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System Sundays: A Short Story About Third Base

The Cardinals’ farm system as a whole is in very good shape at the moment. There’s one area, though, where the minors are just as bare as the majors.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, a friend of mine I used to work with sent me a text message. He was very excited about the prospect of Weird Al Yankovic releasing a huge boxed set of his work to celebrate 40 years in the music industry. Now, I admit to being quite a bit less excited about the prospect of a Weird Al boxed set than my friend, but that should not be construed as any sort of distaste for the works of Mr. Yankovic on my part.

Weird Al seems like a nice enough fellow, and it’s been oddly gratifying for me to see him popping up here and there working with members of today’s alt-comedy crowd. I may not have purchased a Weird Al record since the one where the album cover looked like the Jurassic Park logo, which I think was sometime in early 90s, but I’ve always maintained a bit of a soft spot in my heart for that late 80s/early 90s version of Al Yankovic, when you could count on him for a Michael Jackson parody every year or two. Overall, though, in the grand scheme of things, I simply don’t think about Weird Al all that often, and thus, while I was happy my friend was happy about the impending boxed set release, I was not necessarily affected in the same way.

However, him bringing up Weird Al to me did remind me of something I had almost entirely forgotten about, which was a day several years back, a Sunday afternoon, when I was at the International Tap House with my friend Luke, getting absolutely indecently drunk for noon on a Sunday. In between my telling him about whatever current romantic difficulties I was going through at the time, I came up with the idea that Weird Al really should have done a B-52s parody based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In that way that ideas can often seem extraordinarily important to a person when said person is intoxicated, I was convinced that “Love Craft”, was a brilliant, brilliant idea, and was more than a little miffed when neither Luke nor the bartender, who may or may not have been a previous source of romantic difficulties for me, were anywhere near as impressed as I was by the idea of Fred Schneider saucily telling me about how the Yellow Sign says stay away, fools, and how the group is heading down the R’lyeh highway.

I had forgotten completely about the whole thing until the other day, which I’m sure says something about how good the idea actually was, that it proved utterly incapable of sticking to the surface of a sober mind, but suddenly remembered it upon hearing of Weird Al’s continued presence in the music industry.

That’s the whole story. I hope you weren’t holding out for a payoff of some sort.

While writing up the top prospects list for the site this year, there was a trend that emerged to me, and was widely noticed both here and elsewhere, I think, judging by some comments to that effect. Actually, it might not qualify as a trend, necessarily; a trend implies multiple data points all leading in a certain direction. We do have a couple data points in this case, but enough to call it a trend? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.

So here’s the thing: the Cardinals don’t have any third base prospects.


Like, at all.

Now, admittedly, there were two players on my big list who had ‘3B’ listed next to their names: Bryce Denton and Paul DeJong. However, at the present moment, even those two-out-of-thirty-eight (including the just-missed guys), are really overrepresenting the state of hot corner prospects in the Cards’ system, seeing as how neither of them are currently playing third base. Both have been moved off the position just since the end of the official minor league season.

For DeJong, the move could be construed as a positive one, as the club appears set on trying him out as a shortstop in 2017, which is certainly an interesting proposition. I’m skeptical, admittedly; I think it’s much more likely the DeJong Experiment at shortstop is functionally a precursor to him getting a shot in a utility role, but the fact the organisation wants to at least try him there is very intriguing. Denton, on the other hand, lacks such a silver lining in his situation; the team moved him to the outfield in instructional league, the move appears to be more or less permanent, and it hurts his value fairly significantly. It feels to me like the Cardinals are making the move a bit prematurely, but they’ve seen him play far more at the hot corner than I have, and must be convinced it’s simply not going to work there.

Functionally, DeJong and Denton both moving off third base leaves the Redbirds without a proper third base prospect that I would personally rate even among the top...50? Maybe? Obviously, it’s possible DeJong moves back, but when we look through the current organisational depth chart, it becomes glaringly obvious the Cards just don’t have much in the pipeline at third.

It’s not as if the club hasn’t tried to address this particular weak spot. Back in the 2012 draft, the Cardinals had six picks in the top 100. They used half of those picks — numbers 36, 52, and 86 — on third basemen.

At 36 was Stephen Piscotty out of Stanford. He proved to have skillets instead of hands and was moved to the outfield, where he matriculated his way to the big leagues.

At 52 was Patrick Wisdom, a college third baseman out of St. Mary’s. Known for a slick glove and big-time power potential, Wisdom never has made enough contact — or loud enough contact when making contact — to tap into that potential. He just finished putting up a 79 wRC+ in Memphis this year, and it’s safe to say he’s not knocking on the door to the big leagues.

