St. Louis Cardinals: Looking back at the 2011 top five Cardinals prospects
By Joshua Magee
The St. Louis Cardinals had a deep farm system full of talent back in 2011 when they last won the World Series. Where are those prospects at now?
The 2011 season was a special one for the St. Louis Cardinals. At the end of August, our playoff hopes seemed almost dead until the Cardinals historically stormed back in September and snuck into the Wild Card on the final day of the season, edging out the Braves.
About a month later, the Cardinals found themselves in Game 6 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers, down to their final strike. Once again, our hopes seemed dead. Down by two runs, closer Neftali Feliz was one strike away, one strike away from his team clinching their first World Series title. The third baseman for the Cardinals, David Freese, was at the plate for what could be the biggest at bat of his entire life.
David Freese hits the 98 mile per hour fastball over superstar Nelson Cruz’s head, the ball hits the wall. Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman score and Freese slides into third base. Tie game. Wow. Fast forward to the tenth inning, David Freese steps up to the plate in a tie game. The pitch comes and Freese takes it dead center, millions of fans are on their couch listening to Joe Buck scream “We will see you tomorrow night!”
Cardinals fans are going wild, and Rangers fans are sitting there, trying to grasp on to what just happened. The Cardinals would win Game 7 the next night and claim their eleventh World Series championship, and to this day, the famous Joe Buck call still gives Cardinals fans chills. What a wonderful night.
The St. Louis Cardinals definitely had a special team that year, but they also had a very bright future with one of the best farm systems in baseball. Future All-Stars were roaming the minor league system, and the Cardinals were in position to be a dynasty for years. Let’s take a look at the top five prospects in the Cardinals farm system at the time, and where they are now.
Number One: Shelby Miller, Pitcher
Going into the 2009 MLB Draft, there were plenty of future big league arms going in the first round, including future Cardinal Mike Leake and a generational draft prospect by the name of Stephen Strasburg. Shelby Miller was no different, he had arguably the best fastball out of the high school pitchers in this draft class, and he was projected to go early in the first round. He would fall to the 19th pick, and right into the St. Louis Cardinals’ arms.
By the time 2011 came around, Shelby Miller would be the top prospect in the Cardinals organization, he was also the number five prospect in all of baseball. Scouts were enamored by his excellent breaking ball to go with his plus fastball. It was believed he could be a top-of-the-rotation arm in the future.
Towards the end of 2012, the Cardinals were locked into a heated playoff race and called up Shelby Miller to the big league club to see if they could benefit from his services. Though he had been a starter for his whole minor league career, Miller was now in the bullpen, and he excelled finishing with a 1.32 ERA in 13 innings.
Days before the NLCS, the Cardinals would send starter Jaime Garcia to the Disabled List, and decided to bring Shelby Miller onto the playoff roster to take his spot. He would also make his first Major League start, on one of the biggest stages in baseball. It seemed like the Cardinals are putting a lot of trust in the 21-year-old.
During the 2013 season, he won the fifth spot in the starting rotation over Joe Kelly, and proved his worth with an excellent rookie campaign. He would finish the season with a 3.06 ERA, and 169 strikeouts to go with that. He would also finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year race, but the late Jose Fernandez would receive the award.
After yet another solid season, the Cardinals would make a big move by trading Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Jason Heyward. It was a fair trade at the time, a very solid pitcher for one of the games future superstars, but Heyward was on a contract year, and it looked like the Braves did not want to resign him, so they traded him and got a solid young arm out of it.
Shelby Miller had a weird 2015 season making the NL All-Star team while pitching a very solid 3.02 ERA, but he also had a league high 17 losses on the season.
During that offseason, Miller was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for number one pick Dansby Swanson and young outfielder Ender Inciarte. This would go on to be one of most lopsided trades in MLB history, as Swanson would become one of the best young shortstops in baseball and Ender Inciarte would win a Gold Glove and become an All-Star all while Shelby Miller’s career went downhill.
Miller dealt with constant injuries and could not pitch to his expectations, when Miller would return from an injury, something else would happen. Nothing went right for Shelby Miller, and at the end of 2018, the Diamondbacks had enough and non-tendered his contract, making him a free agent.
Now, Miller is on the free agent market, and there are some rumors going around that the Cardinals could bring him back on a minor league deal. Guess we have to see what happens next for the 28-year-old.
Number two: Carlos Martinez; Pitcher
Carlos Martinez was the fire balling international prospect out of the Dominican Republic. He was supposed to sign with the Boston Red Sox years prior, but his visa was invalid and therefore the signing was voided. The Cardinals would eventually sign Martinez and potentially make him the next ace for the team with his electric stuff, which would make him the 25th ranked prospect in all of baseball.
In 2013, Martinez made his Major League debut out of the bullpen, but struggled mightily with a 5.08 ERA and a WHIP of nearly 1.5. He came out of the bullpen in 2014 once again, but was mediocre, finishing the season with a 4.02 ERA.
