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Looking Ahead: Is The Future Now?

The Cards head into the 2012-13 offseason with surprisingly few holes to fill. Only two players on the current roster — Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman — are free agents, meaning that the Cardinals’ roster is pretty much set for 2013. While Lohse had a monster year to the tune of a 16-3 record with a 2.86 ERA, the Cards are unlikely to bring him back. Lohse just turned 34 and the Cards already have Jake Westbrook, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, and possibly Shelby Miller to fill the starting rotation. Berkman is a respected veteran hitter who has had a fantastic career, but he will be 37 in February and played just 32 games this season due to knee injuries, leading him to even ponder retirement. Whether Berkman retires or not, the Cardinals have more than enough offense in Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, David Freese, Yadier Molina, and Jon Jay, all of which are under contract and will likely start in 2013.

With so many players coming back and so few leaving, the biggest change next year could be from within if some of the Cards’ prospects jump from the minors to the majors. Here are the minor leaguers who have a chance to have an impact next season:

1) Trevor Rosenthal, reliever: Rosenthal is technically still a prospect, but his strong postseason showing might have clinched a big-league spot for him next year. Rosenthal, the Cards’ #5 overall prospect, allowed just two hits while striking out 15 over 8 2/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs thanks in large part to some legitimate major league-level heat. Expect Rosenthal to have a role in the Cardinals’ bullpen in 2013.

2) Kolten Wong, second baseman: Wong, the Cards’ #4 overall prospect and the #1 second base prospect in baseball, hit .287 with nine homers, 52 RBIs, and a .348 OBP this season at Double-A. The 2011 first round pick would fill a bit of a perennial need for the Cards at second base.

3) Shelby Miller, starter: The organization’s #2 overall prospect was called up to the 2012 postseason roster and appeared in two games, allowing two runs over 3 1/3 innings pitched. According to MLB.com, Miller was actually projected to reach the majors this past season despite struggling a bit at Triple-A where he went 11-10 with a 4.74 ERA. Miller could provide some depth to the starting rotation, which could be especially valuable if Garcia needs shoulder surgery.

4) Oscar Taveras, outfielder: Taveras is the Cards’ #1 overall prospect and has displayed immense talent in the minor leagues, hitting .321 with 23 homers, 94 RBIs and a .380 OBP this season at Double-A. The question isn’t about Taveras’ ability, but rather where he would play, as the Cards look set at all three outfield positions. Taveras could provide outfield depth if Carlos Beltran’s age begins to show. Otherwise, the Cardinals might want to keep their 20-year-old stud outfielder in the minors where he can play everyday and get consistent at-bats.

5) John Gast, starter/reliever: Gast, the Cards’ #9 overall prospect, jumped from Double-A to Triple-A this season, where he went 9-5 with a 5.10 ERA over 20 starts. Gast is the best lefty starter prospect the Cards have. However, with the Cardinals’ surplus of starters, Gast may be most valuable in 2013 as a left-handed reliever, a role he had in college. The Cards are certainly looking for a consistent lefty specialist after a mediocre season from Marc Rzepczynski and the poor results of the Brian Fuentes experiment. Rzepczynski may keep his job, or the Cards may seek lefty relief help from outside the organization, but Gast could have a chance to win the role.

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