Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cardinals and Jaime Garcia dodge a bullet, for now

Jaime Garcia has been diagnosed with shoulder inflamation, as MRI's showed no structural damage.

This is good news for both the Cardinals and Garcia, who will be given a cortisone shot and some rest before getting back at it.  There is currently no timetable for his return.

However, this recent episode brings up the question as to how much the Cardinals can rely on Garcia this year.  The team still hopes he will be able to make a significant contribution to this season, but he will not be ready to start come opening day.

Garcia's shoulder injuries have been a concern of mine (and many other Cardinals fans) for the last 3 years.  But, when healthy, he has proven that he is one of the top 5 starters on the team.

Here's hoping for a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How many innings will Michael Wacha pitch for the Cardinals in 2014?

According to an ESPN report, the Cardinals aren't setting an innings limit on Michael Wacha in 2014 and the Cards pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, stated that Wacha "could be a 200-inning guy this year". 

But is that realistic?

Between the minors, majors and postseason, Wacha logged 180.1 innings in 2013, so 200 innings is not that big of a jump.  

However, that is just the regular season.  Wacha pitched 30.1 innings during the 2013 playoffs.  If he were to pitch that much again in 2014, he would end up at around 230 innings, a 50 innings jump from 2013.

Wacha's innings increase from 2012 to 2013 has already placed him on Tom Verducci's annual "Year-After Effect" list.  Wacha pitched just 134.1 innings in 2012 (between college and the minors).  Thus his 180.1 innings in 2013 represent a 46 inning increase (Verducci identifies anything over 30 innings, for pitchers under 25, as a risk). 

Another season with a increase of over 30 innings would really put Verducci in a tizzy.

Now, there have been studies that have criticized or dispute the "Verducci effect" and there are some who point to his "effect" being correct 75% of the time.  In any case, I just don't see the Cardinals pushing Wacha to 230 innings this year. 

I think the Cardinals will take a more cautious approach, similar to what they did with Shelby Miller.  Miller progressed from 139.2 innings in 2011 to 153.2 in 2012 to 173.1 in 2013, his first full season in the minors.  Miller was then basically shut down in the playoffs, pitching only 1 inning and become the forgotten man.

The Cardinals do not want to face a similar situation with Wacha.  Thus, Wacha could have a "soft" limit of 180-190 innings in the regular season, which would allow him to pitch 20-30 innings in the playoffs without much concern. 

190 innings is not a bad limit for Wacha's first full year.  He will probably make around 32 starts, which, if he averages around 6 innings per start, would put him at 192 (Miller averaged a little over 5.5 innings per start). 

To reach 200 innings for the year, Wacha would have to average about 6.5 innings per start, something he's certainly capable of, but at the same time not something that is a given, especially if the Cardinals try to limit his innings per start so as to reduce his overall innings.

In any case, it will be interesting to see what the Cardinals say in September if Wacha is approaching 200 innings.  Despite what they are saying now, they may have other plans that they are not telling us about.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How does Jaime Garcia's injury affect the Cardinals bullpen?

With Jaime Garcia nursing a sore shoulder and already ruled out of the rotation, at least for the beginning of the season, one of either Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez will take over for him.  However, as both of those guys were slated to fill roles in the Cardinals pen, what do the Cards do to fill that hole?

Currently the bullpen consists of closer Trevor Rosenthal, setup men Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness, LOOGY Randy Choate and a bunch of question marks.

With a healthy Garcia, Martinez could have served as the 8th inning guy while Kelly could have acted as a swing-man, filling the long-relief role and making spot starts, as needed.  However, if Martinez earns a rotation spot, who will pitch the 8th or if Kelly earns the spot, who is your long-reliever/spot starter?

Jason Motte has shown good progress to date and could potentially be ready for a bullpen role at the start of the season.  But, do the Cardinals want to throw him right into the fire and make him the 8th guy?  Not likely.

Pat Neshek was signed to a minor league deal and could be a nice addition to the pen.  He has a career 3.07 ERA over 7 years, including a 3.35 ERA in 40.1 innings last year with Oakland.

