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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The weight of expectations on Cardinals shortstops

Many inside and outside the St. Louis Cardinals organization are excited about the addition of infielder Aledmys Diaz. It is understandable. After all, the Cuban native is the biggest international signing in the team’s history. The 23-year-old will receive $8 million over the next four years and the hope is that he can one day succeed Jhonny Peralta at shortstop for the major league club.

Because Diaz was available on the open market and any Cuban free agents draw a lot of attention, he is well-known. Yet, he is not really well-known from a skills perspective in that only a handful of people have ever seen him play.

While scouts are divided on Diaz, media and fan expectations are still being formulated. In his widely-reported initial meeting with the press, Diaz mentioned a future Hall of Famer in Derek Jeter as the player he emulated as a kid growing up. Cardinals officials reinforced the image.

Diaz’ comment in itself is completely normal. After all, who wouldn’t want to be Jeter?

However, if the past is any indication, the report may get twisted by others into a skills- or ceiling-based comp for Diaz. After all, the AP story said this, “Within the organization, some have compared him to a young Derek Jeter.” That would be a totally unfair weight to put on the shoulders of a young man who has a lot of adjustments to make immediately ahead in the minor leagues.

When I read the Jeter comments, the first thought that jumped into my mind was the draft day remarks made by then-Cardinals scouting director Jeff Luhnow in 2007. The club had passed over highly-touted pitcher Rick Porcello and selected a high school shortstop from Oklahoma named Pete Kozma with its first pick.

Perhaps in his excitement and perhaps in part to help soothe skeptical fans and media, Luhnow dropped a heavy comp on Kozma – a former Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger Award winner and six-time All-Star in Nomar Garciaparra.

Carrying around the expectations of having been a first-rounder is enough without that kind of pressure, in my opinion. We will never know if the intersections with Porcello and Garciaparra had any impact on Kozma’s development, but the fact we still remember them in this context seven years later says something.

Here is hoping Diaz is allowed to develop and become himself, whatever that may turn out to be.

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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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12 Responses to “The weight of expectations on Cardinals shortstops”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Yep, it is going to get interesting. Whether it is a good interesting or a bad interesting, remains to be seen.

    I always try to temper my expectations. I would rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Luhnow came out with the Garciaparra comp soon after Pete was drafted. This was an absurd comparison, because Garciaparra had played at Georgia Tech, so was much more advanced than a high school SS, plus Kozma was not projected to be a slugger.
    After this ignited a firestorm of criticism, the Cards quickly retreated to comparing Kozma to their prior draftee Jack Wilson. Though Wilson won a Silver Slugger award in, IIRC, 2004, this too was not a great comparison, because Wilson was a 9th rounder. If we could land Jack in the 9th, why did we have to pop Pete in the 1st?
    Jeff also later shot his mouth off that Kozma would hit .340 at Johnson City, a foolishly aggressive forecast. Luhnow blabbed to the press too much, in keeping with his self aggrandizing style.

  3. Lou Schuler says:

    Didn’t somebody in the Cards’ org suggest Jon Jay would be a future batting champ? I think it was after Jay hit .342 in the Midwest League in 2006, which, to be fair, really was impressive for a guy right out of college.

    Not that there’s any comparison between Koz and Jay, who’s been worth 9 WAR. But it does seem like another example of hyperbolic projections.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Yes. As far as I can tell, that one began with BA quoting unnamed Cardinals scouts in late 2006 or early 2007.

      Jay was rated as the fifth best prospect by Baseball America, who had this to say, “Jay has an unorthodox approach but consistently shows the ability to hit pitches in all parts of the zone. His game is built around hitting line drives and making the most of his solid-average speed. While he doesn’t have a standout tool, he is pretty solid across the board. He’s a capable center fielder with an accurate arm. Some Cardinals scouts believe he will one day win a major league batting title.”

      Like it or not, those labels stick.

      • Nutlaw says:

        Back then, Jay looked like he might learn how to take a walk. That ability usually increases rather than decreases over time, in fairness. No one who hacks away like Jay does is going to get enough pitches to hit to become a batting champ.

        • Brian Walton says:

          As a point of reinforcement, I pulled these stats for another article I am working on.

          Among Cardinals in 2013, the two who saw the fewest pitches per at-bat were Holliday at 3.71 and Jay at 3.75. Quite different results between the two.

          • Nutlaw says:

            Holliday still draws more walks than Jay, even so.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Here is the story in which I used Holliday’s and Jay’s numbers. The subject is why Bourjos doesn’t bunt and walk more.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            During his one full and successful season, 2011, Bourjos had an OBP of .327. Last year, cut short by injury, his OBP was .333.
            If we throw out a rough rookie season in 2010 and 2012 when he was displaced by Trout, Bourjos has a ML on base percentage of about .330, respectable.
            Yet Brian also makes a compelling case Bourjos does not bunt enough. Anybody with a bunting average above .500 ought to be bunting once per game.

  4. blingboy says:

    If Jay’s numbers had gone north from his 2012 line instead of south the conversation would be different. His lack of progress defensively would be less of a sore spot as well.

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