In 2013 a number of Cardinal rookies made a big impact in helping the team win 97 games and reach the World Series. On the pitching staff alone, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal Kevin Siegrist, are among the rookies who saw significant playing time in 2013 with a good degree of success. Among the hitters Matt Adams was the lone big (in multiple ways) rookie contributor. The team will likely rely on rookies less in 2014, but there are still a number of first-year players who could make a big impact. Here are the top five potential impact rookies for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals.
Wong tops the list of potential impact rookies for a number of reasons.
First, Wong is poised to have the greatest opportunity on the Major League level next year. With the departure of David Freese the team will move Matt Carpenter to third base, opening up a starting job for Wong. The Cardinals did sign Mark Ellis to help supplement Wong, but Ellis is seen as more of an insurance policy at second base. Wong, if he can produce, is the future of the team at second base. Assuming he does not collapse, Wong is safe bet for 350-400 at-bats in 2014.
Second, Wong’s minor league production suggests that he could be a force with the bat. Last year Wong hit for a .303 average with a .369 OBP and .466 SLUG at AAA. Wong did struggle when he was called up last year, but he was never given consistent at-bats and the sample size, 62 plate appearances, makes it unfair to make any projections off of Wong’s brief big league career.
Third, Wong brings a level of athleticism to the team which was mostly non-existent last year. Wong stole 20 bases in 21 attempts at AAA last year. Wong’s speed presents the potential for excitement on the base paths and in the field.
Martinez is the second most likely prospect to make an impact in 2014 for many of the same reasons as Wong.
First, Martinez will have an opportunity to make an impact next year either as a back-end reliever or a starting pitcher. The end of 2013, and particularly the postseason, gave a preview of what Martinez is capable of doing. Martinez was trusted in high pressure situations in the seventh and eighth innings of key games, and for the most part dominated opposing batters.
Second, Martinez might have the best pure stuff any pitcher on the Cardinals staff, which is saying a lot with the likes of Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, and Michael Wacha. Martinez has a fastball that routinely tops 95 MPH, with movement. That fastball is coupled with devastating curveball that froze the hitters like Dustin Pedroia. To top it off Martinez features a plus changeup.
Taveras would easily top this list if he could be guaranteed a starting position in 2014. Before the beginning of 2013 Taveras was largely considered the best hitting prospect in the minor leagues. Taveras 2013 was derailed in part by a leg injury. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the team expects Taveras to be healthy and ready to play for Spring Training of 2014. However, there is real question about how much playing time Taveras will get next year with Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay, and Allen Craig all patrolling the outfield already.
If Taveras does get playing time his minor league numbers suggest that he will make a large impact on offense. In 2012 Taveras had a .321 with a .380 OBP and .572 SLUG in AA. Last year Taveras hit .306 with .341 OBP and a .462 SLUG in AAA on a bum ankle.
In 2014 Taveras should be healthy again after undergoing ankle surgery. He will be ready to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training. Even if Taveras is sent back down to AAA in 2014, he could still make an impact when called up as a designated hitter or an impact bat off the bench in September.
Stoppelman is currently player known to only the most devoted Cardinal fans who love to analyze prospects, but Stoppelman could be a household name like Kevin Siegrist to Cardinal fans next year.
Like Siegrist, Stoppelman is a left-hander. Like Siegrist in 2012, Stoppelman dominated as a reliever at the minor league level in 2013. Last year Stoppelman had a 1.35 ERA in AA while striking out 50 batters over 40 innings. Stoppelman did all that while pitching in what is generally considered a hitters stadium in Springfield.
The bad news for Stoppelman is that the bullpen is already stocked with Trevor Rosenthal, Jason Motte, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Manness, and Randy Choate. That list does not even include Carlos Martinez and/or Joe Kelly should they not make the starting rotation. As a result, Stoppelman may only get a chance to make an impact after an injury, trade, or as a late season callup.
Piscotty was drafted out of Stanford as a supplemental first round draft choice in 2012 as compensation for the loss of Albert Pujols. Since then, Piscotty has done nothing but hit at various minor league levels. In 2013 Piscotty hit for .299 average with a .364 OBP and .446 SLUG in AA.
Then Piscotty really made a name for himself in the Arizona Fall League, a fall league which is largely seen as a finishing school of sorts for prospects. There Piscotty hit .371 with a .430 OBP and .506 SLUG over 89 at-bats. Those numbers have given Piscotty some hype heading into spring training.
The bad news for Piscotty is that his primary position is right field, a position which should be filled by Allen Craig nearly all of the time in 2014, and if Craig got injured Oscar Taveras appears next in line to play the position. So while Piscotty appears ready to hit on the Major League level, he also appears to have no clear route to at-bats there in 2014.