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The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #11: Young position players emerge

Coming into the 2011 season, no one could have forecast the level of contribution provided by three of the least-major league experienced position players on the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster.

Outfielder Allen Craig and infielder Daniel Descalso had made their major league debuts with the 2010 Cardinals, though neither had enough at-bats or time in the bigs to exhaust their rookie designation. On the other hand, outfielder Jon Jay had appeared in 105 games the season prior, but seemed destined to join Craig in a reserve role for the 2011 club. Descalso was projected by some to be ticketed for a return to Memphis.

As fate would have it, all three not only remained on the major league roster the entire 2011 season, they cemented their futures as big leaguers in the process and earned championship rings.

Craig, 27, had been up and down several times in 2010 after making the opening day roster. In spring training 2011, he batted .359 with 11 RBI and a share of the team lead with three home runs, making his St. Louis return an easy decision.

As Matt Holliday dealt with a series of minor maladies during the season, Craig received time in the outfield. He appeared in a couple of games at both infield corner spots and even was given an intriguing eight-game trial at second base.

His good fortune came to an end when he suffered a fractured right kneecap upon making a sliding catch in foul territory in Houston in early June. Craig missed over two months until his August 10 return to action.

When available to play, Craig offered a tantalizing power bat that could also hit for average. He knocked in 40 runs and homered 11 times in just 219 plate appearances. His slash line was .315/.362/.555. Projecting that return over a full season would cause excitement in anyone.

In the post-season, the right-handed batter launched four more home runs, including three in the World Series, and plated eight. Craig’s playoff OPS was a robust 1.013.

The knee problem from June lingered, however, and Craig needed a procedure to put stabilizing screws in his right kneecap shortly before Thanksgiving. He may miss as much of the first month of the 2012 season as a result of the recovery process.

The 2012 Cardinals had already needed additional outfield depth with the move of Lance Berkman to first base to replace Albert Pujols, but the uncertainty of Craig’s situation may have increased their urgency. Depending on the health of others on any given day during the coming season, Craig may start or be a super sub.

Descalso also performed well in spring training, batting .308. The 24-year-old had made his MLB debut the previous September. Descalso made a credible showing, which was a bit surprising since he was thrown in at third base, a position for which the natural second baseman had not been prepared.

Due to injuries to David Freese and projected top infield substitute Nick Punto, Descalso was pressed into semi-regular duty this season. The left-handed hitter ended up making 81 starts across third base (61), shortstop (11) and second base (nine) and appearing in 148 games in total.

His infield defense was considered steady and his bat was perhaps better than expected. Descalso’s line was .264/.334/.353 in 375 plate appearances. In the post-season, he was ready when called upon, going 3-for-9 (.333) and crossing home plate all three times.

Descalso is expected to report to 2012 camp with a chance to earn the starting second base job. He could be a platoon starter there or serve as the club’s top infield reserve, the role for which Punto was intended last year.

If I had asked who played in the most regular-season contests for the 2011 Cardinals, how many of you would have guessed Jay, at 159 of the 162 possible games?

Despite hitting just .221 in Florida, Jay tied Pujols for the club’s spring lead with 14 RBI and also made his first opening day roster in 2011. As the ups – and especially downs – of Colby Rasmus’ play became more extreme, Jay began to see more and more time.

On the day Rasmus was dealt to Toronto, July 27, Jay was batting .311 with an OPS of .801. His defense in center was steady, easing some of the concern of trading Rasmus. Yet Jay’s offense dipped over the final two months. From July 28 through the end of the season, his line was .277/.320/.403/.724.

In the post-season, Jay struggled mightily. Over 63 plate appearances, his line was .182/.262/.218/.480. With typically better numbers against right-handed batters, Jay is a potential platoon candidate going forward but if so, he would be on the busy side of the platoon.

As noted in the previous countdown article on young relievers, these then-unproven position players were key contributors to the Cardinals’ special 2011 season and should be around a long time into the future as well.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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26 Responses to “The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #11: Young position players emerge”

    • HBTexas says:

      Merry Christmas to you, Brian, and to all at TCNB!