Pick 86 saw the Cards select Carson Kelly, the only high schooler of the bunch and potentially the most intriguing athlete of the three. Kelly has developed into a very exciting young prospect, but only since transitioning to catcher. So, three swings, zero contact, at least in terms of guys playing third.

Of course, it hasn’t really mattered that the Cardinals haven’t had many (or any), third base prospects over the past few years, because they’ve had Matt Carpenter there to hold down the position. The Galveston Grinder was drafted in the thirteenth round of the 2009 draft (after Albert Pujols was drafted in the thirteenth round of ‘99, meaning we should pay very, very close attention to the Cards’ selection in round thirteen of the 2019 draft), and took over at the hot corner after David Freese was sent off to Anaheim following the 2013 season. Carpenter was never considered much of a fielder at third, but when you can hit the way he can, certain things are easier to overlook.

Now, though, with Carpenter having officially been moved to first base (probably the right move), the Cardinals are left with a rather large question mark at third. They have Jhonny Peralta and Jedd Gyorko set to share time at the position, with Gyorko seemingly the more likely answer in the longer term, simply by dint of his being under contract beyond this upcoming season. Even with Jedd in the fold past 2017, though, the Cards are not really staffed at the third base position long term.

This leads to a tough question the organisation will need to answer relatively soon; they’re going to need someone to anchor the Cardinal teams of the future. Looking around at this moment, though, it’s very unlcear who that anchor might be.

It’s possible, of course, that one of the club’s vaunted young middle infield prospects moves to third from shortstop. I’m personally more interested in the idea of Aledmys Diaz moving to second base rather than third, since I think his major difficulty defensively has to do with throwing, which wouldn’t really be alleviated by moving to third base, but it’s not a terrible idea to consider, either. If an Edmundo Sosa or Paul DeJong happens to present himself as a solution at short in the immediate future, perhaps Aledmys shifts over to the slightly less footwork-intensive spot.

We can also easily talk about DeJong simply moving back to third, and taking over there rather than making the more complicated scenario involving him at short a reality. Among the Cards’ other middle infield prospects, it’s also not difficult to envision Delvin Perez, with his 6’2” frame (albeit a skinny 6’2”), moving over to third. He certainly has the arm for it, and translating his defensive tools from short to the hot corner could put the club in a Manny Machado sort of situation.

Speaking of Manny Machado situations, it’s impossible to talk about the Cards’ lack of long term answers at third and not at least acknowledge the fact that the best third baseman in the game (or at least one of the two best, along with Kris Bryant), is going to be a free agent in two years’ time, headlining what could be an historically great free agent class. You want a Manny Machado situation? You could always just sign Manny Machado.

Admittedly, this sort of speculation presupposes that Machado is still as sought-after an asset in two years as he is now. It certainly appears he will be; considering Machado is still almost six months shy of his 25th birthday (I know, hard to believe), he will hit free agency at an incredibly appealing age, and with at least three 6+ win seasons on his record already. Then again, Machado has also already had knee issues, and we have seen even very young players have their careers short-circuited by injury in the past.

Still, if Machado does roughly what is expected of him the next two years, then hits free agency at 26 with 30-35 total WAR accumulated already in his career, you can bet he will get an absolutely absurd contract from somebody. Whether or not the Cardinals would be willing to step up financially to that level is tough to say; we’ve heard forever from this front office they have the flexibility and muscle in terms of payroll to make major additions if said additions make sense, and yet in practice we’ve seen the club go to the store for a David Price and come home with a Mike Leake, and payroll stagnate in general, particularly as it relates to revenues. It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals playing in those waters for a player like Machado and actually winning a bidding war, but perhaps I’m being too cynical.

Barring a blockbuster signing, though, it’s somewhat unclear where the Cardinals are going to turn in the future for help at third. As I said, there are middle infield prospects in the pipeline who could potentially move over, but the question of how well said middle infielder’s bat is going to translate to the more offensively demanding position must be asked. Edmundo Sosa looks like a very, very different sort of prospect if he’s playing shortstop, compared to moving over to third base. And that goes for every other potential transplant candidate in the system.

For now, it’s simply a slightly strange circumstance to be acknowledged, that of all the prospects we can point to in the Cardinal system who might have an impact on the future in one way or another, essentially none of them play one particular position. It is also a circumstance to be acknowledged that the big league club’s most pressing concern in the near term might be the question of who will be playing that particular position as soon as midseason 2017, depending on how things go with the pair of misfit toys the Redbirds are planning on running out there.

Third base isn’t even just a long term question for the Cardinals. Long term questions are fine; baseball teams have long term questions at most positions on the diamond most of the time, and that’s fine. But third base is a much nearer question. And it’s more than a little worrisome that I don’t see what even looks like the outline of an answer to the question anywhere on the horizon.