We're doing things alphabetically in this series, and that's proving to be a treat for NL Central fans. We've already gone through the Astros and Brewers recently, and today we pass through the Cardinals before checking out the Cubs tomorrow. If you want to see what an absolutely stacked lineup from this series looks like, though, you should probably go back and check out Milwaukee.
The Cardinals are able to make a pretty nice lineup on their own, though, even without Albert Pujols, a 1999 draftee (shucks). And remember that these teams aren't meant to extend beyond 2011. With this series, we're simply looking to see what kind of team each organization could build using only players drafted and signed since 2000. And because this is mostly just a fun exercise, we're including DH's in all lineups, not just AL teams.
1) 2B Skip Schumaker - 2001 6th Round Pick
Currently injured, Schumaker is the Cardinals' regular second baseman, but his bat has taken a serious dip since the beginning of last season. From 2007-2009, Schumaker hit .307/.361/.408 in 394 games with St. Louis. He's hit just .262/.326/.342 since then, though, and at 31 he may be settling in as this kind of hitter after a good three-year prime.
2) 1B Daric Barton - 2003 1st Round Pick (28th overall)
A key part of the trade that brought Mark Mulder to St. Louis, the 25-year-old Barton has established himself as one of the better first basemen in the AL despite well below-average power for the position. He makes up for that with plus defense and incredible on-base skills, which enable him to be a four-win player despite being a 10-15 HR kind of hitter.
3) LF Allen Craig - 2006 8th Round Pick
Craig's currently a key bench piece for the Cardinals, but his bat is probably good enough to play regularly for a lot of teams. He's a decent defender at first base and both outfield corners, and he can play third base in a pinch if necessary. He provides most of his value through offense, though, and ZiPS projects a .284/.338/.439 line for Craig through the end of the season.
4) CF Colby Rasmus - 2005 1st Round Pick (28th overall)
At 24, Rasmus is already one of the best center fielders in baseball, and he has the ability to become one of the best players in the game in general. The Cardinals would be crazy to think about trading this guy even after all of the stuff that's gone on between him and manager Tony La Russa, simply because of how ridiculously good he is. You don't trade players like Rasmus and get full value in return.
5) DH Mark Hamilton - 2006 2nd Round Pick
Hamilton isn't a major prospect, but he's gotten some attention given that he's hit .301/.393/.555 in his first 129 games with Triple-A Memphis. The plus power is legit, but he's got a long swing and some contact issues, so his potential is pretty limited as an all-bat prospect. I tend to think of him as a slightly lesser version of Mark Trumbo.
6) C Yadier Molina - 2000 4th Round Pick
Molina's been the primary catcher for St. Louis since 2005, and he's been one of the better catchers in baseball during that period. His defense gets most of the attention because he is a very good defender behind the plate, but he's also quietly developed into a pretty solid hitter, too. His first couple years at the plate were ugly, but since the beginning of the 2007 season, Molina's hit .284/.346/.373 for St. Louis. Among NL catchers, only Brian McCann and Russell Martin have accumulated more WAR than Molina during that period.
7) RF Jon Jay - 2006 2nd Round Pick
Jay's never really been a major prospect, but his emergence last season made St. Louis comfortable with trading incumbent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego, and now he's filling the role of fourth outfielder for the Cards. His glove isn't great in center and he doesn't have much power, so he depends on a high batting average to be valuable most of the time. That worked last season as he rocked a .350 BABIP, but unless a mark near that level is sustainable he's likely to see his offensive numbers dip a good deal.
8) 3B Jarrett Hoffpauir - 2004 6th Round Pick
The 27-year-old Hoffpauir has spent the past three-and-a-half years at Triple-A, compiling a .288/.367/.449 line. He's currently in the Padres system after being claimed from Toronto over the winter, and he's coming off a very strong season for Triple-A Las Vegas, even though that's known to be a hitter's park in hitter's league. The alternatives here are weak, though, and at least Hoffpauir should be entering his prime.
