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Organizational Depth: The Infield

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A look at second base, third base, and shortstop

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There are two convenient things about combining second base, third base, and shortstop into one position. The first is that, because the MLB squad has four starter-level players for these three spots, and because those four players are all under contract for the next two years, any prospect will have to play at least two of these positions and probably all three to get any playing time. So every prospect mentioned below is on the same playing field - very limited chance to make an impact over the next two years.

The second is that there’s a lot of cross pollination among these positions, which is related to the first reason in a way. A true third baseman can maybe play second base if that’s what the team needs (ala Matt Carpenter). If he’s got the arm, a second baseman can maybe slide to third (although usually they are at second because of the arm). And shortstops who don’t past muster can move to either 2B or 3B. And hell some 2B/3B types can play SS in a pinch as well.

Second Base

The Cardinals have two years to find Kolten Wong’s replacement. Now when I say that, I don’t mean the Cardinals have to let Wong walk in free agency or that they can’t sign a different free agent to replace him, but when he becomes a free agent, it would be better to have a replacement at the ready. Now the obvious choice is Tommy Edman, but it’s entirely possible and maybe even probable that you’d rather he be on the bench as a super sub of sorts. We will definitely know more in two years about Edman.

It’s worth pointing out that second base is kind of a weird position to talk about when it comes to the farm. Because the men in the system who are currently 2B are not really the only 2B prospects. Every shortstop in the system is also a potential 2B and it’s much more of a stretch, but it doesn’t strain credulity that some 3B in the system are also potential 2B. Hell, Max Muncy played 520 innings at 2B last year and wasn’t awful.

But I will stick to the 2B only guys. This is Yairo Munoz’s best position, although that’s a bit like saying a fastball is Pete Kozma’s greatest pitch to hit. 25-year-old Max Shrock was interesting when he never struck out, but after he failed miserably in 2018, he became a more boring kind of bad in 2019. 19th rounder Irving Lopez rounds out the probable Memphis 2B guys, who has a pretty looking minor league career to date. He has hit at every level he’s been sent to and he could become interesting fast if he manages to get off to a hot start in Memphis.

I’m not entirely sure who’s playing 2B in Springfield, 23-year-old Nick Dunn might get the nod simply because there appears to be nobody in front of him and to get him out of the hellhole that is Palm Beach (for hitters; I’m sure it’s a lovely place). He had an 86 wRC+ in 411 PAs there, which came with only a .281 BABIP. There might be just enough justification to promote him, but just barely.

Another reason to promote him? He’s in the way of Brendan Donovan. Donovan appeared to convert to 2B last year, and he played the entire season at Peoria. He’s a shoe-in for promotion, because he had a 131 wRC+ with a 13.1 BB% and a .322 BABIP. Unless they plan on having him skip Palm Beach, which I doubt, I think you promote Dunn just to give Donovan unimpeded playing time at 2B.

The Cardinals have several options for how to proceed with the 2B position at Peoria. There are a couple 24-year-olds who crushed short season ball in Martin Figueroa (146 wRC+ at State College) and Liam Sabino (137 wRC+ in Johnson City). They also have Chandler Remond who will certainly be on the Peoria squad, but whose position is more up for grabs. He played more 3B than 2B, but if Malcolm Nunez makes the team, he’s got to play 2B, which would be fine because his competition is pretty weak here. Redmond by the way had a 151 wRC+ at Johnson City and will be 23.

Lastly, Ramon Mendoza was signed as an 17-year-old, and after crushing the DSL, hit pretty well against the GCL competition. He’ll be 19 this year and will either be destined for Johnson City or State College, depending on how aggressive the Cardinals want to be with him.

Third Base

It’s hard to say which is more impressive in the Cardinals system: the outfield or third base. One point against third base is that it’s not totally clear who the Memphis third baseman will be. The likeliest option, Evan Mendoza, certainly has a good case for being sent to Springfield instead. The 11th round draft pick of the 2017 draft, Mendoza was aggressively promoted - he spent most of 2017 at State College before ending it at Peoria, but began 2018 in Palm Beach and only lasted 37 games there. But once he reached Springfield, he stopped hitting. He had an 81 wRC+ last year and a 70 wRC+ this year in just 223 PAs. He was promoted to Memphis midseason but was hurt about a week later for the rest of the season.

