This is Part 2 of our St. Louis Cardinals 2012 Season Preview featuring a position by position look at the roster. To read Part 1′s breakdown of the Cardinals pitching staff click here.
Part 2: Position Players
2011 Stats: .301, 31 HR, 94 RBI
If you’re going to replace a guy like Pujols (.299, 37 HR, 99 RBI in 2011), a career .328 hitter, well you can forget it. But if you have a guy like Berkman, The Comeback Player of 2011, who can man first and put up numbers like he did in 2011, you’re on the right track. ( Same with adding Beltran, but more on that later.) With his age and previous knee issue, Berkman could be considered a risk. The Cards need him healthy and in this lineup as much as possible. A healthy Berkman is a dominant force in the stacked middle of this lineup.
Another pressing issue along with the loss of Pujols bat, is the loss of his glove. A two time gold glove winner, Pujols plays as aggressively at first base as anyone, and clearly has a step or two on Berkman. The Cardinals might want to think about ways to keep Berkman from straining too much at first, such as not holding runners on with lefties at the plate, and therefore letting Berkman have a few extra steps to cover ground balls.
2011 Stats: .212, 1 HR, 11 RBI in 58 games (.323, 14 HR, 43 RBI in 66 games in AAA)
Second base is a key position for the Cards this year, with a need for offense and steady defense at the position. With Skip Schumaker on the DL due to an oblique injury, Greene will get the shot to start the season at second base. As of this point in his career, the 28 year old, who can flash the leather on the field, has yet to translate the offensive output he has had in the minors to the big leagues. Greene has said that being moved up and down so much while fighting for big league at bats has halted his big league success, so now is his chance to put up or shut up.
Along with the pop in his bat, Greene brings speed to the base paths, a spot where the Cardinals have been lacking in recent years. The team went 33 games in a row last year without stealing a base. Not good.
Greene, however, led the club in 2011 with 11 stolen bases, in only 56 games. With 13 walks and 4 HBP last year, Greene was on base 39 times, tried stealing 11 times and didn’t get thrown out once. Pretty good.
A full season of Greene getting on base and we could see some serious speed numbers in the form of stolen bags, as well as runs scored, should he fit in the top of the lineup.
2011 Stats: .297, 10 HR, 55 RBI
Third base is locked down for the Cardinals right now. As long as injury-prone Freese can stay healthy, his bat and plus defense will man the hot corner for years to come in St. Louis. If he can play a full season, he should hit about 20 home runs and have around 30-40 more RBI.
More importantly, the man is clutch. I’ve never seen anything like his game 6 performance in the world series, in which he delivered one of the most clutch hits in history, and THEN hit a walk off home run.
If the game is on the line, the Cardinals want this guy at the plate. Freese’s game 6 WPA (Win Probability Added, a stat that measures how much a player adds to his teams’s percentage probability to win) of .953 is the highest in postseason history. (Eat that, Kirk Gibson.)
Hopefully Freese can build on his monstrous postseason and add depth to the power in the middle of this Cards lineup.
2011 Stats:.231, 8 HR, 28 RBI
Short stop is another key position for the Cards. Seems like ever since David Eckstein left the Cardinals have had trouble at short. (See Cesar Izturis, Khalil Greene, Brendan Ryan, Ryan Theriot.. to name a few.)
Furcal, 2000’s Rookie of the Year, came over at the trade deadline last year and added some much needed pop to the lead off spot. Though injuries and age have kept him down the past few years, the guy keeps fighting and knows how to win. 9 of the 13 seasons he has been in the league, his team went to the postseason. Once a phenom defender, Furcal still has some flashy leather and a rocket arm, but this spring training has been a tough one (.192 AVG/.222 OBP/.269 SLG- NOT leadoff numbers.)
So tough in fact, that his leadoff hitter position may be up for grabs to Jon Jay, Tyler Greene, or Descalso off the bench. Should Furcal falter mightily, a scenario could play out in which Greene moves over to his long time short stop position, and Descalso takes over at second.
Furcal needs to get going early on this year to help the team out from a leadoff perspective. Otherwise, he’ll be hitting down in the 8th spot.
2011 Stats: .305, 14 HR, 65 RBI
Molina has been called the game’s current best catcher by many within the game for some time now, most recently by Detroit Tigers’ skipper Jim Leyland. Though his offensive numbers weren’t eye-popping in recent years, Yadi set personal bests across the board in 2011 in most offensive categories – .305 avg, 14 HR, 65 RBI, earning him a shiny new 5 year, $75 million contract. Along with the way he is able to handle pitchers, throw out baserunners, and stay healthy, ( he’s caught 100 more innings than anyone else in baseball since 2009) Yadi should be considered a serious strong point for this team.
