St Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals return as the defending World Series Champions in 2012. But this is a very different team from that World Series Championship squad. Gone are future Hall of Fame player Albert Pujols and future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa. This year’s edition adds Carlos Beltran to the lineup and Adam Wainwright is returning from Tommy John surgery. This team is built to win now. 2012 should see St. Louis once again among the top teams in the National League.
Lance Berkman – The veteran switch hitter will have to continue to get it done at a very high level. Berkman had an outstanding 2011 and must have an equally strong 2012.
David Freese – The young breakout star from the 2011 World Series hopes to become the new face of St. Louis baseball. Expectations are off the charts for the young third baseman.
Adam Wainwright – Great groundball pitcher who can help anchor the Cards 2012 staff if he comes back at full strength from Tommy John surgery. Wainwright has “ace” potential.
Carlos Beltran – Beltran will be counted on to provide offense in the middle of the lineup. It’s going to take a group effort to replace Pujols’ offense and Beltran is part of that effort.
The game plan for St. Louis is to outpitch your opponent with a plethora of quality starting pitchers and a strong bullpen. The Cardinals have some of the best groundball pitchers in the game, meaning that you shouldn’t have to worry too much about giving up the long ball. Make sure you put some table setters in front of Berkman, Holiday and Beltran.
The Cardinals have some pretty good young talent on the big league roster and some very nice pieces in the farm system. Pitcher Lance Lynn and IF Daniel Descalso are two guys to watch on the big league squad. Pitcher Shelby Miller is a consensus Top 10 prospect in all of baseball and could see a September call up. OF Oscar Tavares is the top position player in the system, although you may know him better as “minor league guy”. He’s still developing and will need at least a couple more years to impact the big club.
The Cardinals farm system is very strong and full of promise. It should fill in capably when the aging veterans on the team are ready to move on. There is also some really good trade bait here if the Cards want to acquire another big name talent.
With great depth in the pitching staff and emerging star David Freese, the Cards are once again playing to win it all in 2012. Despite the losses of Pujols and LaRussa and a new rookie manager, this team has all of the pieces necessary to make another strong push in the playoffs.
Organization ranking: 8 (Contenders)
The Brew Crew is back in 2012 with the reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun. The loss of Prince Fielder’s offense can’t be underestimated. Milwaukee has tried to add some offensive firepower with Aramis Ramirez and Japanese Norichika Aoki. Prospect Mat Gamel will get the first chance to replace Fielder at first, and Alex Gonzalez should help sure up the infield defense.
Ryan Braun – The 2011 NL MVP needs to come back with another strong effort for the Brewers to contend. His power and RBI numbers will be scrutinized heavily without Fielder in the lineup.
Rickie Weeks – The Milwaukee second basemen needs to continue to hit with a little pop and get on base to set the table.
Aramis Ramirez – Ramirez needs to have a healthy return to form in 2012 for the Brewers to win the Central. He’ll be counted on to help replace Fielder’s offense.
Shaun Marcum – Greinke and Gallardo are expected to continue to be top of the rotation pitchers. The question is whether Marcum can get past some spring training shoulder stiffness and continue to pitch 200 innings.
Load up the bases and let Ryan Braun drive them in on offense and count on your starters to give you quality innings. Turn the ball over to setup man Francisco Rodriguez and lights out closer John Axford.
The Brewers have some question marks in the infield particularly, but the pitching is strong and Ryan Braun is a franchise player. If Mat Gamel can play at or near a level that he’s been projected at, and Ramirez can be a stop-gap at third, the Brewers look good to contend for atleast a couple more years.
Milwaukee’s farm system isn’t particularly deep. It’s pitching heavy and lacks a true impact hitter. Taylor Green and OF Logan Schafer could contribute this year. Otherwise, there are a lot of potential role players in the Brewers’ minor leagues.
Milwaukee has a strong rotation and an outstanding closer. Ryan Braun is a stud. Beyond that, it’s tough to project the Brewers in 2012. If everything comes together, as it did in 2011, then this team will once again be in the playoffs.
Organization ranking: 7 (Contenders)
The Reds are hoping to put a 79-83 season full of disappointment behind them in 2012. With Joey Votto locked up long term with a 10-year-deal, and Brandon Phillips getting a five year extension, the Reds have positioned themselves to be a contender for the foreseeable future. The loss of closer Ryan Madson for the season really changes the bullpen dynamic this season.