Then you've got young guys like Sam Freeman and Keith Butler who could earn a spot in the pen, but are largely unproven.

My feeling is that Kelly will earn the 5th starter spot and that Martinez will serve as the 8th inning guy, at least at the start of the season.  Once Motte proves himself healthy and reliable, he can take over the 8th inning role and allow Martinez to head down to AAA to stretch himself out for the rotation.  He can then take over for Kelly down the stretch, if needed.

The benefits to this are two-fold.  One, it preserves Martinez' innings so that the Cardinals do not overtax him in his first full big league season and two it gives the team another extended look at Kelly as a starter to determine if he's really as good as his career 13-9 and 3.03 ERA record (in 31 starts) would indicate.

I still think Martinez is best used as a starter and therefore want him to get more work in AAA this season to refine his secondary pitches, thus I only see his stint in the bullpen as a temporary assignment.  However, if things don't go well, i.e. Motte is ineffective or the other rookies don't step up, Martinez may end up in the pen all year, which could be a detriment to his development.

In any case, its nice to have some pitching depth when it comes to the Cardinals starters, but it makes you wonder if the Cards have enough depth in the pen.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cardinals send Jaime Garcia back to St.Louis for tests on his shoulder.

Well, at least now we know why the Cardinals wanted Carlos Martinez to start this Spring.

According to Bob Nightengale, the Cardinals have sent lefty Jaime Garcia back to St.Louis for tests on his shoulder after he experienced discomfort. 

This is not good news for Garcia or the Cards, as it appears the team's pitching depth will once again be tested this year.

Garcia has dealt with shoulder issues the last 2 years and, as anyone who follows injuries knows, shoulder injuries are the most troublesome for pitchers, with a much lower comeback rate than pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery.

Thus, while its not totally surprising that his shoulder problems seem to be back, its a little surprising considering that the reports were that he had a successful bullpen session just last week.

Assuming the worst (and this is all speculation until the results of the tests are known), it makes a little more sense that the Cardinals were stretching out Martinez this spring.  As I noted just a couple days ago, between Garcia's injury and Lance Lynn's 1st half/2nd half splits, there were enough concerns with the rotation to have a fresh arm ready.

However, even if Garcia is lost for the season, it is not a foregone conclusion that Martinez will replace him in the rotation.

Joe Kelly will have something to say about that.  He may not have the huge upside and electric stuff that Martinez has, but he has gone 13-9 with a 3.03 ERA in 31 starts over the last two seasons. 

In addition, we cannot forget about Tyler Lyons.  The young lefty made 8 starts in 2013 for the Cards, posting a 2-4 record and 5.56 ERA.  However, he only allowed one run in each of his first two starts and had a 7-2 record and 3.32 ERA in AAA Memphis.

Chances are the Cardinals will need all three of them, especially if Garcia misses extended time.  Between potential innings limits for Michael Wacha and Martinez, as well as the fact that Kelly only pitched 124 innings in 2013, the Cards will be extra careful with their youngsters, which may lead Mike Matheny to potentially work out some sort of platoon with his young pitchers.

In any case, the Cardinals and their fans will hold their collective breaths until the results of Garcia's MRI are known.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Carlos Martinez is battling for Cardinals rotation? Who might he beat out?

The most interesting news out of the Cardinals Spring Training camp so far is that Carlos Martinez will be used as a starter.  It seemed almost a foregone conclusion that Martinez would be relegated to the pen.  The Cardinals return starters Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn this year and Jaime Garcia appears to be fully recovered from 2013 shoulder surgery.  If any of those guys should falter, swingman Joe Kelly would step into the fray.

However, with this latest news, it can mean one of two things:  (1) The Cardinals are concerned about Garcia's shoulder holding up over a full season or (2) the Cards are trying to light a fire under Lynn to get him to pitch consistently up to his potential.

For Garcia, there has been no setbacks to date and no indications that he is not fully recovered.  However, after throwing just 55.1 and 121.2 innings the last two years, there has to be some concern about whether he can last a full season. 

