Two St. Louis Cardinals, both drafted in 2006, spent their first full-seasons as regular starters in 2012, helping to power the club into the playoffs.
First baseman Allen Craig (eighth round) batted cleanup and filled much of the offensive gap created by oft-injured Lance Berkman while centerfielder Jon Jay (second round) took charge in the field and filled a major need as he settled into the leadoff spot in the batting order.
Rather than Berkman, it appeared early on that Craig might be the one to suffer through an injury-plagued season. Craig suffered a spring setback in his recovery from off-season knee surgery, opening the season on the disabled list.
Craig was activated on May 1, but it didn’t last long. By the 18th, he was back on the DL, this time with a hamstring injury. In between, Craig was amazingly productive, with an incredible 19 RBI in 13 games.
Back for good on June 1, Craig anchored Mike Matheny‘s lineup for the rest of the season, finishing with 22 home runs and 92 RBI to accompany a line of .307/.354/.522, accrued over just 119 games.
Jay also shook off early health problems. He tried to play through a shoulder injury suffered in a collision with the outfield wall on April 19, but finally went onto the disabled list on May 15. Jay was batting .343 at the time.
He missed over a month, returning to action on June 22, and picked up right where he left off.
Jay finished with 19 stolen bases, the most by a Cardinal in four seasons. He stabilized the leadoff position with a .303 average that ranked fourth in the National League in that role.
Even more notable was the fact he played the entire season error-free, only the third outfielder to do so in team history. Jay’s glove work was especially important given Matt Holliday in left is limited in range and bad-kneed Carlos Beltran in right plays more cautiously than in his younger days. Jay also made a number of impressive catches in centerfield in his first full-time season as a major league starter.
Though neither had a memorable post-season, the two 2006 draftees should remain important cogs in the Cardinals machine for at least the next three or more seasons.