JUPITER, FL - MARCH 06: Pitcher Ryan Franklin #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws against the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium on March 6, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
David Freese was 2-3 yesterday, and given his recent history I think I'm forgiven for being only as interested in his line in that box score as I am his three possible understudies, who also each had hits. There's something nice about them at least theoretically being prospects, homegrown and cheap; David Freese's understudy last year was reliable and boring and he hit .233/.310/.340, so for 2011 I'm perfectly fine with taking comfort in that kind of thing.
In order of their distance to the Majors, then, I'd like to talk about David Freese's understudies—specifically, about their exact distance from being David Freese.
Allen Craig: Craig, who went 2-4 yesterday as Lance Berkman's legs, and high-minors Freese are strikingly similar minor league hitters. When Freese was thrown into AAA after inexplicably spending his age-24 season with a .900 OPS in the high-A California League he hit .304/.363/.542 over 187 AAA games—plenty of power but not enough to be a slugger, a nice batting average, not quite enough walks to make himself a prospect on the strength of his bat. Craig trades a little power for some batting average and OBP in his 209 games in Memphis; his career line is .321/.380/.548.
So give Craig some credit for his higher OBP and his longer minor league track record and he's an acceptable glove at third base from being a perfectly adequate Freese replacement.
Things to do before he reaches Maximum Freese: Stop making ugly errors at third base; become the kind of player who needs to be DHed in Spring Training, instead of the kind of player who allows another player to be DHed in Spring Training.
Daniel Descalso: Descalso, who went 1-2 at second base after Freese left yesterday's game, is the only player of these four who resists direct comparison to the others. For one thing, he's still kind of young—he only hit .282/.350/.421 in his first full year in Memphis, but when Freese was the same age (23) he was hitting .317/.395/.569 in low-A ball.
The strange thing is that I'd imagine a peak Daniel Descalso season to look a lot more like David Freese's abbreviated, Schumakery 2010 than I'd expect David Freese to ever do something similar. He won't ever hit 20 home runs, but if he took another step up from his 2010 season I could see him one day hitting .296/.361/.404.
Descalso is a utility infielder who Tony La Russa seems more predisposed to see as a third baseman than I expected. But I think that to get significant time at third base he'll have to first be called up as a partial solution to the Cardinals' dangerously mediocre middle infield; he doesn't seem like the kind of player who'll be called up to replace Freese in a one-for-one DL move.
Things to do before he reaches Maximum Freese: A return to 2009 form would bring him close enough to 2010 Freese that he'd just need to develop the kind of chronic problems that lead to sentences and solutions like "Grooves were shaved in Freese's ankle to help anchor the displaced tendons."
Matt Carpenter is probably just David Freese in some kind of extremely convincing mask, living out one of those Three's Company episodes where Jack has two dates at the same restaurant. When Freese was 24 he hit .302/.400/.489 in high-A Lake Elsinore; he hit 31 doubles, 17 home runs, and six triples. Matt Carpenter, 24 last year, hit .309/.418/.471 between high-A and AA, with 31 doubles, 13 home runs, and five triples.
Things to do before he reaches Maximum Freese: In January 2012 "Carpenter" will figure out how to avoid the patch of ice that caused that fateful single-car accident. Just as his car is about to go careening out of control he'll regain control, still healthy, and leap into the next time period that needs him. In the confusion of finding himself in Tokugawa-period Japan, about to be murdered by a corrupt Shogun, he'll break both his ankles.
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