After growing up in St. Louis, it’s been quite a unique experience living in Springfield, Missouri…home to the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate. It’s like seeing the future unfold before my eyes. I saw Colby Rasmus hit a walk-off homerun in a playoff game in 2007. I saw Jaime Garcia mow down the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup during a late spring exhibition game at Hammons Field. Both of those players clearly had a legitimate change at a future in the big leagues.
And then there’s Jon Jay.
Jay is hands down my favorite Springfield Cardinal of all time, and frankly it’s hard to put my finger on it as to why that is. He’s not flashy and doesn’t hit for power. He isn’t a speedster on the base paths, and he’s not an RBI machine. His average numbers in a full minor league season were a .300 avg., 8-10 homeruns, and about 45-50 RBIs.
He stands a shade less than six feet, and weighs in right at 200 pounds. Despite being a fan, I never envisioned that he’d one day make it to the big leagues, much less as a member of the Cardinals’ organization. When he was called up to Triple-A Memphis is 2008, my exact reaction was “I guess someone up there got hurt.”
But Jay has two wildly redeeming qualities that kept him in the big leagues for 105 games last year. First, the kid can hit. He started off hitting in the neighborhood of .400 in his first couple weeks in the bigs before eventually checking in at .300 for the year. He had nearly 300 at bats, so his average was legit. Secondly, the guy has “it.” I know, so cliché. But he does. How else can you explain his early success on a Tony LaRussa ball club? LaRussa, you might recall, pretty much despises young players, even ones with talent. About the only exceptions I can think of are Yadier Molina (a perennial Gold Glover) and Albert Pujols (who wouldn’t have even made Tony’s 2001 squad out of Spring Training had it not been for an injury to Bobby Bonilla.
That’s why I’m really anxious to see what’s in store for Jay. We know Matt Holliday is going to see 150+ games in left, but the other two outfield spots are, shall we say, flexible? Lance Berkman, even if his health holds up, is probably looking at 100 starts max in right field, and a looming role as pinch-hitter in the other games. Colby Rasmus still gets the kids gloves by Tony. He won’t see a start vs. a lefty, and will get benched in other curious scenarios, I’m sure.
In other words, Jon Jay will get every opportunity to see as much time, if not more, than he got last season. The question is: will he keep hitting? If he can avoid the sophomore slump, he could set himself up for a bright future in the big leagues. He’s got a ton of potential and is a fun player to watch. He’s a guy people like to root for…and I’ll be rooting right along with the rest of the Cardinals fan base as number 15 steps onto the diamond for year two.