When the St. Louis Cardinals traded Skip Schumaker for Jake Lemmerman they made their 2013 infield picture look a little clearer at the major league level and considerably less clear at the minor league level. Lemmerman is a short-season-crushing college shortstop who is getting a little old for AA, where he hit .233 last year; in their own AA affiliate the younger and more interesting Greg Garcia and Kolten Wong each looked ready for promotion after 2012. The Cardinals' minor league infielders are not a system strength, but they're drowning in interesting future utility infielders.
Luckily, Derrick Goold cleared things up about the Cardinals' minor league plans in this Lemmerman report, which you should read even if you don't care about minor league rosters. The roster-finessing gist: Lemmerman was acquired to start at shortstop in AA; the Cardinals believe in Greg Garcia's defensive potential enough to start him at shortstop in Memphis; and Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson's position will (obviously) have a lot to do with where everyone ends up.
|Palm Beach||Springfield||Memphis||St. Louis|
|2B||Luis Mateo||Starlin Rodriguez||Kolten Wong||Daniel Descalso|
|3B||Stephen Piscotty||Alan Ahmady||Jermaine Curtis||David Freese|
|SS||Matt Williams||Jake Lemmerman||Greg Garcia||Rafael Furcal|
|Ryan Jackson||Pete Kozma
That's my best guess at where things open in April, given Goold's report, and once you see it laid out like this it's easy to see where the hole was on the infield. Ronny Gil's awful season as a 23-year-old in Palm Beach--he hit .224/.275/.293, and struck out 97 times in 420 at-bats--left nothing behind Garcia at shortstop, since Quad Cities (now Peoria) incumbent Matt Williams (.269/.333/.383) did little to suggest he could jump a level and 2012 fourth-rounder Alex Mejia tore his ACL in Batavia.
What could change this arrangement going into 2013? Some guesses, in order of obviousness:
The Cardinals might decide they like Ryan Jackson again, or dislike Pete Kozma
Ryan Jackson is the most confusing figure in this whole arrangement; he's stuck on the depth chart behind a probably-inferior but basically similar player, and with Springfield's 2012 infield pushing forward as a unit he could find himself in the same place Kozma was last year, trying to prove his mettle as a utility infielder by... not playing every day in the minor leagues.
For Jackson, whose only plus skill is his defense at shortstop, that would be an especially bad outcome. But the Cardinals could decide to go with both of their fringy mid-20s shortstops--with Schumaker gone the third second baseman is currently Matt Carpenter--which would clear things up.
It would also mean the Cardinals were employing two light-hitting, right-handed, defense-first shortstops on a five-man bench, which is why we keep talking about trade and free-agency targets who would push Daniel Descalso down here and render the question irrelevant.
Greg Garcia might not be a shortstop
Another odd facet of the arrangement: The questions surrounding Garcia's long-term ability to play shortstop, and the empty spot at third base where Zack Cox would have been. Garcia won't be able to play his native second base so long as he's in the same infield as Kolten Wong, but Memphis could free up space for Jackson by varying Garcia's positions along the Daniel Descalso method.
Meanwhile, Lemmerman, the third light-hitting, right-handed, mid-20s shortstop in the arrangement, will be repeating a level in a hitter-friendly league and park. If the Cardinals don't sign anyone to replace Descalso at second this question might answer itself, because his low upside might engender some pressure to aggressively promote Wong (who, it's worth remembering, hit .287/.348/.405 in AA last year and is entering his third professional season.)
Stephen Piscotty probably isn't a third baseman
I'm not sure I like the 2012 draft past Michael Wacha, yet, but I do find it really interesting. Stephen Piscotty is one of the three third baseman the Cardinals drafted in the first two rounds, and 2013 might be the year he makes it clear that the Cardinals actually drafted two third basemen in the first two rounds.
In his first 55 professional games Piscotty hit pretty well in the low-offense, full-season Midwest League, with an OPS (.823) a hundred points above league average. But his fielding percentage (.815) would have been just a little above NL-average in 1876, when foul balls down the line were fair and gloves were a hilarious bit of prop-humor. Like Matt Holliday, most of us might forget he was ever a third baseman by the time he reaches the major leagues.
Between Wong and Garcia on one side and the 2012 third basemen on the other there's a sea of near-prospects, organizational soldiers, and players who might someday be near-prospects, and that's the place Jake Lemmerman fits perfectly. Will Lemmerman hit again, or was his prospect-dom a Niko Vasquez-style short-season illusion?
Well, I don't know. Will draft-afterthought Tyler Rahmatulla hit again? Are Starlin Rodriguez's incredibly high BAbips the sign of some skill or the rare fluky way to hit in the Florida State League? Does anybody know what position Colin Walsh is supposed to be playing?
That's what the Cardinals traded Skip Schumaker fo--a gamble on a player who might someday be a back-of-the-prospect-list gamble. Which is not a put-down, on Lemmerman or the Cardinals' valuation of Schumaker; it's just what non-standard utility infielders are worth: Another potential non-standard utility infielder. And $1.5 million.