WHEELER: Notes From Jupiter: Infield Awareness (With A Tip From Ozzie)
The middle infield for the Cardinals isn’t exactly what I’d call a question mark. They have talented players there but for a variety of reasons they just aren’t sure what they can count on from all of them. I’ll spend a lot of time today watching the middle infielders in drills and will have some thoughts on Sports Open Line tonight before we get to the Blues Pre-Game Show at 6:30. Here are my impressions so far…
* Matt Carpenter – I know I touched on this last night during Sports Open Line but for those who missed it, Carpenter doesn’t look out of place at second base. There are definitely some things that need to be fine tuned but this isn’t as dramatic a change as it was for Skip Schumaker. No knock on Skip but Carpenter will be better at second base than he was if he gets a chance to play there enough.
Here’s what Ozzie Smith said about Matt Carpenter to Mike Claiborne and I this morning…
“I’m going to tell you very honestly, just with my eye from what I see, he doesn’t look that uncomfortable at second base right now. He has great feet, he has good hands. There’s a couple things he’s working on but at this point, watching him, this could be a make or break (for the Cardinals’ middle infield production). We know he’s going to be a good offensive player, he’s a super offensive player. If he can give you that defense that you’re looking for up the middle, that you have to have on a consistent basis, and you can keep Furcal healthy, it could be a fun year.”
Just to be clear, this is not a “Matt Carpenter is going to play second base everyday” kind of thing. It’s nothing more than one of the best middle infielders of all-time saying that early in camp this looks like something Carpenter can take to pretty well.
* Daniel Descalso – Yesterday Descalso told me he feels he’s established that he can play defense at the Major League level. He’s right, but also a bit underspoken. I think he’s an excellent defensive player, both at second and third. His glove will never be a question mark. If he hits I think he’s in position to play a ton at second base. He knows that and is focusing on being selective at the plate, avoiding swings at pitcher’s pitches.
* Rafael Furcal – He hasn’t aired out any throws yet so it’s hard to know how to gauge his progress. Mike Matheny said everything is moving along according to a plan, no setbacks, so that’s good to know. Matheny also said the current plan is to have Furcal ready for Opening Day, so they’ll take things slow initially. He is a major key to the season. Because he provides a little offense from the shortstop position, and is an excellent defender when healthy, he’s tough to replace for extended periods of time.
* Ronny Cedeno – Cedeno is an experience big league infielder and, to be honest, he’s a little stronger and a little more athletic than I thought he was before seeing him in this kind of setting. It makes you wonder why he hasn’t be a little better as a big league hitter, because he hit well in the minors, but he has tools. If he plays a lot there could be a concern or two but if Carpenter can handle significant time at second base it sure makes Cedeno’s offense less of a concern. His defense can be good but at times in the past it would come and go.
* The kids – Kolten Wong, Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson, Starlin Rodriguez and Greg Garcia have been working separately from the guys listed above. Barring injury, I think that tells you something that we all pretty much knew coming in – the Cardinals know what they want their big league middle infield to look like. Part of the reason for the separation is just numbers – players get more reps when you don’t have 9 guys rotating between two spots – but there also seems to be a Major League/minor league dividing line that. Again, things can change once games start but barring an injury the Cardinals middle infield will be Furcal-Descalso-Carpenter-Cedeno.
Aside from watching all of those guys again today, and tweeting (@KMOXWheeler) pics, I’ll be back at the batting cage watching live BP as Adam Wainwright, Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica, Lance Lynn, Jake Westrbook and Fernando Salas face hitters.
Short Sports Open Line tonight from 6:15-6:30 but you’ll hear a little from Ozzie Smith and a little from Mike Matheny for sure. Tomorrow night we’ll have the Hot Stove League Show from 7-9, plus more baseball from 6-7, and we have full 3-hour shows on Thursday and Friday night. So lots of Cardinals talk, mixed with Blues and NFL Combine stuff, for the rest of the week here on KMOX. Don’t forget, the Cardinals-Marlins game is on KMOX Saturday afternoon…