The Cards may play it safe and put an innings limit on the young lefty, thereby giving someone like Martinez the opportunity to step in once Garcia reaches that limit.  If that's the case, you could very well see Garcia and Martinez split the season as starters, with Garcia starting the first half of the season and Martinez taking over in the second half.

As for Lynn, he has started each of the last two seasons on fire, only to see him implode in the second half.

In 2012, Lynn posted a 9-4 record and 3.28 ERA in the first half and a 9-3 record, but 4.15 ERA in the second half.  The Cardinals chalked it up to fatigue and asked Lynn to lose weight in the offseason, which he did.

However, the weight loss didn't work, as the splits got even worse in 2013.  Lynn was 9-3 with a 2.82 ERA in the first half and just 6-7 with a 5.15 ERA in the second half.  There were concerns about Lynn's mental makeup and concentration, which leads one to believe that Lynn will have a very short leash in 2014.

But is that leash so short that Martinez could overtake him this spring, pushing Lynn to the bullpen?

Its possible or perhaps this is just the kind of motivation that Lynn needs to succeed.

In any case, it should be an interesting storyline to follow this Spring.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cardinals place 4 in Composite Top Prospect List

Each year as part of my fantasy baseball prep, I create a composite top prospect listing using the various top 100 prospect lists from around the web.  Through today, I have compiled 10 such listing into my preliminary top prospect list, which includes over 150 prospects.

Despite the graduation of many of their top prospects from last season, including Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Matt Adams, the Cardinals still place 4 prospects in the composite top 100.  They are Oscar Taveras (#3), Kolten Wong (#48), Carlos Martinez (#52) and Stephen Piscotty (#92).  Martinez probably would have ranked higher, but he was inexplicably left off 3 of the 10 lists.

You can check out the full listing at MLB Composite Prospect Index.

Sleeper Alert

For those of you looking for the next big arm in the Cardinals system, keep an eye on Alex Reyes.  He was highly thought of enough to sneak into the composite listings at #154 and is ranked amongst the Cardinals top 10 prospects (#7 to be exact) by Baseball America.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic, he has a mid-90's fastball and an excellent curve.  He could follow a similar path to that of fellow Dominican Carlos Martinez.

Monday, February 17, 2014

St. Louis Cardinals offseason moves and outlook

The Cardinals won the NL Central on their way to the NL championship and their second World Series appearance in the last 3 years before losing to the Red Sox in 6 games.  The Cardinals hope to continue that hot streak in 2014.

Key Losses

Carlos Beltran, John Axford, David Freese, Edward Mujica, Jake Westbrook, Fernando Salas

Key Acquisitions

Peter Bourjos, Jhonny Peralta, Mark Ellis

Coming off a NL championship, the Cardinals did not have many holes to fill this offseason.   GM John Mozeliak worked quickly to fill those holes, trading David Freese for Peter Bourjos and signing Jhonny Peralta before Thanksgiving.  Mo added Mark Ellis in December to complete the 2014 roster.

With the trade of Freese, the Cardinals greatly improved their overall defense.  Bourjos is a superior center fielder to Jon Jay and, with Freese gone, Matt Carpenter can move to his more natural third base position while making room at second for Kolten Wong.  Thus, with one move, the Cardinals improved their defense at 3 positions.

On the flip side, Peralta is a worse defender that the man he's replacing at short, Pete Kozma, however, the Cardinals are counting on his offense more than making up for that difference.

Besides those moves, the biggest change from 2013 is the loss of Carlos Beltran.  He will be replaced in right by Allen Craig, with Matt Adams taking over at first.  However, keep an eye on top prospect Oscar Taveras this spring as he could force his way into the Cardinals plans.

Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday will round out the lineup.  Molina continues to be a MVP caliber player each year with his offense, defense and leadership, while Holliday just continues to rake.

On the pitching side, Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller should make up 4/5ths of the starting rotation.  The Cardinals lost free agent Jake Westbrook, who ended up retiring this offseason, but the team has plenty of options to replace him.