The less said about Springfield 3B Elehuris Montero’s 2019, the better. The best you can say about it is that you should disregard it completely. He got hurt in late April, and after being activated three weeks later, got put back on the IL 10 days after that. When he was activated from that, it was late July and the season was nearly over. Full disclaimer: I’m not a believer in the guy because of his plate discipline, but I’ll admit that I put an overemphasis on that portion of a player’s game.

The jewel of an already strong position for the Cards farm will be in Palm Beach. He’s the rare prospect not particularly close to the big leagues that most casual fans know about and for good reason. Nolan Gorman had a very strong season in Peoria and got a midseason promotion to Palm Beach, which went less well. He had a 117 wRC+ in High A at 19 so it’s hard to find fault, but his plate discipline numbers did basically disintegrate. Then again, his .172 ISO was the 20th highest ISO in the Florida State League among all players, and 5th among the 20 and under crowd. And everyone in front of him was 20, not 19.

I’ve already mentioned Redmond above, who will play 3B if his competition isn’t Malcolm Nunez. It’s easy to be disappointed in Nunez’s season if you don’t understand the context, but he jumped from the DSL (where he had a 238 wRC+) to A ball, which means he skipped the GCL, Johnson City, and State College, and he did all that at just 18-years-old. So after a quick tryout at Peoria, he was sent down to Johnson City, where he had a solid 103 wRC+. At 19, he may get another tryout at Peoria just to see, or he may get sent to State College.

Taking his place at Johnson City, in all likelihood, is Francisco Hernandez, who was signed out of high school at 17 out of... Montreal actually. After signing in July of 2017, he finished out the year with an impressive line, but was much more successful the next season at 18 with a 136 wRC+. He had a solid season in the GCL last year with a 110 wRC+ with just a .239 BABIP and a .199 ISO.

Shortstop

With Tommy Edman and Brad Miller guaranteed backup infield spots, I sort of doubt Edmundo Sosa doesn’t start the year in Memphis, but he only has one option remaining and maybe the Cardinals would like to see what he has at the MLB level before deciding what to do with him beyond 2020. He’s going to be 24 in early March and has gotten off to a hot start in spring. Plus the 26th man. Still though, I don’t know how he would ever play if he actually made the team, which would be a big problem.

Also at Memphis is Kramer Robertson, who briefly looked interesting, but more or less fell on his face at Memphis last year. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 draft, Robertson started his professional career at Peoria, where he was slightly above average, and then in 2018, he was basically average at Palm Beach. It was a huge surprise when he started the 1st half of 2019 by doing his best Matt Carpenter impression, walking nearly 16% of the time, with only 17.5% strikeouts. His numbers didn’t decline that drastically in Memphis, but the problem was the rest of AAA was insane offensively, so he had an 80 wRC+ there.

I’m going to tell you something that may shock you, but Delvin Perez is only 21. He will be 21 all year too. In his first year of full season ball, Perez had a 95 wRC+. Not bad. But he needed a .359 BABIP for it, showed virtually no power, struck out more than he should for being a slap hitter, and didn’t walk much either. It’s hard to say whether he’ll be harmed by Palm Beach or not, but he had so little power in Peoria, I actually think that will help him? Cause I don’t know how much less power you can have than .057 ISO. In any case, he’s going to have to develop something other than BABIP for his offense at some point.

The 3rd round pick of 2018, Mateo Gil, has turned into a fun prospect. After a not particularly impressive debut in the GCL, he improved on his numbers at Johnson City. Now, they are still more the quietly impressive than eye popping, but he turns 20 in late July this year. I imagine he’ll start at State College, but maybe they’ll give him the Jhon Torres/Malcolm Nunez treatment just so he plays against competition in April and May.

Franklin Soto, signed out of the Dominican Republic, played stateside for the first time last year at 19. In his second season in the DSL, he walked more than he struck out for his 138 wRC+. He showed nothing like that in the GCL, but did walk nearly 12% of the time, had solid pop (.130), and carried an above average line (106 wRC+) with a below average BABIP (.279). He’s probably at Johnson City. Moises Castillo, also signed out of the DR, had a 99 wRC+ at State College in his age 19 season, so he’ll probably begin the year at Peoria.

Definitely an interesting group of players for the infield, and the most interesting names aren’t going to make an impact in 2020. For the next two years, there’s a good chance the infield makeup of the Cardinals will not change a lick, but after 2021, Kolten Wong becomes a free agent and Matt Carpenter might become a free agent. So while the opportunity isn’t currently there, it soon will be and I’ll be fascinated to see what this group looks like going into the 2022 season.