It doesn’t seem like a season goes by any more without Twitter clamoring for a slugging first baseman from Memphis. The names have changed over the years from Mark Hamilton to Xavier Scruggs to Brock Peterson. The current fixture of this obsession is Luke Voit.
The 26 year old Voit is a local product. Born in Wildwood, Missouri, attended Lafayette High School, and then attended Missouri State University. He was even drafted out of high school by the Royals in 2009 before going to college and drafted in the 22nd round of the 2013 draft by the Cardinals. Best of all, Luke is a nickname. His legal first name is Louis.
So if there is a person for whom the stars have aligned better to be the savior of a Cardinals’ season, I haven’t found one.
In 2016, Voit had his first real head turning season in the minor leagues. Over 134 games for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, he put up a batting line of .297/.382/.477 with 19 home runs and 74 RBI to go along with 20 doubles and 5 triples. That .297 batting average even won the Texas League batting title.
That got him a promotion this season to Triple-A Memphis where he, through 63 games so far this season, is batting .326/.402/.583 with 12 home runs to go along with 21 doubles and 1 triple.
I’m not some super knowledgeable prospect guy who talks like a scout, but there are things I like to see from players as the progress through the minors. I like seeing doubles. I like players who walk. I like players who perform at every level. I like players who aren’t too old for their level. Voit seems to check all my boxes.
For the terms of this article though, let’s take a look at Voit and compare him with another Cardinals’ minor leaguer who made his debut this season and has played much of the past two seasons with Voit and likely provides us the most apples-to-apples comparison of what we could reasonably expect. That’s Paul DeJong.
DeJong was a fourth round pick by the Cardinals in the 2015 draft as a senior out of Illinois State Unviersity. Last season in Springfield as Voit’s teammate, he hit .260/.324/.460 with 22 home runs and 73 RBI over 132 games along with 29 doubles and 2 triples.
This season while he’s been in Memphis, he has hit .299/.339/.571 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI over 48 games along with 9 doubles.
The on base percentage is the most obvious and striking thing I notice right away. And then the 144 strikeouts for DeJong last season in Springfield while Voit struck out just 83 times in just six fewer plate appearances.
So DeJong strikes out. A lot. And doesn’t really walk either. That has continued into the Majors where, through 45 at bats, he has yet to walk. And has struck out 33.3% of the time.
Comparing their seasons in Memphis, DeJong has a 24.2% strikeout rate, a 4.7% walk rate and a 11.6% extra base hit rate. On the other side, Voit has a 18.0% strikeout rate, a 8.4% walk rate, and a 13.0% extra base hit rate.
So Voit strikes out less, walks almost twice as often, and has more power than DeJong. I already like what I’m seeing.
Steamer’s projections for Voit in the Majors this season show the expectation for a .263/.324/.410 line with a 97 wRC+. That’s pretty average, but for a team with vast underperformance up and down the lineup, average would be a sight for sore eyes.
DeJong’s Steamer projection entering this season was .242/.286/.392 which seems to be about where he’s trending at .244/.244/.378 right now. And I mostly refuse to consider DeJong as a potential everyday player until he takes at least one walk.
Unfortunately for Voit, much like Adams, the lack of positional flexiblity is his biggest stumbling block in the Cardinals’ organization. Any promotion for him would mean a move back across the diamond for Matt Carpenter and, while I’m bullish on Carpenter’s defensive abilities at third base compared to many other fans, it’s clear that the organization prefers to keep him at first base.
However, now would seem to be as good a time as ever as it looks like Jedd Gyorko is fading fast. After a hot start that has him hitting .295 on the season, he has cooled off significantly over the past month, hitting .244 over the last 28 days, .195 over the last 14, and .118 over the last week. And if Gyorko’s bat heats up again, yet another reason to try him in left field as I suggested yesterday.
Meanwhile Carpenter is heating up in the leadoff spot and the Cardinals are desperate for a guy who can pack a consistent punch in the middle of the lineup. Voit is likely the Cardinals’ best internal option at being that guy.
Another option would potentially be to play him in left field (*ducks*) where he played 12 games for Springfield last season, but from what I’ve read a Matt Holliday level left fielder may be his ceiling out there and even that may require more experience to get to. His best position will always be first base, but if he were producing offensively, I don’t think too many people would complain right now.
He would need a spot on the 40 man roster, but I don’t think that would stand in the way of a move. Ideally the Cardinals could have called him up today where you have three games in an American League ballpark with the DH to get a taste of what he could provide the big league club.
Of all those slugging first basemen, Voit seems to be the first worth a chance. And right now, they probably should give him one.