Cards Prospects: Best of the Rest - Walton

Blake King

The second of three looks at top Cardinals prospects that missed our Top 40 list with Brian Walton.

As those who have followed our Top 40 Prospects countdown over the last month and a half know, the selection of the master list was a melding of three varied points of view of us from here at The Cardinal Nation.

As a result, a handful of deserving players on each of our personal lists did not make the consolidated Top 40. This is the second of three articles where each of us will highlight those prospects – our "Best of the Rest".

Near the end of my top 40, I tend to look to players from the overseas academies that haven't received attention from others. I understand some refuse to even consider these players and I agree that some may fall by the wayside as they advance, but that doesn't bother me.

Last year, among those I highlighted was an exciting shortstop from the Dominican named Grabiel Hernandez. Shortly after, he was found to have falsified his age and identity. After serving a year suspension, Ronny Gil will have the opportunity to make a full-season club in the US.

Following is the overall Top 40, with my list next to it. Highlighted are the names unique to each list. It is worth noting that these bolded names may still be on the respective lists, but were ranked below where we drew the line, after number 40.

Brian Walton Group
1 Shelby Miller 1 Shelby Miller
2 Zack Cox 2 Zack Cox
3 Lance Lynn 3 Lance Lynn
4 Eduardo Sanchez 4 Eduardo Sanchez
5 Oscar Taveras 5 Carlos Martinez
6 Tyrell Jenkins 6 Matt Carpenter
7 Carlos Martinez 7 Allen Craig
8 Matt Carpenter 8 Daniel Descalso
9 Allen Craig 9 Tyrell Jenkins
10 Daniel Descalso 10 Seth Blair
11 Seth Blair 11 Oscar Taveras
12 Bryan Anderson 12 Bryan Anderson
13 Adam Reifer 13 Adam Reifer
14 Pete Kozma 14 Fernando Salas
15 Fernando Salas 15 Adron Chambers
16 Tony Cruz 16 Tony Cruz
17 Mark Hamilton 17 Pete Kozma
18 Adron Chambers 18 Deryk Hooker
19 P J. Walters 19 Tommy Pham
20 Anthony Garcia 20 Mark Hamilton
21 Aaron Luna  21 Nick Longmire
22 David Kopp 22 Aaron Luna
23 Deryk Hooker 23 David Kopp
24 Nick Longmire 24 Jordan Swagerty
25 Jordan Swagerty 25 P.J. Walters
26 Tommy Pham 26 Cody Stanley
27 Matt Adams 27 Joe Kelly
28 Rainel Rosario 28 John Gast
29 Cody Stanley 29 Anthony Garcia
30 Scott Gorgen 30 Rainel Rosario
31 Tyler Henley  31 Steven Hill
32 Adam Ottavino 32 Adam Ottavino
33 John Gast 33 Matt Adams
34 Joe Kelly 34 Ryan Jackson
35 Bryan Martinez 35 Francisco Samuel
36 Francisco Samuel 36 Tyler Henley
37 Javier Avendano 37 Daryl Jones
38 Robert Stock 38 Bryan Martinez
39 Breyvic Valera 39 Robert Stock
40 Niko Vasquez 40 Niko Vasquez
41 Blake King
42 Casey Mulligan
43 Deimer Bier
44 Donovan Solano

As you can see, by the bolded names, five of the players that appear among my top 44 were not among those that made the final group cut. Only one, Blake King, received a second vote. In addition, Javier Avendano and Casey Mulligan are being profiled in others' Best of the Rest reports.

Two are infielders that play up the middle. Two are starting pitchers while the other is a reliever. Two are still teenagers, one is in his early 20's despite already being in Triple-A, with the other former draft picks. The three youngest hail from Latin America.



Scott Gorgen (30). When I asked Springfield manager Pop Warner to identify his team leaders last season, Gorgen is one of the first names he mentioned as one who leads by example.

Despite the right-hander being out following Tommy John surgery, he was one of the most effective pitchers in the system in the early part of the 2010 season and should be again upon his return in 2012.

The 23-year-old went 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in April and was named The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Pitcher of the Month. In 22 2/3 innings, the former University of California-Irvine hurler collected 23 strikeouts compared to only eight walks. His win total paced the Texas League while his ERA and strikeout total was the fourth best in the circuit.

On May 19, Gorgen was 5-1 and had worked his ERA down to 1.17 when he suffered an elbow injury. He tried rest, but after a late-season return as a reliever, came to the conclusion that surgery was necessary.

Breyvic Valera (39). We have here a switch-hitting second baseman that posted an .853 OPS in the Venezuelan Summer League in his first professional season and didn't turn 18 until August. Not surprisingly, Valera was our VSL Cardinals Player of the Year in 2010.

His .325 average was sixth-best in the league and he led the Cardinals in batting, slugging, OPS, runs, doubles, triples and stolen bases. Valera showed great bat control, fanning just 15 times in 212 at-bats. He drew 24 walks.

"Valera was definitely a surprise," Cardinals Director of International Operations Moises Rodriguez said. "He was a guy one of our scouts, Enrique Brito, was vouching for over and over again. We waited until the last minute to sign him. He became one of our top offensive players."

Valera played for the Bravos team in the Liga Paralela this winter in 33 games and based on his .364/.462/.424 showing, should get a ticket to extended spring training in the US.

