As usual, Derrick Goold did a fine job over on his Bird Land blog reviewing the rapidly-spinning revolving door at second base for the Cardinals during the regular season in recent years.
Since I was working on a similar piece but was beat to the punch by Derrick, I am going to take an alternate angle on the subject. My focus is second basemen tried in spring training during the last half-dozen years who crashed and burned instead of making the major league club.
I believe this is most topical, given the large quantity and unproven quality of the players competing for the newly-opened second base job.
The public contenders include Brendan Ryan, Brian Barden, Joe Thurston, Jarrett Hoffpauir and Tyler Greene, not to mention the guy getting all the ink, outfielder Skip Schumaker, who will be the most-watched player in camp as he attempts to play second base for the very first time. As if there wasn’t enough pressure on Skip before, the Monday release of Adam Kennedy just turned up the burners substantially.
I bring up the past here in an attempt to at least give pause to those who advocate the Cardinals bringing in a tired, out-of-work second baseman to compete with the younger players for the job. Recent results indicate over-30 retreads auditioned just haven’t cut it.
Following are six players tried over the last four springs, none of whom ever made it far enough to claim a spot on Goold’s long list of regular-season second basemen. Most all of these players were primarily second sackers, though all could call the position home.
One was cut by the conclusion of camp, while most toiled in Memphis for at least part of the subsequent season. Again, their common thread other than terrible spring training results (collective .169 batting average) was that none of the 2005 through 2008 players listed below reached St. Louis during the regular season.
In addition, I listed a seventh player, 2004 flameout Bodhi Hart. I will blame that on Goold. As he noted in one of those terrible flashbacks, that spring was a time when Hart was being encouraged to switch-hit. It was a last-straw attempt to recapture the 2003 Bo-Mania that had long since worn off.
The reality had set in that Bo wasn’t able to handle the off-speed pitch and as such, wasn’t really major league material. Still, Cardinals fans used to rooting for scrappy, underdog second basemen (Stubby Clapp, anyone?) had snapped up number 31 jerseys like hotcakes during the magical summer (for Hart, at least) of 2003.
Though it was his best chance in 2004, Hart not only did not make the club that spring, in fact he actually never made an opening day Cardinals roster in his short career. That season, he was recalled from Memphis on April 11, but by the end of the month was optioned out, never to be seen again in the majors.
Because of that, I will point out that technically, Hart should not be on this list due to his MLB swan song, those final 13 major-league at-bats in April, 2004 before he drifted off into baseball obscurity.
Still, Hart’s mention here makes sense to me in the context of observing the wasting of spring at-bats on players heading nowhere. Over the last five years, the Cardinals have burned up on the average 57 at-bats per spring on this bunch.
Here in 2009 with the especially large number of unproven players in the competition needing as many looks as possible, I hope we don’t witness the likes of another Junior Spivey (pictured) on the fields of Jupiter anytime soon. I also hope real prospects can see the bulk of the 2009 regular-season action in Memphis instead of more members of the over-30 gang soaking up time and space.
If the spring second base experiments all fail, there will still be time and opportunity at the end of camp to take corrective action if necessary. Unless a true proven MLB second baseman is brought in to St. Louis in the interim, which seems unlikely at this point based on GM John Mozeliak’s current remarks, I say, “Let the kids play”.