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Baseball America names Cardinals its Organization of the Year


Migrant Redbird

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Organization of the Year: St. Louis Cardinals

... For the second the time in three seasons, the Cardinals are Baseball America?s Organization of the Year. In between those two honors, the Cardinals boasted the top-rated farm system. These are not unrelated events. One begets the other.

?We?re in a good spot,? general manager John Mozeliak said in the visitors? clubhouse at Fenway Park as the players and manager Mike Matheny dealt with the losing end of their season. ?We?ve got a good team. We?ve got a young team.?

... The Cardinals? postseason roster had the youngest average age of any National League team (27.24), a full year younger than the upstart Pirates. The Cardinals? pitching staff had an average age of 26.8, the youngest of any winning team in the majors and the second-youngest overall in the NL.

That youth was serving in the playoffs. Rookie Michael Wacha, less than 18 months removed from his final pitch for Texas A&M, led a group of rookies who pitched 67 innings in the postseason, a major league record. Wacha won four games in October, became the first pitcher born in the 1990s to win a playoff game, and was the youngest National League Championship Series MVP since 1991.

This was a continuation of the regular season. The Cardinals received 36 wins from rookies, including 15 from 2009 15th overall pick Shelby Miller. Two out of every five innings pitched by a Cardinal was thrown by a pitcher 26 years old or younger. As the postseason got later and the pitching staff got smaller and better, the Cardinals relied more on their rookies. Including a dominant turn by rookie closer Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals had 50 percent of their innings in the World Series pitched by rookies.

?We get these guys who are obviously talented, (and) there are very many talented players out there, but not many of them can handle all the distractions that come with being on a big league team, let alone the pressure of being one in the postseason, Matheny said. ?We?re fortunate that we have kids who show up ready to go. We?re not afraid to put them in there. We haven?t seen the ceiling with a lot of these young players.?

... Staff ace Adam Wainwright summarized the ["Cardinal Way"] philosophy this way: ?It?s a way of thinking that we have in St. Louis and in our clubhouse and throughout our organization (that there?s) an expectation of winning, an expectation of professionalism that comes with that winning, and (an expectation) of doing things the right way. That?s been taught and bred over the years from guys like Red Schoendienst, like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith. All of these great Hall of Famers that you?ve grown to love, they?re still in our clubhouse hanging out . . . We still feel their presence. We still feel their lessons.?

... Several years ago, the Cardinals, led by front office officials like John Vuch and LaRocque, organized instructions on what it means to be a Cardinal into an actual handbook, The Cardinal Way. Managers and coaches in the minors have an expanded version, and every player is presented with an abridged version when he joins the organization. The guide has a chapter on catching written by Matheny. (Catchers must be ?good communicators,? display ?exceptional flexibility in the lower-half muscles,? and be ?capable of taking blame even when it is not justified.?) The pitching approaches were authored with Dave Duncan?s help. The late George Kissell?s bunt plays and cutoffs are included. The book is rewritten every season.

... ?There is always room for improvement, and clearly there is only one winner every year,? Mozeliak said. ?From an organization standpoint, we certainly have a lot of positive things going on. There are still areas we can do better . . .

?We are winning. We have been winning. The fans expect us to continue winning.?

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I'm pretty happy with the Cardinals off season moves, so far. If they make no more significant transactions, I still think they will be in the top tier of off season improvements.

Bourjos may be the best defensive center fielder in baseball. There are two questions: (1) Can he stay healthy? (2) Can he hit? If not, the Cardinals still have Jon Jay and Shane Robinson, both of whom are competent fielders, if not up to Bourjos.

Matt Carpenter will move to third, giving rookie Koltan Wong the opportunity to win the second base job. Carpenter's defensive stats are mediocre at second, above average at third. He'll be a significant improvement over Freese.

Wong is supposed to be an excellent defensive fielder. He didn't hit in very limited at bats last September, but he's hit well throughout the minors. We'll see. If not, Descalso can play second until a better alternative can be found. The July trade deadline is a possibility.

With Holliday inn left and Craig in right, we'll need Bourjos in center. Overall, team defense should improve. The Cardinals tied for the NL lead with fewest errors last season, but lacked range. Peralta won't be as good as Kozma at shortstop, but should make up for it with his bat.

The Cardinals' biggest problem will be the pitching roster -- how to cope with a surfeit of riches. They will have to cull some pitching eventually. The signing of Peralta keeps them from needing to make precipitous decisions on whom to keep and whom to trade for a shortstop. In time, decisions that seem exceeding difficult to make right now may become obvious.

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Part of the key to organizational excellence?

Post Dispatch: Cardinals scout is mentor, fighter

... While players see Red Schoendienst and other Hall of Famers around the clubhouse and the banners flying over Busch Stadium, there is the history deeper in the organization, the one in the walls, the scaffolding for the Cardinal Way. Coaches once went to longtime coach George Kissell to learn it. Catchers were sent to coach Dave Ricketts and now Mike Matheny. Scouts go to Mike Roberts, ?Lefty? as his peers calls him.

Roberts? wingspan covers generations of scouts he?s mentored for the Cardinals. He has befriended them, visited them on the road, scouted with them, and nurtured them in a role he?s had for more than three decades. One called him ?a very good baseball man and the best human being.? He did not go long while fighting cancer without a member of this extended baseball family calling to scout the teacher?s recovery. Like others in the organization, his Cardinals roots run deep. Roberts once pitched to Stan Musial. He signed Tom Pagnozzi, advocated for Albert Pujols and was there on a chilly opening night at Texas A&M to evaluate Wacha.

?We had a very young scouting staff, and he would travel with each of them, eat with each of them, have a drink with each of them, have breakfast with them, sit in their car with them and just talk baseball with them,? said Roger Smith, a national cross-checker like Almaraz for the Cardinals. ?He was a mentor for all of them. He developed a scouting staff. The results speak for themselves.?

Said Lee Thomas, a former general manager and now adviser with the Baltimore Orioles: ?He?s the ultimate pro ? an outstanding scout and teacher. This guy is what it means to be a scout. I wish I had 10 of him.?

... Roberts relishes the chance to see and talk baseball. He likes to ?sleep on? what he?s seen from prospects before offering an opinion, and he collects stories. There was the time when longtime Cardinals scouting executive Fred McAlister called from a speaker phone to ask Roberts about Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Incaviglia. Roberts gave a detailed advocacy of Palmeiro, a first baseman to replace Keith Hernandez. McAlister clicked the phone off. Roberts found out later he wanted backing to pick Incaviglia. There?s the miss on Ian Kinsler, who was slowed by an undisclosed injury when Roberts saw him. He scouted future Gold Glove-winner Pagnozzi at Arkansas but saw the third baseman play a midweek game at catcher.

In 1999, as the 13th round of the draft arrived, Roberts saw a familiar name on the board, one the Cardinals had expected to go in earlier rounds. He had seen the infielder as a high schooler and later cross-checked him.

?What are we waiting for?? Roberts was said to have asked in the draft room. ?There he is.?

The pick? Pujols.

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