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WHEELER: Jupiter Tease – Players To Watch In Spring Training

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KMOX/Tom Ackerman

KMOX/Tom Ackerman

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I don’t know why, exactly, but I have the baseball itch today. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re hitting 60 degrees here on January 30th, I don’t know.

Whatever the reason at least I have an outlet here in this space.

I’ve been spending some time recently thinking about players I want to keep an eye on during Spring Training this year. Most of the time I’m curious about prospects and that’s no different this season. With most of the roster seemingly in place at this point I don’t expect many surprises when it comes to which players come North with the team for Opening Day.

I do, however, think there are a handful of players who can tell us a lot about both their short and long term futures with the Cardinals (I ranked them in order of how likely these players are to have an impact this season)…

Mitchell Boggs, RHP

Boggs has tremendous stuff but hit some bumps in the road last season. Still, a 3.56 ERA in 51 appearances is nothing to sneeze at. There is room for improvement here and all Boggs needs to do to have a better 2012 is command his fastball better and avoid letting his confidence slip.

Some folks are down on Boggs at the moment but there is a reason Dave Duncan likes him. I say we trust the pitching coach.

Shelby Miller, RHP

Miller went 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 139 2/3 IP splitting the season between High-A and Double-A. All before his 21st birthday. It would take an injury or two – plus a stellar Grapefruit League performance – for Miller to open 2012 on the big club but it won’t be long before he’s knocking on the door.

Miller has elite stuff, a calm demeanor and a clean delivery. Being around Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright a lot this spring certainly won’t hurt his development. MLB.com ranked him as the 5th best prospect in all of baseball and that is more than just hype. If he keeps his head on straight and avoids serious injury he’s going to be the real deal.

Jordan Swagerty, RHP

Went 5-3 with a combined 1.83 ERA in stops at Low-A, High-A and Double-A in his first pro season in 2011. Worked as a starter and a reliever but told me at the Winter Warm Up that he prefers the bullpen. Personally, I think that’ll work out better for him anyway . He’s got a closer’s mentality and really, really good stuff.

Swagerty is one of my favorites in this group and he’s going to put pressure on someone in the bullpen before long. I’m not sure if he projects as a Major League closer or not but he certainly has the demeanor and the pitches to work late in games.

Matt Adams, 1B

It would take a series of injuries for Adams to get significant big league time this year but his strong season at Double-A in 2011 (.300, 32 HR, 101 RBI and .923 OPS) certainly puts him into the long term mix at first base now that Albert is on the West Coast.

He struggled a bit in the Arizona Fall League (28 K-to-3 BB in 83 PA), though word is he finished well. Still, he’s got some work to do and it will be interesting to see how he fares this Spring. His ticket has been punched for Triple-A Memphis to start this season so obviously he’s close.

Zack Cox, 3B

Hit .306 with 13 HR and 68 RBI between High-A and Double-A in his first full season of pro ball last year, which isn’t half bad. The questions with Cox are power and defense. Will he hit for enough power? Does he have the defensive skills to stay at the hot corner? Those probably won’t be answered in full this spring but more will be revealed.

I think he’s a really good hitter but I’ve always wondered whether his bat might not profile better at second base. We’ll see. There are a lot of moving parts in all of this. Seems like he’s on his way to Triple-A Memphis but haven’t heard that’s a sure thing, especially with Matt Carpenter there. If the Cardinals are going to get a long term corner infielder out of their system it would seem like there will be a competition between Cox and Adams for that spot. David Freese is establishing himself as a middle of the order hitter so there may only be room for one of the two prospects, unless Cox changes positions.

Kolten Wong, 2B

And here lies the problem with the idea of potentially shifting Cox to second base. Wong is a high-end hitter who figures to rise rapidly through the Cardinals system. There is a reason that he’s been invited to Major League camp even though he’s only played 47 games in pro ball. Those were 47 impressive games at Low-A though. Wong hit .335 with 5 HR and 25 RBI with a .401 on-base percentage and .911 OPS.

From what I understand Wong really only profiles as a second baseman. He’s got pop and he’s viewed as a polished hitter. Really interested to see him up close for the first time in Jupiter.

Honorable mention (early minor league camp arrivals):

Tyrell Jenkins, RHP – Great athlete with a world of upside.

Carlos Martinez, RHP – Best arm in the system still learning some things.

Oscar Taveras, OF – Already an elite hitting prospect, working on defense.

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