Could this be the year that Colby Rasmus breaks through? Perhaps. Should that be what's used to measure the success of the Cardinals' farm system? Let's hope not.
Yes, Rasmus remains the best the Cardinals organization has and it's possible this is the last organizational preview in which he gets mentioned. But there's more than just the center fielder to boast about here. The 2008 Draft brought in the fast-track bat of Brett Wallace. Several young pitchers -- some of whom will contribute immediately in the bullpen, while others will be ready to start in the near future -- are rushing through the system as well.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
While the organization is a little top-heavy with much of the talent reaching the upper levels, it's not exactly barren at the lower levels. Since the Cards have mixed up drafting philosophies lately and taken a lot more high school players than in the past, they've filled in some gaps. It's worth noting that every Cardinals affiliate finished over .500 in 2008, with the short-season Batavia Muckdogs winning a title.
It might seem like a long drought for Cardinals fans to not make the postseason two years in a row, but solace should be taken in the fact that the talent rising to the top of the farm system might provide plenty of help to get the parent club back atop the NL Central for years to come.
Jason Motte, RHP
The converted catcher will almost certainly be in the Cards bullpen after making a strong debut late last year. Whether he's closing games when the team breaks camp could be decided in the last couple of weeks of Spring Training.
Tyler Greene, INF
The 2005 first-rounder has been slower to develop, but his power-speed combination has always been intriguing. Now he's starting to put it together and after seeing time at short and third this spring, he could take on a utility role with the big club .
Colby Rasmus, OF
Does this sound familiar? Rasmus got a long look last spring too, and he ended up with an injury-plagued season in Triple-A. He's getting more playing time than anyone in camp. Even if he starts back in Memphis, it seems fairly clear he'll get his first crack in St. Louis this season.
Curt Smith, 1B
A senior out of the University of Maine by way of the Netherlands Antilles, Smith was the Appalachian League Player of the Year after leading the Rookie-level circuit in hitting and RBIs. The Cardinals think the member of the Netherlands World Baseball Classic roster this spring has a special bat and are curious to see how far it can take him.
Nick Additon, LHP
Now just 21, Additon was an organizational Pitcher of the Year candidate in his first full season, when he went 11-5 with a 2.23 ERA. Over 137 innings, he gave up just 103 hits (.208 average-against) while striking out 121 and walking 40. The Cardinals can't wait to see how much the southpaw progresses in his second full season.
David Freese, 3B
Coming off a huge year with Memphis (.306, 26, 91), it looked like the player the Cards got from the Padres for Jim Edmonds might get a shot to fill in for the injured Troy Glaus. But an achilles problem ruled that out and he'll have to go back to Triple-A and wait for another opportunity once he's fully healthy.
2008: Brett Wallace, 3B
He's only got 54 pro games under his belt, but no one thinks his bat is too far away. Hitting .337 and making it to Double-A can do that. The big test will be whether he stays at third.
2007: Pete Kozma, SS
His first full season was solid, if unspectacular. But he was a Midwest League All-Star and earned a late promotion up to the Florida State League, where he'll play this year at age 21.
2006: Adam Ottavino, RHP
After a strong first full season in Palm Beach, the right-hander out of Northeastern stumbled a bit with the move to Double-A. He posted a 5.23 ERA over 24 starts for Springfield, though he was much better in the second half (4.09 ERA) than in the first (7.17) as he dealt with some early shoulder problems.
2008 Draft Recap
RHP Lance Lynn (1-supplemental) didn't pitch a ton in his debut, but he did have a 1.35 ERA, a .204 batting average-against and 29 Ks in 26 2/3 IP between Batavia and Quad Cities. ... SS Niko Vasquez (3) hit .317 and had a .416 OBP in 55 Appy League games, earning a late promotion to full-season Quad Cities. ... RHP Scott Gorgen (4) went 5-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 54 1/3 IP for Batavia. He held hitters to a .186 average and struck out 60. ... 2B Colt Sedbrook (22) was a New York-Penn League All-Star, hitting .305 (eighth in the league) with a .394 OBP (fifth) and 13 steals in 71 games for Batavia. ... 1B Curt Smith (39) was a bit old for the league, but definitely opened some eyes by leading the Appy League with a .378 average. He was second in OPS and tied for the lead in RBIs, earning the league's Player of the Year award.
Hitter of the Year -- 3B Brett Wallace
We're not exactly going out on a limb here, but it's hard not to go with one of the best pure hitters in the Minors. Unless Wallace hits his way into the big league picture, look for him to be among the Minor League leaders in a host of offensive categories.
Pitcher of the Year -- RHP Jess Todd
That's right, two in a row. The only thing that keeps MLB.com's Cardinals 2008 Pitcher of the Year from repeating is too much big league time. He'll pitch all year in Memphis and lead the organization -- and the Pacific Coast League -- in ERA.
LHP Jaime Garcia may be out of action following Tommy John surgery, but he shouldn't be forgotten. He did, after all, make it up to the big leagues at age 22 before being shut down. He'll still be plenty young enough to make an impact upon his return in 2010.
"The depth in outfield and right-handed pitching -- the power arms -- exists at upper levels. We're now starting to build depth up the middle at the A levels. The timing is good because we don't have anyone tied up long-term in St. Louis. We're excited we have this depth. From the scouting and player development standpoint, having the choice -- the players stacked up behind each other -- it means you don't have to rely on one guy. We're really working on continuing to replenish that pipeline, especially at the premium positions." -- Jeff Luhnow, vice president, amateur scouting and player development
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.