|Shelby Miller is one of the many prospects who should make an impact for the Cardinals this season. (US Presswire)|
Before the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
The Cardinals return a strong team that was just a win away from the World Series last season. Based on the strength of the team's farm system, there's a good chance St. Louis will improve in 2013. St. Louis not only boasts one of the game's strongest prospect lists in the game, but also feature multiple players who should contribute this season.
2013 Impact Players
RHP Shelby Miller
Miller's inclusion here shouldn't come as a big surprise. He's made Baseball America's top-100 prospect list in each of the past three years, and finally is poised to earn a full-time role with the Cardinals. While Miller always has been considered an elite prospect, he was tested for the first time in his career last season. He got off to a terrible start in Triple-A, posting a 6.17 ERA before the All-Star Game. In the 59 1/3 innings following the break, Miller looked like his old self, posting a 2.88 ERA. He earned a promotion to the major-league club and pitched mostly out of the bullpen, making just one start. With the team losing Kyle Lohse to free agency and Chris Carpenter to injury, Miller is a prime candidate to earn a spot in the rotation when camp breaks.
RHP Trevor Rosenthal
If anyone is going to push Miller out of that final rotation spot, there's a good chance it will be Rosenthal. Rosenthal was mainly utilized as a starter throughout his minor-league career, but, like many other young pitchers, broke into the majors as a reliever last season. Rosenthal occasionally hit 100 mph. His performance, a 2.78 ERA and a 3.09 FIP over 22 2/3 innings, are the only reasons the Cardinals might keep him in the bullpen moving forward. But at 23, there's no reason for the team to completely give up on Rosenthal as a starter. And while there might only be one rotation spot open at the beginning of the year, there's some uncertainty about whether Jaime Garcia can recover from last season's shoulder issues. Rosenthal would be more valuable as a starter, but he'll add value in either role this season.
2B Kolten Wong
Given the Cardinals' lack of talent at second base, there's a good chance Wong sees plenty of playing time at the position this year. Just 22, Wong isn't regarded as a star prospect, but he'll be solid enough to make an impact. The only major competition Wong will have for the job is Matt Carpenter, who is attempting to play second regularly for the first time in his career. If Carpenter can't get it done, Wong likely will take the spot. He won't be outstanding, but he'll be an adequate fill-in at the Cardinals' weakest position.
There's a very strong argument to be made that Taveras belongs in the 2013 Impact Players section, given that he'll like be on the Cardinals' major-league club this year. At 20, Taveras already has become the team's top prospect and second overall prospect in all of baseball on many lists. He's drawn many comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero for his contact-heavy approach. The team's outfield is set heading into the year, but given Carlos Beltran's propensity for injuries, it's easy to envision a scenario where Taveras is contributing in 2013.
RHP Carlos Martinez
In many systems, Martinez would be a top prospect, but the state of the Cardinals' farm system pushes him out of that spot. Martinez excelled at Double-A last year, and will be just 21 this season. Prospect analysts expect Martinez to be a top-of-the-rotation starter once he hits his prime. If things go well this season, he could make his major-league debut near the middle or end of the year. A word of warning: Martinez missed about a month with a shoulder injury last season.
RHP Michael Wacha
The first-round draft pick in 2012, Wacha has only tossed 21 professional innings. But given his performance -- he struck out 40 hitters -- and his lofty draft spot, he has a great deal of promise. Wacha was drafted as a starter, but pitched out of the bullpen last year. He'll assume his normal role this season. There's a sense that Wacha could survive in the majors now as a back-end starter, but he could become more than that if he develops an effective third pitch. Both his fastball and change-up already project as above-average. The Cardinals don't have to rush him given their talented rotation, so Wacha's performance will dictate how soon he makes his major-league debut.
A deep system gives the Cardinals several players who will begin the year with the team, and at least three to four others who could force their way onto the roster as the season progresses. Already a contender, the Cardinals have some really promising reinforcements on the way. A strong farm system will ensure that the team remains a threat in the National League for years.