In a somewhat surprising announcement, Baseball America has credited the St. Louis Cardinals with having the top rated minor league system in baseball. It’s the first time the team has ever been ranked first in the 29 years of the media outlet’s annual release. The Cardinals’ previous high ranking was way back in 1990 when they received a #5 rating.
The news comes as a bit of a shock to many, as the Cards have had a history of receiving bad rankings for their minor league talent. They were rated last in MLB only seven years ago. In addition, it was widely speculated that the Pittsburgh Pirates would receive the honor this year. Although the Pirates do have a very deep farm system, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Cardinals truly earned this year’s award.
With six of baseball’s top 100 prospects, the future of the St. Louis franchise seems to be in great shape. Outfielder Oscar Taveras is considered the top position player across all minor league ranks. While playing AA ball last season, the 20-year-old hit 23 homers and knocked in 94 runs in just 124 games. He finished the season with a .321 batting average and a very impressive .953 OPS. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has called Taveras the best hitting prospect in the organization since Albert Pujols.
In addition to Taveras, the Cardinals also have several coveted young arms. Topping the list is a couple of 21-year-old right-handers, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. Wacha, in a brief minor league stint last year, posted a 0.86 ERA while striking out 40 batters in just 21 innings. Martinez has racked up 268 strikeouts in 248 minor league innings to date. On top of that, the Cardinals also have a left fielder named Mike O’Neill ripping up minor league pitching. O’Neill won the Single A+ batting title by hitting .342 last season. After being promoted to AA for the last 13 games of the season, the 24-year-old hit an obscene .562 in 42 plate appearances.
With all due respect the Pirates, the Cardinals have certainly earned their place at the top of Baseball America’s rating system. It’s sign of more good things to come for a team that has made the playoffs in nine of the last 13 seasons.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)