The only position the St. Louis Cardinals and general manager John Mozeliak knew would be unsettled for certain entering spring training was second base. And now nearly a month later, it is a situation that is still sorting itself out. However, it’s not doing so because of injury or lack of options, rather it is doing so because of the positive performance of the three primary players in the picture. Matt Carpenter has made a smooth transition to the position in the field, while incumbent Daniel Descalso has risen to the occasion with at bat to justify his already superb glove work.
All the while, top prospect Kolten Wong has put up a consistent effort that has even further solidified the fact that his second baseman of the future tag is legit. Yet there are still questions to be considered, mainly who will see the majority of the play at the position in 2013, as well as what is in the system beyond just Wong. Is there true depth, or just a few name recognition properties? And how does this project the three-to-five year picture at a position the team has long struggled to have a consistent presence at?
St. Louis: The position entered the spring has a question mark, and has quickly turned into a win-win proposition. Both Descalso and Carpenter have performed well at the position, and have made a legitimate time split at the position a strong possibility this year. Carpenter has hit over .400 in the spring, while showing a consistent glove and throwing ability at his new position. Descalso on the other hand has stayed consistent in the field while making some adjustments to his swing that has seen him hit .292 through 16 games thus far in camp.
With both in the fold there is a chance for a variety of dominoes to go into play because of what having one or the other in the everyday lineup means. Carpenter has an impact at third and first base, as well as the outfield. He was the team’s best regular bench bat a year ago, and putting him in the everyday lineup does change both the versatility of the club off the bench, both in the field and at the plate. With Descalso in reserve, it gives the club a viable defensive upgrade in late game situations across the infield.
Yet moving ahead, the distinction of Cardinal second baseman most likely doesn’t involve either in a full-time capacity, as Wong has begun to make it clear his established role as middle infielder solidifier is legit.
High Minors: Wong will open the season at Triple-A Memphis despite a strong effort this spring thus far in Major League camp. He has swung the bat at a .292 clip through 16 spring games, and has displayed the range of talents that could make him factor into the picture by late in the summer. Whether he is pushed through to St. Louis this year before September has as much to do with his play (which has been an even .300 through his first two pro seasons) as it does with how the Carpenter/Descalso split works out. Getting him regular at-bats is an established point of emphasis for the team, as is continuing to evolve his defense.
After Wong, the system gets a bit more questionable at second base. Jose Garcia could factor into the picture every day at Springfield. The 24-year-old hit .260 while splitting time behind Wong and Greg Garcia at Double-A Springfield last summer.
Low Minors: Breyvic Valera reached Springfield last year after playing the majority of the year at Low-A Batavia, where he hit .316 for the year as a 19 year old. He could either play ahead at Springfield again this season, or start at High A Peoria this spring. In addition to him, the presence of Starlin Rodriguez (.315 average at Palm Beach in 2012), Ildemaro Vargas (.314 average across Rookie to High-A a year ago) and 10th round pick Jacob Wilson all will factor into the picture at the lower levels of the organization this season at second.
Prognosis: It’s an interesting situation developing at second base in the organization currently. While the lower minor league rungs of are sorting themselves out now with the ascension of Wong nearly complete, it is a position that definitely has both a secure future plan that is playing out as consistently as could be hoped.
With Carpenter potentially providing an everyday boost to the lineup offensively and Descalso being a plus defender, there is a real chance for Mike Matheny to “ride the hot hand” at second this season. In the immediate, Carpenter has continued to hit at his expected level, and the fact he has taken to the position so quickly in the field may be giving him the edge currently. But the plus that Descalso gives in the field cannot be taken lightly, especially in the light of Rafael Furcal being permanently out of the equation. The insertion of Wong into the St. Louis scene by next spring (at the very latest) assures that the second base role in St. Louis, as well as the domino rally created from it, is far from over.