2012 Preview: Third Base

David Freese had a spectacular postseason. He then had an amazing offseason that included a stop by Jay Leno’s show and presenting at the CMA Awards with Erin Andrews. The question will now be, can he put it all together, have the season everyone thinks he can have, and then take his place as one of the league’s premiere third basemen?

Of course, that’s what we asked last spring and unfortunately it only half happened. After starting the season hitting around .320, but missed 51 games after being hit by a pitch and breaking a bone in his left hand. It was the only derailment in 2011 for Freese who had ankle injuries force him from the lineup in both 2009 and 2010.

Thankfully for Freese and the Cardinals, Freese didn’t sustain any ankle injuries in 2011. Something that has allowed him to come into this season saying that his ankles feel better than ever. Hopefully that’s something that can continue.

In the end, Freese finished the season with a .297/.350/.441 line with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in the 97 games he did play. For the 28-year-old third baseman, that was just the beginning of the story of his 2011. As has been covered and will be covered for years to come, Freese lit up the NLCS with a line of .545/.600/1.091 and added 3 home runs and 9 RBI on his way to scoring the NLCS MVP award. He wasn’t going to stop there though.

In the World Series, Freese put up a line of .348/.464/.696 with 7 RBI. Though, he only hit 1 home run. Of course, that home run happened to be a walk-off winner in Game 6 that extended the series. He came alive in those final two games. Down to one more strike in the bottom of the 9th in Game 6 with the Rangers on the brink of clinching, he knocked a triple off the outfield wall for two RBI to tie up the game. If that wasn’t enough, he followed that up by leading off the bottom of the 11th with a solo shot to center field.

In Game 7 as the Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first off of Chris Carpenter, Freese would double in the bottom of the first for another two RBI to tie up the game again. In three ABs, he had two game-tying extra base hits and a game-winning home run. That might just be the best three consecutive at bats that could be assembled. The other emerging star of the World Series, Allen Craig would add a home run a couple innings later and that would prove to be the game winner.

As far as 2012, it seems a common question for the Cardinal is “Can he stay healthy?” Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, and David Freese are all the guys with potential health question marks going into the season.

For Freese, I think this is finally the year that he gets 140 games played. He’s going to show off a little bit of everything too. I see him putting up a line of .295/.355/.450 with 14 home runs and 85-90 RBI to boot. He will likely get bumped to fifth in the batting order this season, so he should easily eclipse his career averages in that department. Between that and his glove, he should settle in as one of the better third baseman in the National League.

On the bench

Last season it was Daniel Descalso who was the designated backup third baseman and often took over for Freese. If you’re wondering how well he did, just take a look at the finalists for the Gold Glove at third base. Descalso was among them. Though Descalso is expected to be in the mix for the second base job, he will most likely continue to be behind Freese on the imaginary depth chart. Mainly for the reason that there isn’t anyone else on the bench that can play third base as well as Freese or Descalso.

On the farm

If Freese can’t stay healthy and once again goes down with an injury, I think the most likely player to get the call is going to be Matt Carpenter. Carpenter put his name on the map for Cardinals’ fans with his amazing 2011 Spring Training performance where he pushed the roster for awhile before being sent to Memphis. Despite just 1 hit in 19 plate appearances during a brief appearance over the summer in St. Louis, Carpenter once again put together an excellent season in the minors, putting up a line of .300/.417/.463 in 130 games for the Redbirds. He would be the next starting option, in my opinion.

Then we settle on 2010’s first round draft pick Zack Cox. While his bat might be ready for advancement, his glove leaves plenty to be desired at third base. Last season he posted a .919 fielding percentage between Palm Beach and Springfield while hitting .306 with 13 home runs between the two as well. If he were to have put up a .919 fielding percentage at third base in 2011 in the major leagues, only Mark Reynolds would have been the worse third baseman. And Baltimore moved him to first base midway through the season because of his poor defense.

For now it looks like the organization has no intention of moving him to another position, partly because of the complications. They’ve mentioned second base as a potential destination for him, but with Kolten Wong (2011’s first round draft pick) coming through the system and looking like he will catch Cox this season in Springfield, it’s an unlikely destination. The best option would potentially be a move to a corner outfield position. But does he have the bat to stick there? I honestly don’t think so. I think it’d be in the Cardinals’ best interests to trade Cox as soon as possible while he still has good value and you haven’t exposed his potential lack of defensive ability anywhere else.