I see a lot of exciting similarities between the St. Louis Cardinals’ two emerging young outfielders and a similar pair of fly chasers from the organization’s past.
The rise of Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty as starters in the big leagues reminds me of when, 25 years ago, another pair of young outfielders burst onto the scene: Ray Lankford and Bernard Gilkey.
While Lankford and Gilkey’s names don’t often appear on lists of the greatest Cardinals who ever donned the Birds on Bat, that doesn’t mean they weren’t significant players. And I’d be thrilled if the Redbirds got similar production from their new outfield tandem.
Grichuk’s talent bears a lot of resemblance to Lankford. He’s a centerfielder with uncommon power -- and a free swing. Sure, hes going to strike out a lot. But he’s going to provide a lot of timely power to the middle of the lineup. The upside is immeasurable. Piscotty compares to Gilkey, a corner outfielder who plays solid defense, collects his share of extra base hits and threatens to hit .300 every year. A gamer in ever sense of the word.
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As a Cardinal, Gilkey hit .282. He batted .297 or better five of his first seven seasons in the big leagues. Four times in his career he hit 16 or more home runs in a season. His best year came in his first season after signing as a free agent with the New York Mets. He batted .317 with 30 homers and 117 RBIs.
Lankford is unfairly overlooked by St. Louis fans because of flashy distractions that followed. He was a very significant player in his heyday -- but had the misfortune to spend much of his prime playing out the last few years of the Anheuser-Busch ownership of the Cardinals when shareholders objected to the team spending enough money to remain competitive. Later is his career, as he reached his peak, Lankford was overshadowed by the likes of Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols. Ultimately, he was replaced by another great player in Jim Edmonds.
But let’s not forget that Lankford hit 19 or more homers in eight of his 14 big league seasons and was a .273 hitter during his Cardinals years. During the 1998-2001 seasons, Lankford hit .281and averaged 24 homers. During the bulk of that time he served as clean-up hitter, protecting McGwire in the batting order.
While Lankford was somewhat forgotten in a Cardinals history book sprinkled with the names of men enshrined in the Hall of Fame, most valuable players and perennial all-stars, he remarkably ranks third in team history in home runs, fifth in stolen bases and eighth in both runs batted in and runs scored.
Cardinals fans long for the next superstar to fill the shoes of Pujols and Stan Musial. But I’d be thrilled if Grichuk and Piscotty could replicate the production of a pair of outfield prospects from a quarter century ago.
While Grichuk has been around for two previous seasons as a part timer, it’s easy to forget that he’s a younger player (24) than Piscotty (25.) Neither has had a chance to hit full stride at the major league level.
One of the most exciting things about the two youngsters is how they compliment each other -- like Gilkey complimented Lankford two decades before. Piscotty reports this spring that he’s study Grichuk’s swing to improve his power. Grichuk is working with Piscotty to improve his plate coverage and contact.
Sometimes a little bit of competition is good to push players to constantly improve. Hopefully, like Lankford and Gilkey, Grichuk and Piscotty will spend several years together as productive starters in St. Louis and will become the nucleus of the next generation of Cardinals.
Either Piscotty or Grichuk would be a great addition to a roster starved for young talent. But to have both of them at the same time could be transformational.