Looking Back at James Ramsey, Jordan Swagerty, Kurt Heyer, Carson Kelly

As most of you already know, I picked up sports blogging for the first time this summer. I enjoyed providing you with my take on various topics, but my favorite part had to be the interviews I had with a handful of Cardinal prospects.

All four of the players I interviewed can be considered top prospects for the organization, yet they were more than happy to help me out with my blog. This speaks volumes about the players that the Cardinals draft. It shows that the organization is not only drafting high quality players, but high quality men as well.

Now that the 2013 minor league regular seasons are over, let’s take a look back at the seasons of the four players that I was lucky enough to interview this summer.

James Ramsey

Photo Credit: Picasa

Photo Credit: Picasa

Final Stat Line: .265 batting average, .373 OBP, 16 doubles, 4 triples, 16 home runs, 51 RBI

In 2013, Ramsey proved that his future is bright for the Cardinals. He started in High-A (Palm Beach), saw the majority of his time in Double-A (Springfield), and even played in a game for Triple-A (Memphis) late in the season. One thing that was a pleasant surprise for me was his power. I always knew he had gap-to-gap power, but I never envisioned him hitting 16 home runs in a season. It will be nice to have a bat with a little bit of pop in the outfield in the future because Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran aren’t getting any younger.

The most incredible statistic for Ramsey in 2013 was his on-base percentage. At .373 and the fact that he drew 51 walks this season, it shows that he has a really good grasp of the strikezone–something fans will enjoy when he gets the call to the big league level. Also, for those wondering, his defense was above-average in center field, and his arm is one of the better outfield arms in the entire organization.

Look for the 2012 first-round draft pick to be playing for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds next season, and if things go well there, he could see time in the big leagues by the end of 2014.

Link to my article on Ramsey here.
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Jordan Swagerty

Photo Credit: Swagerty's blog

Photo Credit: Swagerty’s blog

Final Stat Line: 0-1, 8.44 ERA, 10.2 innings pitched, 9 strikeouts, 8 walks

Sure, Swagerty’s statistics don’t look very promising, but that is not the most important part of this season for him. The fact of the matter is that a lot of his work was done outside of the game. He had Tommy John surgery on an injured elbow/forearm in 2012, and he spent the majority of the season working his way back into throwing form.

He saw limited game action in July, but the organization wanted to be cautious with their 2010 second-round draft pick. Thus, look for Swagerty, who was considered the Cardinals #7 prospect when healthy, to have a much better 2014 if he is able to fully recover by then. He has the stuff to make the big leagues, it is just a question whether or not his health will cooperate.

Link to my article on Swagerty here.
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Kurt Heyer

Photo Credit: Dennis, Chiefs Photographer

Photo Credit: Dennis, Chiefs Photographer

Final Stat Line: 9-7, 3.41 ERA, 124.0 innings pitched, 96 strikeouts, 34 walks, .258 batting average against

Heyer was probably my favorite prospect to follow this season. He started out with the Peoria Chiefs but was quickly promoted to High-A Palm Beach. Once in High-A, Heyer had some struggles, and the former NCAA Champion (while at the University of Arizona) was not pitching up to his true ability.

Yet, this did not last long. He was able to turn it around–culminating in a 1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings pitched in August. My buddy, @CardinalsFarm, was able to interview with Farm Director, John Vuch, and this is what he had to say, “Heyer has done well as a starter, and I’ve also seen times where his velocity will spike in short bursts, so it’s not far-fetched to also see him being a guy who might throw even harder coming out of the ‘pen.”

Thus, expect to see Heyer start out next season for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. However, it would not be far-fetched to see him in Triple-A by the end of 2014. Also, depending on needs at the big league level, one cannot predict just when a minor league pitcher might be needed. I’m not saying he will be in the big leagues next season, but the way this season as gone, no one can really be too sure about this (See: Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Keith Butler, etc.)

Link to my article on Heyer here.
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Carson Kelly

Photo Credit: Abby Drey (CDT Photos)

Photo Credit: Abby Drey (CDT Photos)

Final Stat Line: .257 batting average, .322 OBP, 22 doubles, 6 home runs, 45 RBI

Kelly, just 19 years old, started out 2013 on the Peoria Chiefs. He struggled to find his groove there, which is not entirely unexpected considering he was still 18 years old at the time. Thus, the Cardinals assigned him to the Class A Short-Season State College Spikes to finish out 2013.

The 2012 second-round pick took his lackluster performance in Peoria as a learning experience and developed into a more comfortable player for State College. As the season went along, his confidence kept growing as shown by his .301 batting average in July and August.

Kelly, a top third-base prospect, has a bright future, and I could see him starting 2014 back in Peoria or possibly even Palm Beach. Either way, he is still just 19 years old and has plenty of time to develop his skills in the minor leagues. He is a prospect to watch who has that sweet swing that will likely make some noise in St. Louis someday.

Link to my article on Kelly here.
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Lastly, thank you so much to Ramsey, Swagerty, Heyer, and Kelly for answering my questions this season. I look forward to seeing their progress next season as they take the next steps towards St. Louis.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

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Catching Up with Jordan Swagerty

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Photo Credit: Swagerty’s personal blog

Considering I just got shoulder surgery from a high school pitching injury, I decided it was the perfect time to write a post on St. Louis Cardinals’ prospect, Jordan Swagerty, who is currently at the tail end of the rehab process required after Tommy John surgery.

