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Why Isn’t Stephen Piscotty a First Baseman?

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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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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82 Responses to “Why Isn’t Stephen Piscotty a First Baseman?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I have doubts that Piscotty can transition to be an adequate first baseman. Maybe he has a better shot at it than Holliday because he is young. If he couldn’t cut it at third base, I don’t see how he can be adequate at first base. I hope I am wrong.

    I would just bite the bullet and trade for a first baseman. Use the OF depth to make a trade, so that there is one less OFer blocking Piscotty’s path to St. Louis. Bourjos would be my first choice to trade, if he isn’t enough, sweeten the pot with someone else in the system. Even if Jay is a shell of his former self, they still have Grichuk and Pham to play CF. Matheny quite obviously prefers them anyway, it’s a win-win.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Yes, we will have to see that Mozeliak can pull off. Just read another column this morning going through the myriad number of reasons why it is time for him to make a trade without noting any of the challenges of actually getting it done. Just do it, man!

      • crdswmn says:

        Yes, I realize there are challenges, which is why I just made a suggestion, not a demand. 😉

        My inexperienced self merely thinks that Bourjos at least has major league experience and is a known quantity. He is also not on the DL, as Jay is. A team will know what it is getting with Bourjos. He won’t garner a top flight first baseman of course, but perhaps a back up type or some other position player who has first base experience or ability who isn’t currently playing in that position.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I was more commenting on the column I read, which plays to the masses who don’t care how it gets done. Just responded to a post on the message board in which one poster wants the Cards to get a Triple Crown caliber hitter no matter what it takes. Yeah, right.

    • Brian Walton says:

      To the initial point, Allen Craig was a failed third baseman who became an adequate first baseman. So it could happen with Piscotty. My issue is waiting until July to find out.

  2. Bw52 says:

    Throwing my 2 cents in the ring.Why not try and get a player who can adequately play 1B and 3B? The way Carpenter is playing having another option besides Reynolds would not be a bad thing.The Cards have no one close to being ready to play in the big leagues behind Carpenter other than Reynolds (Ty Kelly has hugged the Mendoza line all year at AAA and failed to provide any any extra base power while not hitting,Pat Wisdom at AA has done much better this season with his contact issues but he is still at least a year away IMHO).So obtaining a viable player to back up both spots would be a nice scenario.I keep mentioning Trevor Plouffe of the Twins who is losing playing time to Twins #1 prospect (Miquel Sano) and Twins need pitching.Maybe Mo can work something out.FWIW a guy who can help at 2 spots would be a good deal.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Plouffe is an interesting guy, but I don’t know if he is an every-day first baseman. In six years in the majors, he has just five starts at the position. In that scenario, maybe leave him at 3B and put Matt Carpenter at 1B, which might rest him a bit.

      After 3B, Plouffe has played SS the most. Perhaps he could also back up Peralta, which might enable them to do something different with Kozma’s roster spot.

      • crdswmn says:

        I am quite a stickler about defense, so I’m not particularly fond of Plouffe as a 3B. He has enough innings at the position in his career to determine that he is a slightly below average third baseman. Matt Carpenter is no whiz bang at 3B, but he is a little better defensively than Plouffe. Not enough innings at SS to tell, but so far I am not impressed with his defense there either. Certainly well below Kozma defensively, though the bat is much better.

        I would be more inclined to try him at 1B and see how it goes, than put him in position I already know he isn’t very good at.

        • crdswmn says:

          For comparison, Plouffe is about David Freese level at 3B.

          • Bw52 says:

            Do you feel Plouffe`s offense at 3B will make up for his defensive skills?I keep bringing up Plouffe because he has played 1B,3B,SS and some OF a few years back.He has a decent bat.He would be under team control thru 2016.I like his versatility although as Brian says he played mostly 3B (crdswmn says he is slightly below average) he has played 1B this year (started 4 games ) and he has some pop in his bat.Matt Carpenter is not playing like Matt Carpenter and another option who does make contact more than Reynolds would be Plouffe.Brian said several days back that if the Cards made a move he hoped it would be a big move and not a stopgap.(is that right Brian?).Do you still think you Brian?

            • crdswmn says:

              If the Cardinals were to trade for Plouffe I would rather see him start at 1B rather than 3B simply because I already know he is a worse defender at 3B than Carpenter is. If he didn’t work out there, then his positioning could be reevaluated. I don’t think it matters as far as his bat is concerned where he plays, so I would prefer the better defensive alignment.

              What has happened to Carpenter is a mystery. I don’t think he looks good physically, though I have only seen him on TV, not in person. He seems to have lost weight, which makes me wonder about his health. I am glad he is not playing in the ASG, and I hope the rest will do him good.

            • Brian Walton says:

              I haven’t changed my view in the last few days.

