Cardinals' Pitching Prospect Update

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I considered going with the Timbuk 3 song -- you know the one, about the shades? -- but decided to go in a different direction.
The present is looking a little bleak for the Redbirds at the moment. Five losses in a row, badly outplayed by the Washington Nationals, shut out by Livan Hernandez, bullpen collapsing, injuries mounting, still no peace in the Middle East. Okay, so that last one isn't really a Cardinal problem, but still. 

On the other hand, the future is looking almost impossibly bright, as the Cards have two of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball -- according to Keith Law, anyway -- with one of those two being the number one pitching prospect in the game. Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez are their names, and they're providing all the reason for long-term optimism you might want. 

A quick look at how each of them have performed in 2011 after the jump. 

Shelby Miller, number 4 on Law's top 25 list and the highest-ranked pitcher, started the season out in High A Palm Beach. The spacious parks and heavy air of the Florida State League tend to favour pitchers in a big way, which could be both good and bad for a pitching prospect sent there. On one hand, it's probably one hell of a confidence booster to be able to just go after hitters with belt-high fastballs and not worry about them depositing the ball in the seats. On the other hand, though, the pitching-friendly environment makes any and all numbers posted in the FSL at least a little suspect. 

In 9 games at Palm Beach covering 53 innings, Miller struck 81 hitters against 20 walks and 40 hits, good for an ERA of 2.25 and an FIP of 1.98. The only real point of concern would be a relatively low groundball rate, but when you're striking out as many hitters as Shelby you can overlook that to some extent. 

Since being promoted to Springfield, Miller has made three starts, including his most recent last night. In 20 innings, he's gone 2-0, 1.35, with a 22/6 K/BB ratio. He has yet to allow a home run despite pitching in the hitter-friendly Texas League (and Springfield's launching pad of a home park, Hammons Field), and is showing more of a proclivity for inducing grounders, with a 1.42 GO/FO ratio. 

Shelby's start last night may have been his best to date, as he threw six innings of shutout ball, striking out eight against a pair of walks and four hits. He threw 108 pitches, 71 of them for strikes. 

There's a reason Miller is considered one of, if not the top pitching prospect in baseball. It isn't often a pitcher consistently strikes out more hitters than he allows to reach base, but that's just Shelby has done at every stop of his career. (Not including the three innings of relief he threw in 2009 for Quad Cities making his professional debut.) In 2010 at Quad Cities, he allowed 132 baserunners and struck out 140. At Palm Beach this season, it was 81 strikeouts and 61 baserunners. So far at Springfield he's not quite there yet, with 23 hitters allowed to reach base against 22 strikeouts, but I have a feeling he'll get there before too much longer. Oh, and did I mention he's already in Double A, and won't turn 21 until after the season? 

I wrote about Carlos Martinez not too long ago, after he started the game at Busch Stadium for the Cards' Low A affiliate. He didn't pitch brilliantly, by any means, but he was still easily the most impressive player on the field all the same. 

Martinez is even younger than Shelby, as he won't celebrate his twentieth birthday until late September, but has already shown he has just as much upside (some might argue even more), as the more established Miller. Martinez made his US debut the 7th of May, and in little over a month has already jumped up in prospect rankings in a big way. For the season his ERA stands at 2.48 over 32.2 innings, nicely matching his FIP of 2.47. He's matched Miller's feat of striking out more than he allows to reach base, with 43 strikeouts against just 39 baserunners allowed -- 24 hits, 12 walks, and 3 hit by pitch. 

Carlos's most recent outing, on Tuesday evening, was just incredible. He threw six innings of shutout ball, allowed just three hits, and struck out eight against a single walk. Just as impressively, he got ten groundball outs versus just one in the air. It's the one and only area Martinez has really looked markedly better than Shelby: his ability to generate grounders. He currently has a 2.25/1 GO/AO ratio. That's up in Jake Westbrook territory; Westbrook has a 2.29 ratio for his career. He does not, however, have the K/9 rate approaching 12 that Martinez is currently working on. 

Interestingly, both Martinez and Miller have had their numbers substantially impacted by one truly awful performance each, and there were somewhat extenuating circumstances for both. For Miller it was the 25th of April, when he walked 7 hitters en route to allowing 4 runs in just 4.1 innings. After the game there was talk that Shelby struggled to get on track early, with the weird mid-morning start time cited as a possible stumbing block. (They have games in the FSL that literally start at like 9:30 am. It's really strange.) 

Martinez had his blowup in his second start of the season, when he allowed 6 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks in just 2.2 innings. To be fair, it was almost assuredly the first time in his life he had ever played in anything less than 80 degree temperatures, as it was a cold, rainy day in Beloit. Interesting side note: Martinez allowed six runs in that one outing. In his other six starts he's allowed just three runs total. He's held the opposition scoreless in four of his seven outings. 

It will be interesting to see where these two end up on prospect lists after the season, if they keep up their current levels of performance. Not on Cardinals lists, necessarily; Miller and Martinez will almost be guaranteed to go 1-2 on every list you can find. On national lists, though, it's possible the Cards could have two players in the top 10-15 range. I can't honestly remember the last time something like that happened. Maybe the late 90s, when the Cards briefly had Rick Ankiel and JD Drew in the pipeline at the same time. 

Oh, what the hell. Here's Timbuk 3 to take us home. I just couldn't resist. 



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