I wasn’t sure what I was going to see when I went to Springfield. I had a lot of names on my list to see. The level of talent was better than I expected. So let’s get down to the details.
(Note: Based on the length of the post, I decided to split it into two parts. Too much to discuss at one time. The pitchers will be available in a post on Wednesday.)
I’m not sure I can restrain myself in describing Matt Carpenter. He has the best plate approach of any minor league player in the Cardinals farm system that I’ve seen since Jeff Luhnow took over the drafts. If you think that he’s got a good approach because he draws a lot of walks, you’d be right but only partially so. It misses the bigger picture of why Carpenter is going to be a successful player in the long run. It’s the finer aspects of what he does that have me so excited.
Carpenter isn’t afraid to watch the first pitch. He doesn’t swing at bad pitches. He’ll swing at the occasional breaking ball but they’re usually good breaking balls. He’s not swinging at garbage in the dirt. When he does swing, he’s swinging at something that’s hittable. I cannot recall a single bad swing he took the entire weekend. Literally.
Now, having acknowledged that he has a tremendous strength in his plate approach, there are two areas that are questionable right now. The first is his power output. I don’t see much in the way of HR power here. He’s not going to be someone who will hit 20 HRs in a year. He’s a 10-15 guy for me with good not great gap power. The positive is that he’s not a slap hitter. More advanced pitchers aren’t just going to start blowing things by him.
The second questionable area is his defense. I can understand why there might be some concerns within the organization here especially with his throwing motion. He’s got a strong arm but there’s something odd about the way he throws from third. His transitions from glove to hand could use some work. The reactions at third are good (couple of nice picks on hard hit balls during the three games). At 25, I’m not sure that he’s ever going to be more than he is now defensively but he should be at least average.
Physically, Carpenter is tall and lanky. He’s not bulky but he’s by no means a pip squeak.
Overall, if you were excited by the statistics to date, I think you’re justified. The plate approach is masterful and I hope the organization does nothing to try and change him in that regard. I’d like him as more of a number two style hitter who can get on base at a good clip but won’t necessarily hit for a lot of power. He’s a table setter for me but a very good one.
Two Random Notes: 1) He doesn’t hit with batting gloves. It’s a bit odd. 2) He had some awesome walk-up music but I can’t figure out what song it was.
The second hitter of note from the weekend was Tommy Pham. He’s been something of a tease this year with great spring training numbers and then he fell apart while playing in Palm Beach. His statistics since being promoted to Springfield have been very good.
The first thing you’ll see when you watch Pham is the athleticism. Defensively, he stole the show on Friday night. He made a leaping catch at the wall to end the seventh inning. After staying down for long enough to make me nervous, he got up and went to the dugout. Earlier in that inning, he threw a ball in from deep centerfield to home — 1 hop, a couple feet up the first base line. It was a bullet. His arm strength was on display throughout the weekend.
He’s got the speed to make up for other aspects of his defense. He’s a well above average runner. I was left with the impression that he doesn’t always get a good first read on the ball. His first movement often seemed a little tentative but he makes the play. (He had a slick stolen base off a lefty pitcher in Saturday’s game in the first inning.)
Offensively, I’d characterize him as a little raw. He’s got quick wrists. The swing is pretty with good loading of the hands and staying back on the ball. He uses the lower body torque to his advantage and he could have some future power that is still developing. The pitch recognition seemed like it was a work in progress as well.
Summary: Pham is still more potential than actualized talent at this point but the latent ability is there. He’s got the defensive chops to be a centerfielder and a bat that needs a little more refinement but should play at higher levels.
- Pete Kozma – His swing on Friday was . . . bad. He has a tendency to let his hands get ahead of his lower body rotation, which leads to some weak, flailing-type hitting. It also makes him susceptible to breaking pitches because he doesn’t stay back and commits too early. Saturday and Sunday this was far less apparent but I wasn’t terribly enamored of his swing. He did hit a monster homerun. The swing looked different than I recall from 2009 — a bit more of an uppercut — so I can see him generating some power from it. Still a work in progress at the plate.
Defensively, I just don’t see how anyone can think he’s a good shortstop. I saw him take bad first steps, bobble glove-to-hand transitions, lose focus on easy plays, etc. (Re: the mental aspect of the game — he also got caught in a stupid run down during Sunday’s game but managed to escape.) His range at shortstop is good but everything else seemed like it was a mess.
- Andrew Brown – Medium build. Has the athleticism to play in right field though no great shakes out there. He’s not like other 1B to outfield transitions the org has tried previously (Mark Hamilton, I’m looking at you.) The bat is good not great. Reminds me a little bit of Allen Craig but the raw power isn’t quite there. I’m skeptical he’s got enough bat to be a corner outfielder in the majors. Fringe prospect for me.
- Aaron Luna – Same kind of scenario as Brown. Good speed, weak outfield arm. If I questioned Brown’s bat, Luna’s seems even less likely to play at the majors as a corner outfielder. There’s just not enough power or secondary skills there (unless you consider HBP to be a repeatable skill – he’s been pegged nearly 50 times in the last 2 years).
- Xavier Scruggs – Someone should give him shoes that aren’t encased in cement. He had zero lateral movement at first base. The swing looks long to me. Pitch recognition was shoddy at best. The power is very real though. I just question whether he’s going to be able to keep up with the better breaking balls at the next level.
- Jose Garcia – Garcia has never met a breaking ball he wouldn’t swing at.
- Daryl Jones – Conspicuous in his absence, he played CF after Tommy Pham departed due to being struck on the hand by a pitch. Jones looks good in the field — he’s fast with a strong arm — but I can only describe his demeanor as disinterested and listless. I’m loathe to play armchair psychologist so take that with a grain of salt.
HR Distances & DFR links:
August 13th - Pham, 3rd Inning, 395 ft, LF; Scruggs, 4th Inning, 427 ft, LCF; Pham, 8th inning, 330 ft, LF line
August 14th – Kozma, 2nd Inning, 419 ft, LF; Carpenter, 5th Inning, 370 ft
August 15th – Scruggs, 7th Inning, 397 ft