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Who's Up First?

Back on the 9th of January, I asked everyone to project a couple of Spring Surprises. I went with Jason Motte as a pitcher, and Travis Mitchell as a position player. In hindsight, the Travis Mitchell pick was probably me trying to be a little too clever. I think he could very well take a good step forward this year, but I don't think he's going to make much noise in camp. A kid as far from the majors as he is really has to do something spectacular to get noticed. Oh well.

So far, Motte is looking like an okay but not great pick. He's gotten a couple of nice mentions here and there, and apparently Carpenter is taking an interest in him, counseling him on the need for command. I really like that Carp seems to be looking out for the kid, giving him the benefit of someone who's been there, the young turk with the golden arm. Hopefully, Motte won't have to go through quite the struggles Carp did to be successful. Also, a quick tip, Mr. Carpenter. There's this other kid in camp, I believe his name's Perez, something like that? He could totally use some advice on throwing strikes. Just head on over there when you're done with Jason.

So far, the biggest accolades are being ladled on Clayton Mortenson, he of the sinker that makes Duncan say Whoo, Kyle McClellan, local boy made good, and the Iron Bill, Anthony Reyes. Looking back, no one picked Reyes, although a couple of people did say they hoped it would be him, but doubted it.

Poster Jackson has got it so far; he was the only poster I saw that singled out Mortenson. Nice call, Jackson. I was actually a little surprised, looking back, that he wasn't a more common call. I liked him over the offseason, but I was still a little doubtful. Count me in as fully on the bandwagon now. Congrats again to Jackson for a really nice pull.

McClellan had a few supporters. Cariocacardinal, Hinkster, and Hungry Jack all pulled McClellan's name out of the hat. Kudos to all three for excellent prescience.

Chinmusic agreed with me on Motte, and also threw out Garcia's name. Garcia has looked good so far; more importantly, he's looked healthy, and that's great news. Good call, Chinmusic.

I know it's still much too early to make a definitive judgement on how good of a spring players really had, but I just wanted to check back and see who's looking smart so far.

To this point, there aren't really any hitters that have jumped out from the pack. Considering they start later and are harder to judge until actual games start, I'm not surprised we're not hearing a whole lot of singling out yet. Ankiel has apparently looked good, and Rasmus hit the dinger yesterday, but that's really about it. I'll look again in a week or two and see how we're all doing. Congrats to all who look brilliant so far, and those who don't, hey, we got time.

There's been some discussion lately about who's going to lead off for the Cards this year, and I wanted to get some thoughts on it. No one player really jumps out and screams at you; several guys have arguments to be made for them, but each also has some deficiencies.

Yesterday or the day before, I heard on the radio, during an interview with LaRussa, a quick discussion of the topic. He basically ruled out Albert, Yadi, Duncan, probably Ankiel, and the pitcher. Beyond that, whoever can get on base is probably going to be the guy, according to the manager. (By the way, I think it was the first time I've ever actually heard Tony use the words On Base Percentage. I nearly ran off the road in shock and excitement.)

When it comes to the leadoff spot, I'm actually a little bit of a traditionalist. I'm a sucker for speed, having grown up rooting for the Whitey Herzog Runnin' Redbirds of the 80s. That being said, obviously, on base ability is probably the most important consideration for a top of the lineup hitter. So who have we got?

Barton, to me, looks like the perfect candidate. Excellent on base skills, plus speed, enough power to at least keep a pitcher a little honest, pretty much everything you look for. Unfortunately, in addition to the lack of major league experience, there is now a bit of concern about the health of his surgically repaired knee, so he's obviously a question mark at the moment. He was my preference, but now that's a bit up in the air.

A guy like Schumaker? He's got some speed, his plate discipline, while not great, improved some last year, particularly late in the season. He profiles at the top or the bottom, as he just doesn't have a whole lot of power. Not a bad choice.

What about Ludwick? He's not a traditional leadoff hitter, but he has some attractive points. Especially if you belong to the school of belief that you simply put a good hitter in the top spot, without considering the type of hitter he is, Lud the Stud might be pretty good. Again, his plate discipline improved later in the year, his speed is a tick above average. What he does offer is a little extra pop in the #1 spot. Remember, Tony once used Bo Jackson to lead off in the All Star Game for that reason; he wanted someone who could do some damage up there.

Kennedy? Izturis? Neither one is a real attractive option; both are pretty rough offensively. Kennedy has a track record of being a pretty solid hitter, and maybe his knee problems last year affected his performance more than we knew. Izturis, by most accounts, is a very bad hitter. He does have some speed, though, which could maybe profile him in a table setter role. Of course, his .290 OBP sort of hurts his chances to utilise that speed.

Brendan Ryan, if he's on the team, makes an intriguing choice. Nice speed, a little pop, (more of the gap variety, not so much over the fence) again, his on base skills aren't so great.

Of course, by some models, you should just put you absolute best hitter in the leadoff spot, in order to maximize his ABs. Tony did rule out Albert, but what the hell? If you think that's the ticket, go for it.

I think that's about all the guys that make sense. I'm really interested to get everyone's thoughts on this. Do you like the speedy, old school guys, or do you just want someone to get on base? Power? No power? Personally, I'm not a fan of having power hitters in front of Pujols, including the no. 2 spot. I want all the bombers behind him, so the pitcher is forced to decide between Pujols or the other three home run hitters behind him. I guess, given that Barton is such a question mark at the moment, I like a guy like Skippy. I don't trust Kennedy or Izturis to get on base at all, and I don't want to see Ludwick's power wasted ahead of the bombers. Little thin on the choices, I have to say.

One last thing: In yesterday's Bird Land entry, Goold includes a bit about the possible role of Colby Rasmus on this team.

"If Colby can help us win and at the end of the year have 250 at-bats, and somebody would argue that it would be better for him to have 500, there's a hell of a chance he'll be with us if he can give us a better chance to win," LaRussa said. "If he gives us the same chance to win and he gets 250, then you send him to the minor leagues."

This is just the sort of thing that really worries me. The organisation, despite what they've said about being competitive, really needs to take the long view here. If Colby needs more time in the minors, that's where he should be. Period. If he's ready to be here, then he should be starting, taking over the role that was reserved for him when Edmonds moved on to San Diego. I'm not sure what the circumstances would be, exactly, in which Rasmus would be good enough to make the team better, but not good enough to start, and I desperately don't want to find out. This sort of short sightedness is exactly what worries me so much about LaRussa these days. This kid is a future cornerstone player. I realise that no one player is ever more important than the team, but if the team is serious about building this thing right, you have to make sure the foundation is sound. Don't bring up a kid with this kind of future to sit on the bench. Please, Tony, I'm begging you. Look, see? I'm begging you.

With all of that in mind, I'm changing my above vote. I want Colby Rasmus leading off, Opening Day and every day. C'mon kid, make it happen. Whatever you do, just don't end up in the grey area. For your sake, and ours.