Of all positions in the Cardinals system, first base is perhaps the one that developed the most unexpectedly. While there was no need for a real succession plan due the long-term presence of Albert Pujols, and then Lance Berkman on the roster as well, it was a spot that could have left the team sorely in need of help. However, Allen Craig stepped up in both the wake of the departure of Pujols and injury issues of Berkman a year ago, and claimed it for his own. Fast forward a year later, and the position has both a long-term answer and yet another blooming talent at the MLB level in Matt Adams. But how will the future play out overall at the position? And will the surplus of talent lead to moves being made at spot, or will other issues make the team gun shy about jumping to any conclusions still?
St. Louis: Craig came into his own as a full-time player last season. In his second full season, he played in 119 games and hit .307. He entered the season as a sort of utility man to support Berkman, as well as Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran in the outfield, but due to the repeated injuries to Berkman, he made 83 starts at first base and the position was his permanently by late summer. The 29-year old finished third on the team in runs batted in, helped in part by a National League-best .400 batting average with runners in scoring position. The team made a 5-year $31 million dollar commitment to him in response to his 2012, which presented another interesting situation in what to do with prospect Matt Adams.
Adams, who has averaged 20 homers a year in his minor league career and was the organization’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2011, found himself on the big league roster coming out of the spring. He has shown prodigious power, but is a fish out of water due to first base being his only position with Craig blocking him there. For now, the 24-year old will continue to be a potential big impact bat and spot starter in case of rest or a trip to the outfield for Craig, but of any of the organization’s top prospect, he is the one with a future that seems most likely to be spent elsewhere.
High Minors: With Adams with the big club, there is nothing of particular emphasis at Memphis currently regarding first base. Brock Peterson is manning it currently, but career minor leaguer is more his path. Xavier Scruggs will return to Springfield as a 25 year old for a second consecutive year, and while he has shown consistent power during his five year rise through the system (20+ homers the past three years), he still hasn’t put much pressure on breaking into even Triple A yet.
Low Minors: There’s not a particularly emergent player at the lower levels of the minors at first currently either. Danny Steinstra (24) and Jonathan Rodriguez (23) are in a time split at the position at Palm Beach, while David Washington (22) is manning the corner the next step down in Peoria. None of the trio profiles as a solution much further along the minors based on past performance and advanced age for the level. Among the more developmental prospects in the lower level is Jeremy Schaffer, who hit 10 home runs and 20 doubles at Rookie level Johnson City in 2012 after being an 18th round pick last June. He will open at Low-A Peoria, but if the 20-year old continues along with the same production as his pro debut began with, he’ll quickly rise to be the best prospect at the position in the organization.
Synopsis: First base is a top heavy position for the Cardinals, where the best talent is already on display at the Major League-level. Craig and Adams are both the future, simultaneously, so something will have to give eventually. But neither is making it easy, Craig with his fresh long-term deal and penchant for driving in runs, and Adams with his epically long drives. Yet a decision will have to be made, and once it is, the system as it currently stands does not offer much follow up promise behind either. The positive thing is that neither HAS to go anywhere anytime soon, and that is a good for staying strong at the top, while building in the system.