COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Cardinals organization has been named by many different sources as having one of the best farm systems in baseball, and the pitching talent is a large reason for that. Perspective becomes increasingly important, however, when determining if a pitcher is considered a major-league pitcher or a top-of-the-rotation major-league pitcher.
My previous article took a look at why the Adam Wainwright extension was a much more sound decision than the possibility of signing Albert Pujols to a long-term deal. During that discussion, I pointed out that Wainwright was much harder to replace since there were very few arms in the minor-league system whom project to take over his position as "ace" with this club.
Many fans have to wonder what I might have been talking about. The young pitching has looked more than impressive at the end of 2012 and during the spring of 2013. Why then, fans wonder, would I say that there is only one pitcher whom projects to be the potential heir to the Wainwright throne?
Here is a look at that very question:
Michael Wacha - The one name that comes up more than any other when someone mentions pitchers in the organization whom are not expected to be elite, Wacha has definitely been impressive this spring. The thing to remember here is that there is a big difference between being ready to pitch at the major-league level, which many think Wacha is, and being an elite pitcher who will inherit the top spot in a rotation.
Wacha has been impressive, to say the least, this spring. But as Lou Brown says in "Major League II," "Off a guy that's going to be bagging groceries in a week." Wacha will find himself in St. Louis sooner rather than later, but if he finds himself above the third spot in the rotation at any point in his career, I would be shocked.
Lance Lynn - How can a guy who represented his team in the All-Star game and finished the season with 18 wins not be considered a future ace? I am hoping that Lynn can be a solid pitcher for many years to come. That being said, he has all the warning signs of a one-year wonder. Lynn will start the 2013 campaign as the No. 2 guy in the rotation but will most likely finish as a No. 4 if he cannot figure out how to maintain consistency into August and September with his new, slimmer frame.
Shelby Miller - The exception to this rule, Miller has the stuff, the makeup and the projections to be an elite pitcher for many years to come. A strikeout pitcher who is learning to trust his breaking pitches and off-speed stuff -- as well as learning the benefit of pitching to contact -- he shows that not only does he have the stuff to produce at a high level, but he also has the aptitude to be coached and to evolve.
Jaime Garcia - The lefty has, at times, shown that he will dominate the competition and be nearly untouchable. He has also, at other times, shown that he can get inside his own head and let a small miscue turn into a disastrous inning. This season will show if Garcia can realize the maturity level that the team needs him to accomplish and grow to the true No. 2 pitcher it feels he can be. A return to recent form and sporadic production could leave the Cardinals second-guessing the contract extension they afforded him prior to the 2012 season.
Trevor Rosenthal - The young fireballer who reaches 100 miles per hour on a regular basis, Rosenthal seems to have the team confused on the best way to use him. He projects as a starter, and a very good one at that, but finds himself being used as a very effective bullpen arm. He expects to see some time as a closer this year and may be being groomed for that role in the future.
However, he could also be on the "Wainwright Plan" of spending time in the bullpen before assuming his role in the rotation eventually. Until the team tips its hand with him, it is hard to project him as anything more than how he is being used.
Joe Kelly - There is no doubt that the young right-hander produced well after taking over for Garcia in 2012 due to injury. He also has shown some good stuff during the spring of 2013. However, he was never being depended on, or projected to be, more than a No. 3 starter at the major-league level. Kelly figures into the Cardinals' future rotation plans. Those plans have him at the backend of the rotation, though.
Carlos Martinez - The 21-year-old Dominican prospect has shown the ability and work ethic to put him in the conversation as a future elite pitcher. So much so, in fact, that the Cardinals were set to take a long look at him in major-league camp this spring. Visa issues have kept him stranded in the Dominican, however, and the Cardinals have no update on where that process is heading. The longer it takes, the less he will be depended on in the near future.
Adam Wainwright will be the ace of this staff for years to come, and the youth of the franchise will provide a solid rotation behind him.
The Cardinals will not be able to replace him.
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