A question recently posed to me has led to some further questions. As we entered 2009, the depth in the outfield was lauded as one of the real strengths for the team. With Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan, Ryan Ludwick and upcomer Colby Rasmus. It was hard to envision a scenario in which we didn’t have a productive fly catching crew.
Obviously, they all contributed to a certain disappointment of expectations. Ankiel showed an inability to hit anything that wasn’t a straight fastball, Chris Duncan was a shell of his former bad fielding self, Ryan Ludwick regressed considerably and Colby Rasmus failed to breakout in a spectacular way. Rightly or wrongly, the combination of tepid results led to some frustration with the outfield. The collapse of several minor league outfielders (notably Jon Jay and Daryl Jones) further eroded the perceived depth from the beginning of the season.
Fast forward to 2010 and the Cardinals find themselves with a continuation of that “problem” heading into 2010. With Colby Rasmus and Matt Holliday occupying two spots for the long term and Ryan Ludwick occupying RF for 2010, there’s a limited number of outfield at bats that can be claimed by a farm product. With a plethora of lackluster options, the Cardinals are looking to have a very crowded outfield in Memphis this year.
The three most likely candidates to wind up with the major league club would seem to be Allen Craig, Joe Mather and Jon Jay. The decision making process starts with Mather. If his wrist is healthy and the organization thinks that he can capably handle centerfield, he makes the most sense for the club as a spot starter for Rasmus, Albert Pujols and some David Freese insurance. If the Cardinals take a closer look at defense, Jon Jay would seem to be the most likely candidate as a light-hitting but (according to TotalZone Rating metric) excellent fielder. Alternately, Allen Craig offers the most potential as a bat off the bench.
Beyond those three, there’s a duo of prospect zombies in Shane Robinson and Nick Stavinoha. Neither off them project as anything more than replacement level and that’s a generous assessment of their talent. The Cardinals have, historically, been more apt to err on the side of prospect caution awarding at bats to the player that isn’t in their long term plans in order to keep him for the short term (see Jarrett Hoffpauir-Daniel Descalso, 2009).
Having already accumulated four players for the Memphis outfield, Daryl Jones and Tyler Henley seem slotted for a return to Springfield. The 2009 performance by Jones would certainly warrant another go around at Double A. Henley, however, seems to be catching the short end of the stick after posing a .303/.367/.482 line during 473 PAs last year. While Daryl Jones still seems inexplicably young — he’ll be just 23 this June — relative to the time we’ve been drooling over his athleticism, Tyler Henley is no spring chicken turning 25 this June. The Cardinals proclivity to use older “rookie” players (Freese, Mather, Schumaker) has been notable in recent years but whether it’s an aberrant sample or some kind of a trend is unknowable.
The 2010 outfield in the upper minors seems to be shaping up as a crowded one once again. Hopefully, it’s a more productive one than it proved itself to be in 2009.