No wonder the St. Louis Cardinals are so good.
Their farm system is loaded, as usual, and the Memphis Redbirds, St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate in town for a four-game series against the Express, showcases some of the finest prospects in baseball, led by center fielder Oscar Taveras.
“We’re the new Yankees,” said Kolten Wong, one of the top second-base prospects in the game.
“What I mean by that is we’re stacked with talented players, and everywhere we go the other teams know it. We kind of have a target on our backs.”
Taveras is the crown jewel. The 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pound Dominican, who celebrated his 21st birthday at Dell Diamond on Wednesday, is ranked No. 2 overall by Baseball Prospectus and No. 3 by Baseball America and MLB.com.
Round Rock fans are familiar with the No. 1 guy on those lists, Jurickson Profar. He spent most of the first two months with the Express before being called up by the Texas Rangers.
In fact, there has been a lot of internet chatter about the Rangers and Cardinals hooking up on a Profar-for-Taveras trade because it would address a major long-term need of both.
Taveras is only concerned about improving his game. He missed nearly a month with a high ankle sprain, and the power and speed have been slow to return.
Taveras did belt an opposite-field, three-run homer in the first inning Wednesday. He has five homers and 28 RBIs in 42 games while batting .298 a year after hitting .321 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs as one of the youngest players in the Double-A Texas League.
“I’d say I’m running at about 75 percent,” Taveras said. “Last year I added more power; this year I am trying to work on base-running, defense and speed. There are a lot of things I can learn before I am a St. Louis Cardinal.”
Memphis manager Ron “Pop” Warner said, “Oscar is an aggressive hitter. He has to be a little more selective and fine-tune other parts of his game. But he’s on track. You can see why people are so excited about him.”
Taveras says he doesn’t model his game after anyone but that he hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow great Dominican natives like Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who was with St. Louis when it signed Taveras, has told reporters that Taveras can be a franchise-type player.
“He’s the guy who sells tickets in the future,” Luhnow said.
Memphis has the top four Cardinals prospects, including No. 1 Taveras and No. 3 Wong, and they know the spotlight is on.
“Yes, there is pressure,” Taveras said. “But you try to keep it fun. You learn, play your game and help your team win.”
Wong, batting .318 and top 10 in the Pacific Coast League in total bases, hits and triples, said, “the Cardinals have such a great organization that when you put on that uniform, you want to uphold the tradition.
“You want to be their next success story,” the 22-year-old former first-round draft choice from Hawaii said.
CREAM OF THE CROP
A consensus between MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus on the top-10 prospects coming into this season, where they are and how they’re doing:
1. Jurickson Profar (2B-SS, Texas): Batting .270 in a utility role for the Rangers after being promoted from Round Rock in May.
2. Oscar Taveras (CF, St. Louis): Batting .293 with 24 RBIs in 41 games for Triple-A Memphis after missing a month with an ankle injury.
3. Dylan Bundy (RHP, Baltimore): On the disabled list with right forearm and elbow pain. Hasn’t pitched a game all season.
4. Wil Myers (RF, Tampa Bay): Made his MLB debut Tuesday for the Rays after hitting .286 with 14 HR and 57 RBIs at Triple-A Durham.
5. Jose Fernandez (RHP, Miami): Made the Marlins’ opening-day roster at age 20 and has dazzled with a 3.11 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 72 innings.
6. Shelby Miller (RHP, St. Louis): Brownwood High grad enjoying a stunning rookie season with the Cardinals with an 8-4 record, 2.08 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 86 innings.
7. Gerrit Cole (RHP, Pittsburgh): Won his first two starts for the Pirates after posting a 5-3 record and 2.91 ERA in 12 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis.
8. Zack Wheeler (RHP, NY Mets): Pitched six shutout innings in his MLB debut Tuesday after compiling a 3.93 ERA and 73 Ks in 68 IP at hitter-friendly Triple-A Las Vegas.
9. Miguel Sano (3B, Minnesota): Destroyed High-A ball at Fort Myers with a .330 average, 16 HR and 48 RBIs in 56 games. Just promoted to Double-A New Britain.
10. Billy Hamilton (CF, Cincinnati): After swiping an astonishing 155 bases in 2012, this converted shortstop already has 43 steals for Triple-A Louisville.