The St. Louis Cardinals have done it: They've gotten almost all the faberge eggs, even the cracked and dull ones, out of Memphis. I'm a little sad about Steven Hill, their emergency replacement for Matt Carpenter, ruining a baseball-reference page that until this morning had one game on it—1-3, 1 HR, back in 2010—but maybe this will be enough to get him on the first page of his own Google results.
And he's the obvious pick for the temp job; this is a team devoid of right-handed hitters, and like Carpenter he can play—or at least has been allowed to play—third, first, and the outfield corners, in addition to his status as the Cardinals' long-time kind-of-catching kind-of-prospect.
Anyway, Hill was, with Mark Hamilton and Bryan Anderson each slumping, probably AAA Memphis's best hitter. The lineup they ran out last night, in their 9-3 loss to the Tucson Padres, is almost completely unrecognizable to a seasoned Future Redbirds watcher. Let's take a look—the Cardinals are one injury away, at a number of positions, from this band of minor league free agents (some of whom are, here on midnight Thursday, still listed with former teams) cracking the 25-man roster. Here it is: The lineup the Memphis Redbirds brought out on a night when the Cardinals saw at-bats from Shane Robinson, Matt Adams, and Steven Hill, started Lance Lynn, and got an inning from Victor Marte:
Starting with the remaining prospects and ex-prospects:
Zack Cox: This probably isn't a long-enough St. Louis engagement for the Cardinals to have ever thought about bringing up their 2010 first-rounder to plug the gap between Carpenter and Allen Craig, but his sub-.600 OPS makes that conversation even easier to not have.
Cox is in an awkward position, much like any writer trying to use his last name in a variety of sentence structures; he was drafted as a high-floor, nearly ready college hitter without having any particularly exciting tools or upside. What does a star look like, developing out of an average third baseman who can hit .300 and might pop 15 home runs? And is he allowed to slump when he's supposedly so close to that upside already, and on a major-league contract? I never quite got this pick when the Cardinals made it—he's always seemed like Brett Wallace in moderation—but his tepid performances in the high minors have made things worse.
It's worth mentioning here that Cox is 23, and started slow last year, too. But it's also worth mentioning that in this nightmare lineup he still batted eighth. Wednesday night he went 1-3 with a double. It's his ninth of the month, but his May renaissance has, so far, been worth a batting average of .233.
Ryan Jackson: Ryan Jackson! Tyler Greene is hitting .247/.326/.482 right now, so calls to see Jackson's highly touted defense in the big leagues are at a low ebb, but he hasn't done anything to ding his prospect standing in his first trip through the Pacific Coast League. Jackson was 1-3 with a home run and a walk Wednesday, scoring two of the Redbirds' three runs.
The home run is especially good to see; the power he displayed in AA Springfield last year—he hit .278/.334/.415 with 34 doubles and 11 homers—has been absent so far in Memphis, where he carried an isolated power of .090 and a single home run into Wednesday's game.
If he really is a top defensive shortstop, Jackson, 24, seems to have enough offensive skills to contend for a starting job in the near future. His big night pushes his PCL line to .300/.368/.405, a little better than the league average so far this year.
Mark Hamilton: The Cardinals are interested enough in Hamilton, after all this time, that he's still only played in two games so far at his natural first base, where he's buried semi-permanently by Lance Berkman, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, and now Matt Adams. He was 1-4 with 2 RBI Wednesday, spending all night in left field.
In the outfield he's still kind of buried, but his .306/.389/.509 career line at Memphis suggests to me that he will, at the very least, someday end up on some other team's AAA lineup card in an emergency situation like the Cardinals are facing now.
He should also consider Japan. Nick Stavinoha's up to .254/.336/.485 with the Hiroshima Carp, good for the fifth-highest OPS in the Central League. (Yes, there are only five players with an OPS over .800 in the Central League. Wladimir Balantien, lately of the Mariners, is well on his way to Toughy Rhodes status with a line of .281/.411/.586; a year after hitting 31 homers he's competing with longtime Yomiuri star Shinnosuke Abe [.325/.441/.479] for the chance to be the only player in the league with an OPS over .900. Someone please turn the hitting back on.)
Bryan Anderson: It's been a rough year for Bryan Anderson, who just missed the backup catcher job and then hit .132 in April. His average is up to .175 now, even after he went 0-3 Wednesday. The backup catcher on the Cardinals plays so infrequently that I'm not sure what either Cruz or Anderson could do to change the status quo, short of getting hurt.
