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A Tale of Two Infielders

In which the right side of the Cardinal infield is examined, in rather haphazard fashion.

That might be an overly majestic home run pose for a guy who's only hit seven this season, Allen. Just saying.
That might be an overly majestic home run pose for a guy who's only hit seven this season, Allen. Just saying.

Things I noticed during the game last night:

1. It's fun playing the Astros.

2. Brett Wallace has a new swing. I like it. I still don't think he's ever going to be anything close to what was expected of him back when he was drafted, but actually taking a rip at the ball is a step in the right direction. I like the leg kick, too.

3. I loves me some Matt Carpenter.

4. Loves me some Allen Craig, too.

Actually, those two players present a rather interesting dichotomy, at least to me. Both came up through the Cardinal system as essentially bat-only prospects, though admittedly ones with significantly different skillsets. Hmm. Skill sets is apparently two words, rather than one. I like it better as one. Skillsets. The only problem is I may type skillets by mistake. You know what? I'm just going to have to take that risk.

Both Craig and Carpenter are remarkably fitting prospects to represent the Jeff Lunnow era for the Redbirds. It's easy to look around at the embarrassment of riches the Cardinals have in the minor leagues at this moment in time -- not to mention the embarrassment of praise the system has received over the past two years -- and think only of the glory which Luhnow wrought before taking on the mantle of saviour with El Birdos' current opponents.

For the largest part of the Luhnow era, though, the Cards' farm system was not particularly well respected, outside of one season in which Colby Rasmus was one of the top prospects in baseball. There was plenty of depth, yes, but a whole lot of these weird, in-between, pseudo-prospects. Guys like Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter, in other words. Guys with oddly specific skillsets and significant limitations that kept the prospect mavens of the world from thinking much of them.

It's odd to look at where they are now, though, standing next to each other on the field, separated by maybe 50 feet but a whole heap of value. Craig, largely due to shockingly low walk and home run rates for the season, is just now hitting one full win above replacement for the season. Carpenter, on the other hand, is currently sitting at 3.7 WAR, on pace for better than a seven win season. He's the best second baseman in the National League, and there isn't an AL keystoner who immediately jumps to mind as being much better either, to be quite honest. Feel free to throw in anyone you like.

I don't really have much of a moral to this story; I kind of wish I did, but the connecting thread here seems elusive. Something about the way both players would seem to have come to the Cardinals thanks to new school thinking; that you find productive players and then find somewhere to play them, and their respective values are now divided largely by a bit of old school baseball scouting, the eye test someone conducted on Matt Carpenter that led them to believe he could handle a position he had never played before, at any level we're aware of.

Or maybe that's a false dichotomy, and I'm throwing up conflict in my mind where there is none. After all, moving Carpenter to second may have required the old school leap of faith, to simply look at a player and believe, but it's so very Oakland A's in concept. Find the guy who can hit, and then slide him as far left on the defensive spectrum as you can. I can't imagine any of us thought Carpenter could possibly go as far left as he has, but I'm certainly not complaining.

I wonder if Stephen Piscotty can play center field. He seems like a Matt Carpenter waiting to happen, if only you could find some surprisingly difficult position he's surprisingly capable of manning at a surprisingly high level. Eh, probably not. After all, for every Matt Carpenter in the world, there's a Skip Schumaker somewhere, just waiting to prove that, no matter how much a player might look like a middle infielder, not literally everyone can play second base.

In summation, it's fun to play the Astros. Certainly more fun than playing the Texas Rangers. Oh, and thank you, Jeff Luhnow. Sure, I'm going to be rooting for your team to continue getting their skulls kicked in for the next couple days, but don't ever think that means we aren't very, very grateful for the oddly limited, underappreciated, crazily productive farm system you built here.