2012 Preview: Second Base

Second base looks to be one of the more interesting positions in 2012. The perceived incumbent, Skip Schumaker, is looking at more of a utility role than in years past while both Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene have been mentioned as potential starters by Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak. It certainly looks to be the only real positional battle for the Cards entering spring training and it will be one that will have clearly defined battle lines.

Greene, 28, is one of the most polarizing young Cardinals. In fact, a few of us bloggers were discussing him on Twitter today. A few thinking he is the breakout Cardinal of the year while myself and a couple others still question just what type of player he is.

A former first round pick, most of the interest in Greene has been created by the numbers he’s put up the last three years in the minor leagues. What happened three years ago, he turned 25, the age where you start taking the “prospect” tag away from a minor league player. If he hasn’t shown up by then, will he ever? Going into the 2009 season, Greene’s career line in the minor leagues was a paltry .254/.323/.414. His defense is below average at what people would call his “natural position,” short stop.

However, the last three seasons, he has been back and forth between St. Louis, disappointing in his time with the big league club, but killing the ball in Memphis. Since 2009 his career minor league line is .295/.373/.495. Is that him finally figuring it out and just failing to cope with the pressure at the big leagues under Tony La Russa, or can it be attributed to him simply having more experience than many of the players he is competing against?

With Mozeliak saying that the team wants to get a good look at Greene this season, second base seems like the most likely option for him, despite talk that he looked awkward playing the position last season (and that they kept him at short stop in Memphis while moving another first-round pick Pete Kozma to second base). There is a prevailing belief that the second base job is Greene’s to lose.

With his career major league line of .218/.307/.313, it’s safe to say he might have trouble capitalizing on the opportunity. After having been shuttled back and forth now for three years, Greene has to make the major league club because they have to expose him to waivers to send him back to the minor leagues. There will be another team willing to give him an opportunity to play. Because of that, he’s a virtual lock to make the roster.

Early in the offseason, it was Daniel Descalso who was listed as a possible starting second baseman. At 25 years old, Descalso made an impact for the Cardinals last year, putting up a line of .264/.334/.353 while being David Freese’s late inning replacement at third base and taking time at short stop and second base. He performed so well at third base, that he was named a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award at third, despite playing just 666 innings there. Certainly a pat on the back for a job well done.

He also came up big in the offseason with a big hit in Game 6 of the World Series off a left handed pitcher that allowed the Cardinals to come back once again in a stunning victory to extend the series.

My fear for Descalso is that he isn’t ready for prime time as an everyday player. He hits .280/.347/.377 off of right handed pitchers and that is very respectable. However, you don’t want to run out his .190/.277/.241 line against left handed pitchers. I think his role will be best established as continuing his role from last season with a little more playing time in the middle infield.

Then we come to Skip Schumaker. An outfielder turned second baseman had some injury problems in 2011, limiting him to just 117 games played as he missed a chunk of time. However, it also proved to be his best year defensively at second base, I know, considering how bad he has been it’s not hard to do. But in a season where middle infield defense was so bad and an offseason where we wanted to get rid of Schumaker by any means necessary, he proved many people wrong as he finally turned the corner as a solid second baseman.

Unfortunately for Schumaker, it might be too late as he looks to be relegated to a fifth outfielder role as the only player other than Jon Jay who is likely to make a chunk of starts in center field.

Not only did Schumaker improve defensively last season, but he has started taking better at bats against left handed pitchers and is starting to get respectable platoon splits that could make him a viable everyday player.

There are also two long shot veterans in the mix as well as the Cardinals recently added Alex Cora and Eugenio Velez with minor league deals. Both have experience at second base and with a strong spring might find themselves in the mix, but the odds are slim and I think there would have to be major injuries in the middle infield for these guys to make the roster out of camp.

Last year’s first round pick, Kolten Wong, might be a dark horse candidate. After hitting .335/.401/.510 in Quad Cities last year, his bat is said to be fairly advanced and he should move through the minor leagues quickly. However, it’s more likely that he starts the season in Springfield and finishes it in Memphis than it is that he makes an impact in St. Louis. He’s definitely in the discussion for 2013, however.

With no real starter established, they’ve done a great job bringing in some depth at the position to compete for the opportunity. I don’t see Tyler Greene finally flipping the switch in St. Louis and I attribute his numbers to simply being more experienced than his fellow Triple-A players. Nick Stavinoha was amazing in Memphis last year, but teams weren’t knocking down his door to get him to come play for them when he was a free agent this past offseason. Why? Because he was 29, much older than your typical minor league player.

I do like Daniel Descalso to win the job out of spring training, but I expect Tyler Greene to get the job out of spring training. The team wants to see him get regular playing time and he’s a first round pick who will be given every opportunity to succeed so that they can justify the big bonus they gave him out of the draft. By May 1st, I expect to see Descalso fill the role though, but by midseason I think Schumaker will be getting the bulk of playing time there.

It will definitely be the most interesting thing to watch in spring training, no doubt. Ten days until pitchers and catchers report. Woo!