The biggest piece of news last night was that Kolten Wong was sent down to the minor leagues after just 76 plate appearances despite hitting well in the minors throughout his career, having a good spring, getting off to a strong start in the majors early on, and having a multi-hit game in his second to last start. The second biggest piece of news was Randal Grichuk getting the call to the majors. While Greg Garcia's promotion and Shane Robinson's demotion are interesting, more important and perhaps more telling is the decision to keep both Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty in Triple-A.
Oscar Taveras is universally hailed as the Cardinals' top prospect, yet did not receive the call. As Ben mentioned in his post this morning, Grichuk will not be guaranteed playing time. The Cardinals will not be calling up Taveras absent the ability to provide him a spot in the lineup nearly every day. Earlier this month, fourstick's post framed the issue well.
This is a guy you bring up, put in your lineup every single day and let him go to work. The problem, of course, is that if you do that you're either displacing a really good player who's off to a slow start or you're putting him in CF, which not only displaces two players who form a fairly valuable platoon, but also might hurt your team considerably defensively and put a lot of pressure on a newly repaired ankle to withstand a lot of abuse.
Given Taveras' status and potential, it would be a waste to put him on the major league roster and let him rot on the bench. What makes the callup a little more interesting is that the Cardinals must feel the same way about Stephen Piscotty. During Spring Training, Piscotty remained with the big league club longer than Taveras after the latter had injury problems that prevented Taveras from making a big impression. If there had been an injury to a starter, Piscotty may well have gotten the call above Taveras.
Discussing the depth in the minors at the outfield position, John Mozeliak made it pretty clear how he felt about the young players knocking on the door in talking to Derrick Goold at the Post-Dispatch.
"Right now, at their age, playing baseball everyday is the most important thing for them," general manager John Mozeliak said. "There is going to be a time when we are looking for bench help, when we have to consider what they could bring in that role, but we're not there, not at this point. They need to play. We need to see what we have."
The Cardinals still feel that way about Piscotty and Taveras, but the their vision for Grichuk is murkier. Balancing the present and the future is a very difficult task for a general manager and it can be made even more difficult when the manager and general manager disagree about how to distribute playing time. Mozeliak called up Grichuk knowing that playing time would be limited. He was not willing to risk the development of Taveras and Piscotty, but the risk was justified to Mozeliak for Grichuk.
While the Cardinals' bench and power could certainly use the boost that Grichuk can provide, the role Grichuk takes on now may be closer to the role they envision for the future. He can play all three outfield positions and brings power. With some development he could develop into an everyday player, but can likely fill a fourth outfielder role. This role stands in contrast to Taveras and Piscotty, who are likely ready to play everyday in the majors once the opportunity is provided. Both the floor and ceiling for the Cardinals' top two hitting prospects exceed Grichuk's.
All else equal, Joey Butler may have been the player to receive the call-up. At 28 years old, there is little to risk in terms of prospect development. He actually had the best line in Triple-A this season of the outfielders, currently hitting .403/.519/.597 in Memphis. Of course, everything is not equal. Butler's inability to play center field likely played some role in sticking in Memphis, but given the presence of Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay on the major league roster, playing center field is not a priority in St. Louis. That is likely part of the reason Robinson was demoted. The factor that likely played a bigger role in Butler remaining in Memphis is Grichuk's spot on the 40-man roster. Butler is not on the 40-man, and although there is currently an open spot, the Cardinals may be saving that spot for a higher-impact prospect like Piscotty or Tim Cooney, or waiting for a veteran like David Aardsma or someone outside the organization to take that spot.
Grichuk is a better fit as a power bat off the bench for St. Louis than Robinson, and keeping Taveras and Piscotty in the minors is an indicator of how important the Cardinals view those two players for the future. Grichuk is a solid prospect, but not expected to be an impact player at the major league level absent more development. While promoting the less-ready hitter to the major leagues appears counter-intuitive, given the good potential of Piscotty and the potential for stardom for the still only 21-year old Taveras, promoting Grichuk for limited at bats makes the most sense when trying to balance the short and long term needs of the St. Louis Cardinals.