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Cards' not as stocked, but arms a plenty

Cards' not as stocked, but arms a plenty

ST. LOUIS -- It's definitely a new era for the Cardinals' farm system. A series of trades, not to mention a couple of promotions, have knocked one of the game's better farm systems out of its lofty perch.

But the system churns on, even if it could use a good replenishment from the upcoming 2010 Draft. And there are some names worth noting. Shelby Miller, the Cards' first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, is the most exciting starter in the organization in years. And experienced Minor Leaguers like Allen Craig and Jaime Garcia could contribute right away.

Still, the truth is that the Cardinals' system is not as stocked as it was a year ago. Recently rated as a top-10 organization, the St. Louis farm system was just ranked 29th out of 30 teams by Baseball America.

In the past year, the list of traded prospects includes Luke Gregerson, Jess Todd, Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. Colby Rasmus went from one of the game's top prospects to one of the National League's most exciting young players.

What it means is that the high-ceiling offensive players are now hard to find in the organization. Instead, the top levels are populated by guys who could play in the Majors, but may not be impact players.

That's largely been the case on the pitching side in recent years, and to some extent it still is. But even there, many of the prospects are no longer prospects. Pitchers like Mitchell Boggs and Blake Hawksworth are big leaguers now.

As baseball's annual Winter Meetings approach, here's a look at some of the players who figure into the organization's plans both in the short term and down the road.

Shelby Miller, RHP: He is the highest-ceiling prospect in the organization, the first guy who really looks like a potential ace to come through the organization since Adam Wainwright. But Miller is also very young, having been taken out of high school in 2009.

Miller throws hard and is best known for his fastball, but director of Minor League operations John Vuch said that he showed three pitches in his brief professional debut at the end of 2009.

"The guys that saw him said he was as advertised," Vuch said. "For being a high school pitcher, he kept the ball down. A lot of times that's the problem with high school pitchers. He commanded his pitches well. ... He's got three pretty good pitches."

Miller is likely to start the year at low Class A Quad Cities.

Jaime Garcia, LHP: Of the players on this list, Garcia is the most likely to play a prominent role on the 2010 Cardinals. His return from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in '08 went very well, and the 23-year-old lefty is expected to compete for the fifth spot in the St. Louis rotation in Spring Training.

"It was really encouraging," Vuch said. "He could have gone deeper in the games, but he was coming off the injury. Even though it was playoffs, we were more concerned with keeping the pitch count down. Knock on wood, but his rehab went almost perfectly. It seemed like he hit every milestone, right on time."

Garcia is expected to come into Spring Training with no health-related restrictions, other than the preventative common sense that any team must use with any young pitcher.

Lance Lynn, RHP: He is somewhat the opposite of Miller. Lynn may not have the ceiling that Miller has, but he's widely projected to get to the Majors and be effective once he gets there. Lynn, 22, has advanced quickly since he was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2008. The University of Mississippi product spent most of '09 at Double-A Springfield.

"He's kind of a durable workhorse type guy," Vuch said. "I think he probably very well could be a No. 3-type guy at the big league level, give you a solid 200-220 innings. But I don't want to sell his stuff short. He has above average stuff. He has good sink on the fastball, gets a lot of groundballs."

He's probably still a year away from the big league rotation, but he's on the way.

Daryl Jones, OF: A year after a breakout 2008 campaign, Jones took a step back in '09. He batted .279 with a .360 on-base percentage and a .378 slugging percentage at Springfield, a year after a .316/.407/.483 line in a season split between high Class A Palm Beach and Springfield. However, Jones was hampered by injury much of the year, and the organization expects him to bounce back in '10.

"I think [health] played a big part," Vuch said. "The first half of the season, he seemed fine and was swinging the bat well. After he came back, he just didn't look like the same player. I think a lot of that had to do with some soreness in the knees and not having a good foundation. We saw him in the [Arizona Fall League], and his bat had a lot more life and he was running well."

Jones as of now may be a bit of a tweener, not a center fielder but without quite the power to start at a corner outfield spot. If he comes into some more power, he could be an everyday contributor, but if not, he still projects as a fine fourth outfielder.

Eduardo Sanchez: Still shy of his 21st birthday, Sanchez is in a position similar to the one occupied by Francisco Samuel a year ago. He's the "it" reliever in the organization, coming off a big year split between Palm Beach and Springfield. Sanchez struck out 82 against 25 walks in 75 innings in 2009, and it's his command that separates him from some of the other exciting relief arms in the organization.

"He's probably got a tick less velocity [than Samuel], but his command, even though he's about two years younger, his control and command are a little better," Vuch said. "His breaking ball is almost as nasty."

Sanchez is a fastball-slider pitcher who sits at about 94 mph but can hit 96-97. He's likely to start the year at Double-A.

Allen Craig, OF: He doesn't have much of a pedigree, but Craig just keeps hitting. In 2009, he was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year after a huge season at Triple-A Memphis. He came up playing mostly third base, but he moved to the outfield this year. Vuch said the team was pleased with his outfield defense, and defense has really been the only knock on Craig all along.

"He's always been a very good offensive player, and really the second half of the year he took off," Vuch said. "He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but from midseason to the end of the year, he was probably the top offensive player in the organization. Above average power, above average hitter.

"I think really he probably looks more comfortable after a short period of time in left field than he does at third base."

Craig, 25, was an eighth-round pick out of the University of California in 2006. His best chance of making the Major League roster in '10 is likely as a versatile bat off the bench.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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