The Redbirds maintained a healthy altitude for much of the 2008 season before injuries ushered in a late season crash landing. St. Louis is no longer the class of the NL Central, finishing 2008 a distant 11.5 games behind the Cubs. Faced with gaps in the starting rotation and some offensive limitations, they’re unlikely to overtake Chicago in 2009. Fantasy gems abound, however, so peck away at these offerings.
Albert Pujols (1B): Never resting on his laurels, Pujols deserves recognition as one of the greatest hitters of all-time and the finest of his era. His legacy expanded last year courtesy of capturing his second MVP award, a remarkable achievement considering he battled a painful elbow most of the way. As a hitter, Pujols exhibits few weaknesses. He hits for average and power while minimizing strikeouts (just 54 in 524 at bats last season), enabling him to keep the ball in play. Pujols displays an uncanny ability to adjust his hitting approach based upon the count, sacrificing power to ferry home runners in scoring position. From a fantasy perspective, the biggest worry is protection. With Troy Glaus expected to miss at least the first month of the season, St. Louis’ lineup suddenly looks less than formidable and pitchers may be inclined to offer Albert more free passes. He is arguably fantasy’s premier player. As A-Rod’s bum hip sends him cascading down the draft board, Pujols will go first or second in most drafts. Barring injury, 35-110-.320 is virtually assured. Anything finer depends upon the success of his supporting cast.
Ryan Ludwick (OF):
Ryan Ludwick is in high demand.
Most players reaching age 30 hear the approaching footsteps of Father Time and witness their power inexorably begin slipping away. Someone forgot to alert Ludwick, who defied the stereotype at least for one season. Striking with hurricane intensity, he shattered his previous career highs, clubbing 37 homers and driving in 113 runs with a highly respectable .288 batting average. Now comes the difficult part. No one expected last year’s tsunami and there isn’t much anecdotal evidence supporting a hitter sustaining a power spike beyond age 30. Ludwick will discover Father Time doesn’t enjoy being kept waiting. While he should continue exhibiting plus power, expect totals closer to 30 homers and 95 RBI. Second TierAdam Wainwright (SP):
Injuries thrust Wainwright into the unexpected role of Cards ace last year. Unfortunately, the Redbirds fell out of the divisional race once he injured a finger tendon on his pitching hand. His resultant two month absence capped him at 20 starts but he flourished, going 11-3 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Wainwright lacks overpowering stuff (6.2 K/9 IP in 2008) but is highly efficient and minimizes big innings by keeping the ball in the yard (one HRA per twelve innings). If he can manage a full season, expect 14 wins and a 3.50 ERA. Troy Glaus (3B):
Glaus unexpectedly delayed having arthroscopic surgery performed on his right shoulder until late January. Given a projected three month rehabilitation, his best case scenario is an early May return. While Glaus retains serious holes in his swing, he has matured as a hitter. That 2008 was one of his better seasons is largely a testament to his good health, as he collected his most at bats in six years. The dividend was 27 homers and 99 ribbies. His 87:104 BB:K ratio was another highlight, reflecting a more patient approach at the plate. Even if he rejoins the lineup on schedule, his power may be temporarily absent as he rounds into playing form. Given the uncertainty, downgrade Glaus to 24 homers and 70 RBI. Rick Ankiel (OF):
Ankiel exchanged his rosin bag for a Louisville Slugger following the 2005 season and never looked back. Last year represented the culmination of a remarkable sojourn from top pitching prospect to power hitter. Ankiel is 29 but given his unorthodox career path, the hitting odometer has far fewer miles than those of his contemporaries. He’s probably approaching his peak, so a duplication of last year (25 homers, 71 RBI and a .260 average) would constitute a mild surprise. He strikes out an average of once per four at bats, on par with most sluggers and doesn’t steal bases. Ankiel is also returning from sports hernia surgery that cut short his 2008 season, but appears to be healthy this spring. The batting average could veer closer to .250 this season, so don’t bite before the 15th round. Third TierKhalil Greene (SS):
