having a productive Spring Training this year, until a right shoulder injury sustained while diving for a ball in extended spring training has him sidelined for a majority of the 2012 season.

"[Charlie] could be ready to participate in an Instructional League setting after the season concludes," said Vuch.

The 19-year old Tilson is ranked as the Cardinals' No. 12 prospect.

Members of the 2010 Draft class are still making their way through the Minors this year with varying success. Right-hander Tyrell Jenkins, taken with the 50th overall pick in the sandwich round in 2010, owns a 4.74 ERA in nine starts in Class A this season. He's struck out 39 in 43 2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .244 batting average.

First-rounder Zack Cox has struggled this season after putting up great numbers with both High Class A Palm Beach and Springfield last year. The third baseman, chosen 25th overall in 2010, is batting .209 in 50 games in Triple-A this season. He has just 10 RBIs and has struck out 44 times while collecting eight walks.

The Cardinals have a handful of highly rated right-handed pitching prospects that starts with their No. 1 overall prospect. Shelby Miller, drafted 19th overall in 2009, is still settling in at the Triple-A level.

"Shelby is still getting acclimated to Triple-A, and while he could survive if pushed to the Major League level, he would likely be best served by continuing to develop at Memphis for now," Vuch said. "We're still optimistic that he could be ready to contribute in St. Louis by next season, or even by late 2012 if there was a need."

Miller is the ranked the No. 3 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. He is 4-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 57.1 innings with Memphis this season. According to reports, Miller has evolved into a more well-rounded pitcher and has improved his breaking ball and changeup to complement a hard fastball.

Five of the Cardinals' top 10 prospects are right-handed pitchers. This includes Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals No. 2 prospect and the No. 27 prospect in baseball. The 20-year old Martinez, who signed with the Cardinals in 2010, is 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts with Palm Beach this season. He spent the majority of last season in High Class A, posting a 5.28 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 10 games.

"We still are very optimistic about the depth [of right-handed pitching] in the system, especially among our starting pitchers, and consider it a strength of the organization," Vuch said. "Obviously, they are at various clubs within the organization, so there's not really much direct competition between them, but ultimately we look forward to many of them pitching together in St. Louis."

Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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