Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/8/12

Not long after Albert Pujols left for his, still to me, mind boggling ($30 million dollars in 2021 when he is 41 years of age?) mega-contract inAnaheim, I began looking for a replacement. I, and I’m sure the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, quickly figured out there is no replacing a player of this caliber. Even with budding star Shelby Miller in the minor leagues.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean resigning 1B/OF Lance Berkman and OF Carlos Beltran will help. But let’s face it, no team can lose an Albert Pujols and not feel some sort of effect.

But I started looking for a replacement none the less. I completely skipped the free agent pool and a possible trade scenario and went straight to the Cardinals farm system. After hours and hours and hours of watching video, making phone calls and searching the internet from head to toe, I could not find an adequate replacement.(ok, fine…I knew I couldn’t when I started but I was trying to pacify myself) But I did find something else. I realized I was so riveted to the Cardinals and their nothing short of miraculous 2011 season, that I almost forgot how loaded the Cardinals farm systems are.

I started putting together a list of minor leaguers to look forward to post AP. I thought as a little hot stove talk, I would list them here.

Lastly, in all fairness to Tony Cruz, Adron Chambers, Maikel Cleto, Brandon Dickson, Mark Hamilton, Steve Hill, Adam Ottovino, Shane Robinson, Pete Kozma and the like, I left them off because at one time or another, these player all spent time with the big club. My list here is of players who have not played in a St. Louis Cardinal uniform at all.

15) Ryan Jackson, SS, Springfield

Selected in the fifth round of the 2009 Draft. Jacksonwas signed in June of 2009. He was known more for his defensive skills because in his first year atU.of Miami Jackson he hit just .236. Well, he must have worked hard on his offensive while there because in his last year in southFlorida, Jacksonhit .360 and led the team with 19 doubles.

This past season, with his defensive skills still place,Jacksonis hit .277 with much improved power registering 11 HR’s and 71 RBI’s.

He was also the Texas League’s Player of the Month this past April when he hit .337 and many within the organization feel he has surpassed Pete Kozma as the Cardinals’ SS of the future.

14) Seth Blair, SP, QuadCity

Albeit Blair has a 5.29 ERA in his so far early minor league career, he also amassed a 6-3 record and has big potential. He possesses an above average fastball and above average curveball. If he can add one more pitch to his arsenal he could, at a soon to be just 23 years old, sky rocketed thru the minors. Well, that and he needs to stay out of trouble. This past September, Blair was detained by authorities for speeding and driving with a suspended license.

13) Joe Kelly, SP, Springfield

Kelly began last season in Palm Beach’s rotation where he posted a 5-2 record with a 2.60 ERA in 12 games. He generated a ton of ground balls with his sinking fastball and was moved up to Double A in July. He stumbled (inconsistency) a bit as his numbers ballooned to 6-4, 5.01 ERA. This 24 year old needs more work and it also needs to decided if he will be a starter or reliever (he has done both). The bottom line is either way, I would not be surprised if he were a front line starter or closer forSt. Louis in the next few years.

12) Anthony Ferrara, SP, QuadCity:

Selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 7th round out of Riverside High School in Riverside Florida. Ferrara had a successful senior season, going 4-4 with a 2.74 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 46 innings.

At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Ferrara is tall and thin which makes for a good “pitchers body”. He throws three pitches, all of which are all average or better and all with good command. His fastball was clocked at between 89-91 mph and his curveball and changeup are improving. He is quickly gaining a reputation for being a fierce competitor (and from what I understand it’s in the Chris Carpenter stratosphere). He did suffer a shoulder injury last year, but Ferrara visited Dr. James Andrews and the issue only required rest, not surgery.

Ferrara had a break thru year this year (13-7, 3.03 ERA) and while working his way thru the farm system, he has compiled a 20-9 record with an ERA of about 3 ½.

Ferrarawas named Pitcher of the Month in April and Pitcher of the Week in the first week of May this past season.

Anthony Ferrara

11) Kevin Siegrist-P- Palm Beach Cardinals

Drafted in the 41st round of the 2008 Draft fromPalm BeachCommunity College, Siegriest signed in June 2008. The 6’5” 190lbs lefty paid immediate dividends by going 8-1 and recording a minuscule 1.15 ERA with minor league affiliateQuadCity.

He was then promoted to thePalm Beachteam where, albeit he was 0-3, he still held a solid ERA (3.66). In 4 overall seasons in the minors, Siegrist compiled a 13-8 record with a 2.90 ERA. Like Joe Kelly, Siegrist can start or relieve and can and has been successful in both roles.

10) John Gast- P- Springfield

Yet another lefty, Gast was a highly touted high school prospect, but needed (and had) Tommy John surgery in 2010 after making a big splash in the NY Penn League (6-0, 1.54 ERA)

After two good years in relief, he returned to starting last year but saw his performance go backwards. He was promoted to Class A Palm Beach and again later in the year to Double-A Springfield. Overall, Gast is 15-8, 3.59 ERA in the minors and can be a future innings eater (pitched a total of 161 1/3 innings last year.) If he continues to progress and regain full arm strength I expect him in the big leagues within the next few seasons.

9) Kyle Hald- P- Johnson City Cardinals

Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft, Hald came from Old Dominion where he compiled an 8-2 record with a 3.51 ERA in his last season there. While there, he led the conference with 10.24 strikeouts per game and struck out 102 batters in 89 2/3’s innings. He also held opponents to a .229 batting average.

