March 11, 2013
The Battle for the Keystone
Spring training is a time for preparation and position battles, but it is also a prime opportunity for players to showcase new skills. Today’s Roundup features a trio—two position players and one pitcher—that has been doing just that.
Cardinals, Padres impressed with second-base candidates’ defensive progress
Since then, general managers John Mozeliak and Josh Byrnes have crafted similar plans in their efforts to address the position: Instead of finding a natural second baseman that does not hit like a typical second baseman, the Cardinals and Padres decided to throw quality hitters into keystone waters and see if they can swim. Now, after a brief period of nail biting, they might be ready to take away their kickboards.
Matt Carpenter, who played five different positions for first-year manager Mike Matheny in 2012, made just five of his 116 appearances and only two of his 73 starts at second base. But, the 26-year-old amassed a .294/.365/.463 triple-slash line in 340 plate appearances, and even with Allen Craig and David Freese entrenched at the infield corners, the Cardinals struggled to justify keeping him out of the everyday lineup going forward. From there came the plan to work Carpenter out at second base, a position at which his 828 OPS would have ranked third only to Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill, had he played it full-time last year.
MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch spoke with Matheny over the weekend about the Carpenter-at-second experiment, and learned that the skipper’s confidence in the former utility man is growing. Matheny specifically mentioned Carpenter’s improvement on double-play turns, which was on display in Sunday’s game, per a tweet from St. Louis-area radio host B.J. Rains. And, earlier in the weekend, Matheny’s comments prompted our own Jason Martinez to move Carpenter into his projected starting lineup for the Cardinals, even though the manager insisted that no plans have yet been finalized.
Carpenter’s primary competitor for the job is Daniel Descalso, who also hits left-handed, but whose greatest asset is the glove, as evidenced by his .240 TAv and +5.2 FRAA last year. The Cardinals could employ a timeshare at the position—thereby taking advantage of Carpenter’s versatility similar to the way that the Rays utilize Ben Zobrist—but if they choose to go with a one-man show, then the decision will come down to a tradeoff between seldom-seen offense and coveted defense.