A roster full of talented outfielders for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds combined with a mediocre – at best – start by the St. Louis Cardinals outfielders has led to cries in Cardinal Nation for the reinforcements to make their debuts much the same way rookie pitchers did a year ago.
The Cardinals have resisted that temptation, however, and have instead opted for short-term fixes to try to bridge a yet-to-be-defined gap to when the likes of Allen Craig, Jon Jay or Peter Bourjos start to hit better.
So they called up right-handed power hitter and first baseman/corner outfielder Joey Butler on Friday with designs to use him primarily in pinch-hitting situations, not far different than the role current St. Louis first baseman Matt Adams filled in his first two seasons with the team as a part-time player.
Butler will make his Major League Baseball debut after a 31-game start in Memphis when he hit .360, fifth-best in the Pacific Coast League, with four home runs and 20 runs batted in.
He will replace Randal Grichuk, who was the first Memphis outfielder to get the coveted call to St. Louis. Grichuk projects as an everyday outfielder in the long term, and his 21 at-bats in nine games since he joined the team April 28 have not done much to enhance his development.
Grichuk has played fine defensively, but he hit .143 with no home runs and one RBI while with the Cardinals after he had batted at a .310 clip with three homers and 17 RBIs in regular playing time in 21 games at Memphis.
Grichuk, along with Memphis teammates Stephen Piscotty and Oscar Taveras, is in the pipeline to be outfielders for a long time in St. Louis. They have combined for a .307 batting average with 10 home runs and 61 RBIs through the team’s first 34 games, and their RBIs account for 35 percent of the team’s total run production.
Those numbers look particularly juicy compared to the .248 batting average and 21 combined home runs Cardinals hitters have produced thus far, but the baseball season still has more than four-and-a-half months and more than 125 games left to play.
Shoot, the season has not yet reached the quarter pole and yet the production from the Memphis outfielders has fans ready to make sweeping changes to the roster.
Cardinals management is smarter than that, which is why they chose to bring Butler to the big-league level and leave the other highly touted prospects in the minors, for now.
Grichuk, Piscotty and Taveras will each get their chances to play in the big leagues at some point, and maybe someday they will comprise the entire outfield on a regular basis at Busch Stadium.
But for now, Butler brings the possibility of some much-needed power manager Mike Matheny can call on late in games to try to score multiple runs with one or two hits rather than the three it has typically taken the Cardinals to get just one this season.
No, Butler is not the dazzling prospect people around baseball want to see make their debut this season, but he is the right fit for the Cardinals in mid-May.
It’s these types of decisions that keep the Cardinals largely out of the headlines around baseball early in the season but give them the large, boldface print in October.