And with three swings Brian Barton comes charging to the head of the race for the honorable Coolbaugh Award, given to the king of Spring Training in honor of the late Mike Coolbaugh, who caused a minor uproar in the Up household when his furious 2002 spring was not rewarded with a spot on the opening day roster.
About those two home runs: Barton hasn't hit for serious power since he put a hole in the Carolina League as a 24-year-old, so they seem even less predictive than Spring Training stats normally are, but his goal isn't a tough one—he's got to get his slugging percentage over, what, .420? If he hits two home runs a month he'll be fine.
Of course, the big thing for him to do, if he wants to break camp with the Cardinals, is help Skip Schumaker with his infield defense. English majors pick up your highlighters–it's time for some La Russa Close Reading.
"Those two balls he missed are easily remedied," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "Your first move has got to be in. He just needs to work on it. But he didn't put his head in the sand. He dives and makes a play. It's a great example of his toughness."
Which is to say, "He's still a second baseman, and he's going to be until he fields a ground ball and gets confused looking for the cut-off man." La Russa is taking this conversion seriously, and I'm glad he is; a trade aside, this is the one chance the Cardinals have to take the outfield surplus and apply it to the hole in the middle infield. If Skip's fielding .850 around May Day I'll be willing to see this stubbornness in a negative light, but in Spring Training La Russa can't be guilty of trying too hard to fit Schumaker into the round hole.
His caddy yesterday was Jarrett Hoffpauir, who is the Cardinals' practical replacement level for this experiment, and maybe the best-known quantity of all the second basemen-in-waiting. 26 this year, Hoffpauir spent 2007 putting himself on the prospect map with an .880 OPS between AA and AAA, and took himself off it with an unspectacular 2008.
He's a Short, Scrappy Hustler (alt. a Short, Hustling Scrapper) in the grand Ecksteinian tradition: a middling defender—scouts say average, stats, at least last season, say Schumaker—whose one tool is an incredible grasp of the strike zone. He's post-prime Eckstein without the shortstop defense, otherwise known as Aaron Miles, and if he makes the team it will be because the seas in front of him have parted, not because he's fought his way to the top. Watch him this spring—more importantly, watch the people in front of him.
Today (12:10, v. the Devil Rays) Adam Wainwright makes his spring debut. If Chris Carpenter comes north somehow Not Right, be it in terms of health or effectiveness, it will be too bad. If Wainwright struggles with either one heading into the regular season, it will be time to panic.