  3. Bw52 says:

    Plouffe is interesting because he is Arbitration eligible and would be under team control after 2016.He might cost 5 million or so but a valuable guy who can hit decently with some power and play several positions would be worth the money IMHO.

  4. crdswmn says:

    Piscotty is not playing 1B tonight in the first game of the DH. He is playing LF.

  5. blingboy says:

    I am not exactly sure why we are excited about Piscotty.

  6. JumboShrimp says:

    The solution of the right lefty platoon of Johnson and Reynolds for first base makes sense. Reynolds is good against lefties, while Johnson had two hits in his first start versus the Cubs.

    Piscotty has played RFs because best use of his abilities. First base is the easiest position on the field, why the worst fielders get stashed there. If a guy can play a demanding position, he can handle first base too. We can let Piscotty play first base for a few days at Memphis and he will be ready enough, defensively.

    He is likely no panacea with the bat, however. I would rather see the platoon of Reynolds and Johnson, Piscotty is fine right where he is, at Memphis. We can look at him in spring training 2016, if Heyward leaves as a free agent. I would like to see him play 2016 in Memphis to get readier to hit in the majors.

    • Brian Walton says:

      You often try to neatly tie off all the ends, whether it completely makes sense or not. If your logic was sound, Matt Holliday would be the first baseman. He isn’t because first base is not the easiest position for every player, despite your assertion that it is.

      The Cardinals need offensive help and first base seems the best target for an upgrade. The current options are not adequate, no matter how they might be platooned, IMO.

      • blingboy says:

        Piscotty was sort of a third baseman, so the chance he cannot play an OK 1B is remote. Unlike at 3rd, knock it down and pick it up works much of the time at 1st. IMO, the reason the cards were not keen to work him up at 1B is his bat does not profile there. He could be an attractive fill in right now though, given the level of desperation.

        It should be noted that if Adams power and consistency does not rebound, his bat does not profile at 1B either.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Curious what you see in his bat that profiles him as a corner outfielder, but not a first baseman. Piscotty has led the entire Cardinals system in doubles in both of the last two seasons.

          • blingboy says:

            Whoever said his bat profiles at corner outfield, it wasn’t me.

            Are there any thoughts on why he can’t hit lefties this year? It would be helpful if he could be a potential Adams platoon partner going forward but that is out of the question as of now.

            • Brian Walton says:

              Sorry if I put words in your mouth. Exactly where do you see Piscotty profiling offensively, then, if not corner outfield or first base?

              • blingboy says:

                I mean that I don’t think he will have enough bat to hold down a regular starter job in MLB.

                That doesn’t mean he couldn’t help plug weaknesses. Earlier this season I had been thinking he might platoon with with Adams and compete with Grichuk for OF fill in reps. Corner OF/1B UT/platoon is kind of a low ceiling for our top hitting prospect, I admit, but I am trying to be realistic.

        • crdswmn says:

          This “bat profiles” is one of those old school things that makes absolutely no sense to me and never has. If you have an elite defensive shortstop who hits 30 HRs would you move him to 1B because his bat “profiles” better there? Some of these old school things need to die a quick and horrible death.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Agree, but I don’t think bling does.

          • blingboy says:

            The concept doesn’t work that way. It refers to what is the least demanding defensive position the player has enough bat to play regularly. The elite defensive shortstop could have a bat that profiles at first base. He would continue to play the most demanding defensive position he is capable of, even after his middle infield days are over. Some shortstops have a bat that only profiles at middle infield. They are SOL when they can’t hack it there anymore.

            Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense.

            • crdswmn says:

              I understand it, I just used an extreme example. It doesn’t make sense because it assigns offensive value to a defensive position. Your offense and defense are separate. It’s the totality of your offense that matters, not where on the field you put it.

              If a player hits well enough to play in the major leagues it shouldn’t matter what defensive position he plays. You put him in the defensive position that for which his defensive talents best suits him. You don’t have to have a slugger at 1B if you have one at SS or 2B or CF. Teams now realize this and build their teams accordingly.

              It’s an old school concept that has long since been irrelevant.

              • crdswmn says:

                So if the Cardinals want Piscotty’s bat in the lineup they put him in a defensive position he is capable of playing adequately. It he can play 1B, he should play there, it doesn’t matter what his bat “profiles” at. He will give them offense regardless of where he plays on the field. If he can’t play it, he shouldn’t play there. His bat is irrelevant in this equation.

                • blingboy says:

                  Scruggs and Reynolds are capable of playing 1B adequately. Why then is there interest in playing Piscotty there?

                  • crdswmn says:

                    I think you know why.

                    I’m done with this.