Joey Votto – The 2010 NL MVP continued to put up outstanding numbers in 2011. The Reds will go as far as Votto is able to help carry them.
Jay Bruce – Bruce continues to improve every year. He began to see the ball better from left-handed pitchers last season and looks poised to for another career year.
Mat Latos– Latos will be a key factor in whether the Reds can contend for the NL Central crown in 2012. His ability to be a top of the rotation pitcher in a hitter’s ballpark along with his emotional makeup are question marks.
Sean Marshall – Thrust into the role of closer when Ryan Madson went down in Spring Training for the season, Marshall’s ability to handle the closer role is vital to any chance Cincinnati has to compete for a pennant.
Hit for power at home and rely on the pitching to keep you in the game on the road. The lefty duo of Votto and Bruce carry this team’s offense. Brandon Phillips may have to hit leadoff all season and needs to get on base in front of the Reds’ sluggers. The infield is full of gold glovers on defense.
The future looks pretty good right now for Cincinnati. Starting shortstop Zach Cozart and platoon catcher Devin Mesoraco are expected to contribute greatly to the 2012 effort, and young Aroldis Chapman is still just scratching the surface. OF Drew Stubbs needs to cut back his strikeouts and get on base much more consistently.
The Reds minor league system isn’t as healthy as it was a few years ago, mainly because many of those players are now on the Major League roster. SS Billy Hamilton is turning heads with his speed, but is a little while away. Pitcher Daniel Corcino is seen as the best arm in the system, drawing comparisons to Johnny Cueto, but he’s playing in the Midwest League and won’t contribute soon. The offseason trades of Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, Juan Francisco and David Sappelt has robbed the system of any real depth.
The core pieces are in place for the Reds to make a push towards being regulars in the playoffs in the next 5-7 years. With the young position players locked up to long term deals, and good young starting pitching, the Reds could be a real wildcard in the National League in 2012.
Organization ranking: 7 (Contenders)
The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates are an interesting mix of young talent and cast-away veterans. They’ve added veteran players at catcher and shortstop, and collected some experienced arms for the rotation. They’ve also lost quite a few players from last year’s team that had them sitting in first place in July.
This year’s team will be more dependent on the performance of veterans than any Pirates teams we have seen in a long, long time.
Andrew McCutchen - McCutchen is considered the lone superstar on the Bucs. In order for them to make some noise this year, he’ll have to be “Mr. Do-Everything” and then some. He’s an outstanding centerfielder.
Pedro Alvarez - Pittsburgh has been waiting for Alvarez to take over at third base and provide the kind of offense that they need from him. He has yet to live up to his potential. His play in 2012 will go a long way towards the Pirates fate.
Erik Bedard - Pittsburgh added the big veteran lefty who has not been able to stay healthy and almost pitched himself out of the majors not long ago. If Bedard can have a bounce back season, the Pirates have a great chance to play spoiler in the NL and may be able to use him as a trade chip in July.
A.J. Burnett – The 35 year old, who is coming off of two dreadful seasons with the Yankees, has been given a shot to show that he has something left. I always like the players’ odds in a situation like this. Burnett was injured in Spring Training in a bunting drill. When he returns however, look for Burnett to come out with something to prove in a low pressure situation in Pittsburgh.
The Bucs gameplan starts with McCutchen. When he gets on base he can wreak havoc. The very solid Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez are the guys that need to produce runs. The pitching staff should be improved with the additions of Bedard and Burnett. Use McCutchen’s speed to create hit and run opportunities and take the extra 90 feet whenever possible.
The Pirates have a fairly strong core of young talent on the big league club. McCutchen, Walker, Alvarez, Presley, and Tabata are the best of the bunch. Yamaico Navarro looks to be a good young utility player and Starling Marte isn’t far from helping out at the MLB level.
When it comes to the Pirates minor league system, Pittsburgh has a very young pitcher with loads of potential in Gerrit Cole. He’s still in rookie league and low A ball, so he won’t contribute soon, but remember the name. Jeff Locke is a lefty pitcher who is almost ready to join the rotation. The Pirates recent draft philosophy has been to invest heavily in pitching, especially high school pitching, with live arms. The hitting on the farm is a little thin. All in all, the farm system is a work in progress and the results of the young pitching heavy draft strategy has yet to be determined.
The Pirates are looking to break 20 year run of finishing with a sub .500 record. The 2012 Pirates have the talent to do that if a couple of the veteran arms step up and 3B Pedro Alvarez realizes some of his potential.