9) SS Brendan Ryan - 2003 7th Round Pick
Ryan is a pretty awful hitter, but he continues to play frequently in the majors thanks to an exceptional glove at shortstop. He's now the everyday shortstop in Seattle after filling that role in St. Louis the past two seasons, as the Cardinals presumably got sick of throwing away two spots in the lineup every day. Defensively, though, Ryan is a true stud. UZR has Ryan at +9 per 150 games at shortstop, which is probably a pretty fair evaluation given that DRS and Total Zone like him even more than that.
1) RHP Dan Haren - 2001 2nd Round Pick
Haren's off to a ridiculous start for the Angels, with a 1.46 ERA in his first 37 innings of the season. Arizona began to sour on Haren last season for some reason and eventually sold low on the ace when trading him to LA; I don't think that people give Arizona a hard enough time for making such a poor deal there. Only Roy Halladay has posted a better strikeout-to-walk ratio since Haren became a full-time starter in 2005.
2) LHP Jaime Garcia - 2005 22nd Round Pick
Garcia wasn't considered an elite prospect going into last season but ended up making 28 starts while posting a 2.70 ERA for the Cardinals. Now he's arguably their second-best starter with Adam Wainwright on the mend, as he's continued to thrive in the rotation for St. Louis this season. He doesn't throw that hard, with a fastball that averages 89 MPH, but he misses bats with a strong four-pitch mix and has one of the best ground ball rates in the game among starters.
3) LHP Chris Narveson - 2000 2nd Round Pick
Narveson is much different, and much better, pitcher than the guy who posted a 5.43 ERA in 136 Triple-A innings in 2008. He still doesn't throw very hard, only touching the low-90's on his good days, but he's made the change-up a key part of his arsenal (he's thrown it 30% of the time this year) and it's seriously improved his ability to miss bats. He's been among the better pitchers in the NL so far this season, and while he's likely to regress some, Narveson is proving to be a solid mid-rotation starter.
4) RHP Kyle McClellan - 2002 25th Round Pick
McClellan was a reliever for the Cardinals the past three seasons, but he shifted into a starting role this spring after the Wainwright injury and has proven to be a solid replacement for the club's ace. Obviously McClellan isn't capable of matching the beastly Wainwright, but he's getting grounders and limiting walks, so he should be able to stick as a good back-of-the-rotation starter this season. One thing to note, though, is that his fastball is down nearly 3 MPH from when he was relieving last year.
5) RHP Lance Lynn - 2008 1st Round Pick (39th overall)
The 23-year-old Lynn doesn't get much pub as a prospect, but after last year's velocity spike he should be firmly on the radar of any Cardinals fan. After sitting 89-91 for most of his pro career, he jumped up to 91-93 during the second half of last season, and has continued to thrive at Triple-A this year. Even if Tony La Russa doesn't love young guys, Lynn should be the first man in line to get starts in St. Louis should the need arise.
Set Up: Chris Perez - 2006 1st Round Pick (42nd overall)
Perez is one of those guys who was viewed as a future closer right from the beginning. He's fulfilled that projection, as he's currently the closer for Cleveland and has saved 29 games since the beginning of last year. Like most young guys that get the "Future Closer" tag right from the beginning, Perez is defined by a big power fastball, a plus breaking pitch, and command that comes and goes. He put up an exceptional 1.71 ERA for the Indians last season even though his peripherals didn't match, and both his velocity and his numbers have taken a dip this year. He's only 25, though, and should the closer in Cleveland for a while.
Closer: Luke Gregerson - 2006 28th Round Pick
Gregerson was never really given the "Future Closer" tag like Perez, but he's ultimately proven to be the superior reliever. Presumably he never received that tag because his fastball averages 91 MPH instead of 95 MPH, but the Padres stud uses his his slider more than his fastball anyways, and with fantastic results. Whether you like to look at ERA (3.13), FIP (2.74), xFIP (2.89) or tERA (2.51), Gregerson's numbers come out shining.
DISTRIBUTION OF PICKS
2000: 2; 2001: 2; 2002: 1; 2003: 2; 2004: 1; 2005: 2; 2006: 5; 2007: 0; 2008: 1; 2009: 0
6th or later: 7