Not everything is going the way the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans would like this year.
But the way some of the youngsters have played when pressed unexpectedly into service is encouraging to Redbirds rooters as they start to focus on 2018 and beyond.
If someone with a crystal ball would have told St. Louis fans April 1 that starting shortstop Aledmys Diaz would play so poorly that he’d be demoted to Class AAA Memphis after only 71 games, it would sure seem pretty bleak.
I thought in spring training that Paul DeJong looked like a player who might play a role with the parent club in 2017. But I never imagined that he’d bat right around .300 and hit 20 home runs in half a season.
Meanwhile, DeJong has played pretty solid shortstop. He’s not going to make anyone forget about Ozzie Smith in his prime. But DeJong has a much better glove and better range than Diaz, likely pushing the former All-Star into a utility role when he returns to the majors Sept. 1.
With all the highly touted prospects in Springfield and Memphis getting publicity, first baseman Luke Voit was largely a forgotten man. But Voit collected 12 extra-base hits and seems like he at least had a future as a source of power off the St. Louis bench.
Magneuris Sierra electrified Cardinals fans with his play when he was shockingly summoned to the major leagues all the way from high-Class A Palm Beach. He hit .365 over 13 games and appeared to be the best defensive outfielder on the team during his brief stays in St. Louis.
Luke Weaver, according to social media pundits, had no future in the major leagues after a couple of bad relief appearances last season out of the bullpen ballooned his ERA.
Forced into the starting rotation when Adam Wainwright was sidelined with an injury, Weaver has looked like he knows what he’s doing. He had a 2.48 ERA Tuesday night when he left his start against the Milwaukee Brewers, a game in which he struck out 10 to improve to 3-1.
Wainwright appears to be on fumes at this point of his career and the Mike Leake signing before the 2016 season looks to be a mistake (Leake was traded Wednesday).
But the Cardinals ought to have a formidable trio of young hurlers next season in Weaver, Carlos Martinez and returning top prospect Alex Reyes. Michael Wacha, who has had a nice rebound year from shoulder troubles, isn’t exactly a geezer, either.
Catcher Carson Kelly has proved all he can in the minor leagues and has graduated to St. Louis, where he’s expected to spend next year as backup to Yadier Molina for the near term and one of the better receivers in baseball over the long haul.
This group of contributors doesn’t even include outfielder Harrison Bader, who made his major-league debut this season in a brief stay in St. Louis, pitching prospects Dakota Hudson, Jack Flaherty or Sandy Alcantara or Class AAA third baseman Patrick Wisdom.
I don’t buy the doom and gloom claims that this team must embark on a major rebuild.
The Cardinals have a lot of quality supporting pieces. They’re in no worse shape now than they were at the beginning of this season when they needed at least one middle-of-the-order bat and potentially a front-of-the-rotation starter to be a serious postseason threat.
In fact, the Cardinals are in better position than they were a year ago because their minor-leaguers are more of a known asset, which makes it more obvious who can help this team and also makes them more valuable as trading chips.
Wainwright is one year from the end of his $19 million-a-year contract, which gives St. Louis flexibility on the free-agent market. Plus, the club could save about $21 million on Lance Lynn’s expiring contract and by non-tendering Trevor Rosenthal, who will miss the vast majority of next season following Tommy John surgery.
This season was a lost year. But 2018 doesn’t have to be one, too.