by Michael Riehn
Without looking, who has the best record thus far in spring training?
No peeking! Give up?
Would you guess the Atlanta Braves? Our own Cardinals are 2 games back with an 8-4 record. You get the general feeling that they are doing well, but most people don’t keep track of exhibition records. The standings and sometimes even the statistics don’t really matter in Spring Training. The things that we worry about so much during the season are given way to competition and how players look while coming off of injury. These issues are starting to define themselves and shape up for the upcoming season.
So what have we learned? Since we are about halfway through camp, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what has changed since the beginning of spring training in those halcyon days of pitchers and catchers reporting. What story lines are emerging for the 2009 team?
Livin’ on a prayer
Skip Schumaker is not surprisingly having a lot of trouble making the conversion to second base. His .826 fielding percentage is a bit unfair to look at (since he’s still learning on the job), but he’s yet to turn a pivot on a double play, he’s almost got Albert killed on some throws and he doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction. I believe there is no way a player can learn this position in one spring training. He might have good instincts and may even show good range for the position, but it takes a lot of reps to learn how to make the pivot and he’s going to boot a lot of routine plays. I think this is good experience for him, but you won’t see Schumaker regularly manning second base until possibly next year. (He will get some playing time at second in 2009 though).
You have to hand it to Skip, it hasn’t affected his hitting. He is putting up a .303/.361/.485 (batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage) slash line and cementing himself at the top of the lineup. As Brian Walton from “The Cardinal Nation” blogged about yesterday, this does not bode well for Colby Rasmus’s chances to make the team. Schumaker really needs to stay at second to give Rasmus a starting spot.
Duncan is hammering the ball (.333/.400/.600) right now and the Cardinals aren’t going to bring Colby up to the Majors in a quasi platoon in left field with Schumaker and Duncan. For one thing, they all bat left handed, and for another, that wouldn’t be enough at bats for a young player to develop. Plus, Rasmus hasn’t really hit (.242/.342/.364) or fielded well this Spring, and just when he was turning the corner, he strained his hamstring. He’s got the talent to turn things around quickly and make the team, but he’s running out of time and is behind the group. A lot of experts want to see him up no matter what on opening day, but I’m not one of those people.
I don’t want to seem like I’m down on the superprospect. Rasmus is NOT a disappointment if he doesn’t make this team out of spring training. You have to keep in perspective that he is only 22 years old and this would only be his college senior year. Brett Wallace, our number 2 prospect, was just drafted last year and isn’t deemed close to being ready until 2010 (at the earliest). Amazingly, they are the same age (born in the same month, 15 days apart), so Rasmus is still well ahead of schedule. He does not need to be rushed to the major leagues and a couple of months in the minors can only do him good for his career in the long run.
We got to hold on to what we’ve got
If (When) Skip doesn’t make the transition to second base, what is the competition for the position? We are not going to go out and trade for, or sign, a free agent 2nd basemen. Joe Thurston looks like he has the inside track. Not only does he have experience playing all over the field, he has put up a weird (and good) .269/.321/.577 line (low on base percentage, high slugging percentage). He’s always had a lot of talent and was one of the Dodgers top prospects several years back, but he’s never put it together. This may be the year (keep your fingers crossed, because he’s our best option to actually hit the ball). Tyler Greene started out hot, but has cooled considerably to a .250/.286./.344 line and Brendan Ryan has barely got off the ground with a .222/.222/.300 line in 9 at bats.
Take My Hand and We’ll Make it I Swear
The conversion that is working out well is Joey Bombs (a.k.a. Marshall Joe Mather) and third base. He’s taking full hold of his opportunity (and he’s gonna never let it go, oh!). Mather is acting like he’s allergic to walks with his .313/.316/.563 line, but he’s slugging the ball well and playing a pretty good third base. He can do a passable impersonation of Glaus until he returns, and is a great right handed bat off the bench. As long as he doesn’t take a huge slide the rest of the way, he’s most likely going to be starting at third base on opening day.
Once upon a time not so long ago
Remember when we had a dominant Cy Young award winning pitcher at the top of our rotation? Chris Carpenter seems to have found his stuff with 8 IP, O ER, 2K, 3BB, 4 H over the start of spring training. Yes, that is a 0.00 ERA in 8 innings (with a WHIP of less than 1.00). We’ve still got a long way to go before anointing him completely healthy, but he is my bold prediction for 2009.
The Redbird Blog had his turn at the UCB (United Cardinal Bloggers) roundtable this week and asked for the group’s bold predictions for 2009. (Head over to his blog to see everyone’s predictions). My prediction was that Chris Carpenter will start 30+ games this year and garner Cy Young votes. Everyone keeps talking about Carp pitching around 15-25 games this year, but I think he has the same chances as the rest of our staff to pitch the entire year. I actually believe Carp has less risk than Wellemeyer this season. Wellemeyer’s substantial increase in innings pitched is a big red flag to me and cause for more concern.
Carpenter has looked great in spring training. elbow injuries are different than shoulder, and this is the reason we look at the Cardinals “injury reclamation projects” in such a negative light. None of his injuries seem to have the carryover effect when shown to be healthy (unlike Mark Mulder or Matt Clement). We’ve been burned before for getting our hopes up, but his injuries are different and cause for greater optimism.
We’ll give it a shot
I predict the Cardinals will go 92-70 this year with a Wild Card birth. That’ s probably optimistic, but if injuries don’t kill this team, I think it will be good. Our opening day lineup will be:
Molina (C) (Age 27 season, he’s going to make a big leap this year)
Image provided by Dustin Mattison