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Cardinals First Base Options Could be Expanded

The St. Louis Cardinals have taken some heat recently for alleged poor roster construction. The context is the lack of first base options behind Matt Adams. As the big man sinks deeper into his slump, the organization has taken action, promoting Xavier Scruggs from Triple-A Memphis on Thursday.

I get the motivation for the move, as Adams is one for his last 22 and is 4-for-41 since his most recent home run on August 22. An astute poster noted that his elbow sleeve, discarded earlier this season, has apparently re-appeared.

However, if Scruggs receives more than a few passing starts at first and does not produce (perhaps an unfair expectation for any first-time major leaguer) and Adams continues to struggle, I would have to join those critical of the Cardinals – though not for the same reason.

The reality is that for most of 2014, the Cardinals had excellent first base depth at the major league level. Adams was starting with Allen Craig ready to come in from right field when needed, one hitting from each side of the plate.

No one anticipated Craig’s prolonged slump that ultimately led to his trade to Boston. That changed the Cardinals roster as he was replaced by a full-time outfielder. That also should have been a call to action to prepare other first-base options.

After all, what if Adams was to be injured again?

In fact, the planning should have begun long ago. We all know, and have known for more than a year, that the Cardinals have a glut of good outfielders close to the majors. Why haven’t any of them been diversified defensively by getting some experience at first?

I am specifically talking about Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, but maybe even Oscar Taveras or Tommy Pham, or even Mike O’Neill or James Ramsey before the latter was traded away. All six outfielders have been considered to be better big-league prospects than Scruggs. Reality is that not all would take to the position, but odds are that one or more could become a credible reserve first sacker. Why haven’t they been tried?

During the regular season, of the 61 games Memphis used a designated hitter, Scruggs started there only one time. In some of those 60 other games, his bat could have been kept in the lineup while someone else received defensive experience at first.

That did not happen, even once. Memphis exclusively used journeyman Scott Moore as the reserve first baseman in 2014.

I am not anti-Scruggs in any way. He has worked hard to cut down on his strikeouts, the biggest concern about his game. It is great to see him receive the call. The right-handed hitter clearly has power that rivals Grichuk and could be a good pinch-hitter. Scruggs may even have a hot month. It could happen to anyone, as we saw with Pete Kozma in September 2012.

On the other hand, I believe the Cardinals have better options for their starting lineup stuck on their bench, outfielders unavailable to backfill Adams simply because they are not first-base ready.

In my book, it is an organizational fail if a player has to play a position for the very first time in his career as a major leaguer. It indicates a lack of prior preparation that could easily have been avoided with better planning.

For that reason, I am not suggesting Matt Holliday (or any other outfielder) be tried at first base now, even though it would allow one more major league hitter to get into the lineup when Adams sits. Yet if not now for Holliday, what about for 2015 and beyond?

Holliday began his professional career as a third baseman but was moved to the outfield in A-ball. As he moves into his mid-30’s, playing part-time at first could be a career-extender while being more versatile defensively could clearly help his team. Holliday could essentially become that right-handed reliever at first that Craig played prior to the trade.

For those who hope the Cardinals could keep both Adams and Scruggs next season, a 25-man roster precludes keeping two first base-only players. Adams was once unsuccessfully tried in the outfield briefly and Scruggs has a grand total of two professional games chasing flies, one of them last weekend. If Scruggs would be on the 2015 roster, he could block Grichuk or Piscotty.

Other immediate first base options include Matt Carpenter, who is pretty well bolted to third with no viable backfill (see Scott Moore above). Then there is Yadier Molina. I recently asked Mike Matheny if part of easing the catcher back into action after his injury might include some time at first. The manager shot back that he likes his current first baseman before acknowledging that it would not be out of the realm of possibility.

It appears that Adams’ continued slump, punctuated by light-hitting Daniel Descalso making a start at first this past week, has driven more immediate action.

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13 Responses to “Cardinals First Base Options Could be Expanded”

  1. Nutlaw says:

    Especially with Pierzynski around, moving Molina to first for a few starts could make a lot of sense.

