St. Louis Cardinals: Four prospects make top tools list

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 05: Carson Kelly #71 of the St. Louis Cardinals gets his first major league hit in his major league debut in the eighth inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 5, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 05: Carson Kelly #71 of the St. Louis Cardinals gets his first major league hit in his major league debut in the eighth inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 5, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Luke Weaver, John Gant, Carson Kelly and Stubby Clapp represent the St. Louis Cardinals on Baseball America’s 2017 Pacific Coast League Best Tools list.

According to the 2017 Pacific Coast League Best Tools list, the St. Louis Cardinals have the best pitching prospect, best changeup, best defensive catcher and best manager prospect in the Pacific Coast League.

Best Pitching Prospect: Luke Weaver

Luke Weaver is the best pitching prospect in the PCL. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted the 23-year-old, right-handed pitcher in the 1st round of the 2014 amateur draft. Weaver has made 2 starts and appeared in 4 games in 2017.

Weaver has posted a 1-1 record with a 3.77 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 14.1 innings with the St. Louis Cardinals. He has a 3.91 FIP and 1.256 WHIP. Weaver’s best appearance of the season came in his August 2nd start vs. the Milwaukee Brewers. Weaver gave up 5 hits and 2 runs while striking out 8 batters in 6.1 innings, leading to his first win of the 2017 season.

Weaver is currently pitching at AAA Memphis. He has accumulated a 9-2 record, 2.64 ERA, 71 strikeouts, and a 1.060 WHIP. Weaver is likely to rejoin the big club in September for some bullpen work and maybe a spot start or two. If the St. Louis Cardinals don’t re-sign free agent to be, Lance Lynn, Weaver should be in the mix for the 5th spot in the 2018 starting rotation.

Since the St. Louis Cardinals also have #1 pitching prospect Alex Reyes returning from Tommy John surgery and a handful of other promising pitching prospects, Weaver could find himself on the trading block this off-season.

Best Changeup: John Gant

John Gant has the best changeup in the PCL. The 23-year-old, right-handed pitcher was drafted by the New York Mets in the 21st round of the 2011 MLB draft. The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Gant from the Atlanta Braves, as part of the Jaime Garcia trade in the 2016 off-season.

Gant has made one appearance with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. He gave up 3 hits and 2 runs, while striking out 3 batters in 3.1 innings. In AAA Memphis he has posted a 4-5 record, 4.33 ERA and 72 strikeouts with a 1.266 WHIP in 79 innings.

Gant could see a call-up in September, but if he hopes to earn a role in the Cardinals 2018 bullpen, he will likely need an impressive spring training performance.

Best Defensive Catcher: Carson Kelly

Carson Kelly is the best defensive catcher in the PCL. The 23-year-old was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of the 2012 amateur draft. He is currently serving as the Cardinals’ backup catcher. He is the Cardinals #2 prospect.

Kelly hasn’t been given much opportunity to shine with the big club. Kelly slashed just .118/.167/.176 in 18 PA. However, he showed promise in Memphis with a .283/.375/.459 slash line with 10 HR and a 118 wRC+

Kelly’s future with the St. Louis Cardinals is unclear. Elite defensive catchers are hard to find. It would not be an easy decision for the Cardinals to decide to let go of the #1 catching prospect in baseball. However, Kelly very well could end up on another team.

Perennial All-Star and potential future Hall-of-Fame catcher Yadier Molina has been playing like he has something to prove.

Molina is signed through 2020. Kelly will only be 25 when Molina’s tenure with the club will likely come to an end. However, there is some debate whether learning on the job as Molina’s backup, while mostly sitting on the bench, will help or hinder Kelly’s catching career.

If the St. Louis Cardinals decide the timing isn’t going to be right to transition from Molina to Kelly, he could fetch them a nice return as a part a deal to address the club’s needs in the off-season.

Best Manager Prospect: Stubby Clapp

As the PCL’s best manager, Stubby Clapp is perhaps the most intriguing name on this list. As the manager of the Memphis Redbirds, Clapp has led his team to a blistering 76-40 record, which is the best record in the PCL. They are destroying the second place team in their division by 20.5 games.

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By contrast, Mike Matheny‘s St. Louis Cardinals are just 57-56, which is good for 3rd place in the anemic NL Central.

Rumors of clubhouse troubles have been swirling since Adam Wainwright commented on the 2016 Cardinals chemistry problems.

Tommy Pham reignited the clubhouse chemistry debate with his comments about the DFA of former team-mate Jhonny Peralta.

A couple of Instagram posts by Yadier Molina have fans and insiders wondering if Matheny has lost the clubhouse.

Joe Sheehan has called Matheny out on a couple of fronts this season. Back in June, Sheehan ranked Matheny as the worst tactical manager in all of Major League Baseball.

In an August 8th Facebook post, Sheehan questioned Matheny’s leadership abilities. In particular, Sheehan questions Matheny’s ability to manage struggling young players.

"“Matheny just doesn’t seem to be able to manage young players when those young players aren’t producing at maximum value….This is a pattern, and it’s one more costly than reliever roulette or bad bunting. You can suffer a bad tactical manager if he’s getting the job done off the field. It’s not at all clear that the Cardinals have such a manager.”"

If Sheehan is right and Matheny is neither a good tactician nor an effective leader of men, perhaps it is time for the St. Louis Cardinals to consider making a change.

If the St. Louis Cardinals are serious about putting together a younger, more athletic team, who better to lead that team than the man who has led the club’s future stars to historic success in AAA Memphis?

Promoting Stubby Clapp to the major league club could lead to both an end to the clubhouse drama that has festered under Matheny’s watch and be a boon to struggling young players like Stephen Piscotty and Randall Grichuk. Plus, you have to admit, Stubby Clapp is a pretty cool name for a major league manager.

Next: Oh turning things around

Whatever direction the St. Louis Cardinals decide to take, these four rising stars should have a big impact on the future success of a franchise that finds itself in a period of transition.