      Another interesting countdown. Whatever happens, don’t let any fool talk you into setting up a voting process for their preferred order for the stories! 🙂

      Looking over the horizon, trying to guess your top 10 (only roughly ordered), I’d say:

      1. Cards Win World Series
      2. Pujol$ Departs
      3. TLR Rides Into The Sunset
      4. The September Run
      5. Freese Post-Season MVP’s
      6. Lance Berkman: Regular Season MVP
      7. The Trade (Colby)
      8. Matheny Hiring
      9. Carpenter in Post-Season (NLDS Game 5, etc.)
      10. Holliday Follies

      • blingboy says:

        Sounds like a good guess HB.

        There are two things that have been included within wider ‘stories’ that I think are especially important for the team, both last season and in 2012.

        First is the emergence of Jay as a capable everyday ML center fielder. This can be looked at two ways.

        It made it possible to trade Colby and get back pieces we needed to go to the WS and win. Otherwise, we either wouldn’t have been able to trade him, or we would have had to get a replacement centerfielder back.

        Alternatively, if Jay had not emerged, Colby might have outlasted Albert and TLR, and been looking forward to ST in Jupiter with a whole new outlook. The Cards would be looking at the possibility of a ‘lumber company’ lineup, or continuing unpredictable underperformance. No way to know what we would have got out of Colby. We know what we will get out of Jay. Less ceiling, reliable, predictable, good enough certainly.

        Second is Motte emerging from the closer scrum, last man standing, and proving up to the task of working the ninth on the biggest stage there is. Had this not happened, Mo’s top post-Albert priority would be avoiding going into next season counting on one a group of failed rookie closer tryouts from 2011. Avoiding that would have been expensive in money, talent, or both. But instead, closer is not a problem, and the focus was on the middle of the lineup.

        • HBTexas says:

          Pretty confident on 1-8, not as much on 9-10. Nine may have been covered in the other Carp article or will be in other context.

          You’re right about JJ. His play made dealing Colby possible and without that trade the team doesn’t win the series. But, I’m afraid the Beltran acquisition may mean less playing time for him in 2012. That’s OK, he’ll still get plenty of AB’s and he seems to perform best when competing for a job rather than owning one.

          JJ had a horrible WS with the bat, but got a key hit and scored in the 10th inning of game 6. JJ and Dirty Dan got hits, Riot and Lance brought them in. He and Riot also teamed for key hits & scoring in game 2 of the NLDS, vs. Lee.

          With JJ, Craig, Carlos, Matt and Skip… and Adron until Craig returns, we’ve got a great OF set-up going into the new season. Sure would be nice to add a piece on the IF too, and send Tyler packing. I’ve got no faith in that guy and not buying that it’s TLR’s “evil eye” that is behind his lifetime MLB BA of .218 and a FPCT below .960 at every position.

        • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

          John Jay is back to a role he can deal with………… platoon player…….difficult to guess how he will react to Beltran………….. Holiday for that matter……….Beltran will have a huge impact in all hitters……. Freese has always had a swing…….Holiday will improve along with everyone else watching this guys stick……… Motte learned……..and trusted in 2 new pitches……. he will be even better next year……. Lynn will also grow…….. Bull Pen is set………the youth may help JC feel more “confident”……… He is old school…….

          The Colby story will be told in due time……….. it is complex………….

          • JumboShrimp says:

            The Rasmus story is not complex:
            -Cards provide big bonus.
            -Cards move him up fast through the system.
            -He reads media accounts about his great potential.
            -He wants to skip over AAA, but then does not excel at Memphis.
            -He does not like the atmosphere of the Memphis team. Not enough fun.
            -Family lobbies for Rasmus to be traded.
            -Cards move Skip to 2B to usher Rasmus into the majors.
            -Season 2, Rasmus asks to be traded while at Wrigley with Cards in first. Not enough fun.
            -Season 3, though in slump, does not work with hitting coaches. Surprise, surprise.
            -Request for trade is finally honored. Cards needed pitchers and win WS. Luhnow wins a GM job.
            -Colby has slow start in Blue Jays uniform, but hoping to find the fun.

  1. Bw52 says:

    Which if any young guys are going to step up and make the roster in 2012?
    Could Bryan Anderson beat out Tony Cruz for backup catcher? What about Matt Carpenter to back up Freese? Can either player be the surprise of camp…………………………At first glance it would seem Matt Carpenter has a harder road to go to win a spot.Matheny likes Bryan Anderson ………………… will be interesting to see who raises their play and earns a spot.
    A Merry Christmas to all and be safe.

