The last 24 hours have been a wild time for the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans. First, the major league team was swept in the second of two Tuesday games in Chicago by the upstart Cubs.
Then Twitter was abuzz because the organization’s top position player prospect, Stephen Piscotty, had been pulled from Triple-A Memphis’ lineup amid speculation he was being promoted to St. Louis.
Those most excited about the prospect of the outfielder being brought up to help fill a gaping offensive need chose to gloss over the fact that Piscotty has never played an inning of professional baseball at first base. That happens to be the only position at which the Cardinals currently have a significant requirement.
Instead, the club added 35-year-old journeyman first sacker Dan Johnson to the roster on Wednesday.
Still, there was apparently smoke surrounding the Piscotty rumor, even if there was no fire. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch tweeted this on Wednesday afternoon:
“Piscotty removed from Tuesday lineup because team considered him for promotion. He will now play 1B for Memphis more often to prep for call.”
Let’s step back and consider this for a moment.
1) Why did the team consider Piscotty seriously enough to hold him out of the game (while playing Johnson) and not follow through?
Doesn’t this sound strange? Did they forget until the last minute that Piscotty isn’t (yet?) a first baseman?
2) How could Piscotty play first base less often in the future than none?
OK, he has reportedly worked out at the position. So what? I have seen Yadier Molina take ground balls at short a number of times. That doesn’t mean the Gold Glove catcher is a Major League shortstop.
What does it say about Piscotty’s workouts to date that his name has yet to appear in a game boxscore at the position? Practice speed and game speed are very different.
The fact remains that Piscotty still has zero innings of professional play at the position and MLB is not the place to learn.
On Twitter and on The Cardinal Nation message board the last few days, several fans postulated that this is no big deal. They feel that Piscotty should be able to pick up the new defensive post on the fly.
One poster said that because Piscotty has a Stanford education, he has the intelligence to be able to handle the transition. Several others believe that since Piscotty played third base when signed, he can surely handle first.
To counter the latter point, all I had to do was reference Matt Holliday. The outfielder was a third baseman for his entire first three professional seasons, but is not first base material. If he was, the Cardinals’ current dilemma would be minimized substantially.
Like Holliday was years earlier, Piscotty was taken off the more challenging defensive position, third base, for a reason. His arm has always been his best tool defensively. Hands, footwork and agility less so. Of those assets, which would be most important for a first baseman?
In other words, a player taken off third base is not guaranteed to be a natural at first.
The whole intelligence thing is an unintelligent argument not worthy of additional words here.
Listen, I am not saying that Piscotty cannot become a serviceable Major League first baseman. I am saying that I don’t know. No one should find out the answer while he is already with St. Louis.
With the Cards now stating they plan to move ahead with Piscotty at first base (per Goold’s report), one has to wonder why they waited so long.
During the off-season, there was talk of trying Piscotty at first base this spring. That was put on the back burner when Mark Reynolds was signed as a free agent. The apparent plan was that the veteran would back up Matt Adams, with Xavier Scruggs in reserve.
I guess I can see why there was less urgency, but why not at least start the experiment?
I asked Piscotty about this directly in late April and he said no one had discussed with him any plans to play first.
But then, wouldn’t the requirement have increased exponentially when Adams went down with a season-ending injury on May 26? That was six and a half weeks ago.
Nope, no change. Piscotty continued to play the outfield exclusively with Memphis while Scruggs and Johnson covered first. (In addition, Scruggs made 25 starts between left and right field as the organization increased his versatility.)
Now the Cardinals are apparently going to rush Piscotty into action at first base and everyone is going to hope he takes to the position like a duck to water. Even if so, in my view, the true test will be three months late.
Before the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of this month, the Cardinals are going to have to decide whether they can get by with what they have or move to acquire a first baseman who can provide an offensive boost.
Piscotty has precious little time to lay claim to the first base job in St. Louis in the interim since he doesn’t even yet have it in Memphis.
The Cardinals need offensive help yesterday and Piscotty is unquestionably their best hitting prospect. Yet, they currently have no place to play him and time is short. Better planning could have changed that.
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