Last night, we saw Génesis Cabrera make his MLB debut as the 2,000th player in Cardinal history.
It was far from sterling. He saw 18 batters over 3.2 innings and gave up five runs, three of which were earned.
There were some bright spots, too. Cabrera struck out five in his first trip through the Phillies lineup, including a second inning in which he struck out the side in order:
Génesis Cabrera strikes out the side in the 2nd inning! pic.twitter.com/CBCrlppWYR— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) May 30, 2019
He has swing-and-miss stuff, but there was also a lot of swing-and-not-miss-at-all stuff. Cabrera’s high walk rate has been a struggle at every level of the minors.
The thing that comes to mind for me when thinking of Cabrera is how he was a major piece of the Tommy Pham trade with the Rays last season.
The other two pieces of that trade we’ve yet to see. Roel Ramirez is still trying to figure it out in AA. Justin Williams finds himself at the same level, after seeing major-league time in 2018 with Tampa Bay, now trying to build himself back up after a hand injury sidelined him late in the offseason.
Cabrera has shown glimmers of why he was a big part of the Pham trade, when the Cards dealt from depth to pick up what is now a 22-year-old left-hander who could be pretty brilliant if he finds more command.
But how’s Pham doing?
For that matter, how are all the former Cardinals still moving around the majors doing?
Ben Godar posted a really great piece about finding some mental health time while the Cardinals are doing poorly, and that prompts me to make clear that this isn’t a piece trying to make backhanded statements about the Cardinals decision-making over the years.
What-ifs in baseball are a rough road, and many of these players were replaced by people who have produced even better in their stead. This is more about checking up on old friends. (With a frustrating former face thrown in.)
The idea is to name the top former Cardinal at each position in the majors.
Players must still be playing and be in the majors currently.
They must have been traded, waived, or not actively pursued. Jason Heyward wouldn’t count in this situation.
Priority is given to players with longer tenures in the Cardinals system, but the main factor is obviously production. Players who were with the Cardinals for a short time but still had years of control left before being released or traded aren’t hampered by a short tenure.
It’s more about how they’re doing this year. A player is more likely to make the list if they’ve found success this season after years of struggling, rather than the reverse. That doesn’t mean there won’t be those types, though!
And again, this is for fun. Let’s try to enjoy it.
C: Carson Kelly, 0.7 fWAR (1.1 Off, 2.9 Def)
2019: 35 G, 107 PA, .263/.346/.505, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 12 R, 10.3% BB, 16.8% K, 119 wRC+
Transaction: 12/2018, part of trade with Arizona Diamondbacks for Paul Goldschmidt
Carson Kelly seems to have found his bat in Arizona.
Maybe it was the pressure of playing behind Yadier Molina, or the struggle that comes with getting extremely inconsistent playing time. Either way, Kelly has now been worth 0.7 fWAR in just over 100 PA this season, slugging over .500 and doing nearly 20% better than the average hitter.
The bulk of Kelly’s value is coming from his defense, which has long been celebrated. The bat was the final piece needed to cement him as a possible everyday starter, and production like he’s generating now is going to get him there. Kelly is starting consecutive games now, with one or two off-days a week.
1B: Luke Voit, 1.1 fWAR (9.8 Off, -7.3 Def)
2019: 54 G, 241 PA, .262/.378/.515, 14 HR, 38 RBI, 37 R, 13.3% BB, 22.4% K, 137 wRC+
Transaction: 07/2018, traded to New York Yankees for Chasen Shreve, Giovanny Gallegos
Who would’ve thought.
Luke Voit showed an excellent bat in the minors, but he always felt like Matt Adams from the right side to me. His 2017 debut was below-average and it never seemed like he was going to get consistent playing time.
He then became a late-season savior for the Bronx Bombers. We got reverse Cardinal Devil Magic’d.
Voit has been one of the few stable pieces for a heavily-injured Yankees team in 2019, largely sustaining his late-2018 success. He’s well on pace for a 30-homer season and has an OBP nearing .380. Voit is honestly one of those players who is fun to see having success in the biggest media market in the country.