While it won’t rival Kurt Russell’s memorable Escape from New York, Greene’s own Escape from San Diego should play well in St. Louis. His disastrous 2008 Padres season reached its nadir when he inexplicably chose an equipment box as a sparring partner, breaking his hand. Greene is an interesting gamble, a shortstop with abundant power (a career high 27 dingers in 2007). It would surprise no one if he whacked 20 home runs this season. The trade off is a .250 average, 100 whiffs and at least one DL stay. Todd Wellemeyer (SP):
Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan saw something in this career reliever’s makeup to justify grooming him as a starter. His hunch proved to be fortuitous as Wellemeyer started 32 contests last season, winning 13 of them. He boasted a K:BB ratio of better than 2:1 and was a road warrior, recording a 2.93 ERA in 14 outings away from home. Two things to consider about Wellemeyer: He has a history of elbow problems and the dramatic bump in workload from 2007 (79 IP) to 2008 (192 IP) can’t be discounted. Don’t avoid him but pay only what comparable fifth starters with limited upside are fetching. Chris Perez (RP):
When drafting closers, most fantasy gamers shy from situations even suggesting a “closer by committee” arrangement. Although Perez is the designated Cardinals closer entering spring training, manager Tony LaRussa has a fondness for plucking the hottest hand out of the pen. Last year, for instance, incumbent Jason Isringhausen gave way to Ryan Franklin who in turn yielded to Perez. Perez faces the prospect of deferring his role back to Franklin or trendy flame thrower Jason Motte. Try targeting someone enjoying greater stability. Question MarkChris Carpenter (SP):
Before succumbing to serious elbow problems, Carpenter was arguably the NL’s finest hurler. From 2004-6, he was a gaudy 51-18 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.08 WHIP (earning the NL Cy Young Award in 2005). Injury intervened in 2007 when following an opening day loss, Carpenter was sidelined with elbow problems. Within a month, the Cards announced he required Tommy John Surgery to trim bone spurs. He missed the remainder of 2007 and virtually all of 2008, completing just 15 innings. Hope springs eternal as jubilant Carpenter fans cheered his early returns (two starts, four scoreless innings). It’s a miniscule sample size, so watch closely. If the elbow proves sound, he represents an elite talent possibly slipping to the final stages of your draft. Sleeper AlertChris Duncan (OF):
Largely forgotten with the emergence of Ryan Ludwick, Duncan racked up 43 homers in 655 at-bats during 2006-2007. He’s attempting to return following surgery last August to have a prosthetic disk inserted into his back. Duncan can hit but his fragile health has become a constant worry. He would seem to have a slight edge over Colby Rasmus for a starting outfield slot. Although a return to his 21 homer form of 2007 may be a reach, Duncan could stroke 15-20 round trippers if he secures playing time and stays injury free. Great Debate Colby Rasmus (OF):
Although he still proudly displays his “can’t miss” label, Rasmus absorbed several dings in his armor last season. Falling prey to the injury bug, he posted a respectable 11 homers and 15 steals in 331 Triple-A at-bats. That’s fine for mere mortals, not when you’re the organization’s top prospect. Rasmus will attempt to dislodge Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan from the Cards outfield mix. He could also stick as a reserve outfielder, stepping in should injury again strike Duncan or Ankiel. If he makes the leap, he represents 15-15 potential with a .260 average. Otherwise, Rasmus would be better served honing his skills on an every day basis at Triple-A. Prospect Watch
Brett Wallace (3B): St. Louis’ top draft pick of 2008, Wallace demonstrated a very mature skill set, devouring college pitching while at Arizona State. Without missing a beat, he made a classy pro debut at Double-A (eight homers, 36 RBI, .337 batting average in 54 games). While he’s unlikely to ever be much with the leather, his confident demeanor has the Cardinals projecting a brief minor league stay for him. He probably won’t see much action at Busch Stadium this year but should be pocketed in keeper leagues.