                    • blingboy says:

                      I do. Neither Scruggs nor Reynolds has enough bat for a starting 1st baseman. In that case, the team will look for someone who can play the position and who does have enough bat. A player whose bat profiles there, in other words. My comments above relating to Piscotty, are to the effect that the org was not keen to work him up at 1B because he does not have enough bat, and they will still want to find find someone who does have enough bat. His bat does not profile there, in other words. That is not to say he wouldn’t be an improvement over the present situation. But it will be a shot term fix unless he morphs into a better hitter.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      Why don’t you answer Brian’s question about what you think is wrong with Piscotty’s bat?

                      I’m done with this nonsense.

  7. Brian Walton says:

    Ed Easley played first base in both games of Memphis’ Thursday doubleheader. It suggests that Piscotty may not be considered an immediate answer for St. Louis.

  8. Nutlaw says:

    Regardless of how quickly it takes for someone to learn a new position, there’s no doubt that some practice in the minors is better than none. It makes no sense that players in the minors aren’t shuffled around a lot more than they are. Few of them will end up good enough to hold down one position in the majors, and certainly not when they first get called up. I’m not sure what a player’s hundredth game at the same position in a season is actually teaching them that the eigthieth didn’t teach them.

    In recent years, just about every middle infielder from the minors gets asked to play both MI spots, 3B, and the corner OF spots. Third basemen play all of the corner infield and outfield spots. Outfielders at least need to handle the corner spots and usually the young ones get thrown in at CF at least a bit. Any random person gets shoved in at second base and it seems to work out fine.

    After his first season playing third base, Piscotty has 282 games at RF, 17 at LF, and 4 at CF and that’s it. What happens when the team already has a RF? Well, he works out the kinks at another position in the majors, like everyone seems to do.

    • Brian Walton says:

      My take is that unless it is an emergency, no player should play at a defensive position for the first time as a major leaguer. The Cards used to be a lot worse about this, but as you note, they have been diversifying guys better in recent years. In support of the player development folks, TLR had some unusual ideas about that, putting guys at 2B and in the OF who were clearly not prepared.

      It makes one wonder why they have been playing Scruggs in the OF, but not Piscotty at first, too. Seems like a logical switcharoo that would have helped both.

      • blingboy says:

        Some time back it was explained to me that a prospect should never be given to understand that there is a path to the bigs other than out playing who ever is ahead of them. The idea was they would do it or die trying. Of course, the game has gone soft since then.

  9. Brian Walton says:

    Piscotty starting at first base tonight for Memphis. Will have to watch MiLB.com along with MLB game.

    • blingboy says:

      Would you mind taking an especially close look at his bat and report back?

      ;/

      • Brian Walton says:

        You keep making vague comments about Piscotty’s bat. What do YOU see that bothers YOU? He looks like a pretty good hitter to me. What am I missing?

        P.S. Piscotty currently has more homers at his level than everyone in StL other than Peralta. He has six more doubles than anyone on the Cardinals. I am not sure what you are expecting.

        • blingboy says:

          Sorry, I had forgotten about the question until reminded just now.

          This from Kiley McDaniel this past spring:

          “Piscotty is a fringy runner with a plus arm that should be at least average defensively. He has a good swing and advanced feel for the strike zone, with comically low strikeout rates. He will hit enough to be a big leaguer of some impact, but the Cards would like to see him trade some strikeouts for home runs so he can more traditionally profile in right field.”

          http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/evaluating-the-prospects-st-louis-cardinals/

          I take this as likely a correct view of the org’s thinking about Piscotty going into this year. He needed to make an adjustment toward more power so that his bat would profile better in RF.

          Traditionally, right field is more demanding defensively than LF or 1B, so a lesser bat profiles there. The fact that work was needed to profile in RF means that the bat was even further from profiling in LF and further still from profiling at 1B. This is why the Cards org was not keen to work him up at 1B. This is my answer to the specific question asked.

          It looks like Piscotty has picked up his power and walks, with an increase in Ks and lower BA so far in 2015. Just where that will go, I do not know. My thinking is that org is hoping his bat will profile in RF as explained by Kiley, and that he is getting work at 1B due to the present desperate need.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Funny how people read what they want to read. That looks like a strong report to me.

            Specifically:

            “He will hit enough to be a big leaguer of some impact, but the Cards would like to see him trade some strikeouts for home runs…”

            This is exactly what has transpired in the half-season since that report, yet you see him as a reserve, a non-impact player.

            • blingboy says:

              I agree that the quoted partial sentence looks strong. I also agree that Piscotty has traded homers for strikeouts, and a lower BA. Hopefully, the power is something that will continue and translate to MLB, and the further drop off in BA and increase in Ks from AAA to MLB will not be too much.

              If things work out, then it seems his bat will profile in RF as hoped. But, unless Kiley misread the situation, it didn’t really as of a few months ago ( ” . . . so he can more traditionally profile in right field.”) , and I do not think we should get all squishy over a half season in AAA.

