It seemed to be a blow that would be tough to weather when the St. Louis Cardinals, in a matter of minutes, lost outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Dexter Fowler to injury. And then, in a matter of a few more hours, Jose Martinez joined them.
But the Redbirds’ disabled-list misfortunes may turn out to be a blessing as they’ve been forced to inject some youth and enthusiasm into a roster that has, at times, seemed to lack spark and a sense of urgency.
While the Cardinals wait to see whether Fowler will be able to quickly return to the lineup, they made the logical move in calling up Class AAA outfielder Tommy Pham to replace Piscotty on the active roster.
But St. Louis made a bit of a surprise move when General Manager John Mozeliak, instead of promoting top prospect Harrison Bader to the big leagues, opted for Class A outfielder Mags Sierra to replace Martinez.
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Sierra was an eye-opener during spring training. He played great defense and flashed his brilliant speed. That’s the part of his appeal I choose to focus upon — although the team was likely more swayed to promote Sierra over Bader because Sierra was already on the 40-man roster while Bader was not.
While I feel bad for Bader, I’m sure that his arrival on the big-league scene is a matter of when more than a matter of if. But I have been eagerly awaiting Sierra’s arrival because he seems to me to have the talent that can be game-changing.
When I look at Sierra, I think of a rookie Vince Coleman who arrived in St. Louis in the middle of an uneven season to give a talented lineup a jolt and propel the Cardinals to the World Series. But Sierra, while he is capable of accumulating stolen bases in bunches, is a much better all-around player than Coleman.
Sierra is an excellent outfielder, not only because he covers a lot of ground — but also because he has great instincts in tracking the ball and a strong throwing arm.
So how could the addition of Sierra to the St. Louis roster benefit the Cardinals?
▪ He could make the offense more multi-dimensional, helping St. Louis to realize its speed potential. Fowler, Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk should all be able to steal 20 bases. But Sierra might be able to swipe 40. Maybe Sierra can set the tone for a more aggressive running game.
▪ Sierra’s leap-frog move could inspire players both on the major-league roster and in the minors to up their game. I know if I was Harrison Bader in Class AAA Memphis that I would become more determined to show that I was the one who deserves the trip to the big leagues. If I was Fowler, Grichuk and Piscotty, I’d want to make sure that I stayed focused on my game to prevent Sierra from taking my job on a permanent basis.
▪ Finally, Sierra could help make the Redbirds’ future plans more clear, potentially sorting out which prospects might be dealt to shore up the major-league roster in places that could use help — like third base.
My biggest fear is that the sudden leap in difficulty from Class A to the big leagues could destroy Sierra’s confidence and stunt his development. Former St. Louis outfielder Jim Edmonds said on the radio before the Sunday game that Sierra probably didn’t play in front of crowds of more than a few hundred people in the low minor leagues. Suddenly, he’s playing in front of hostile crowds of 40,000 people who are scrutinizing his every move. He’s seeing pitchers who can throw harder and with more variety of pitches and more control than he has ever seen.
It will be interesting to see whether Sierra can make his stay permanent during what is expected to be only a short audition. One way or another, he’s providing a glimpse of a future that should give Cardinals fans reason to be optimistic.