St. Louis Cardinals demote Kolten Wong and Shane Robinson, promote Randal Grichuk and Greg Garcia

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals have boldly responded to the small samples of April with two promotions and corresponding demotions.

On Sunday night, the St. Louis Cardinals demoted top-prospect Kolten Wong and fifth outfielder Shane Robinson to Triple-A Memphis. Correspondingly, the club promoted outfielder Randal Grichuk and infielder Greg Garcia to the St. Louis 25-man roster. The moves reshape a roster that has stumbled out of the blocks this April with two players who have been red hot in the Pacific Coast League. Twitter rumblings among Grichuk's minor-league teammates provided smoke and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Derrick Goold confirmed the fire of roster moves on Twitter.

Outfield

Shane Robinson established himself as a solid bench outfielder a year ago, but never really fit on a 2014 Cardinals roster that includes Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. With two center fielders splitting time at the position and Jay also soaking up time in right field, the ability to leverage Robinson's excellent outfield defense and baserunning was significantly trimmed down. The addition of Bourjos made Robinson redundant. What the Cardinals roster needed to complement their punchless center field pair was bench pop.

Enter Grichuk, who has power in spades.

I saw the right-handed hitting Memphis center fielder start off the Pacific Coast League regular season hot despite cold temperatures in Iowa. And he hasn't let up. Grichuk's Triple-A stats so far this season:

G

PA

R

HR

RBI

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

20

90

16

3

17

.359

.313

.356

.542

.898

.229

.387

.130

This stat line is the best-case scenario for Grichuk. The .229 ISO grabs one's attention, even if it was posted in the hitter-friendly PCL. It reflects a skill that Robinson has never had and the big-league club needs at the moment. That and Grichuk's high BA have motivated the Cardinals to make the move they hinted at being possible during spring training. But as the Grapefruit League games played out, Grichuk wound up leading the team with 15 strikeouts in 42 PAs (the 13th most in big-league camp) for a startling 35.7% K rate that resulted in the Cards demoting him to Triple-A to start the year.

In addition to the stats above, Grichuk has posted an 18.9% K rate and 6.7% BB rate with Memphis. Which small-sample Grichuk will show up in St. Louis? The one who looks lost flailing at decent breaking balls or the one who sprayed liners all over PCL ball yards for 20 games? Grichuk's on-base skills are unlikely to ever impress. The question is whether Grichuk will hit for enough power to make his OBP palatable.

Grichuk's role is also murky. In Rick Hummel's stltoday.com article, Mozeliak indicates that playing time is not guaranteed for Grichuk. With an outfield picture that already contains Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, and Peter Bourjos, starts will be hard to come by unless Matheny decides the bench is the best cure for what is currently ailing Craig and Bourjos. That would give Grichuk the opportunity to start in center and right on occasion. However, if Matheny shows Craig and Bourjos the type of patience he had with Dave Freese a season ago, Grichuk will be relegated primarily to pinch-hitting duties, the type of sporadic action that can be difficult for any player let alone one still developing. A fair number of talent evaluators graded Grichuk out as a fourth outfielder type of talent and it seems that he's getting the opportunity to show he can fill that role.

Infield

Matheny has won another battle in the Wong War. Late last season, the Cardinals promoted Wong, who was then batting .303/.369/.466 (.370 wOBA) for Memphis. The plan was to inject a jolt into the lineup. Matt Carpenter would slide to his natural third base and David Freese, who was lackluster all season, would ride the bench. Matheny tried the plan out for about five games. Wong didn't hit and Matheny stashed him on the bench in favor of Freese.

It seems that Matheny has once again made clear that he finds Wong an unpalatable second baseman after a short period of time. So unpalatable in fact that he would rather start Daniel Descalso—he of the career .239/.305/.341 line—at second. This was the case on Sunday against the Pirates.*

*Entering the season, Descalso was batting .375/.500/.500 against Edinson Volquez over 10 PAs (two singles, one double, one walk, and one hit by pitch). Matheny penciled Descalso into the starting lineup against the Pirates in Pittsburgh when Volquez was starting, and Descalso went hitless. This dropped his career line against the righty to .300/.417/.400 over 12 PAs. Presumably because of his still-good overall numbers against Volquez, Matheny again started the futility infielder against the righthander on Sunday. Descalso went 0 for 2 against the Pirate, which lowered his career line against him to .214/.357/.333. Do you think Matheny will start Descalso the next time Volquez takes the mound against the Cardinals?

In Hummel's stltoday.com article on the demotion, he quotes Mozeliak on Wong's demotion:

"We can give (Wong and Robinson) some at-bats. They weren’t getting a lot of playing time here in the last couple of weeks and, especially for Wong, that trend probably would continue."

Okay, so the trend of Matheny playing Descalso over Wong would probably continue. Hummel also quotes Matheny, who predictably resurrects his questioning of Wong's mental fortitude:

"He hasn’t had a whole lot of struggle throughout his career," Matheny said this weekend. "You’ve got to figure out how to get through it.

"Without question, he’s going to be his own toughest evaluator. But he’s getting better at that, by the way. He’s better now than he was in spring training. He might be faking part of that. Good for him. That’s part of the process, too.

"When he’s that hard on himself, it makes it more difficult to get through these tough runs."

"Everything’s there. It’s a matter of him believing it."

The art of Cardinals kremlinology was not lost with Tony La Russa's retirement. I'm a bit rusty but I'll give it a whirl: Wong will return to Memphis, a level at which he has nothing left to prove, and play every day, which will help him learn how to overcome adversity in spite of the fact that he's doing a lot better at overcoming adversity in the majors although he is probably faking it but that's good, too, and part of the process of becoming a big-leaguer which can be learned in the minors playing every day. Or something.

For the second time, Matheny has pulled the plug on Wong playing daily at the keystone because of a slow start. And so a question arises: Why won't Matheny allow Wong to play through his struggles at the plate like he does other players? With his explanation, I guess we're left to assume that Allen Craig (.177/.223/.239), Ellis (.100/.240/.100) and Descalso (.100/.156/.167) are taking their bad starts much better than Wong (.225/.276/.268) was his.

Taking Wong's roster spot as the Rainbow Warrior Matheny doesn't want to play will be Garcia, who is more versatile than Wong or Descalso. Garcia can play shortstop and not in the "Daniel, stand in between second base and third but closer to second while wearing a glove" way that Descalso does. The left-handed batsmen has thumped PCL pitching to start his second tour of duty there. His .277/.366/.554 production is atypical for his career. Not the BA or OBP, but the SLG (and strikeouts).

Before this season, Garcia's highest ISO was .136; this April, it's .227. Prior to 2014, Garcia had never K'd in more than 16.5% of his PAs; so far this young season, it's 23.2%. Neither of those rates are likely to continue in Triple-A or the majors. Instead, we'll see solid contact skills, a patient plate approach, and not much punch.

It seems unlikely that Garcia will see time at the keystone over Ellis or Descalso when Wong struggled to do so—unless he is good at handling adversity, or at least faking it.

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