    • crdswmn says:

      I just got in at the top of the ninth, but Piscotty just made a nice pick on a heinky throw from Matt Williams.

      I can watch the game on archives, but what was your first impression?

      • crdswmn says:

        Oops, I meant the top of the eighth. My eyes are not working well tonight.

      • Brian Walton says:

        Decided to wait to reply until I had a little more to go on.

        Piscotty made his first error Sunday in his third game. It was not a particularly tough chance, except that the throw from the charging 3Bman Mejia tailed a bit toward the line. It seemed like Piscotty flinched a bit, perhaps fearing a collision, as the runner was also nearing the bag. The throw looked catchable so he got the error.

        Seems fine with the routine plays so far.

        P.S. For blingboy, Piscotty had his 11th home run as well.

        • blingboy says:

          He’s tied both Scruggs and Johnson with 11 then. Bravo. It took him about 100 more ABs than either of them, but his HR power has undoubtedly improved over last year. Mo and the team desperately need a hitter to have an impact in the middle of the order for the second half, I would love to see it be Piscotty. I would love to see it be anybody. He seems to be making a case.

  10. Bw52 says:

    Brian I have a looking ahead question.Based on the season so far MLB and AAA for the Cards what are your early thoughts on September callus by the Cards.I will venture a guess; please comment.
    C Ed Easley
    C Cody Stanley
    INF Greg Garcia
    OF-1B Stephan Piscotty
    LHP Tyler Lyons
    RHP Sam Tuivailala
    RHP Miquel Socolovich
    RHP Marcus Hatley
    LHP Marco Gonzales

    No call up
    Ty Kelly 3B
    Dean Anna 2B
    Nick Greenwood LHP
    Mike Ohlman C (AA Springfield) he has had a very good year,

    Cards will have activated Hooliday before then.
    Jay also.
    Walden RHP and Jaime Garcia and Belisle RHP

    That would be 39 active players.What do you think?

    • Brian Walton says:

      I don’t have time to do a detailed analysis today, but did not want to ignore your question.

      Usually six or seven callups is about it. But others will probably be injured by then to lower the effective number from the nine you list. Also, players have six more weeks to shine (or stumble). I do a formal prediction in late August each year.

      I just noted in an article today on the main site that the Cards have already tried 41 of the 43 players on their 40-man in St. Louis this season.

      P.S. I don’t see Pham on your list. He is almost certainly down when Holliday is back. Also Harris will go down when Belisle and Walden are back. They both seem like reasonable call ups in September, but the Cards won’t ask everyone eligible for sure.

      • blingboy says:

        When Holliday returns we will have 5 outfielders, so to me it is not “almost certain” that it will be Pham who goes. What he does or doesn’t do this weekend may influence that. I would think either Scruggs or Johnson have the best chance of losing out.

  11. JumboShrimp says:

    Piscotty will need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this November, so is likely to be called up for September. Piscotty also makes more sense to get some ML at bats instead of Xavier Scruggs, because Piscotty should become a ML starter, in due course.
    While Holliday is suited to 1B, he gets to stay in LF as long as he wants. But some winter, Matt might decide he is a better fit at 1B and try out there during spring training.
    Minor leaguers often shift to another position in the majors, to where the opening is. But its good to give them a few games at a new position, so good for Piscotty to play a few games at 1B at Memphis. Smart of the Cards to put him there.
    If Heyward leaves in 2016, Piscotty could platoon with Adams, to break in, in a favorable situation.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I strongly disagree with you yet again, Jumbo.

      “While Holliday is suited to 1B…”

      Please find me one credible scouting report to back that up, because it conflicts with every discussion I have had with professionals about his defense.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        Matt doesn’t have the nervous system for playing first. He is a plodder who in truth, just started to play LF with some competence. It takes a special player to make those digs and adjustments. Possibly a few years working with you on your farm Jumbo, could remedy is suitability.

        • blingboy says:

          Come on you guys. We don’t really need a singles hitting 1st baseman anyway, now do we? Lets stay with a singles hitting left fielder, that is bad enough.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        It would be creepy for me if you always agreed. I would have to ask you to stop.

        As an unspeedy failed third baseman like Albert Pujols, Holliday’s most suited positions are left field and 1B. If his hands are un-nifty, Matt might be confined to LF, as was Lou Brock. It would not have been nice to see Lou playing 1B, but it was always great to see him there as a baserunner.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          One attribute of first basemen can be height. The majors don’t like first basemen under 6 feet, despite Steve Garvey. At first, Stretch Holliday could provide a tall target for infielders.

  12. JumboShrimp says:

    Last night, we got a matchup that we wanted, a rested Greenwood versus the Pirates. We may want to change around members of the 40 man roster so we can bring up a reliever who is a better bet to be unscored upon for an inning.

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