This article was written before confirmation from D. Goold. As always, a tip o’ the hat to cardsfan1.
The breaking news from our scoop specialist is that Shane Robinson has been called up from Memphis — cardsfan1 has a long and accurate history of being a step ahead of the mainstream reporting on this so I’m expecting this to come to fruition. This puts the 40-man roster at 39 and marks another debut (Rasmus, Freese, Walters) from the Cardinals’ farm system this year. This is what Jeff Luhnow has been trying to build and the approach we’ve been advocating here for some time. The farm supplements your needs as well (or better) than just a random scrap heap player in the best of circumstances. But is this the best of circumstances?
Robinson started garnering serious attention last year in Springfield when he hit for a .352 average and a .887 OPS. Those are some pretty slick numbers and he had the line drive rate (25%) and power spike (.144 ISO) to indicate that they weren’t all smoke and mirrors. He’s doing much of the same this year with a similar power increase (.128 ISO) and hitting .345 in his short season thus far.
Two problems: 1) That ignores everything else he’s done in the minors and 2) we’ve seen this before.
Shane played in 2006 and 2007 as well posting OPS-es of .678 and .671 at Quad Cities and Palm Beach. My favorite line (thank you Joe Strauss) is that Robinson has occasional power. That’s laughable when you look over the course of 900 ABs and career totals of 9 HRs, 9 triples and 41 doubles. Those numbers don’t represent a player who hits the ball hard. When Colby Rasmus spent 2007 in Springfield, he hit 37 doubles, 3 triples and 29 HRs. Robinson doesn’t have occasional power, he has microscopic power.
While Robinson’s LD rate in 2008 supports the impressive .352 batting average, that’s not the case this year. He’s hitting more groundballs than ever and only 10% line drives. The two stops where Robinson has posted an OPS over .700 he’s had BABIPs of .398 and .388 — that’s not going to continue. A player with little power is going to struggle to not have balls blown past him in the majors. Robinson is a contact hitter with little power and very low walk rates. If he stops making contact or can’t get the ball out of the infield, he’s screwed offensively.
Defensively, things are a little more optimistic. Robinson has, by most reports, a good glove and can play a true centerfield. That’s an asset for late inning replacements, which is exactly how Robinson should be (although who know how TLR will handle it) employed. With Colby Rasmus already taking over centerfield duties and being the superior player and prospect in every meaningful way compared to Robinson, playing Robinson as more than a late inning Chris Duncan substitute is a bad decision.
The second point was that we’ve seen this kind of spike in performance previously. In 2007, Jarrett Hoffpauir watched his power climb and his numbers inflate on a 60-point BABIP fluke. Hoffpauir is Robinson writ infield. Limited power, contact hitter (though better walk rates) who wasn’t really on any scouts radar until he posted some gaudy unexpected stats. Of course, the power dissipated again and Hoffpauir has found himself behind the likes of Schumaker and Thurston in Spring Training. Hoffpauir and Robinson are great fallback guys to have in AAA but it’s not someone you want to see (really even on the bench) for extended periods of time with a contending team.
The Cardinals hand is forced in this decision. The top prospects in AAA are all hitting like 6 year old girls. . .if those 6 year old girls all had the H1N1 influenza. Joe Mather (.394 OPS), Jon Jay (.612 OPS), Bryan Anderson (.704 OPS), David Freese (.708 OPS) and Nick Stavinoha (.718 OPS) have done nothing to muscle their way past the diminutive Robinson for a callup. The only player who could make a contention there is Allen Craig with a .820 OPS. I don’t think this is necessarily the right time to call up Craig since it’s probably a 10 day cup of coffee and I’d rather the Cardinals burn an option on a more fungible prospect like Robinson than someone that, I believe, has a bat that can play long term in the majors but might not be quite ready. Craig would be an ideal callup if the Cardinals decide to finally ditch the 4 middle infielder roster construction but for a two week time span, Robinson makes sense as a more versatile player.
If this callup is for real and is a result of Rick Ankiel headed to the DL, the team deserves a huge kudos. Even if Rick thinks he can play in 3-4 days he’s fallen into a wall awkwardly (to say the least) twice in the span of a couple games. We’ve seen what happens when Ankiel tries to play through some injuries and it isn’t in his or the team’s best interest. A pat on the back for the much maligned, and rightfully so, medical staff and decision making process this time.
If this callup is for real and is a result of a pitcher being sent back down, at least we’re approaching sanity in the roster construciton again. Baby steps, people, baby steps.