The Arrival Of Nick Punto and Mark Hamilton

Over the weekend, the Cardinals realized they had a problem with the back end of their bullpen. The closer role needed a change and after four of five blown saves, that change is happening. In the midst of it all and lost in the shuffle, however, was the ailments haunting Skip Schumaker and Allen Craig.

Today, the Cardinals made the moves that no one was talking about Sunday. Outfielder-turned-second-baseman Skip Schumaker and outfielder Allen Craig will find their way to the disabled list and the roster spots will be filled by Mark Hamilton and Nick Punto.

Punto was a offseason acquisition to offset the loss of guys like Aaron Miles and Felipe Lopez. A utility infielder that plays three of the four infield spots, he is a defensive gem and an offensive liability. That being said, he is patient at the plate and sports a career on base percentage that is 74 points higher than his career batting average (.321/.247). Make no mistake, Punto is not here for his offensive production. Expect to see Punto late in games at short or second base, giving an added boost to the infield.

The surprising thing is that Punto is recovered and ready to be in St. Louis. Punto suffered a tear in his abdominal wall that required surgery that took place near the middle of spring training. He was expected to miss the entire month of April and at least part of May while on a rehab assignment to get back up to speed. With the current injuries, it seems the Cardinals feel the need to push forward a bit and activate the utility man a little early, giving St. Louis fans their first glimpse of him on this homestand.

Mark Hamilton is another story entirely though possibly equally surprising. Schumaker being supplemented by Punto makes some sense, Hamilton taking Craig’s spot does not. The twenty-six year old Hamilton has spent very little time in the outfield in his career and is a first baseman by trade. What he does replace very well, however, is Allen Craig’s bat. If there is one thing Hamilton has done well in the minors, it has been hit. A career .276 hitter over the course of six minor league seasons spent at all levels, he has hit 73 home runs and amassed 281 runs batted in. He produced a line of .298/20/62 over the course of 2010, including a short rehab assignment in Rookie Ball. Hamilton has shown a focus on patience so far this season with twelve walks to only seven strikeouts over thirty seven at bats. The left hander projects to primarily provide a bat off the bench for the Cardinals over the next few weeks.

Daniel Descalso projects to receive the bulk of the playing time in Schumaker’s absence. While he made his first major league start at second base this past weekend, it is in fact his natural position and it may be the opportunity for him to show the organization that he can perform at this level at that position. The common thought would be that Punto would pick up time at third when David Freese needed spelled and Descalso would be allowed to focus on second base until Schumaker is ready to return.

Many fans wondered why Adron Chambers and Nick Stavinoha were not called up ahead of Mark Hamilton. In my opinion (be it right or wrong), with the injuries sustained at Memphis over the weekend, outfield depth is a problem in the organization. Chambers is in fact on the forty man roster, but would benefit from consistent time at Memphis over spot starts in St. Louis. In addition, Jon Jay will continue to see playing time that he seems to be proving he deserves at this point. Satvinoha is a subject that is complex and challenging for the organization. He is not on the forty man roster, meaning that he would need to be added while another player would need to be exposed to waivers. While that challenge would be something the team could explore, when the time came for Schumaker or Craig to come off the disabled list, Stavinoha would have to be sent back down. Sending him down would not just require him to clear waivers, it would grant him free agency if he so desired. That may not be something the Cardinals are willing to risk with a player that has been working out at the catcher position this season and may be working towards becoming a reasonably priced back up to Yadier Molina in the near future.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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