2014 St. Louis Cardinals Preview – Third Base
After putting on a post-season performance that’ll be remembered in St. Louis likely for the rest of its existence, David Freese had a terrific 2012 season, posting a .839 OPS and earning his first All-Star spot. He struggled heavily in 2013, though, posting an OPS+ barely above the league average, and he was downright abysmal in the post-season, recording more strikeouts (16) than hits (10). As a result, Cardinal management decided to give him a change of scenery, packaging him and Fernando Salas and shipping them to Anaheim for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.
13 Matt Carpenter
2013 stats – .318/.392/.481, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 3 SB, 6.6 WAR, All-Star, Silver Slugger, 4th in MVP voting
Now that Freese is gone, the man expected to take the starting job spent the bulk of the 2013 season at second base. In his second full year with the Cardinals, Carpenter established himself as a legitimate lead-off hitter, posting a .392 on-base percentage. Making the transition from second to third won’t be nearly as difficult as the move to second was, as Matt played his college career at third as well as the bulk of his minor league career (he has also started 50 games in the majors there).
Assuming he stays healthy, Carpenter should get the bulk of the starts at third. While he does hit better against righties (.329/.410/.487), his slash against lefties is more than respectable (.294/.353/.467).
Need some proof as to what Carpenter can do against lefties? Just remember what he did against the best pitcher in baseball this past October:
Not too shabby, I guess.
Last year Carpenter excelled at hitting balls into the gap, as he led the majors in doubles (not to mention hits and runs scored) with 55, which also set a Cardinals team record for left-handed hitters. While some of those may have been dribblers that sneaked past the first baseman, Carpenter also hits line drives at a high rate (27.3% last year; league average is about 20%). The year before that, his line drive rate was 23.8%, so if he can continue to build or at least maintain that rate, he should find success at a high level for the next few years.
Plus, his eyebrows.
Carpenter had above average power for a second baseman, but his move to third will actually make him below-average in terms of power. That’s not really an issue, though, as his main task as leadoff hitter (or two-hitter, if Bourjos takes over leadoff) is going to be get on base and/or move men over. As long as he can do that, coupled with the fact that he’s under team control for three years after 2014, he should have a vital role on this team for years.
33 Daniel Descalso
2013 stats – .238/.290/.366, 4 HR, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 6 SB, 0.1 WAR
With the signing of Mark Ellis, Jhonny Peralta, and the emergence of Kolten Wong, Daniel Descalso’s become a bit of a forgotten man, but he and the Cardinals managed to avoid arbitration, agreeing to a one-year, $1.29 million contract to serve as a utility player again.
Descalso’s been a supersub for most of his career (interestingly, though, he was the starter at second on Opening Day each of the past two seasons), and he provides a little more versatility than Peter Kozma, who still has one option year remaining.* Given this fact and the signing of Mark Ellis, it’s unlikely we’ll see Kozma on the Opening Day roster barring a spring training injury.
* – When a player’s added to the 40-man roster, he has three option years, which is a demotion to the minors from the majors. Each option year, he can be sent down or called up as many times as necessary. Once those three option years are up, then he can still be demoted to the minors from the majors, but he must then pass through waivers, at which point another team can claim him.
The general consensus is that Patrick Wisdom is by far the best prospect at third. Wisdom was one of three third basemen picked early in the 2012 draft, along with Stephen Piscotty and Carson Kelly, but Piscotty was converted to an outfielder, where he’s established himself as a top prospect, and it was announced this offseason that Kelly would be moving behind the plate.
Wisdom split time between A and high-A ball last year, hitting 15 home runs and driving in 73, but his slash line (.235/.313/.401) was still pretty low. The good news is he’s still just 22 and has some time to develop.