Top Ten Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Will Lingo
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Chris Narveson, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180.
Background: Narveson returned to the mound in 2002 after Tommy John surgery in August 2001, but he didn’t really regain his form until 2003. Named the organization’s best minor league pitcher in spring training, he was selected for the high Class A Florida State League all-star game and retired both of the batters he faced in the Futures Game.
Strengths: Though he potentially has four pitches that could be major league average or better, Narveson’s real strength is his intelligence and understanding of how to get hitters out. His changeup is a potential plus pitch. His fastball ranges from 86-90 mph, and his slider and curveball should be average pitches, with the slider more useful at this point.
Weaknesses: Narveson’s command isn’t what it needs to be yet, both in terms of throwing strikes and pitching effectively out of the strike zone. But the Cardinals liked the way he battled and stayed in games even when his control wasn’t great.
The Future: Narveson will probably go back to Double-A to start 2004. He profiles as a solid No. 3 starter who can be a workhorse.
3. Yadier Molina, c
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180.
Background: As the brother of Angels catchers Bengie and Jose Molina, Molina has terrific catching bloodlines, and he’s on his way toward joining them in the majors. Skipping over high Class A, Molina held his own in Double-A in 2003. The only hiccup came when he missed a couple of weeks with a bruised ankle.
Strengths: As with his brothers, defense his Molina’s calling card. He has a plus arm and soft hands, and led Southern League regulars by throwing out 40 percent of basestealers. He also is advanced for his age in working with pitchers and likes to take charge on the field.
Weaknesses: Speed is by far Molina’s weakest tool, rating as low as 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale. It hurts him on offense, though he showed progress otherwise in 2003, staying on balls well and going the other way. He needs to do that more consistently and to improve his plate discipline. He never has hit for much power.
The Future: Molina was batting third in the Tennessee order by the end of the season. He isn’t expected to bat there as a big leaguer, but it showed he can handle the bat and continue to move quickly. He’ll get a chance to be the starting catcher at Triple-A Memphis in 2004.
4. Jimmy Journell, rhp
Age: 26. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200.
Background: After two years as a starter, Journell went back to his college roots and returned to the bullpen in 2003. The results were dramatic, as his ERA was three runs lower as a reliever and batters hit .225 against him, as opposed to .311 as a starter. He made his big league debut in June.
Strengths: Journell has dynamic stuff when he’s on, and that occurred much more regularly in relief. His fastball touched 96 mph out the pen, compared to 88-91 when he was starting, and his slider was much more effective. He likes relieving, and it’s more comfortable for him physically as well.
Weaknesses: What ultimately drove Journell out of starting was his inconsistent mechanics, which affected his location and durability. He moves his arm slot and release point when he doesn’t need to, which has been an issue throughout his career.
The Future: Journell is at the age and stage of development where he needs to establish himself in the majors. The move to the bullpen gives him a good opportunity, and he’ll get a long look in spring training.
5. Travis Hanson, 3b
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: The valedictorian of his high school graduating class in suburban Seattle, Hanson was a late bloomer on the baseball field. He earned only a partial scholarship to Portland, where he was a three-year starter. He got off to a hot start at Peoria in his first full season, but a slow May and June left him with more pedestrian numbers.
Strengths: The organization already regards Hanson as its best defensive infielder. He shows athleticism, soft hands and a strong arm at third base, and some scouts think he should return to shortstop, his college position. He might fit better there offensively, because while he has gap power he could max out at 15 homers per year. Hanson does have a smooth, natural swing and uses the entire field.
Weaknesses: Hanson has good instincts at the plate but is still learning the strike zone and pitch recognition. He needs to get more selective and look for pitches he can drive. His speed is below-average.
The Future: Hanson’s age for his stage of development tempers excitement about him a bit, but he could remove questions with a midseason jump to Double-A. He’ll open 2004 in high Class A.
6. John Gall, 1b/of
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 190.
Background: Gall grew up 10 miles from the Stanford campus and played four years there, setting numerous school and Pacific-10 Conference offensive records. A cousin of Athletics outfielder Eric Byrnes, Gall flopped in his first Triple-A experience in 2003. He batted .179 in April, but got back on track in Double-A and raked when he returned to Memphis. His .314 combined average was best in the system.
Strengths: Gall has proven he’ll hit no matter where he plays. He’s patient, works counts and drives the ball to all fields. He’s also an intelligent hitter, keeping a daily journal during the season with notes on virtually every at-bat.