Jaime Garcia is option number one for the Cards, should he prove to be healthy.  There are always concerns regarding pitchers coming off shoulder surgery, but the Cardinals could use a lefty in the rotation.

If he is not ready, then one of Carlos Martinez, Joe Kelly or Tyler Lyons could step in.  However, it seems more likely that Martinez will work out of the pen, while Kelly serves as the long man and Lyons starts the season at AAA.

In the pen, Trevor Rosenthal will handle the closer duties, after his stellar performance in the postseason.  Jason Motte is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will likely start the season on the DL.  Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness and Randy Choate will also work in relief.

Overall, with their abundance of young arms and improved offense and defense, the Cardinals should once again be the team to beat this year in the NL Central.


For you followers of this blog and Cardinals fans in general, be sure to check out this year's United Cardinals Bloggers annual "Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms: The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals".  In this collection you'll find writing from 17 different Cardinals bloggers (including yours truly), plus a capsule on every player that wore the Birds on the Bat in 2013.  Not only that, but you'll get an overall look at what's to come in 2014. 

Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms is available as an e-book at the Amazon Kindle store for $2.99.  The book can be read on any of the devices in the Kindle family as well as by downloading Amazon's free reading apps for your computer, tablet or smartphone.  It may also be read in your browser directly on Amazon.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pittsburgh Pirates offseason moves and outlook

The Pirates ended years of suffering for the fans with their first winning season and playoff berth since 1992. They were bounced from the playoffs by the Cardinals, but look to take the next step forward in 2014.

Key Losses

Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau, Garrett Jones, John Buck, A.J. Burnett

Key Acquisitions

Edinson Volquez, Chris McGuiness

Byrd, Morneau and Buck were all mid-season acquisitions by the Pirates as they pushed for a playoff spot.  The losses of Jones and Morneau create the biggest hole on offense as the Pirates do not have a bonafide replacement on their roster.  Gaby Sanchez can fill the short end of a platoon, but the Pirates will hold spring auditions for his counterpart, with recent acquisition Chris McGuiness and prospect Andrew Lambo vying for the spot.

In the outfield, the loss of Byrd means that the Pirates will once again play musical chairs in right field, with Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and possibly Lambo holding down the fort, at least until top prospect Gregory Polanco is deemed ready.  Expect to see Polanco get the call in mid-to-late June.

Beyond that, the Pirates lineup will look very similar to last year, with holdovers Russell Martin (C), Neil Walker (2B), Clint Barmes/Jordy Mercer (SS), Pedro Alvarez (3B), Andrew McCutchen (CF) and Starling Marte (LF) back.

On the pitching side, the Pirates lost A.J. Burnett to free agency.  The Pirates may use the $12 million they were willing to pay him to sign another starter (Ubaldo Jimenez is still available), but if they fail, they will head into the season with a dubious collection of starters.

Francisco Liriano will lead the staff and Pirates fans will enjoy seeing what young stud Gerrit Cole can do in a full season.  However, beyond that there are questions.

Jeff Locke pitched well last year--for half a season.  He posted a 2.15 ERA in the first half of the year, before bottoming out with a 6.12 ERA in the second half.  It remains to be seen if he can bounce back.

Locke may face a battle with newly acquired Edinson Volquez for a starting spot.  Volquez has always had excellent stuff, but has struggled with his control and consistency.  The Pirates are known for taking other teams pitching castoffs and helping them get back on track (Liriano is the latest example). Volquez could be in line for a similar bounce-back year (or he could just be a lost cause).

Charlie Morton pitched well in 2013 (7-4, 3.26 ERA), but spend most of the first half of the season on the D.L. before making his debut on June 13.  He logged only 116 innings on the year.  The Pirates had enough faith in him to sign him to a 3-year extension, but with a career 4.70 ERA, its a wonder if he deserves it.

Finally, after pitching just 62.2 innings in 2013, due to an elbow injury, Wandy Rodriguez wisely exercised his $13 million option for 2014.  He appears to be on track to start the 2014 season healthy, but the team will monitor his progress closely.