2B: Greg Garcia, 0.5 fWAR (2.1 Off, -0.9 Def)
2019: 40 G, 107 PA, .264/.364/.407, 7 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 18 R, 14% BB, 25.2% K, 111 wRC+
Transaction: 11/2018, claimed off waivers by San Diego Padres
Greg Garcia is one of many former Cardinals to make the trip to San Diego, primarily when claimed off of waivers.
The longtime bench bat is now in the same organization as Skip Schumaker, now the first base coach for the Friars, which makes them one Daniel Descalso short of having the Cardinals’ utility players throughout most of the past 20 years.
Garcia has stepped into somewhat of an everyday role at second for San Diego and is holding his own with an above-average performance at the plate. An OPS in the upper .700s is something Garcia hasn’t done since 2016. All the while, his defense hasn’t been atrocious. Garcia has been worth a half-win through 107 PA and is probably helping provide some veteran leadership for a rising Padres squad.
3B: David Freese, 0.6 fWAR (4.6 Off, -1.1 Def)
2019: 38 G, 93 PA, .257/.409/.486, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 17 R, 20.4% BB, 22.6% K, 145 wRC+
Transaction: 11/2013, traded to Los Angeles Angels for Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk
This one isn’t entirely fair, since Freese is primarily playing first base for the Dodgers. He still has two innings this season at the hot corner, and the bulk of his career innings at third, so we’re going to count it.
Nothing needs to be said about what Freese means to St. Louis. What’s really impressive is that the 36-year-old right-hander is still hitting extremely well.
He’s striking out quite a bit, but he’s walking at around the same clip. When he makes contact, he’s hitting the ball well, with nine of his 19 hits going for extra bases. Freese doesn’t get consistent playing time, but he’s netted 0.6 fWAR in 93 plate appearances.
SS: Aledmys Diaz, 0.5 fWAR (2.9 Off, -1.6 Def)
2019: 32 G, 109 PA, .286/.321/.510, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 17 R, 6.4% BB, 11.9% K, 118 wRC+
Transaction: 12/2017, traded to Toronto Blue Jays for J.B. Woodman (OF)
The former shortstop of the future is filling a reserve role with the Houston Astros nowadays, but he’s found his bat once again. Diaz has never sustained a high OBP, but his slugging percentage of .510 shows he’s making the most of his at-bats.
Moreover, he’s not striking out much. The ball is going in play the majority of the time, with just 18.3% of his plate appearances ending in a walk or strikeout.
Diaz is playing more second base than shortstop these days, but the bulk of his career innings have still come from the left side of the infield. He seems like he’s found consistency as a bench piece for Houston.
LF: Tommy Pham, 2.0 fWAR (12.5 Off, -1.2 Def)
2019: 52 G, 241 PA, .299/.411/.478, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 24 R, 6 SB, 15.4% BB, 17.8% K, 143 wRC+
Transaction: 07/2018, traded to Tampa Bay Rays for Cabrera, Williams and Ramirez
This was a trade that stung a bit. It was never a question of if Pham could produce—given the prospect return, it was clearly to pave the way for others to fill the spaces and get some younger players back in return to fill other areas.
Pham profiles almost exclusively as a left fielder now, and his slowly deteriorating defensive output in that position confirms it. But any concerns about his eyes should probably be put aside, as his offense is as good as ever.
One can tell pretty quickly just by looking at his K-BB rates. Walking more than 15% of the time and striking out just over 17% shows he isn’t having a problem seeing the ball.
Pham is inside the top 25 of qualified hitters in the league by wRC+. He’s sustained an OBP above .400 through 241 PA, and his slugging percentage is close to the .500-mark. With eight homers and six stolen bases, it isn’t a stretch to say Pham will be a 20-20 guy like he was in 2017, if he keeps it up.
CF: Oscar Mercado, 0.4 fWAR (2.3 Off, -0.2 Def)
2019: 12 G, 47 PA, .333/.404/.476, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 12 R, 2 SB, 6.4% BB, 17% K, 136 wRC+
Transaction: 07/2018, traded to Cleveland for OFs Jhon Torres, Conner Capel
You might’ve expected me to put Randal Grichuk here, to complete the trifecta of the former “outfield of the future.” The thing is, Grichuk hasn’t been that great this season after signing his extension with Toronto, sitting at 0 fWAR to this point in the season.
