The next two posts are inspired by this Lboros comment on the lengthy VEB post I penned yesterday:
completely agree, AZ. with Westbrook, Berkman, and Theriot, they’re adding $20 million in payroll without solving the team’s most pressing problem
-- the infield. it’s still full of question marks and stands a good chance of requiring midseason intervention for the third year in a row
It’s not a secret that the middle infield was a huge problem for the Cardinals last year. Their two primary middle infielders — Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan — posted wOBAs that valued their offense at 7.5 and 23.8 runs below average respectively. With the bat, these two cost the Cardinals 3 wins on paper. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
The issue, as Lboros saliently pointed out, is that they Cardinals continue to struggle with how to solve this problem. After Edgar Renteria’s departure in 2004, the team signed David Eckstein to shortstop on a three year deal. Following Eckstein’s contract, Cesar Izturis was given a season at shortstop with disastrous results. Brendan Ryan has been the primary if not everyday shortstop for two years running. The Cardinals have never gotten an average OPS (OPS+ = 100) from the position since Renteria’s departure.
Second base has been just as much of a conundrum. Schumaker managed to crack the average OPS barrier in 2009 (102 OPS+) but played atrocious defense his first year at the position and saw his offense plummet in 2010. The Cardinals have cycled unceremoniously through stop gap second basemen since the good years of Fernando Vina (which, to be fair, were also followed by the bad years of Fernando Vina): Bo Hart, Tony Womack, Mark Grudzielanek, Aaron Miles and Adam Kennedy. Skip Schumaker was converted to second base to try and cover for the farm systems continued inability to produce a middle infielder.
So who have the Cardinals drafted in the middle infield in recent years. We’ll take a look after the jump at all the middle infielders the team has drafted in the Luhnow era (2005 – present).
The Cardinals obviously hoped from more for Tyler Greene. Drafted in the first round, Greene has begun to put himself in the backup middle infielder conversation after multiple stops at Memphis. He continues to struggle to make contact and his defense can be erratic though he is generally considered a plus defender.
The dearth of infield prospects from 2005 & 2006 makes 2007 look like there was a concerted effort to correct. Selecting three middle infielders, the Cardinals looked to address an obvious deficit within the system. To date, those picks look marginal at best with Descalso having the potential to be a fringe everyday starter though more likely a bench player.
The Cardinals select a pair of players that don’t project to the middle infield in the 2008 draft. In 2009, they grabbed a slick fielder with a weak bat and another player who was questionable to stick at his position. While I’ve been impressed with Jackson in the past, the bat is truly anemic.
If anything, 2010 reminds me of the 2007 draft. The Cardinals go back to the high school corps to find a raw athlete that they can mold into an everyday player at short. Tuivailala is nothing if not raw and some have suggested that he’ll have to move to third but the Cardinals will have the chance to form him within their player development system.
The real problem that I see with the table above is the huge misses in 2005 and 2007 with Tyler Greene and Pete Kozma. I won’t try to dissect whether those misses lie at the feet of the drafters or the minor league coaches but two first round picks that don’t look like they’ll even make the majors is problematic for an organization that wants to build from within. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some of the options the Cardinals passed on that, in hindsight, may be questionable.