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The 2015 season was different for Martinez though, he was finally living up to the hype as a prospect, and doing so in dominant fashion. He would now be a part of the starting rotation, and pitch to a magnificent 3.01 ERA with 184 strikeouts, and even get his first All-Star nod.
After yet another solid season in 2016, Martinez was named the Opening Day starter for the 2017 Opening Day game against the Chicago Cubs. He finished the season with a solid 3.64 ERA, and also finished with 217 strikeouts, which was ranked 4th among pitchers in the National League.
The 2018 season was arduous for Martinez, after getting off to a very hot start with a 1.62 ERA, he was put on the Disabled List on multiple occasions. Towards the end of the season, Martinez was moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. He was dominant coming out of the bullpen with an insane 1.47 ERA. He took over closing duties in the heat of the playoff race and did not blow a single save either. That relief stint showed a bright spot out of a dark season.
Carlos Martinez will be returning to the starting rotation for the 2019 season, according to manager Mike Shildt. He will most likely be the Opening Day starter for the third season in a row as well.
Number Three: Zack Cox; Third Baseman
Coming out of Arkansas University, Zack Cox was one of the best college hitters going into the MLB Draft, hence the Cardinals selected him with the 25th overall pick in the MLB Draft.
Cox was known for his plus hitting ability with a decent amount of pop, and was seen as a potential candidate to be the guy to take over the third base spot for the Cardinals for years to come.
After a solid 2012 season, Cox would get promoted to Triple-A to start the 2013 season, but midway through the season, the St. Louis Cardinals traded him to the Miami Marlins in exchange for closer Eduardo Mujica after an underwhelming start to the season.
After being dealt to Miami, he was nothing spectacular, but he still do a solid job providing depth in the Marlins organization. It was obvious the former first rounder would never live up to his Major League expectations unfortunately.
Before the 2016 season though, the Marlins designated Cox for assignment. After going unclaimed by other teams around the league, Cox signed with the Wichita Wingnuts in an Independent League. What a downfall, going from one of the most promising hitters in your teams organization to playing in Independent Ball.
Shortly after the 2016 season, Cox signed with the Detroit Tigers on a minor-league contract, and even though Zack Cox had a solid season in AA, it was not enough to get resigned by the Detroit Tigers, and Cox ultimately elected free agency.
Zack Cox did not play during the 2018 season, and it looks like the 29-year-old will not play professional baseball again.
Number Four: Jordan Swagerty; Relief Pitcher
Jordan Swagerty was a shutdown reliever coming out of Arizona State that was well on his way to the Major Leagues at a quick pace with his plus fastball and outstanding command. Swagerty was selected by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2010 MLB Draft, it seemed like everything was going right for him.
Things took a turn for the worst though for Swagerty as he dealt with numerous injuries. Swagerty underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2012, and then only made nine appearances in 2013, and was out for the entire season in 2014. After a dismal start to the 2015 season, which included a putrid 12.38 ERA in Springfield, Swagerty was released in mid-July, and has not played professional baseball since.
Now, Swagerty is enjoying life with his wife and two kids, and it does not look like he will return to baseball. It also looks like he now has a hobby of playing golf, alike many former athletes.
Swagerty had Major League potential and was well on his way to the big leagues before injuries derailed his career.
Number Five: Seth Blair; Pitcher
The St. Louis Cardinals selected Seth Blair with their compensatory pick in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Blair, like Swagerty was a pitcher from Arizona State, was drafted after a very solid college baseball season as the teams ace.
Things started off poorly for Blair’s career as he did not pitch for the rest of the 2010 season due to his heavy workload over the previous months at Arizona State.
During his debut season with Quad Cities, Blair struggled mightily with a 5.26 ERA and an absurd 1.72 WHIP over 21 starts, and the crazy part is he still finished the season with a winning record.
After a very solid spring training in 2012, Blair felt a sharp pain in his right hand during a practice. A couple of days later, it was revealed that he had a benign tumor in the middle finger of his throwing hand. The tumor was removed, and he was forced to sit out for a big chunk of the 2012 season, and when he did return in August, he did not pitch well at all, and his career was quickly going down a spiral.
During the 2012 Arizona Fall League, where some of the leagues top prospects can get some extra games in, Blair was finally starting to show why he was selected in the first round by St. Louis. He pitched to a very solid 2.25 ERA over six starts.
Once 2013 came around, he was promoted to Double A Springfield, but struggled once again with a 5.07 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP. The worst part is this would be his best season while down in the Minor Leagues.
After yet another rough season in 2014, he would be released after an injury plagued start to the 2015 season, in which he did not make a single appearance.
Seth Blair has not pitched since the 2014 season, and barring a late comeback, his career is over.
It’s crazy. All of these guys showed potential to be MLB stars, but only one of these guys really made it big. Even though four of these guys careers are in the toilet, there were still plenty of guys in the farm system who have gone on to be solid players in the Major Leagues, including Matt Adams and Joe Kelly. So much potential though, gone, due to injuries. Injuries can put your career on a 180 degree turn downhill, and ultimately ruin what could have been.