The scene at third base for the Cardinals has been an ever changing one in recent years. It was one they addressed in multiple ways over the past five years, by drafting two collegiate third basemen in the past 4 first rounds, and trading for another. The one that was acquired via traded panned out for the best, and now David Freese has become the clear long-term preference at spot.
However, the club is aware that the page will turn on even him soon enough, and have recently once again focused heavily on upgrading the position within the organization. What does this mean for the team, both now and moving ahead?
Majors: Freese has stepped up to become one of the main bricks in the foundation of the organization. His postseason heroics in 2011 pushed him up a notch on baseball’s radar, and he responded in kind with his first All-Star appearance last season. Biggest difference in his performance was that he stayed healthy across a full season to post the type of numbers he was capable of all along. He played in a career-high 144 games a year ago, and posted career bests in over eight categories along the way. The 29-year-old is under control via arbitration for another two seasons, and if he remains healthy, will be the mainstay through his prime.
Matt Carpenter (who basically seems like the fallback option at every position on the team) rose through the system at the hot corner is a very credible back up option. At age 27 however, his best years and Freese’s will occur simultaneously, thus the desire to try his hand (and bat) in other more available roles. Daniel Descalso is also capable of spending time there if needed. He made 61 starts at the position in 2011 filling in while Freese missed time due to a fractured hand.
High Minors: Moving to Memphis, there’s no true next of kin on deck. That distinction belonged to Zack Cox, the club’s 2010 first round pick, until last season when he was exchanged for Edward Mujica at trade deadline. Moving down to the Double-A, the same story carries over; there was no real prospect that is moving through the system that has a potential future impact in St. Louis. The idea could be that Stephen Piscotty, who has moonlighted in right field but played third in his debut last year at Quad Cities at the High-A level.
Low Minors: The lower rungs of the minors show where the franchise is starting to plan for the future at the position, as it is one of the positions most heavily focused on in recent years. In addition to Piscotty, the club took two more third basemen in the last spring’s draft in Patrick Wisdom and high schooler Carson Kelly. Both were included in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10 prospects for the organization this season. Wisdom hit .282 in short season Batavia in his pro debut as a 20 year old, while Kelly hit nine homers in 56 games at Rookie level Johnson City.
Prognosis: While there is a bit of a gap from Major League level down to the next wave of talent at the position, the organization’s succession plan is clear. In the next three seasons, Freese will likely continue to be option A in St. Louis, with Carpenter in tow in some capacity as well potentially. The club used the 2012 Draft to provide plenty of long-term options over the next half decade to succeed Freese in St. Louis, or at the very least, work into a role with the Cardinals in a capacity such as Carpenter has over the last two years.