The Cardinals have struggled this year at shortstop. They’ve seen six different players accrue time at the shortstop position. Veterans Nick Punto, Ryan Theriot and now Rafael Furcal have all manned the key defensive position and farm products Pete Kozma, Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene have as well. Combined they have hit .255/.316/.330 and shown what could be generously described as porous defense.
The Cardinals will have some decisions to make as the year progresses and rosters expand in September. One such decision is whether to free Tyler Greene or not.
It’s impossible to talk about Greene without acknowledging that he’s now a 28 year old shortstop. He’s had chances to shine in the majors appearing in games in 2009, 2010 and again in 2011 for a combined major league line of .213/.303/.306 over 357 PAs. That thoroughly underwhelming line was combined with erratic defense that featured plus range but some unfortunate errors on routine plays.
For whatever reason — nerves, level of competition, etc – Greene looks like a vastly different player in the confines of Memphis and AAA. For three consecutive years he’s posted offensive statistics that are better than league average and his 1143 career PAs in AAA provide a line of .292/.370/.479 for a .849 OPS. It’s easy to brush aside numbers like that from an aged outfielder or a defensively challenged first base type. This, however, is a shortstop. This shortstop is currently hitting .337/.419/.611 with an improved walk rate and the best power output of his professional career.
I won’t make the case that Tyler Greene would set the world on fire. I’ll be the first to admit that I have prospect fatigue from the 2005 first round draft pick. I won’t even contend that he’ll be any good at shortstop in the majors. At this point, 9 games back of the Brewers, I don’t think that either of those things necessarily matter. If the possibility exists that Tyler Greene is a late bloomer or someone that needs to be in the lineup daily to see success, the Cardinals have every reason to pursue a more conclusive answer to that possibility.
Here’s three reasons why it won’t happen:
1) Rafael Furcal – The Cardinals traded Alex Castellanos for Furcal who has shown the capacity to adeptly field at short though still something of an anemic bat. The team traded for him to upgrade this season’s squad but, with an eye toward the future, there’s still some uncertainty for the 2012 shortstop position and Furcal’s potential to fulfill that. The club may be more intent on seeing what veteran Furcal has left in the tank than what Tyler Greene’s potential at age 28 may be.
2) The Rest of the Vets – One long running theme of the season has been a gaggle of middle infielders that were largely unable to differentiate themselves from one another. Playing Tyler Greene consistently at shortstop requires not only benching Furcal but reducing the playing time of guys like Ryan Theriot, Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso and Nick Punto. The ripple effect of Greene leads to benching a bunch of guys who have “put in their time” this year.
3) Utility Players – The coaching staff and front office seems more apt to view some of the prospects in the system as utility players than potential everyday players. They (and I’m not sure who exactly is making those calls) aren’t necessarily wrong. It’s not as if they’re confining a blue chip prospect to the merry-go-round of infield positions but rather guys like Descalso and, perhaps, Tyler Greene. The downside of this view for a player like Greene may be the lack of a consistent feel for his game. His defensive requirements and expectations changing on a regular basis rolling over into his offense. It’s not the wrong approach to take with prospects, but it might — just might — be the wrong approach to take with this prospect. That doesn’t mean he still won’t be utilized as a utility player.
When it’s all said and done, this September will ultimately be another insight into the club’s vision for the future. If they want a known, veteran squad moving forward, you expect more ABs to go to guys like Rafael Furcal. If you want to see what else your farm system can produce, then those ABs should be tabbed for one of the few impressive players in AAA right now.
The club has no contractual obligations to players like Ryan Theriot or Skip Schumaker moving forward. There is little need to keep them happy campers. If the team is going to evaluate it’s 2012 assets, Tyler Greene plays in September. If they want to dance with the ones that brought them (9 games out of first), expect more of the same.