Pete Kozma: Kozma's defense at short has gotten good reviews of late, but he's bouncing back from his poor 2011 and it looks like .225/.286/.345 as a utility infielder for the Memphis Redbirds. He struck out as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter for Adam Reifer, who struck out two in a scoreless inning.
Eugenio Velez: Now that we've exhausted the prospects and ex-prospects it's time for the longest-tenured of the Memphis leftovers: Spring Training refugee Eugenio Velez, who's hitting just .231 after several years as a perfectly solid PCL bat all over the field. He led off and went 1-4 at second base; so far he's played second, third, center, and right. 30 this year, he has a reasonable shot at being the Cardinals cameo you forget about fastest if the Cardinals suffer another injury or two.
And I'd probably feel good for the guy, as boring as that call-up would be, considering he was 0-37 in 34 appearances last year for the Dodgers.
Cedric Hunter: A prospect for a while with the Padres after he outclassed rookie ball at 18, hitting .371/.467/.484 and walking 40 times against 22 strikeouts. Since then he's hit for middling averages with middling power and, for sentence-balance's sake, hopefully played middling center field. The Cardinals traded for him after Shane Robinson made the 25-man roster; he's hitting .233, and flew out for Nick Greenwood in the sixth.
Jamie Romak: The Cardinals at least announced this guy's appearance in the system, shortly after the Cardinals brought up Matt Adams. Romak's bounced around the low minors with the Braves (he was part of the Adam LaRoche trade), Pirates, and Royals since being drafted out of high school in 2003; he made his AAA debut with the Royals this season, hitting .147 in 11 games. The Royals sold him to the Cardinals on May 17, where he got on a little hot streak; Wednesday he batted fifth and went 0-3.
Lou Montanez: Lou Montanez, at this hour still a member of the Phillies organization on Wikipedia, was drafted third overall by the Cubs all the way back in 2000. That was a notably terrible first round; Adrian Gonzalez went No. 1, but No. 2 was Adam Johnson, who played nine games; No. 4 was Mike Stodolka, who played zero; and No. 5 was Justin Wayne, who played 26.
Rocco Baldelli went sixth, Famously unsigned Matt Harrington went seventh, and so on. Chase Utley, at No. 15, is the round's salvation; the Cardinals picked Shaun Boyd and Blake Williams, successfully avoiding a Major League appearance from two picks, but have had some good luck with the Braves' 29th-overall pick.
Anyway, Montanez: After the Cubs gave him a $2.75 million bonus he flailed around in the low minors for a while while proving he wasn't a shortstop or a second baseman. After some middling years the Cubs the Orioles signed him, and in 2008—at 26 years-old—he finally had a big year in AA, hitting .335/.385/.601 with 26 home runs and earning a call-up.
One solid stretch as a bench bat followed, and then the kind of stretch that gets you released by the Phillies' AAA club and picked up by a team that just called up its AAA backup catcher to do some spot-starting in the outfield. 30 now, he's got the official skill-set of a failed tools prospect: Power, not enough walks, some speed in his past, tweener outfield defense.
Aaron Bates: A big (6'4) 28-year-old third-rounder out of the Boston Red Sox' system; in 2009 he went 4-11 with two doubles in a July call-up. He reminds me of Mark Hamilton; intermittent power—he hit 24 home runs in 98 Carolina League games back in 2007—and a high batting average that can't make up for his defensive limitations.
He was a Rochester Red Wing last week, when the Twins affiliate cut him; starting at first and batting seventh in his first game for the Redbirds, he went 0-3 and struck out twice. Here's an area-man-article about him taking a 6:30 AM flight out to fill this spot in the box score. He says the words "small sample size"!
So that's what the Memphis Redbirds look like now—a little like a team of Roster Player characters with randomly generated names on MVP Baseball 2005. The game's only name-brand Cardinal was on the other side of the ball—Anthony Reyes (in relief of Kip Wells) struck out six in three one-hit innings in his second appearance with the Padres' AAA club.
He was waived last year by the Indians after some anonymous rehab appearances in rookie ball, and I assumed his career was over. But he's found his way back to AAA, where he'll have to beat out Wells and Jeff Suppan for the chance to throw in Petco. Apparently he's sitting at 90. Hopefully with the two-seamer.