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the last spots

spring training is winding its way into the last games. this time next week, i'll be blogging about opening day.

depending on how you view things, we're down to a competition over one or two spots on the roster. on the position player side, daniel descalso and matt carpenter are in a competition over the last infield slot. depending on how fixed you view the bullpen, bryan augenstein has at least an outside chance of bumping batista for the last bullpen slot.

first, the mere fact that carpenter has kept his name in the mix for the major league club is an enormous tribute to him. earlier this winter, i put his chances of making the team at 10% -- and that was coming from an enormous matt carpenter homer, who has been stumping for him since at least august 4, 2009. he's done everything right so far; other than injury, that's the only way for him to keep his name in the mix.

second, can i just note for a minute how cool it is that, instead of the classic cardinals conundrum - aging, past-prime or never-had-a-prime vet up against youthful challenger - we actually have two interesting, internally developed cardinals prospects, both with interesting and compelling claims to the last bench spot?

descalso has a lot going for him. probably best of all, he's capable at both third and second. he's going to have to scrap for time off the bench, and being able to contribute at both spots is very important. he also has more experience than carpenter, having caught a little bit of time in the majors and having spent a season and a half at AAA (700 PA). not to be ignored, descalso is already on the 40-man. that said, he is a low-ceilng high-floor prospect, who will likely be steady and unexciting in the majors. he also has a substantial overlap in skillset with skip schumaker, although one should note both his ability to play defense there competently and to do so while being paid $2.3m less.

here's your heartburn stat of the day: while descalso plays average-ish defense, his Marcel projection: .328 wOBA. skip schumaker (he of the -12.9 UZR/150 at second): .318. skip doesn't fare better than descalso under the FANS or Bill James numbers, either. ZIPS agrees as well, that descalso is narrowly a better hitter than skippy. i would not cry if, by midseason, skip schumaker was sitting on the bench. and in case anyone is tempted, because "hey, free second baseman," luis castilo is worse than either of them. we're better off with what we've got.

i think it would be unfair not to note that daniel descalso boasts the single most broadcaster-abused name of any spring training attendee, certainly in terms of how hard it is to pronounce (not very). i've heard "des-cal-ZO" "des-cal-KO" "des-cal-SKO", and more manglings of a fairly simple name.

carpenter puts together an interesting, if challenging, case. he's limited on any number of fronts: he doesn't have a track record in the majors, or even AAA; he can't be counted on to play anywhere but third; he is not on the 40-man. there's a certain risk, then, to promoting him, as well as starting the clock on his major league service time. and it's not clear that he would do better than descalso - carpenter didn't even make most of the conventional projection systems; ZIPS doesn't think he'll hit better than descalso (94 OPS+ for descalso v. 91 for carp). while projecting his defense at third is tough, given the very limited time he's had, conventional wisdom on his defense is "average."

still, the one thing matt carpenter has over descalso is a higher ceiling. descalso pretty much looks like skip schumaker with ordinary defense at second. carpenter has had outstanding on-base performance at every level throughout his (brief) minor-league career. his swing has been praised by scouting types almost universally. now, he still won't carry a .436 BABIP into the regular season, but i think he's a good candidate to hit for high average, with modest doubles/triples power, and to walk at a high clip in the majors. if he realizes his full potential, he's at least a very solid third baseman, while i suspect descalso's ceiling is more like a fringy starting second baseman (which i would happily take right now).

* * *

i'm not sure how seriously the club is actually taking augenstein's candidacy. i think he's a hell of a lot more interesting than batista, who has been at or below replacement level for several seasons, including a couple in the best pitcher's park after petco. batista's projections indicate nothing special - 4.75 FIP, which is about replacement level for relievers. notably, he walks a lot of guys (4+ BB/9 for the last three seasons), and doesn't strike nearly enough out to make up for his walk rate. his GB rate is decent.

also, he's FORTY years old. he's not getting better. he's very likely to decline precipitously, and when the start of your decline is replacement level, where you end up is ugly (see: feliz, pedro).

augenstein is very interesting. in 2009 and 2010, he's posted decent FIPs in the minors with ERAs that are horrible, mostly due to an awful LOB rate (58.2% in AAA in 2010; 53.2% with ARZ in 2009; 58.1% with AAA in 2009). that's likely a turn of bad luck, albeit a world-beating turn of bad luck. the only non-luck factors that i can think of that would affect that would be a difference in someone's performance pitching from the stretch v. the windup or just some psychological problem with having men on base while pitching, causing the pitcher to break form or lose focus. so, pay special attention to how augenstein pitches with men on base when the games are televised.

assuming that augenstein is in fact a good pitcher with terrible luck, he could be a very decent sixth or seventh starter and a very decent reliever. marcel likes him for a 4.13 FIP in mixed starting and relieving, which would be excellent.

the other thing to note is that augenstein is already on the 40-man. if carpenter forces his way onto the roster (taking the space vacated by wainwright's 60-day DL stint), augenstein might be a good batista substitute, just for roster management reasons.

other thoughts on the roster: should we need to find TWO roster spots (presumably for carpenter and batista), there are a few options. maybe the most painless would be to put francisco samuel on the 60-day DL as well; he is out with a lat strain for several weeks. now, unless he got a Brad Penny-brand lat strain, that just kicks the can down the road. when samuel is ready to come off the DL, the club will have to make a decision (or somebody else will have gone on the 60-day).

samuel himself could probably pass through waivers right now, especially with a bad wing. and the risk is fairly low, even if he got picked up off waivers: while he throws with a lot of speed, he's never shown signs of putting his control together. pj walters could be another candidate. his lease on a roster spot is rapidly slipping. lynn and augenstein (and maybe dickson) are probably better emergency call-ups right now. he could probably be snuck through waivers. two relievers - blake king and maikel cleto - probably have no place on the 40-man, but i wonder if the club will basically admit their mistakes (in protecting king and in trading for cleto) by putting them through waivers a few months after protecting/trading for them. it might also behoove the club to shop mark hamilton after his great spring. he's been fairly healthy and a dynamite player. i doubt they'd cut him, but he's probably not making the majors with the cardinals.