April Grades: Position Players

I know it’s been awhile since I was able to add to the blog, it’s not for lack of desire, but more a lack of time. Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten a job, been working on finishing the projects at my internship, and my wife and I adopted a dog. Needless to say, there has been very little “routine” in our lives since the last blog post.

For the Cardinals, the last couple weeks have brought some changes. Lance Berkman hit the disabled list. Skip Schumaker and Allen Craig have returned. Erik Komatsu is now Designated for Assignment (DFA) and will likely get picked up on waivers or brought back by Washington. Chris Carpenter has yet to return to throwing after his neck injury in Spring Training.

With one month of the season in the books for the Cardinals, it’s time to hand out some early season grades for the team. Today will be a look at Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak and the offensive players on the roster. Tomorrow will look at the Cardinals’ coaching staff and the pitchers. Let’s dig in.

Each person will be assigned a letter grade. An “A” will be received when the player vastly exceeds his expectations. A “B” will be if they are slightly better than my expectations. A “C” for slightly lower. A “D” for falling. Then finally an “F” for a guy I think they really would be better off just releasing, and I don’t think I’ll have one of those. They will be in order of plate appearances.

GM John Mozeliak – It’s hard to know exactly what was expected for this years’ version of the Cardinals. With the World Series winner last year, expectations going into the offseason were high. However, with the retirement of Tony La Russa and the departure of Albert Pujols, those expectations had to be lowered a bit. He didn’t let the loss of La Russa and Pujols phase him. He went and hired a former player who has been regarded as having a huge potential as a manager and then he went and added Carlos Beltran for almost half the price of Pujols. Oh, and Beltran had a better slash line last year too. The team got off to a great start, something I felt was important. While there are still some complaints with the roster, he’s done an excellent job after losing a guy who isn’t just a franchise icon, but a baseball icon. Grade: A.

SS Rafael Furcal – Furcal was an okay addition for me. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t really hate it. At this point in his career, I figured that he is what he is. He was unimpressive last season for the Cardinals in the two months we had him, but he was just enough of an improvement with the glove that it helped stabilize that starting rotation again. This year, he’s off to a fast start. His April slash line was .315/.384/.427. Yep, that’ll work as a leadoff man. Grade: A.

LF Matt Holliday – Holliday is off to a surprisingly slow start this season. His slash line to begin the year is .215/.277/.376. That’s not winning any MVPs. Nor is it really enough for the #3 spot in the batting order. So what’s got Holliday down? Is it the pressure of hitting in the #3 spot? The pressure of being “the man” in St. Louis now? Just a typical slump? Injuries? I know he’ll figure it out and turn it around, and in the first few days of May, he has begun to show it too, but this is just for April. Grade: D.

RF Carlos Beltran – When it was announced, I hated the Beltran signing. Like Furcal, Beltran had an injury history. The difference between them was that Furcal solved a need. Beltran didn’t really. The team had Allen Craig waiting in the wings and I felt that the signing of Beltran was going to be like wearing a Band-Aid for two years because you got a little cut. To his credit, he has performed, though he slowed down quite a bit after Berkman’s injury. Still, it’s been a good start. Grade: B.

C Yadier Molina Who said Molina wasn’t going to repeat his 2011 offensive performance? Oh yeah, me. Well, after one month Molina is looking just as strong with the bat as he was last year and he’s even gotten better. Add to a little bit of swagger and having come out of the shadow of Pujols and Molina has emerged as one of my favorite players on this team. Grade: A.

3B David Freese The big question for a lot of fans was how David Freese would return this season. Freese enjoyed and coming out party during the playoffs last year, winning both the NLCS and the World Series MVP awards. He also set some postseason records along the way. However, he’s picked up right where he left off with his .333/.375/.560 slash line and he keeps driving in runs, leading the team in RBI. Grade: A.

