The St. Louis Cardinals have seen a big change in their farm system over the past few years. Part of the change has been it’s philosophies related to the minor leagues. We have all heard about “The Cardinal Way” and that is real. Part of the Cardinal Way relates to the minors. Players should expect the same expectations and standards from the Dominican team all the way to Memphis. Also the team has made “good make-up” players a focus and we can point to several players who fit that category.
While many are responsible for this minor league shift, one man has played a bigger role, and that is the Cardinals Director of Minor League Operations John Vuch. I spoke with Vuch about certain players and what the team looks for when promoting.
CardinalsFarm: Alex Reyes is an interesting story and he seems to be succeeding with Johnson City at the age of 18. How is his development coming?
John Vuch: Alex has made very good progress in his first professional season – he’s continuing to learn the importance of fastball command, working ahead in the count, as well as the necessity of developing all of his pitches. He’s still very much a work in progress, but he’s an exciting talent and has a bright future.
CF: Zach Petrick has faced some adversity at Springfield compared to his stops at Peoria and Palm Beach. What do you see in his future?
JV:This is his first full professional season, and he’s made a remarkable climb in a short period of time, going from an undrafted player signed as a reliever in June of 2012 to being a starting pitcher in AA roughly a year later. His success this year is no fluke, as he’s got legitimate stuff, with outstanding command down in the zone of all three pitches. This time of year is when we need to keep an eye on fatigue, especially for guys who are early into their professional careers, so that’s something we’ll continue to monitor as well.
CF: All we hear is how the top pitching prospects like Wacha and Martinez need innings limits for 2013. Could too much of an innings limit affect their development for 2013 and a possible spot in the major league rotation?
JV:Fatigue is something that we take seriously with all of our pitchers, and our pitching coaches do a great job of putting a player’s safety first. While we certainly aren’t going to “baby” any of the young pitchers, it’s also dangerous to have big jumps in workloads from one season to the next. We would never want to try to squeeze out a short-term benefit at the potential risk of a long-term negative. Both Carlos and Michael have done a lot of developing both at the major and minor league levels this season. Really, it’s not so much of an “innings limit” as much as it is a “workload limit”. The goal for all of our young pitchers is to give them the appropriate workload, and efficiency can play a big role in that workload. Pitchers who can more effectively manage their pitch count can conceivably wind up with more innings, yet still have a lighter workload than a guy who doesn’t pile up a lot of innings, but is frequently working deep in the count
CF: So far it appears Marco Gonzales is on the same path that Wacha was on. Could we see Gonzales in St. Louis in 2014?
JV: It’s really premature to speculate how quickly a guy like Marco could wind up in St. Louis. We’re certainly pleased with what we’ve seen from him, but I think the path that Wacha took to reach St. Louis less than a year after being drafted is more the exception than the rule
CF: Which pitcher drafted in 2013 has impressed you the most? It seems like many of them are off to great starts
JV: I think it’s impossible to narrow it down to one or two guys – our amateur scouting department did another tremendous job with the draft this year, and have added a lot of really interesting arms to the system. Much like 2012, the top picks have lived up to their billing, while there’s quite a few guys that were picked later in the draft that have opened a lot of eyes as well. When you see guys like Kevin Siegrist, Trevor Rosenthal, Keith Butler, Michael Blazek who were all taken after the 20th round, it’s safe to say that a pitcher doesn’t need to be taken early to have a legitimate chance of pitching for us in the big leagues.
CF: If you can, what are a couple of the factors you look for when deciding to promote a prospect?
JV: There a variety of things that go into it, and a lot of different voices that are weighing into the decisions to move a player up. Gary LaRocque, our Senior Advisor for Player Development is really the key person in the decision making process, along with our various minor league managers and our roving instructors. As far as what goes into the actual decision, it typically boils down to what type of opportunity is available at the higher level (everyday role vs part-time player), and who is playing well enough that they could handle the next level. Generally, our top prospects movement would be a decision that is planned out in advance, and not likely to be a “knee jerk” reaction to an event at the higher level, such as an injury or something like that. For pitchers, for example, we’ll look at their fastball command, ability to throw strikes with their breaking pitch, etc. As they get to higher levels, the “little things” such as holding runners, fielding their position, etc can speed up or slow down their movement.
CF: James Ramsey seems to have made a big step forward this year. What can we expect from him in 2014? Is the power real?
JV: James has had a very productive year, and it’s great to see him having some success at Springfield. He’ll show legitimate power to all fields in BP, so he does have some power to all fields. Many of his homers in Springfield are to the opposite field, so I don’t think you’ll see as many homers to left field as he continues to move up, but I think in time you’ll see the pull power show up a bit more in game situations. I think James is an extremely intelligent kid and knows how to use the whole ballpark to his advantage. He’s made tremendous strides defensively, will give a tough AB and has shown that he has both gap power and over the fence power. So to me, yes the power is “real”, but that doesn’t mean that I would project him as a 25-30 homer guy, but he’s certainly not a slap/singles hitter either.
CF: Kurt Heyer is having a solid season at Palm Beach. Do you see his future in the rotation or the bullpen?
JV: I think that’s going to ultimately depend on what the needs are for the club he’s pitching for. If you had asked me the same question a year ago about Seth Maness, I wouldn’t have envisioned him as a reliever, but he’s certainly thrived in that role in the big leagues. Heyer has done well as a starter, and I’ve also seen times where his velocity will spike in short bursts, so it’s not far-fetched to also see him being a guy who could turn into a guy like Blazek, Fornataro, Siegrist et al who might throw even harder coming out of the pen. Short answer is that there’s no imminent plans to move him, but hard to say what the future would bring.
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