2010 MLB Draft

The Cardinals selected Swagerty in the second round of the 2010 draft out of Arizona State University. His unique skill set along with his impressive sophomore season at Arizona State convinced the Cardinals to take him with the pick.. He had a 2-0 record while compiling a school record 14 saves. Something unique about him is that he had 12 starts at catcher, with two being the 8 innings before he closed the game out as pitcher. Thus, he, like a lot of St. Louis prospects, is an incredible athlete.

2011 Minor League Statistics

Quad Cities (A): 5 games (all starts), 3-1 record, 1.50 earned-run average, 30 strikeouts to just 2 walks, .178 batting average against.

Palm Beach (A-Advanced): 22 games (7 starts), 2-2 record, 1.82 earned-run average, 5 saves, 52 strikeouts to 16 walks, .214 batting average against.

Springfield (AA): 9 games (0 starts), 0-0 record, 2.89 earned-run average,?3 saves, 7 strikeouts to 5 walks, .222 batting average against.

2011’s performance made him an MiLB.com Organization All Star.

His Stuff

According to one scout’s book on him, he definitely has “shut-down” stuff that suits well for late-inning appearances, but his impressive command on all his pitches at the very least intrigues the Cardinals into possibly using him in the starting role as well.

1. Fastball: If the Cardinals choose to use him as a starter or long reliever, this will probably run at around 92 MPH. However, as a one-inning set-up man or closer, he can dial it up to 94-96 MPH. He employs both a four-seam fastball (harder, less movement) and a two-seam fastball (slower, more movement) that he uses based on the situation.

2. Slider/Curveball: He calls it a spike slider/curveball based on his unique grip used for it. It comes to the plate anywhere from 78-86 MPH–allowing for the necessary contrast from his fastball speed. This is his best and favorite pitch. For a lack of a better word, it has an absolutely dirty break on it. It can make hitters look foolish at the plate because it comes out of his hand looking like his fastball. This has been developed into his go-to pitch–see interview questions below for his personal take on it.

3. Change-up: He throws a circle change-up (named after the grip style in which the thumb and pointer finger form a circle on the side of the ball). It comes out of his hand at his fastball’s release point and arm speed–both attributing to the deception it provides hitters. It can be clocked at anywhere from 83 MPH to 87 MPH depending upon the situation and grip tightness.

The intangibles he possesses will help him succeed at the big league level. Almost every question I asked him, he stressed how much he loves competition–something that is absolutely necessary to be a late-inning reliever. As a catcher in college as well, he should be able to take some of that knowledge and apply it to his pitching–à la Yadier Molina and what he has done with his hitting the past few seasons.

The Injury

In 2012, after a solid 2011 season (highlighted above), Swagerty and the Cardinals set high expectations of continued success and Triple-A Memphis in sight.

However, in May, Swagerty was diagnosed with bone spurs in his elbow. With the risk of injuring his ulnar collateral ligament sometime in the future, it was decided that proactively performing Tommy John surgery was his best option. And for those wondering, he did discuss the situation with Adam Wainwright since he had just come back from the surgery himself.

Now for the fun part…

The Interview

Me: Being a Texas boy, what player(s) did you look up to when you started playing baseball?
Swagerty: The biggest one was Nolan Ryan. (He) went after hitters and never backed down. Good role model for me.

Me: Since the injury, has there been any one thing that has motivated you most on the road to recovery?
Swagerty: I get motivation from my competitive nature. I hate missing games, and I want to be back.

Me: I saw your latest tweet about the ‘Birds. What was your first thoughts on being drafted by the team?
Swagerty: My first thoughts were: “What a great tradition I’m joining,” and “what great fans the Cardinals have.”
(A great answer for my viewers. Give him some love and support, Cardinal Nation!)

Me: I also saw some pictures of you throwing. What has the rebuilding process been like? Both the strengthening component and regaining your range of motion.
Swagerty: For me, it wasn’t too bad. Just followed the protocol, and it all came pretty easily. It’s just a grind you have to stick with daily.

Me: In a pressure situation where you really need an out, what is your go-to pitch?
Swagerty: I like my slider. Really worked on it to the point that I feel comfortable enough to throw it in any situation.

Me: What is a day in the life for you on a game day? This is the type of question my readers really enjoy.
Swagerty: I show up to the park and get a good meal then joke around with the guys a bit. Once it gets to an hour and a half before, I get serious–turn on the music and focus. I get in a good stretch then get on the field 30 minutes before the game starts to warm up.

Me: How about your routine on days you know you are not pitching?
Swagerty: On days I don’t pitch, I hang around the locker room, get a good lift in. I also try to rob home run balls in batting practice. Just try to have fun.

Me: Two more, what are your hobbies that you enjoy doing during the off-season?
Swagerty: I hunt and fish all the time. I go shooting a lot. I play golf too. (Of course he does, it seems like all MLB pitchers do).

Me: Last one, any time-table on returning to action? I know it’s a tricky question but was just wondering if you knew of anything.
Swagerty: It’s soon, ha. Shouldn’t be too long, but I don’t even know for sure.

Me: Again, thank you very much. Good luck the rest of the way, I wish you all the best.
Swagerty: No problem, have a good one.

Bottom Line

I just may have a new favorite minor leaguer. Swagerty was the man for being so generous and helpful throughout the interview. I cannot thank him enough.

If you aren’t following him on Twitter already, make sure to check him out @JordanSwagerty. He also has his own blog here

Be on the lookout for his return to live action in the near future, and when necessary, I will provide you with updates.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)