Should any of the above starters falter, the Pirates have another young gun in Jameson Taillon waiting in the wings.  Blessed with a mid-90's fastball and an excellent curve, Taillon could make the same kind of impact on the Pirates 2014 season as Cole did in 2013.

Overall, the Pirates could take a step back in 2014, due to the holes in the rotation and at first base, but with the uncanny ability to get the most out of their pitching retreads and the top rated minor league system, according to Baseball America, they will not fall far and should remain a contender for years to come.

Monday, February 10, 2014

2014 Cardinals Composite Top 10 Prospect List

Welcome to the unveiling of the second annual Cardinals Composite Top Prospect list.  For those of you who missed last years' edition, this list takes the top 10 prospects lists from around the web, assigns points to each ranking (10 for first, 9 for second, 8 for third, etc.) and the puts them all together into a composite list.

Below is a preliminary Composite Top Prospect list, based on the top 10 lists posted to date.  I expect to update this again towards the end of February.

2014 Cardinals Composite Top 10 Prospect List (Preliminary):

1.  Oscar Taveras, OF (90 points)

2013 21 AAA-Rk 174 25 54 13 0 5 32 5 10 22 .310 .348 .471
5 Seasons 1437 235 460 104 23 45 275 34 125 212 .320 .377 .518
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014

Despite his injury prone season, Taveras still rates as the consensus top prospect for the Cardinals and could compete for a spot on the opening day roster.

2.  Kolten Wong, 2B (72 points)

3 Seasons112918634059162412250106158.301.365.446
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014.

Penciled in to be the Cardinals starting second baseman in 2014, Wong should provide the Cardinals with some much needed speed and defense.

3.  Carlos Martinez, RHP (63 points)

4 Seasons21152.69327.226011398141183401.154
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014.
2013 21 STL 2 1 5.08 28.1 31 16 16 1 9 24 1.412
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014.

Martinez pitched well in relief for the Redbirds down the stretch and in the playoffs. With an abundance of starters in their system, Martinez could serve in a setup role in 2014.

Note:  Martinez would have ranked second if two lists had not left him off completely.

4.  Stephen Piscotty (54 points)

2 Seasons637761884131986145571.295.362.458
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014.

The "other" prospect that the Cardinals got as compensation for losing Albert Pujols, Piscotty put up some fine nu mber in his first full year in the minor.

5.  Marco Gonzalez (51 points)

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2014.

The Cardinals first selection in the 2013 draft (19th overall), Gonzalez is another one of those high floor/low ceiling kind of prospects the Cards seem to like (ala Michael Wacha).

6.  Carson Kelly (34 points)

2 Seasons63077155321157014389.246.303.371
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/10/2014.

Kelly, a second round pick in 2012, had a decent first full season in the minors, holding his own in A ball at a young age.  He should move up to high A in 2013.

7.  Rob Kaminsky (28 points)

1 Season033.6822.02314919281.455
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/10/2014.

Taken after Gonzalez in the 2013 draft (28th overall), Kaminsky has higher upside than that of Gonzalez, but also has a longer way to go to get there.

8.  Alex Reyes (25 points)

1 Season643.3958.1542622128681.406
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/10/2014.

Reyes made the biggest jump of any Cardinals prospect, going from a virtual unknown last year to cracking the top 10 this year.

9.  Tyrell Jenkins (24 points)

4 Seasons12104.57200.221312010212761771.440
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/10/2014.

Jenkins has battled shoulder issues most of the year before finally undergoing surgery in August 2013.  He still has tremendous upside, but we will have to see how he recovers from the injury.

10.  Tim Cooney (14 points)

2 Seasons13163.51210.0226968213301911.219
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/10/2014.

Cooney, a 3rd round pick in 2012, allows his fair share of hits (9.9 H/9 in 2013), but offsets that with excellent control (1.3 BB/9).

Others receiving points:

John Gast (13), James Ramsey (12), Charlie Tilson (5), Randal Grichuk (4), Patrick Wisdom (2), Greg Garcia (1), Vaughn Bryan (1)

Again, this is the preliminary list and I expect to add another 5 or so websites to the list by the end of February, so stay tuned for the update.