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Rookies of the Year

Resolved: I will not mention Ryan Ludwick once in this post, except for that time. Or if, in the course of the day, he's—but I mustn't. 

Anyway, the baseball news today, for there is baseball news, is the the Rookie of the Year announcements. Lead times being what they are I can only say that Dewey beats Truman and that my personal picks are Geovany Soto and Evan Longoria, like everybody else's. But because we must take baseball news where we can get it, now, I thought I'd go a bit further and take a look at the Cardinals' 2008 rookies. In rough order of playing time:

Kyle McClellan - RP - 24

68 75.2 59 26 7 4.04 10.5

As Dave Barry used to say, are you like me? Are you really surprised that these are Kyle McClellan's numbers? Most of the year it seemed like the on-screen graphics had his name as Kyle-McClellan-ERA-2.75, and Dan'n'Al lauded him continuously as the Cardinals' most reliable bullpen piece, but I double checked and I didn't get these off of Ryan Franklin's B-R page. 

But of course something was wrong with McClellan in the second half. After his virtuoso June, in which he struck out sixteen and walked one, he was a mess. He walked more batters in his last 23 innings than he had in his first 52, and the problem was compounded by a minor BABIP spike—when he did get it in the strike zone, they were hitting it harder than they had before. McClellan's chief skill as a reliever is excellent command, and when he didn't have it he simply was not a good pitcher.

His second half does a few things. For one, it reminds us that he had only gotten as far as a half-season at AA before being anointed as the Seventh Inning Man in a Major League bullpen. When McClellan was pitching well he brought the control that allowed him to walk ten in 60 minor league innings to a Big League setting and proved that his stuff was good enough for him to be that fine with it. But he's only been in the bullpen two years; it might have been a little too much to have expected him to arrive fully formed and not give anything back.

The other thing it does is throw his role back up in the air. McClellan is now number two on my Mark Mulder I'm-not-expecting-anything-so-if... power rankings for this year, behind only Carpenter. Right now when I think about the 2009 team he doesn't factor in at all, even though I know he's there. The reason is that there's just too much uncertainty, not only about what he'll do but where he'll do it. 

When he was the Cardinals' bullpen rock circa June it seemed insane to think the early intimations of moving him into the rotation after a year on the Wainwright scholarship would bear any fruit. He was never the prospect Wainwright was in the rotation, and he only even made it onto the prospect map as a reliever, and even Wainwright seemed fated to end up in the bullpen for a while. 

But his late struggles alter the narrative a little. Now that he doesn't have a sterling set-up man season under his belt—now that it looks like a true apprenticeship season, and will on baseball cards from now until the end of time—the Cardinals' options seem a little more open. It's amazing what a bad second half will do to make your versatility seem more important.

Brian Barton - OF - 26

82 153 41 9 2 2 19 39 .268 .354 .392 97 3.7

Say what you will about La Russa, but there is one thing he knows better than any living manager and that is how to parcel out just enough PT to all of his players. (Whether they deserve it or not, at times, which might be a problem.) I'm stunned to learn that Barton, who seemed so forgotten that by June that he was appearing in black and white on the back of the Busch Stadium souvenir cups, played in more than half of the team's games and got 150 at-bats. But all of La Russa's weird tricks—all those times early in the year where he'd start Barton and then pull him after six innings for a "defensive replacement", for instance—got BB what amounts to a full season as a fourth-and-a-half outfielder. 

And Barton did alright with it. At 26 he couldn't afford to turn into a project, and he didn't. He basically did enough of all the things he'd done as a prospect to be a fine reserve outfielder at the Major League level. He walked a lot, even though he wasn't hitting for any power, he ran well in the outfield even though his arm sometimes seemed like it was throwing for an imaginary cut-off cut-off man, and he ran like a man afire for some of those extra-base hits.

Whether he's a finished product or not he seems like he's ready, at 27 next year, to step into a fourth outfielder role on a regular basis. If anyone makes Skip Schumaker the most tradable of the Cardinals outfielders from our end, it's this guy.  

Joe Mather - OF - 25

54 133 32 7 0 8 12 32 .241 .306 .474 102 3.5

Mighty Joe is an exciting player to watch. His vitals make him out to be about the same size as Chris Duncan, but when he finally got called up it seemed like a misleading comparison—he's shaped like a baseball player, or an American Gladiator, not a lumberjack. He looks like an athlete, running with no inefficient movement and leaping like a basketball player. His swing, between the size, the shin guard, and the long uppercut, gives one the visual impression of seeing Mark McGwire again, which is fun. 

Of course, none of those things make you a good baseball player. But last year he certainly played himself into the Great Cardinals Outfield Glut of 2009. I have no idea what the Cardinals are going to do with this guy, or what they should do with this guy, but I think he would impress if given the chance. It's not often you end up with a combination hulking slugger/great fielder, and given that base of skills it's not a stretch to see the kind of improvement in his hitting numbers that you would need to make him an above-average corner outfielder.

Chris Perez - RP - 22

41 41.2 42 22 5 3.46 8.1

Chris Perez came up in a way that didn't surprise anyone who'd followed him all the way up the ladder. He showed immediately that he could strike out Major League batters like it was no big deal; he looked like a future closer; he walked a ton of batters. For a controversial player it was not a controversial beginning. 

But I think he'd become a symbol more than a baseball player by the end of the year. La Russa and Duncan expressed their concern with his readiness as a closer and we jumped to his defense, tired of Ryan Franklin, tired of retreads, tires of the mantra of the proven closer. but when you look at the stats—as we so often ask La Russa and Duncan to do—they might have had a point. 

He walked nearly five batters per nine innings. And it wasn't a surprise, because he's always walked nearly five batters per nine innings. He had some excellent early outings, he looked outstanding in them, and we—I, at least—used our inner Scout's Instinct to declare him ready, even though he was the same wild young pitcher he was before the callup. 

I'm already on the record as pro-Perez for closer in 2009, if for no other reason than to keep payroll down in areas where easy replacements can not be dredged up out of other teams' minor league swamps, but when I look back at how I decided that the Braintrust was out of their mind in not handing Perez the position immediately I see that I was doing the same thing—relying on a hunch and my eyes—that kills me when it leads to, say, Marlon Anderson starting at DH in the World Series.