The St. Louis Cardinals in spring training appeared to have the luxury of redundancy at every position.
They were shaping up to be an opposing manager's nightmare because they had so many opportunities to exploit match-ups and put the player they wanted at the plate — or in the field — at a time and place where he could affect the outcome of a game.
But those plans have been shelved while the Cardinals try to nurse three starting players' batting averages to the .200 mark. And now it seems that the Redbirds are slaves to their commitment to underachieving players even though they have young studs chomping at the bit for their chance in the big leagues.
Peter Bourjous, who was supposed to improve the St. Louis defense in centerfield while adding a speed element on the basepaths is spending more time on the bench than in the pasture lately, largely thanks to his .190 batting average and .261 on-base percentage.
The Redbirds leadership was pretty adamant in March that Bourjos, acquired in trade for popular hometown hero David Freese, was going to be the starter and Jon Jay would be reduced to fourth outfielder status. Now Bourjos is a less than desirable pinch hitter and a defensive replacement on a team that needs a boost from the bench.
Allen Craig isn't going anywhere because of his long-term contract. But he's hitting worse than Bourjos with a .179 mark and one homer to go with a .243 batting average.
Still, with two-thirds of their outfield producing a combined 20 hits in 32 man games, there seems to be no room at the major league inn for the Cardinals' three hot-hitting outfield prospects in Class AAA Memphis.
On Sunday Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk hit back-to-back doubles for Memphis to key a walk-off win over the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Taveras is presently hitting .297 with three homers, four doubles and 12 batted in for the Birds' top farm club. Grichuk is batting a lofty .338 with three homers, seven doubles and a triple. He has 15 batted in. Stephen Piscotty is also hitting over .300. But he's a corner outfielder and there's less of an obvious fit than there is for the centerfielders.
Both those guys are capable of playing centerfield and the corners. Am I to believe that the Cardinals couldn't find playing time for at least one of them in St. Louis?
Fifth outfielder Shane Robinson has one hit in 14 plate appearances for the Cardinals. That's an almost entirely wasted roster spot. So there is definitely room. If the Birds don't want to make Bourjos a reserve outfielder or a spot starter against lefty pitchers, an argument could certainly be made that he needs to go to the minors to work on his swing and improve his abilities at getting on base.
Jay is considered to be a defensive liability in center but he's earned playing time because his offense at least has a pulse with a .297 batting average and occasional extra base power. Bourjos can field but he can't hit. So what's keeping one of the young sluggers in the minors?
If Taveras is an average fielder, he'd be a better overall package than either Bourjos or Jay could offer. And he seems to have the perfect bat for the gaping second spot in the St. Louis lineup.
The problem is what to do with Bourjos. Are the Cardinals going to bench a 27-year-old player who was thought to be a top prospect at one point? Are they going to send him to the minors? They may not seem to be great options. But it's better than allowing Bourjos to take up playing time that could be used by a more productive player.
I could see if the Cardinals want to give Grichuk some Class AAA at-bats since this is the first time he's played at that high of a level. But we all expected to see Taveras in the big leagues last season if he wouldn't have hurt his ankle. All he has to prove at this point is that he's healthy.
The future is now. Let's see if Taveras can play centerfield on a daily basis.