  2. LarryBird says:

    Merry Christmas

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Cruz and Anderson have a clear chance at the backup catcher role. Even better for them, the full-time role may open during 2013.
    Carpenter has a decent chance at a backup 3B role in 2012.

    • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

      Descalso will back up third Jumbo……………….. Brian Anderson isn’t popular amongst the rotation……….I look for him to be moved for magic beans………. the Last thing Matheny wants to do is try to sell a player he likes to Chris Carpenter………….. It is unnecessary………… Matheny was paid to like Anderson……….now he is paid to win……. that should get straightened out………. there has been a huge paradigm shift in the Cardinals front office………. they no longer have to worry about winning……….haven’t you noticed…..should be fun……..

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Players can be flexible. Skip, for instance, can backup 3 OF spots and 2B, while Descalso can backup SS, 3B, and play 2B. Greene can backup SS, 3B, 2B, and 3 OF spots. Craig is best in LF and 1B, but can help out at RF, CF, and 2B.
    We are not trading Bryan just to keep you stocked in Maui Wowee, guitar boy.
    One thing that has changed is the Cards are NOT going with a veteran backup catcher. Chris Carpenter is paid $10MM/yr to do his job and if we want the backup catcher to be Anderson, he will be.
    If Mr. Scrooge did not care about winning, why would he pony up $13MM for Beltran?

    • blingboy says:

      ‘Mr. Scrooge’ cares about winning, Jumbo. That’s why he hired Beltran. But Westy is right that BDW and Mo don’t have to worry about it now. Its going to be easier. Mo can assemble talent. Bill will pay for it.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        Thanks BB……….Jumbo has been swimming in the punch……….. “and if we want the backup catcher to be Anderson, he will be.”………………………. ????????????? When Doyle Lonigan goes down the alley……..with a quarter of a million dollars in a valise………why does Gondorff not just step out and cap him…….take the money and run………. getting him into the alley with the dough was the challenge wasn’t it???????????? Thats just a robbery…………… Lonigan’s organization then comes after you..with all their resources……………….. A con is when the principles…and their perception of what happened…is your buffer against retaliation…….or even recognizing they have been robbed……….. Thats AP and his adoring fans………………. he was seriously “herded” by BD…….aided by a self interested Lozano……..
        I pointed out months ago that it would be the commissioner that decide where the hot spot was………
        Moreno is famous for his stance against long contracts……..and way over paying……. Fox just came in and said……….lets redo our agreement……….we want to give you triple the money……..because you’re a good boy?????????????? The hot spot was the Dodgers attempting to break the Bankruptcy rule/precedent…. much of it based on a future Fox agreement ………. that is clearly what happened…… the Lozano stink bomb came from BHSC…….who is aligned with “old money” from both coasts….they had compiled it as a defense against any hostilities if Lozano exposed them for their earlier attempt at manipulating the AP negotiation…..Fox moved AP to Orange County……..for allot of reasons……….. AP is the goat……… Tony died and went to heaven………and BD is a skilled player…….and we are the Champs……….. now its about baseball…………..almost………

        • JumboShrimp says:

          If Fox has to shell out a lot of dough to televise the Angels, they want Arte to spend some of it on celebrity players to boost ratings. Everybody wins: Bud, the Union, Lozano, Albert, Fox. The Golden Rule.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            The Angels are one of the top spending teams.
            Its not just Albert on a 10 year deal, even Mike Scoscia has one.
            The Angels have plenty of rich players: Albert, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, CJ Wilson, Jared Weaver, Earvin Santana, and Dan Haren are among the most blessed.
            Arte cannot stop laughing when he looks at the movie Moneyball.

  5. blingboy says:

    I do not put too much stock in the Cruz/Anderson pecking order last year. It’s not going to be a popularity contest.

    Chambers will have to make the team in ST. He will be given every opportunity to do it.

    I don’t think we will go to opening day with Furcal the only veteran infielder. Freese will be there, of course. Greene, Descalso, M Carpenter…, somebody will not be there.

  6. blingboy says:

    In the ‘get a life’ department, I wish to lodge a complaint about the Cards 2012 Team Calandar, which I got for Christmas, along with a voucher for a stadium tour.

    No, not including Albert as Mr. January. I’m sure it went to press earlier.

    The calandar includes Furcal, as number 15, and also has Jay as number 15. Obviously, if they had time to get Furcal in it, they had time to change Jay’s number to 19. Unacceptable. No excuse will be entertained.

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