Kevin C. Cox
No longer rookies, we review the seasons of three hitting prospects: Matt Carpenter, Shane Robinson, and Tony Cruz. And some notes on Pete Kozma.
For those of us who compulsively check DFRs, it's pretty exciting when a prospect earns their final promotion to St. Louis. They cease being a smattering of numbers and hear-say scouting reports, but an actual human being we can lay eyes on every night on TV.
The Cardinals carried quite a few rookies on their roster this season, but I'd like to focus on the ones who made enough appearances and/or spent enough time on the active roster to disqualify them from rookie status in future seasons. I'll focus on hitters for the purposes of this post, but I'll cover the pitchers in a later post.
A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).
This means that players like Matt Adams, Adron Chambers, and Pete Kozma will retain their rookie status heading into 2013, but Matt Carpenter, Shane Robinson, and Tony Cruz can no longer be considered rookies. So how did these players perform for the Cardinals? And did their performance match our expectations after all of this time?
We all fell in love with Matt Carpenter's plate discipline, but we also wondered if he'd be able to sustain success relying mostly on his ability to draw walks. He walked 13.6% of the time for double-A (472 PAs) in 2010 and then 15.7% of the time for triple-A (535 PAs) in 2011. While his rookie season featured a slightly deflated walk rate, his approach remained intact as he chased just 22.1% of pitches outside of the strike zone and only swung at 41.5% of the pitches he saw overall. Both of those statistics lead the team.
Somehow, I cultivated the idea that Carpenter exceeded his expected power output, but this just wasn't true as his .463 slugging percentage perfectly matched his performance for Springfield (.487) and Memphis (.465). And while a .346 BABIP is tough to sustain, a 23.8% line drive rate certainly helps, and Carpenter had posted high BABIPs in his previous two minor league seasons, so it wasn't completely unfounded.
In the playoffs, Carpenter asserted himself on the national stage by homering off of Matt Cain in his first plate appearance after replacing the injured Carlos Beltran in Game 3 of the NLCS. He also doubled and walked 3 times in October for a .286/.412/.571 AVG/OBP/SLG slash line in 17 PAs.
In his first year of duty, Matt Carpenter was that rare type of prospect that bridges the gap between traditionalist and saber-minded fans. Was he gritty? Well, he didn't wear batting gloves, so check. Was he versatile? Well, he played multiple positions and will try to play even more, so check. Did he say/do anything else interesting? Well, he dropped the term "small sample size" in a post-game interview, so CHECK!
If Shane Robinson seems like old news, well, it's because he is. Robinson reached triple-A all the way back in 2008 and made his major league debut in 2009, yet this was his first season accruing more than 30 PAs. Although his numbers in double-A caused a little excitement, they were out of line with the rest of his minor league career. We've come to know Robinson as a singles hitter who plays solid defense, and he played that part well for the Cardinals. The good news is that Robinson generated 1 fWAR in very limited duty. The bad news is that his value was completely derived from defense and base-running, or two skills that are much more difficult to project than offense... especially considering the - and help us out here, Matt Carpenter - sample sizes in play.
Tony Cruz has been a mostly below average hitter throughout his minor league career with the exception of some less than full seasons spent at the lower levels. Although he started out as a corner infielder, the Cardinals decided to move him behind the plate in 2008 and he progressed defensively to the extent that he was trusted to sit on a bench in case Yadier Molina couldn't play, which is more than Bryan Anderson or Matt Pagnozzi can say.
Cruz drew just 3 walks in 131 PAs this year, but he also struck out far below the 19.8% league average rate. He caught 31% of runners attempting to steal bases and seemed competent in other less obvious quantifiable ways in that I don't remember him doing anything terribly stupid. I love Tony Cruz, but mostly because he saves the Cardinals from wasting an extra $1 or $2 million on a backup catcher who rarely gets into games.
PETE KOZMA (because it's hard to ignore him)
In 82 PAs, Kozma accumulated 1.4 fWAR. That statement is pretty impressive even before accounting for the fact that the subject of that sentence is Pete Kozma, the guy with the 4th worst OPS (.647) among those in the PCL with 300+ PAs in 2012, a number that represented an improvement over the previous season when he OPSed .569 in triple-A (448 PAs). Then he went all .333/.383/.569 AVG/OBP/SLG for the Cardinals, which was good for a .396 wOBA after replacing the injured Rafael Furcal.
Kozma's regular season success was supported by a .415 BABIP and a slugging percentage that was literally 200 points higher than what he'd posted throughout his minor league career. The guy did have a 30.9% line drive rate, so he did create some of his own breaks, but anyone who's excited about Kozma's future wasn't paying attention until September 2012.
I reveled in every last Pete Kozma sponsored moment but mostly because of the absurdity of them all. In the playoffs, he had heroic moments (3-run HR in Game 3 of NLDS and game-winning hit in Game 5 of NLDS) and humiliating mistakes (the infamous infield fly rule called in Atlanta and various defensive mistakes in NLCS), but his performance inevitably regressed towards the number usually associated with Pete Kozma, a below .700 OPS.