ST. LOUIS — When we first took a run at putting a Bird Land spin on ranking prospects, the top prospect was obvious. Colby Rasmus, the first pick of a new era for the Cardinals in the draft, was on the verge of being the team’s starting center fielder, making his major-league debut in 2009 and on his way to an .859 OPS in his second season as a starter.
But down at No. 6 was a new name.
One of the first seasons of the Bird Land 7 was 2008. The Cardinals were undergoing a paradigm shift — from Walt Jocketty as general manager to John Mozeliak, from dipping their toe into Moneyball to taking the plunge, from nostalgia of the 2006 World Series championship to the modern necessities if they intended to win another one. And there was a player who helped personify this shift.
The first trade Mozeliak made as GM was with San Diego, shipping fan-favorite and perennial All-Star Jim Edmonds to the Padres for a St. Louis kid, a former catcher, a prospect that didn’t have the household-name recognition and wasn’t even the first third baseman ranked on most Cardinals’ Top Prospects list. There he was on the BL7.
No. 6 – David Freese, 3B
If you don’t know by now, Google what happened.
In those dozen years since that BL7, however, Freese arrived, won a championship, and was traded to the same coast from whence he came.
The Cardinals’ system has gone through its ebbs and flows, too. The Cardinals have specialized in drafting and identifying pitchers, and then unleashing them into the majors. They’ve populated other teams with their pitchers, and it’s possible 60 percent of the Diamondbacks’ rotation will have Cardinals’ ties, 40 percent of it will have been drafted by the Cardinals. At the same time, they’ve struggled to consistently produce position players, hopscotching from Allen Craig’s turn as cleanup to hitter Kolten Wong as a the Gold Glove second baseman and shortstop Paul DeJong as an All-Star. After Stephen Piscotty graduated to the majors, there was this gap in the system, a doughnut hole as we called it, and it closed with the arrival of the current group of starters.
This year’s BL7 shows the players on the horizon, and a year after a group of prospects hinted at the patience the Cardinals would need for them to have an impact, this year’s group is young and moving fast and in some cases both.
Whereas the national rankings, Baseball America and MLB.com use rookie status to determine who is eligible for their Top 30s, the Bird Land 7 has a simple cutoff: A player must not have a moment in the majors. Not a moment.
Here are the top seven Cardinals prospects who have yet to appear in the majors, complete with scouting reports, quotes from Baseball America’s invaluable Prospect Handbook, and an estimated time of arrival (ETA) with a tagalong adverb. There’s a consensus at the top. There’s talent rising.