This club won’t contend for a playoff spot, but fourth place in the NL Central is very much within sight.
Organization Ranking: 4 (Rebuilding/Almost Middle of the Road)
The 2012 Chicago Cubs might or might not make a lot of noise. But fans of the team now have hope with the signing of former Red Sox GM and Executive VP Theo Epstein as team president. New manager Dale Sveum, Epstein and new general manager Jed Hoyer, along with young potential franchise players Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija, (and potential stud Anthony Rizzo) should give the north-siders a reason for optimism.
Starlin Castro - Castro is the face of the Cubbies rebuilding project. He’s the youngest player in NL history to lead the league in hits (207). If he improves his fielding, the sky is the limit.
Matt Garza - Many consider Garza to have the best “stuff” on the Chicago staff. With the departure of Carlos Zambrano, Garza has a chance to become the No. 1 starter in the Windy City.
Jeff Samardzija – Samardzija is a power pitcher with the pedigree to become a great starting pitcher in the Majors. He had his best season yet in 2011, and seems poised to take the next step. If he struggles, it could really set back the Cubs rebuilding process.
Carlos Marmol – Carlos Marmol has all of the tools to be a great big league closer. He needs to pitch more under control at times, and needs to eliminate the walks that plague him. He led the NL in blown saves last year with 10.
Starlin Castro sets the table and it’s up to the rest of team to find a way to manufacture runs. Garza, Dempster and Samardzija should keep you in games, but it’s scoring enough runs that will be the biggest issue. I’d give Rizzo every shot to become the starting first baseman. You also have to hope Chris Volstad reaches the potential that the Marlins thought he had over the past few years.
Starlin Castro is a stud. Beyond him, you have former A’s prospect Adrian Cardenas who will get a chance. Samardzjia is still young, as is Rizzo and Brian LaHair. You’ve also got to consider that Carlos Marmol probably hasn’t reached his peak either.
Looking at the Cubs farm system, you just don’t see a lot of impact talent that is close to helping at the MLB level. OF Brett Jackson is a highly though of prospect. Beyond that there is a lot of quality depth without a real stud in the system and the pitching talent leaves a lot to be desired.
The Cubs are in full on rebuild mode and it will probably show in 2012. They should be exciting to watch as fans get a chance to see the future of the team on the field this season. Expectations are low, and I see the Cubs battling with Pittsburgh for 4th place in the NL Central.
The future is bright for Chicago, but patience will be required.
Organization Ranking: 4 (Rebuilding)
2012 will see the Astros final season in the NL Central. Next year they join a loaded AL West. The prospects of a Cinderella run through the Central this year are none. This team just is not very good. There isn’t any way to sugar coat it. They traded away their only two potential franchise players last season in Michael Bourne and Hunter Pence. 2012 will likely be a rough year for Houston Astros fans.
Carlos Lee - One of the last pieces from the pennant winning Astros teams of the mid-2000s, Carlos Lee is the best hitter on the Astros by far. His huge contract probably means that trading him to speed up the rebuilding will be tough.
J.D. Martinez - One of the few pleasant surprises last season for Houston, was the play of the 24-year-old left fielder. He showed decent gap power and hit for a .274 average. He’ll have to have a breakout year for Houston to make any noise.
Brett Myers – Myers is being moved back to the closer role for the first time since 2007. If the Astros are able to keep games close, Myers will have to be the stopper.
Wandy Rodriguez – Rodriguez is now the staff ace by default. He has a lot of young pitchers behind him and a very uninspiring lineup of hitters to give him run support. If the crafty left hander can pitch well in 2012, the Astros could be a late season spoiler for a team making a playoff run.
Honestly, the game plan here is just to try to get some guys on base in front of Carlos Lee and swing for the fences. On the other side of the plate, you have to hope J.A. Happ and Jordan Lyles come along much quicker than expected.
Outside of J.D. Martinez, the ‘Stros don’t have a lot of young major league talent. Former Mets top prospect Fernando Martinez is on the team, as is former Braves prospect Jordan Schafer.
Down in the minors, Astros fans can look forward to the arrival of pitcher Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton and OF George Springer in the next couple of years. Beyond that, there are a lot of fringe depth guys and some talented raw players who are boom or bust. The system is very thin despite picking up Cosart and Singleton in trades. The system needs to be re-stocked.
The Astros seem destined to finish in last place in the NL Central and may very well be looking at a 100 loss season.
The situation is bleak right now in Houston.
Organization Ranking: 2 (In Shambles)