Oscar Mercado, on the other hand, has made quick work of the opportunity he’s earned with Cleveland.
Mercado has played pretty consistently since mid-May and been a run machine for Cleveland, scoring 12 runs in as many games. His OBP is above .400, and his slugging percentage is nearing .500—though that’s also a product of his high-contact approach more than it is a power stroke.
Mercado swiped his first two bags of the season on Monday and looks to take plenty more, with his 55-grade speed.
Trying to soothe any Mercado woes, the 19-year-old Jhon Torres is off to a slow start at A-ball but finished his rookie-ball stint with the Cardinals last season with 225 wRC+. He has a really impressive frame and profile, graded to have a potential 50-hit, 60-power and 65-raw power by FanGraphs. Conner Capel is struggling to get going in Springfield, but he earned a call-up from Palm Beach to start the 2019 season.
RF: Stephen Piscotty, 1.1 fWAR ( 4.5 Off, -2.1 Def)
2019: 53 G, 235 PA, .276/.346/.429, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 27 R, 2 SB, 6.4% BB, 17% K, 111 wRC+
Transaction: 12/2017, traded to Oakland Athletics for Yairo Muñoz, Max Schrock
There’s no trade in recent memory I can remember all of baseball celebrating more than the Piscotty trade. It sent him back to his home in the Bay Area to be with his ailing mother in her final days and play for his childhood team.
Muñoz hasn’t been Piscotty-level and Schrock has yet to see a call-up, but it was still a solid return considering the wealth of outfield options the Cardinals had.
That said, The Stephen Piscotty we’ve seen the past two seasons has been the steady progression from the potential breakout player we saw in 2015 and 2016.
Piscotty was never much of a defensive wizard, even though he made some nice grabs on occassion, and that has pretty much stayed the same. But his bat returned to form last season, hitting 27 home runs and posting an .821 OPS in 546 PA.
Though the offense hasn’t been as strong to this point, Piscotty’s bat is still above average and he’s on pace to fall in the 2.5-to-3 fWAR range on the season. The gap power has returned, as he has 12 doubles to his six homers in 2019.
SP: Luke Weaver, 1.7 fWAR
2019: 11 G, 11 GS, 62.1 IP, 3.03 ERA/3.02 FIP/3.70 xFIP, 26.8% K, 5.5% BB, 0.87 HR/9
Transaction: 12/2018, part of trade with Arizona Diamondbacks for Paul Goldschmidt
Luke Weaver is looking more like the 2017 version than the 2018.
He’s really found his footing—it doesn’t seem like he’s underpeforming or overperforming his expectations. His strikeout rate is sitting at around a quarter of the batters he faces and he’s walking very few. All of it comes with a BABIP hovering right above .300.
It might be due to the humidor that’s been hampering offense at Chase, but Weaver’s HR/9 is down significantly as well, to 0.87 from last season’s 1.25. Weaver is on pace to be a three-win player in 2019.
Marco Gonzales — 13 GS, 72.2 IP, 1.3 fWAR
Lance Lynn — 11 GS, 67.2 IP, 2.0 fWAR
RP: Greg Holland, 0.5 fWAR
2019: 18 G, 9 SV, 17.2 IP, 1.53 ERA/2.85 FIP/3.74 xFIP, 33.8% K, 14.1% BB, 0.51 HR/9, 90.9% LOB
Transaction: 07/2018, designated for assignment
I doubt anyone needs a recap on Holland.
A frustrating, multi-million dollar signing who put up a 7.92 ERA in 32 appearances was some dead weight that was long overdue for a cut in July of last season when the youth movement really began in the pitching staff.
Go figure, when Holland was picked up by the Nationals, he had a 0.84 ERA and 2.85 FIP in 24 appearances.
This season, Holland signed a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks and has been closing games regularly in the desert, striking out one out of every three batters he faces.
Maybe it was the result of a signing that happens after the start of the season. Maybe he never felt comfortable in St. Louis. Either way, Holland’s success sandwiched around his time as a Cardinal is pretty frustrating.
Steve Cishek — 24 G, 24 IP, 7 SV+HLD, 0.4 fWAR