Weaknesses: Gall’s lack of athelticism works against him. He has toiled to improve his defense and footwork every offseason, but that part of his game remains far behind his offense. While his power has increased in the last couple of years, it may not be enough for first base.
The Future: The Cardinals will give Gall time in left field in 2004 because his bat would fit better there. He’ll get a shot at a big league job but is likely to return to Triple-A to start the season.
7. Rhett Parrott, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: Parrott built on his breakout 2002 season by getting to Triple-A in 2003, though it wasn’t easy. He was called up on short notice at the end of July when Tennesee was on the road, so he spent a night in a Chicago airport and met Memphis in Omaha for a noon game the next day. Using all borrowed equipment, he gave up one run in five innings.
Strengths: The Cardinals like that story as an illustration of Parrott’s mental toughness and thirst for competition. His stuff is also pretty good, with a fastball that registers 88-91 mph and an improving changeup.
Weaknesses: Parrott has struggled to develop a reliable breaking pitch. He threw a slider in college, abandoned it for a curveball as a pro and went back to it in 2003. It was an out pitch at times but still isn’t consistent. His fastball command also took a step back, as he got quick to the plate and dropped his arm slot at times.
The Future: Parrott will return to Triple-A to smooth out his remaining rough spots. He should make his big league debut in 2004 and profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
8. Daric Barton, c
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 205.
Background: While Barton was one of three catchers picked by the Cardinals in the first eight rounds of the 2003 draft, it was his bat that intrigued them. He played third base as a high school senior because his coach’s son did most of the catching, but spent most of his time behind the plate at Rookie-level Johnson City.
Strengths: Barton had one of the best lefthanded bats in the 2003 high school class. He’s short to the ball and has a balanced swing. He already can hit for average and shows a good idea of the strike zone. He can pound the ball and will have power as he matures.
Weaknesses: The Cardinals said they were encouraged with Barton’s defense, but he’ll have to work to stay behind the plate, especially with Molina and eighth-rounder Matt Pagnozzi in the system. Barton has the potential to be a good receiver, but his arm is just average. He threw out 29 percent of Appalachian League basestealers.
The Future: Barton is a baseball rat with the potential to be the impact bat the Cardinals system needs. He could blossom into a No. 3 hitter and would have tremendous value if he can catch. He’ll stay behind the plate in low Class A in 2004.
9. Tyler Johnson, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.
Background: Johnson’s amateur career stalled after high school, as he struggled to stay on the field because of academic difficulties. But he has moved quickly as a pro, leading the system with 15 wins in 2002 and jumping to Double-A in his second full season. His transition to the bullpen went as smoothly as could be expected.
Strengths: Johnson’s curveball is the best breaking pitch in the organization, a true 12-to-6 bender that can be electric. He seemed happier and more confident in relief, and he likes knowing he could play every night. His fastball, which can touch 90-92 mph, and his improving changeup are solid-average pitches at times.
Weaknesses: Johnson is still maturing and learning how to pitch. He didn’t show up in shape for spring training, and that resulted in nagging injuries and took away from his fastball, which was at 87-88 mph last season. Johnson’s changeup is in the rudimentary stages.
The Future: Johnson should move up to Triple-A to start 2004 and be ready to contribute to the big league bullpen later in the year. With his stuff, he should be able to be more than just a lefty specialist.
10. Shaun Boyd, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 170.
Background: Boyd’s continuing search for a defensive home might finally end in the outfield. He bounced between the outfield and second base since the Cardinals drafted him, but they finally put him back there for good after he committed 40 errors at second in 2002 and got off to a rough start there with Palm Beach.
Strengths: Boyd has the potential to be a dynamic offensive presence, and when his defensive struggles started to affect him at the plate, the Cardinals decided a change was needed. He has a smooth swing and profiles as a No. 2 hitter with some pop in his bat.
Weaknesses: Though he has taken to the outfield and can make up for many mistakes with his athleticism, Boyd still needs reps to work on his routes and other nuances of outfield play. He played center and left field in the Arizona Fall League, and the Cardinals hope he can play center because he doesn’t profile as well as a corner outfielder. He throws well enough, and his arm could get better with more outfield work.
The Future: The move to the outfield should allow Boyd to move more quickly up the organizational ladder. He’ll open 2004 back in Double-A.