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Meet defensive replacement Scott Hurst

Have you wondered who the tiny, speedy centerfielder who replaces Carlson is?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

This may seem a bit of an odd time to write this particular article, since Scott Hurst has now been in the big leagues for over a week. But I was planning to write this last week, and for whatever reason, when I sat down to write what I actually wrote, I completely forgot that was the plan. Only when I saw J.P.’s article on the uniqueness that is Hurst’s situation did I realize oh yeah, I was trying to write a Hurst article. Thankfully, J.P. took a different angle than what I was planning so I can still write it.

It may still seem odd to write a Scott Hurst article this far after he’s been promoted anyway. However, since he’s gotten a grand total of five plate appearances, I don’t really think most even know Hurst’s story anyway. He’s both a bit more intriguing than you’d think given his minor league stats, but also his stats are quite a bit worse than I would have thought at the same time.

Let’s start at the beginning. Not the beginning beginning. But the beginning of professional baseball relevance: high school. Hurst was a nationally ranked prospect coming out of high school. According to Perfect Game, he was the #62 ranked prospect in the nation in fact. On that same list, fun fact, was Jack Flaherty at #32. He was the #15 ranked OF prospect in the nation, in front of Lane Thomas, also in the top 100.

Hurst ran a 6.59 second 60 meter dash, which ranked in the 96th percentile of Class of 2014. And his arm reportedly reached a top speed of 99 mph while playing the OF. At the time, he was considered an IF/OF prospect, in that he could play the infield as well, but that was probably more “he could play there if you put him there” not a “he should play there.” Interestingly, he wasn’t drafted. Usually seems like some teams throw away a late pick on a well-regarded high school guy even if they don’t expect to sign him. Not in the case.

He committed to Cal State Fullerton, where things went poorly for him. He had a not especially impressive freshman year there, batting .250/.356/.347, with the main drawback being that he had no power at all. Hurst had a back injury to end his season, which was also perhaps the reason his sophomore year went really poorly. He batted .215/.343/.250, which as you can see is about as little power as someone can have. Fully recovered by junior year, he exploded. He batted .328/.419/.575 with 15 doubles, 5 triples, and 12 home runs in 63 games. About an extra base hit every other game, in other words.

When Hurst was drafted, if you remember correctly, the Cardinals didn’t have a pick until the 3rd round. The Cardinals lost their 1st round pick from signing Dexter Fowler to a 5-year-deal and their next two picks from the hacking scandal. Which left their 1st pick of the draft in the 3rd round, 94th overall.

What the pick was seen as was an attempt to draft a 1st round caliber guy who had issues preventing him from being drafted in the 1st round. Those issues being primarily the fact that he only really had one good year in college, injury concerns, and power concerns given his small stature. But the best version of him was a five tool player - he had the arm and speed as you can see, so he certainly had the fielding. His hitting wasn’t so much of a concern as his power was, so I think a more realistic hope was probably just four tools. But still.

Things went well at first, as you could picture the best version coming through. Hurst was sent to State College to end the 2017 season, where he had a .282/.354/.432 line. He struck out more than expected, with a 24 K%, and needed a .370 BABIP, but a .150 ISO would be acceptable power for him. Plus he had a 136 wRC+ so those kind of things look like small potatoes to complain about when your first pick is performing.

His 2018 was a mixed bag. His performance was good, batting .295/.361/.411. His power is starting to get into the concerning area, especially since he was only at Peoria. But he was also at Peoria, which isn’t a great park for hitters or power. He cut down on his K rate significantly to 19% while maintaining his walk rate from 2017. And he even got a promotion to Palm Beach, where, in 14 games, he hit .354/.439/.542. If Peoria is bad for power, Palm Beach is on another level and he hit a homer and six doubles.

But well, the injuries popped up. At Peoria, he only played in 49 games - 216 PAs. Combining with Palm Beach, he had just 283 PAs over the full season. At this point, it looked like injuries would get in the way more than his performance. But he was still just 22 and looked primed to get past Palm Beach quickly.

And then 2019 happened. Whatever happened at Palm Beach in 2018 looked to simply be a hot streak. He batted .233/.292/.314 at Palm Beach in 244 PAs. His K rate rose to 25%, his highest in the Cards system, and his BB rate fell to 7.4%, his lowest. His ISO also collapsed to just .081. Despite an 83 wRC+, he got a promotion to Springfield to get him the hell out of that park.

It didn’t work. He was worse in Springfield. He batted .191/.278/.277 for a 60 wRC+ in 161 PAs. His strikeouts rose even further to 28.6%, although he did improve his walk rate to 10.6%. His power didn’t improve at all and he didn’t have the park to blame for this one. You can see the wild swing in his value here - At 22, looks like he’ll get promoted quickly to AA and be well set up to make the majors. At 23, he can’t handle either High A or AA.

And that’s where his story ends until this year. We have no way of knowing his development in 2020 because we have no stats to look at. It seems somewhat unlikely he’s an MLB caliber player. ZiPS projects him for a 45 wRC+, which is lower Pete Kozma’s career line. But some things broke in such a way that he gets to have his MLB debut and be on an MLB team for about a month, so pretty sweet that he gets to live his dream.

And he’s being used only for his defense - look we all appreciate Dylan Carlson’s hot offensive start, but the fact that the Cards have a guy up specifically to replace him in late innings says that he should be in the corners. Which is fine! Not everyone is cut out to be a centerfielder. It also says a lot about Lane Thomas’ standing in the organization. One needs to be good at defense to fill the role Hurst is doing, and Thomas in CF does not appear to be a good defender.

It will be interesting to see if Hurst is sent to AA or AAA upon demotion, because he was very bad at AA two years ago. It also seems kind of likely to me anyway that he’s going to be DFA’d at some point this year to make room for Zack Thompson or something. Unless they lose that roster spot to a 60 day or something. Anyway, good for Scott Hurst, I hope he’s up long enough to get his first MLB hit at least.