2011 Stats: .296, 22 HR, 75 RBI
Left field is a position of strength for the Cardinals. Power hitter Matt Holliday mashes doubles and homers as well as any outfielder in the league. A few defensive miscues have given him a bad reputation on defense, but statistically Holliday is an above average defender.
After getting off to a hot start last April, Holliday’s year slowed due to an appendectomy and was further muddled by odd injuries, even having to leave a game once due to a moth flying into his ear. Holliday injured his pinky in a slide back to third in Game 6 of the World Series as well.
Injuries aside, Holliday is a monster hitter, and should be the cornerstone of this lineup for years to come. (He is currently in year 3 of his 7 year, $120 million dollar contract.)
2011 Stats: .297, 10 HR, 35 RBI
Speedy lefty Jon Jay can cover center field for sure. Not a power guy, Jay uses his speed to get on base and play the role of table setter for the power hitters in the lineup. (Though he can bring a little pop if he needs to, like the 10 HR he hit last year.) With Furcal needing to prove himself at leadoff, Jay could be the guy to step into the role.
Jay has established himself as a big league center fielder, and can clearly hit for average. Though he faded late for the Cardinals last season, the club hopes to keep Jay at center for a while with his plus glove. Look for Jay to put together his second full season in the majors and improve.
2011 Stats: .300, 22 HR, 84 RBI split between Mets and Giants
The Cardinals may have lost Pujols but still managed to come out of the offseason with an excellent short term replacement: A healthy Beltran is a force to be reckoned with from both sides of the plate. Adding Beltran gives the Cardinals two of the best switch hitters in the game from last season (Berkman is the other), so this lineup shouldn’t have much of a problem with lefty pitchers since Furcal can switch hit at the top of the order as well.
More on Beltran: injuries really kept him from producing at the level he could for the Mets, who gave him a monster contract in 2005. When he was healthy, though, he mashed. Traded to the Giants at the deadline last year, Beltran showed he could still patrol right field and had good offensive numbers (.323, 7 HR, 18 RBI in 44 games) even though the Giants around him were slipping. Since the Cards only signed Beltran to a 2 year deal ($26 million), they really aren’t on the hook for too long should Beltran fail to produce or stay healthy.
2011 Stats: .262, 0 HR, 6 RBI in 38 games with the Cardinals (.262, 4 HR, 25 RBI in 44 games at AAA Memphis)
Tony Cruz will give Yadi a break at catcher now and again, and add a little pop from the bench. Cruz beat out longtime Redbird catcher Bryan Anderson, who hit .478 this spring, simply because he had established himself as a reliable backup for Molina last season, and also due to his ability to make a spot start at the corner infield positions.
2011 Stats: .067, 0 HR, 0 RBI in 19 Plate Appearances with Cardinals (.300, 12 HR, 70 RBI with AAA Memphis)
Carpenter had a flashy spring last year (.333 avg) and exploded this spring for a .357 AVG, 2 HR and 10 RBI, earning him a spot on the Cardinals bench. Normally a third baseman, Carpenter also got starts in the outfield and at first base this spring, showing that he can be valuable off the bench should injuries arise. Freese has yet to put a full season together so it wouldn’t be out of the question for Carpenter to man third for a decent amount of time, as well as spell Berkman at first here and there.
2011 Stats: .264, 1 HR, 28 RBI
Though Matheny has said that the second base job belongs to Tyler Greene, Descalso may have to fill in should Furcal need a rest at short, moving Greene over. Descalso may also get the start every once in a while against righties, since he is a lefty. Descalso played late inning hero more than a few times last season, and earned respect as a guy who can come through in the clutch. Hopefully limited playing time won’t limit his ability to pinch hit against righties late in the game when it counts.
2011 Stats: .277, 7 HR, 48 RBI splitting time between Brewers and Nationals AA clubs
Komatsu was acquired from the Nationals as a rule 5 draft pick, and would have to be released back to them if he didn’t make the opening day roster. An outfielder, Komatsu hit .278 this spring and made it worth giving him a shot at least to start the season as speed off the bench who could spell the aging Beltran.
2011 Stats: .299, 4 HR, 23 RBI at AAA Memphis
Fan favorite ‘Sugar’ Shane Robinson has been in the organization for a while now. A concussion put him on the bench for much of last year, but with Skip Schumaker on the disabled list, Shane gets his chance to open the year with the big club for the first time. Robinson, a right handed hitter, can cover center and may spell Jon Jay against lefties from time to time.
Well, there’s your rundown of the Cardinals Opening Day roster. Here comes the season, whether you are ready for it or not. I know I am.
What are you most excited about for this season? Hit the comment section below with your thoughts.
Drew Fleming is the last baseball columnist you have ever read. He covers the St. Louis Cardinals for Memphisport. Follow him on Twitter @thefilmjerk