The Hitter Factory In St. Louis

HOUSTON,TX - Matt Adams of the St. Louis Cardinals receives high-fives from Allen Craig and David Freese after hitting a three-run home run against the Houston Astros. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Everyone knows about the Cardinals' ways with wily pitching veterans. But what about their non-prospect hitters?

Earlier in the week, there was an article here about the National League All-Star Final Vote. Specifically, one that framed the vote as a binary decision -- it was either the legacy of Chipper Jones or the promise of Bryce Harper. There wasn't another option. Since then, Chipper Jones was named to the All-Star Game as an injury replacement. So the choice became simple.

And just as we all expected, David Freese is leading the vote.

It's a small lead, according to MLB Public Relations, but it's still a lead. It's a reminder that Cardinals have been a popular team for, oh, about a century. The Nationals can't build a national fan base that quickly, even if they have two of the most exciting young players of the decade. Even if Bryce Harper is a comet streaking across the sky, there are a lot more people in the world willing to click for a Cardinal, any Cardinal, right now.

And Freese's success at the polls is also a good time to remember the absurdity of David Freese. And Allen Craig. And Jon Jay. And Matt Carpenter. All of them. The running joke used to be that Dave Duncan could take Pat Rapp and make him a league-average pitcher. Like, Pat Rapp last year. Not in his prime. It was some eerie voodoo they had working there.

Focusing on that sort of thing, though, is a great way to miss what the Cardinals have been doing with their hitters. Here's a look at four Cardinals-developed hitters who are powering the Cardinals offense right now. I'm referencing their age-24 seasons because that seems to be a decent cutoff point to separate prospects from suspects. It's completely arbitrary, so you can rejigger it if you'd like. The overall point still stands:

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David Freese
Drafted
9th round (acquired for 26 games of Jim Edmonds)

What he was doing when he was 24
Hitting .302 with a .400 on-base percentage in the California League. That almost seems impressive, but remember: 24 years old and in the California League. The entire league hit .271 with a .344 on-base percentage. The average age of the league was 22.8.

Baseball America rank after age-24 season
#24 (in Padres' organization)

His major-league career line
.294/.348/.445

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Allen Craig
Drafted
8th round

What he was doing when he was 24
Hitting .322/.374/.547 in the Pacific Coast league with a 95/37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 472 at-bats. Good production, even considering it was the PCL. But when you factored in his age, the league, and the plate discipline, he looked like something of a long shot to be an impact player.

Baseball America rank after age-24 season
#7

His major-league career line
.298/.355/.547

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Jon Jay
Drafted
2nd round

What he was doing when he was 24
Hitting .281 with a .338 OBP in the PCL

Baseball America rank after age-24 season
#13

His major-league career line
.302/.356/.421 (with good defense in center, mind you)

Star-divide

Matt Carpenter
Drafted
13th round

What he was doing when he was 24
Having a breakout year in AA after starting the year in high-A. The year before, he struggled in high-A. His assignment to A-ball as a 24-year-old gives you an idea of what kind of prospect he was.

Baseball America rank after age-24 season
#11

His major-league career line
.266/.341/.462

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These aren't perfect players. Freese and Craig can't stay healthy, for one. Carpenter isn't exactly a proven hitter just yet, as he's only had 128 at-bats this year.

But these are players that your team has in their organization right now. If you're a Cardinals fan, they're quite literally in your favorite team's organization. But if you're a fan of one of the other 29 teams, there are players like this rattling around in the minors, inhabiting the gray area between organizational soldier and prospect. Most of them will never do anything of note.

The Cardinals seem to have a way to mine these guys and extract every last drop of value out of them. I'm not going to pretend like I know how, but I can at least alert you that it keeps happening. Maybe Allen Craig would have become a power threat on the Royals or Diamondbacks, too. Maybe this is all a coincidence. But the more it happens, the more you have to look at what the organization is doing at a developmental level.

The old gag: The Cardinals can take any ol' innings eater and turn him into innings-eaterade. The new gag: The Cardinals have figured out a way to produce major-league hitters when you aren't expecting it. Considering that Matt Adams is still just 23, he might be the best of the lot. And it absolutely terrifies me to think of what they can do with a guy like Oscar Taveras. The Cardinals are onto something. Get Aaron Sorkin on the horn. I smell a big-budget sequel that has little to do with the original.

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