Blake King (41). King was also selected number 41 on the community list. The organization's 44th round pick in the 2005 draft is a right-handed reliever out of Eastern Oklahoma State Junior College. He pitched this past season at Double-A Springfield where he was selected to the Texas League All-Star team.

The 23-year-old posted a 4-3 record with a 2.91 ERA in 53 appearances, fanning 84 batters in 68 innings. The 53 appearances ranked fourth among Cardinals minor leaguers and ranked third in the Texas League. He also led the league with 12 holds.

In the Arizona Fall League, King was 1-0 with a 6.30 ERA in 10 appearances averaging a strikeout per inning. He also had a walk rate that was contending for the very worst in the league as he struggled to find a consistent release that works for his entire arsenal. He still tied for the league lead in holds with four despite so many baserunners, a WHIP pushing two.

King was added to the organization's 40-man roster in November and is one its few members not among our top 40. Here is hoping King will make us apologize based on his pitching in 2011.

Deimer Bier (43) (pronounced bee-AIR). The 19-year-old earned the nod as our Venezuelan Summer League Cardinals Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive season. He originally signed as a 16-year-old on the July 2nd signing date in 2007.

The 6-foot-3 right-hander dropped his ERA from 2.80 his rookie season to 2.29 in 2009 to 1.88 this past summer, fanning 58 in 53 2/3 innings of work. Bier exhibited good control, walking just 16 and yielding just 34 hits, leading to a stellar WHIP under one.

Rodriguez had this to say about Bier. "He is a tall, lanky kid with some room to fill out… He is an exciting player to watch… He is definitely ready for the United States."

Donovan Solano (44). The versatile infielder just turned 23 years of age a few weeks ago yet already has a season and a half of experience at Triple-A. In 2010, Solano grabbed more consistent playing time when Tyler Greene was in St. Louis and Daniel Descalso was on the disabled list and can also play a credible third.

In 2009, he batted a power-free .317 after joining Memphis and followed it up with another strong winter campaign before going an even 14-for-28 in major league spring training camp. Alas, all but one of the hits were singles.

Solano started 2010 terribly, limping into the break at the Mendoza line before going crazy in the second half. He collected hits in 24 of his last 27 games, batting .387 for the playoff-bound Redbirds. He finished with a .255/.283/.333 line. He then played in 27 winter ball games in Colombia and continued to hi, batting .363 with a .520 SLG.

If Solano can show just a bit more with the bat here in the US, he could step into the MLB reserve mix.

2011 Breakout Candidates

My cohort Dustin Mattison had a great idea to include several breakout candidates from among those prospects that did not make our individual top 40. Since we completed our lists some time ago - in early November - I've done more research and had more conversations with others. As a result, I am using this vehicle to join in with a couple of names for whom I wish I could get a do-over.

Audry Perez. Through there are already six catchers already among our top 40, there probably should have been a seventh. A good reminder that we shouldn't have left Perez behind was his big-league camp invitation recently issued by St. Louis. Of course, the 21-year-old isn't ready for the majors yet, but he remains a top prospect. Perhaps I am guilty of forgetting about him a bit since he was out of action due to injury during both Batavia series I attended last summer.

In fact, Perez appeared among my "Best of the Rest" right here one year ago. He has always had a promising bat. Our 2008 Dominican Summer League Cardinals Player of the Year posted an OPS of .841 with Johnson City in 2009. Just over half of the catcher's hits were for extra bases. As a 20-year-old in the Appalachian League, Perez finished fifth in the circuit with nine home runs.

In his age 21 season with the Muckdogs, Perez missed three weeks with a back injury. He lost an opportunity to play in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game but still posted an .822 OPS and drove in 47 runs in just 165 at-bats. A full year on a full-season club will vault Perez back into a prominent spot in these rankings.

Javier Avendano. While Carlos Martinez is getting all the hype, Avendano has received barely any, a divide that is not nearly that large in terms of ability. Coming out of the Venezuelan academy late in the 2009 season, the 20-year-old has a number of believers among the US-based Cardinals staffers.

Avendano spent 2010 in the Gulf Coast League followed by one Batavia appearance close the season. He missed time with arm injury that was apparently not serious and as such, pitched just 44 innings in total. When on the mound, the right-hander's arm did plenty of talking. Avendano posted an ERA of 1.64 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.11, 56 to 18. As such, we named him our GCL Cardinals Starter of the Year.

I am very, very interested in seeing what Avendano can do with a full summer's worth of work.



To reference our entire list of top 40 Cardinals prospects for 2011 and read about each individual player, click here. You can also learn more about each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections and much more.

Next up: This article series continues as the message board community highlights the players on their list that did not make the combined top 40. We wrap it up with our All-Prospect Team, the highest-ranked players at each position, and finally, a dive into the numbers behind the top 40.



There's more! Want access to the all details behind our Cardinals prospect rankings in our "Forty Days, Forty Nights, Forty Prospects" feature here at The Cardinal Nation?

Subscribe by January 21 to our annual pass and receive in the spring the 2011 FOX Fantasy Guide / Scout Prospect Guide, the perfect hardcopy companion to "Forty Days", including the top prospects from all 30 MLB organizations and much more. We author the Cardinals section of the guide as always.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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