New approach leads to rejuvenated St. Louis Cardinals farm system

John Mozeliak during the MLB general managers meeting at the Omni Scottsdale Resort. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
John Mozeliak during the MLB general managers meeting at the Omni Scottsdale Resort. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

A new way of handling the farm has led to the St. Louis Cardinals’ stacked system.

The St. Louis Cardinals‘ farm system was in disarray at the end of 2021. While a few of the team’s top prospects performed well, many other highly touted youngsters struggled, and the four full-season season affiliates of the Cardinals combined to post a dreadful .394 winning percentage.

In a Baseball America article written by Kyle Glaser, he mentioned a meeting between President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and farm director Gary LaRocque to discuss and address the system’s issues.

Mozeliak and LaRocque ultimately concluded that the lost 2020 season for the minor leagues threw a wrench in the process, leading the front office to promote players aggressively, often before they were ready. LaRocque said he believed the Cardinals fielded the youngest teams in three of the four affiliates, and many of the players had trouble holding their own against older competition.

Zack Thompson, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2019, was one of the players who had trouble finding his footing in 2021. In a tough promotion from High-A to Triple-A, Thompson limped to a 7.06 ERA and walked 5.5 batters per nine innings. Other prospects who had down seasons in 2021 included catcher Ivan Herrera, who held a .231/.346/.408 batting line in Double-A Springfield, and shortstop Masyn Winn, who just squeaked over the Mendoza line for High-A Peoria.

They have both rebounded well this season, with Herrera hitting .295 during his time in Memphis and Winn improving to .298 with Peoria and Springfield. Thompson also adjusted to his environment, cutting the walk rate nearly in half and upping his strikeout rate from 7.9 to 11.7.

Mozeliak and LaRocque’s remedy for 2021’s hardships was that they eased off the accelerator when it came to promotions. The team’s affiliates improved drastically, and along with Winn, Herrera and Jordan Walker, outfielder Alec Burleson and pitchers Gordon Graceffo and Tink Hence made their way onto Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects list amid breakout seasons.

LaRocque stated that one area of focus for the 2022 minor league season was throwing more first-pitch strikes. So far, that has shown progress, with many of the minor league arms significantly cutting their ERA and walks. LaRocque is also emphasizing more effective baserunning and better defensive play.

Several new players are now bearing fruit at the major league level. Thompson and fellow rookies Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez have shone for the team, once again proving that the Cardinals’ method of drafting and developing has been a major contributor to their unprecedented run of success. After a minor setback in 2021, the farm system appears to be a formidable juggernaut again.

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