IF Matt Carpenter Matt Carpenter came to spring training with some additional versatility and a guy like Mark Hamilton has to be disappointed by it. Carpenter earned a spot on the Opening Day roster with another excellent spring performance where he showed the ability to play all the corner spots. He came up huge in some games early in the season and took over as the primary guy at first after Berkman hit the DL. His slash of .267/.333/.467 with 14 RBI puts him with the core hitters on this team. Not too shabby. Grade: A.

CF Jon Jay Can Jon Jay handle playing everyday? That was the question that was asked often over the offseason as we questioned whether the team should be pursuing a center fielder. If April is any reflection, we can put that assertion to rest as he hit .400/.441/.545 with 15 appearances in April. He did miss a few games with a shoulder injury, but looks to be back in the lineup and so far as good as ever. Grade: A.

2B Daniel Descalso – “Dirty Dan” has basically handled a majority of the second base duties early this season over Tyler Greene and while Skip Schumaker has spent his time on the disabled list. Unfortunately for Descalso, he’s struggled out of the gate this year. His slash line of .200/.298/.320 is disappointing as he commented that he’s having to completely rebuild his swing from the ground up right now. He has provided solid defense though, which if nothing else is going right is what you want. Grade: C.

IF Tyler Greene – Greene has showed flashes this season so far, but he still fails to put things together consistently. For every good thing he does, he usually makes a pretty big mistake. This is his fourth try at the majors now and already fans are ready to call an end to the Tyler Greene Experiment and offer him up on waivers when Berkman is ready to return from the DL. Whether that will actually happen is questionable, but his slash line of .200/.300/.314 is not going to get the job done. Grade: D.

OF Shane Robinson – The last man added to the roster in the spring as a right handed bat to take Allen Craig’s spot, Robinson has certainly proven that he is worthy of sticking around for now. His slash line of .419/.471/.581 is impressive for a guy who has come off the bench in 9 of his 15 games. It doesn’t hurt that he is 3-for-8 in pinch hitting situations either. The team has been searching for a right handed compliment to Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay in center field for as long as I can recall following the team closely. Might they have it in Robinson? Grade: A.

1B Lance Berkman – After 22 games in April, it was a disappointment to see that Berkman has played just 7 games this season with an injury he described as feeling like one he had earlier in his career. He started out the gate hot with his .348/.500/.522 slash line. But being on the DL takes away a bit. Grade: B-.

2B/OF Skip Schumaker – Schumaker got activated from the DL after Berkman went down with his injury. His slash line of .368/.429/.526 is good enough. He’s getting playing time at second base too, which pleases me, as I consider him the best second baseman we have on the roster when you look at the combination of offense and defense. Grade: A.

OF Erik Komatsu – Komatsu was a player that I didn’t really like when we acquired him in the Rule 5 draft. However, once I got a chance to see what he brought to the field in Spring Training, I wanted him bad. I think he is capable of being a starting caliber center fielder in the majors, and I think once he figures out the majors, will be a little better than a guy like Jon Jay (and Jay is one of my favorites). His slash line of .211/.286/.211 leaves a lot to be desired, but the guy is trying to make the jump from Double-A to the bigs. With the return of Craig, though, he has been DFA’d, so he will likely get claimed by another team or returned to Washington, an organization that desperately needs a center fielder who gets the job done on both sides of the ball. Grade: C.

C Tony Cruz Cruz got very little playing time in April as Molina took most of the opportunities behind the plate. Cruz started just two games and made appearances in four others. So much for controlling Molina’s innings, eh? Some of that lack of use may be contributing to Cruz’s lack of production when he does get those opportunities at the plate. As the catcher, his job isn’t to hit, but it’d sure be nice if he would. Grade: D.

Offense Overall – It’d be hard to give them anything but an A. A month into the season and they lead the NL in runs, hits, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and total bases. They’re also third in home runs and stolen bases. The offense clicked big time in April, averaging 5.1 runs per game. They came just 7 runs shy of doubling up on their opponents in a 14-8 month. Grade: A.

Check in on Friday for the grades for Mike Matheny and the pitching staff.

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