The final installment brings us the outfielders. Organizational logjam doesn’t really begin to describe what is going on in the Cardinal’s system.
At St. Louis, there are five outfielders getting most of the playing time. In left, Matt Holliday is signed through 2016 with an option for 2017. Allen Craig is signed through 2017 in right field, and centerfielders Jon Jay/Peter Bourjous are on one year contracts. Shane Robinson’s deal also ends after this season.
In Memphis, Tommy Pham may be the only outfielder without a legitimate chance of being promoted. He has had some nice bursts when healthy, but does not appear to be in the Cardinals long term plans. Newly added Randal Grichuk came over from the Angels in the Freese trade. The Cardinals were familiar with him as he played in the Texas League last season for Arkansas. This is his sixth season in the minors, and at age 22, still one of the younger players in AAA. So far, he may be the biggest surprise in the system this year. The guy drafted one spot ahead of Mike Trout is hitting the ball with power and boasts a .313 average early in the season. He can play all three outfield spots, with Gold Glove type ability.
Steven Piscotty has bolted through the Cardinals system. After spending the last half of 2013 in Springfield, he had a fantastic Fall League debut and a great performance in spring camp. The 23 years old rightfielder has a terrific arm in the field and decent range, along with sneaky speed and good base running skills. The former first round pick has shown flashes of power to go along with a +.300 average. The Cardinals are impressed with his work ethic and appears to be on track for a promotion to St. Louis this season.
Joey Butler is a name not many Cardinal fans are familiar with. A former Texas Ranger, who saw some major league time in 2013, is quietly putting up monster numbers in AAA Memphis. His .431 average, 1.186 OPS, and .548 OBP (That’s not a typo) are video game-type numbers in limited playing time. However, in his small sample of playing time with the Rangers last season, he also had nice numbers. The 28 year old corner outfielder may be the first outfielder called up this season, to the surprise of most.
Last but not least, the second-rated prospect in minor league baseball, Oscar Taveras. We have heard the hype, but being in the society of “I want it now”, Cardinals fans are wondering when it’s going to happen. 2013 was a wash for the super prospect, due to an ankle injury. 2014 started out slow, but the bat has started to heat up. Oscar can hit in his sleep and has been doing it at every level. Still only 21 years old he is the 6th youngest player in the PCL. He has played center field, left field and right field, and can do any efficiently. Most see him settling into a corner spot. I see him playing 2-3 season in centerfield at the big league level, and then shifting later. He’s coming, and I don’t think the Cardinals leave him at Memphis very long. A June call-up could be in the works.
On to Springfield, where there are two guys who, at the very least, should be playing at AAA. Both ended last season in Memphis, but found themselves back in Springfield to start the season.
James Ramsey is your pro-typical centerfielder. Great range, decent arm, superior baseball sense. He is currently among the league leaders in just about every hitting category, and seems under-matched in his second go-around in Springfield. At 24 years old, he would be on the verge of being called up to the majors with most other clubs. His game is very polished and there isn’t much more for him to do, especially at the AA level. Add to that his outstanding personality and midwestern Christian values, he will be a fan favorite at St. Louis one day.
Mike O’Neill is one of my favorites. The low draft pick who would be an organizational filler with most clubs, had worked his way up to AAA. He is the guy that no one can seem to get out. He’s not overly fast, and doesn’t hit for power, But his career .326 average and .434 OBP shows he knows how to get on base. I don’t know how or when he makes it to the big club, but he deserves a chance. At 26, there isn’t much time left for him. He most likely will also be a September call-up for St. Louis.