Only a few days ago, the St.Louis Cardinals finally made the decision to call up one of their top prospects, Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty was a top 100 prospect in baseball by every major publication entering the season and has seen his stock only increase as he has developed more power this season. A mechanical change in his swing has led to nearly .070 increase in SLG% and though his strikeouts have gone up, his OBP has actually gone up too.
The Cardinals grew tired of trotting Mark Reynolds, Xavier Scruggs and recently Dan Johnson out there every day after Matt Adams went down with a severe quad tear so they decided to promote Piscotty rather than seek to fill the hole at first via a trade. Cardinals’ first basemen this season have collectively been one of the worst in all of baseball and easily the worst production they have received at the position since Albert Pujols left after the 2011 season.
This season Cardinals 1B have the 8th lowest walk rate and the third highest strikeout rate. They have the 6th lowest OBP and the 4th lowest isolated power. For a team that has the best record in baseball and aspirations of another world series, this level of production form a position typically viewed as a source of power in the lineup is remarkably unproductive. What makes the Piscotty promotion unique is that he is jumping in to starting at a position on a contender where he has only 6 games of professional experience.
Drafted as a 3rd baseman out of Stanford, Piscotty was moved to the OF and only recently moved to first base after the organization saw an impending need at the position after Adams went down and already had quality depth in the OF.
This is not the first time this season the Cardinals have made the decision to turn to a rookie, and if this decision turns out to be anywhere near as successful as past instances, the Cardinals will be satisfied. Recently, the Cardinals designated rookie Randal Grichuk as the everyday centerfielder. Much like the situation at 1B, the Cardinals opening day CF (Jon Jay) went down with an injury and the backup (Peter Bourjos) wasn’t cutting it at the plate.
Known as “the guy drafted one spot ahead of Mike Trout”, Grichuk has quietly established himself as a very good outfielder. Grichuk currently ranks 10th among NL outfielders in WAR. Though he strikes out a ton and has a high BABIP, Grichuk has displayed the power potential that made him a 1st round pick. Grichuk is 4th in SLG% and ISO among all outfielders in baseball with at least 200 plate appearances. Only Harper, Stanton and Trout are ahead of him. Grichuk has also proven a solid defensive outfielder as he currently sits tied for 10th in defensive runs saved.
The move to make Grichuk the every day CF has undoubtedly been a success and if Piscotty is able to come anywhere close to duplicating it, the Cardinals will be thrilled that they no longer need to pursue a 1B.
While the Cardinals have demonstrated they are at least willing to give their young prospects a chance at becoming a starter mid-season, other contending organizations have been surprisingly patient with their top guys despite glaring needs on the Major League roster.
The Dodgers continue to start Jimmy Rollins at SS despite having arguably the top prospect in the minor leagues, and who happens to be a SS as well. Rollins is hitting .209 with a .265 OBP and he has the 4th lowest WAR among qualified SS at –0.2. Meanwhile, Corey Seager who is the brother of Mariners 3B Kyle Seager, is hitting .283 in AAA and is clearly their SS of the future. Yet the Dodgers have been unwilling to cede that role to him so far midseason. The Dodgers currently sit only 1 game up on the Giants in the NL West.
The Blue Jays are also choosing to do something similar with one of their top prospects. The Jays, who sit 4 games out of a wildcard spot and 6.5 games behind the Yankees for the division lead, have yet to call their top prospect Daniel Norris back up to the majors after demoting him at the beginning of May. Instead, the Jays are choosing to go with Felix Doubront for the time being and reports have it they are interested in acquiring a starting pitcher. It is true that Norris has been struggling recently in AAA but the decision to leave him in AAA rather than give him another shot before potentially trading for another starter is puzzling. Why not see what Norris can do before giving up future assets to acquire a starter via trade? GM Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t had the best luck with trades (remember the Mets and Marlins deals?) so it seems odd why he would choose to potentially make another big move before exhausting all in house options.
Who knows if the Piscotty promotion will work out? Maybe he won’t be able to handle 1B defensively, but the very fact that the Cardinals are giving him a shot proves why they are one of the best organizations in baseball. While the Dodgers and Jays are letting their top prospects stay in AAA despite needs on the big league team, the Cardinals have chosen to go with youth over veterans when the veterans have proven incapable. Maybe this is why the Cardinals rarely trade away prospects that turn out to be stars. They do a great job of evaluating their own, and giving them a chance at the big league team. Especially when needed.