    I agree that it makes no sense for the Cardinals not to provide a bit of defensive versatility in the minors. For years now, that sort of work seems to always take place up in the bigs. Remember when Descalso himself had to play third base and then shortstop for the first time in years after reaching the majors?

    Is getting that 60th game in at first base really going to make a difference for Scruggs or anyone? Why not move everyone around once a week? What’s the downside?

    • Brian Walton says:

      The downside is potentially winning a few less games in the minors. As much as they say it is all about player development, the minor league manager feels pressure to win, too.

      On a related point, the team says Adams felt oblique discomfort last night and is day to day.

      • Nutlaw says:

        While I’m sure that that is the reason, it’s a terrible one.

        It’s a good thing that the Cards don’t also value their Spring Training records, or else Skip and Matt Carpenter would have never learned to play second base.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Congratulations to Xavier! I’d rather have a healthy Scuggsie than a lame Adams, who wilted miserably during post-season 2013.
    This team needs pop and Adams is not up to the job right now. In contrast, Scruggs has power to spare. Look out NL Central, the X-Man cometh! Woo woo!

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Scruggs already has refused to get out of the way of a pitch. Great job, Scruggsie, do whatever it takes!

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Scruggs is a certain kind of development success story. The Cards have given him 6.5 seasons in the minors. He has improved as a hitter, owing to this training. He used to whiff way too much, this year he tightened up and quit swinging like a softball slugger in a beer league. As a result, Scruggs is in an MLB pennant race.
        If Adams were feeling as fit as a fiddle, maybe Scruggs plays out the Memphis season and heads off into minor league free agency. But we need a first baseman and Scruggs is a good asset to have brought along, there when needed. We have a couple hundred guys under development in the minors so we have a guy where and when needed.

      • Brian Walton says:

        The HBP was clearly his highlight. Bourjos’ great play helped take Scruggs off the hook after he made a really ugly toss error that opened the eighth inning. At the plate, he was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and three stranded. But it was just one day and tomorrow may bring another opportunity.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Holliday would make sense at 1B. Molina has experience there. Pierzynski perhaps. We have alternatives to Scruggs, so he is going to need to make plays, in the field and with the bat.

          Scruggs is no glitzy bonus baby handed a job, but a guy who has developed himself into an effective AAA hitter thru hard work. If he gets some chances and produces a bit, it could turn into a happy story for the Cardinal Nation correspondent.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            In the article above, its hard to see Mike O”Neill as a better choice for the ML roster. ONeill has one attribute, on base percentage, and this has fallen off this year. Scuggs has way out hit ONeill.

            The Cards probably do not want to have promote Piscotty, because not Rule 5 draft eligible yet.

            We could play Grichuk or Taveras or Pham over Scruggs, if we come to see merit in this. Holliday or Grichuk would need to play 1B. If Scruggs does not contribute much and if Adams is out of action, then this will need to be done, so shall come to pass.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Though no slugger, Jay is looking like a great fit for RF during this low offense season. Add in Bourjos and Holliday, the trio provide effective OF. Bourjos and Jay cover ground on defense and sprinkle hits.
    Mad Mike has finally realized how foolish it looks to have the leading hitter for average in the league batting 8th. Jay looks good at the top of the lineup, Wong down at 6th.

    • Bw52 says:

      Having Jay in RF is like telling every baserunner that its a free ride going from 1st to 3rd base on every hit to RF and every runner at 3B can score easily even on a short flyball.Cards OF arms are poor now……………………..nobody can throw anyone out on a regular basis.It`s too bad the rest of the NL doesn`t have Oquendo as 3B coach…………………….then the Cards OF might throw out some runners.

      • crdswmn says:

        Jay’s arm is bad no matter where he plays. It would play better in LF, but that is not an option. The better range (Bourjos) should be in CF. Holliday/Bourjos/Jay is the best defensive outfield alignment.

      • blingboy says:

        A positive is that we have faced a lot of bad outfield arms. That guy the Brewers had in LF last night is way worse than anything we have.

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