In his first year as a Cardinal, his season was split between being a starter (5-0, 1.91 ERA) and a reliever (2-0, 1.69 ERA) but when you add it all up this 5’11’, 190 lbs lefty was 7-0 with a 1.84 ERA.

His best month was last August when he threw 22 innings and surrendered just 2 runs (0.83 ERA) and went 3-0.

Hald is not a hard thrower (his best fastball is mid-80’s) but features a wicked splitter and a sinking changeup along with a decent curve and slider as well. I like this guy….a lot.

8 ) Kolton Wong 2B-Quad City  

Wong played 47 games atHawaii, where he posted a career .358 batting average, before signing with the Cardinals in June. He was immediately sent to the Quad City Bandits where he made quite an impact right from the start.

In a little more than half a season, Wong hit .335 with 15 Doubles, 5 HR’s, 25 RBI’s and 9 SB’s. Wong showed athleticism by played Catcher and Centerfield in his career as well.

This 20 year old left handed hitter has a nice stroke and is a pure hitter. He certainly bears watching as he is expected to ascend thru the minor leagues at a rapid pace.

Kolten Wong

7) Jordan Swagerty-P- Springfield

Swagerty looks to be a Cardinals closer of the future. He possesses an excellent breaking ball, an above-average fastball and changeup, too. He actually began last year in the Quad Cities rotation (to work on all of his pitches) and then blew thru Palm Beach and and is now in Triple A Springfield. Overall, he amassed a 5-3 record with a 1.83 ERA and 8 saves in 17 relief appearances.  

6) Xavier Scruggs-OF- Springfield

One of my personal favorite prospects. In Scruggs’ last year in college he ranked among the leaders in almost all the major offensive categories. He hit an eye popping .389 with 20 HR’s and 65 RBI’s. He also showed a .778 slugging percentage, a .489 on-base percentage and was named the Mountain West Conference player of the year.

He has good, strong compact swing and has learned to hit the ball to all fields (with power).

Scouts were impressed by Scruggs’ improvement this season over last, (2010-13 HR’s and 53 RBI’s to 2011- 21 HR’s and 63 RBI’s) as he has greatly improved his plate discipline by cutting down on swinging at balls out of the strike zone. Yet another if he continues to develop should see the big leagues in the not to distant future.

5) Oscar Taveras-OF- QuadCity

Definitely one to watch.  Taveras made his debut two years ago forJohnson City(Appalachian League) hitting .322 in 53 games (he also made the all-star team and went 8-for-16 to helpJohnson Citywin the League title).

Taveras got off to a bad start in the 2011 Arizona Fall League, then pulled a hamstring and was out of action for a while. But when he returned he lit up the scoreboard and finished the season with an eye popping .386 batting average.

He also he needs to be a little more selective at the plate, but he should hit for average and power in the future.

4) Zack Cox- 3B- Springfield

The highly touted Cox has the ability to spray line drives all over the field a la David Freese. Exactly how much power he possesses is yet to be determined but it’s definitely there (he hit 13 HR’s in a total of 135 games played in the minors).  

Cox, who hits from the left side but throws from the right, hit .335 in the Florida League and .293 in the Texas League.

His mental approach and work ethic is top notch. This should allow him to progress at an even faster pace.

The big question is where does he play defensively? Right now, its third baseman because he’s played 42 games there, but do we want him behind what is apparently the Cardinals’ long term third baseman David Freese?

3) Matt Adams-1B – Springfield

Another one who I can’t wait to see in the big leagues and he shouldn’t be too far off from that. It’s impossible to ignore him as he’s been one of the best hitters in the minor leagues and perhaps a big reason why the Cardinals let Albert Pujols walk.  He can hit for average and power (.300 with 32 HR’s and 101 RBI’s in 115 games at Springfieldthis past season) and, for a big man, (6’3”, 230 lbs) runs very well. He has Gold Glove potential at 1st base and, because of his athleticism, he could probably play outfield as well.

Adamsis a pure hitter and has produced wherever he’s been. Once again, I can’t wait to see him playing at Busch.

Matt Adams

2) CarlosMartinez-SP-FloridaState League

At just 20 years old he shows immense talent. This undersized (6’0”, 165 lbs) right-hander draws comparisons to Pedro Martinez., which obviously speaks volumes. He throws an upper 90s fastball with movement, a changeup and a good curve. His command is there but might need a little brushing up.

There is no doubt whatsoever thatMartinez’s arm is live.  His minor league record is not that impressive yet (6-5, 3.93 ERA) but a closer look at some of his others stats should grab your attention. Like say, he’s pitched a total of 84.2 innings in his career yet has only surrendered three homeruns. He has also recorded 98 strikeouts in those same 84.2 innings and batters hit a measly .236 against him.Martinezis probably still one to two seasons away from the majors still but regardless readers, this guy is electrifying.

1) Shelby Miller- SP-Springfield

An absolute no brainer as far as being the Cardinals #1 prospect, heck he’s ranked #5 in all of Major League baseball.

This 22 year old, who stands 6’5” and weighs just shy of 200 lbs should be a Cardinal front line starter very shortly (in 2012?). His curve and changeup have improved tremendously to go with a big time fastball. Miller blew thru the Florida State League, (2-3, 2.89 ERA) and then dominated in the Texas League (9-3, 2.70 ERA) for an overall minor league record of 11-6, 2.77 ERA

Miller is also learning at an alarming rate. He is evolving into a more complete pitcher, not only improving his pitches but his knowledge of how and when to use them. He’s also improved his stamina as he has been pitching deeper and deeper into games as the seasons progressed.

Shelby Miller

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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