The St. Louis Cardinals are in an enviable position when it comes to major league ready first base depth. While some clubs are still searching for production from their First Base slot, the Cardinals are holding two solid options on their 40 man roster, and the problem is trying to figure out how to get them both enough plate appearances to justify carrying them both on the 25 man roster.
On one hand, they have Allen “The Wrench” Craig who posted a .307 batting average with 22 HR, 92 RBI, and 37 walks against 89 strikeouts in 514 plate appearances in 2012 on his way to a 19th place finish in National League Most Valuable Player voting. Craig achieved this production while playing in only 119 games due to missing a total of 38 games with various injuries. He missed the first 22 games of the season while recovering from offseason knee surgery. After his return he was on fire for the first 16 days. However, the prosperity was short lived as he missed the next 14 games with a left hamstring strain, and then finally 2 more games because of wrist soreness (1) and a chest contusion (1). Collectively, I think everyone in St. Louis is hoping for a full season from Craig to see what he can do with more at bats. He certainly has the potential to produce 30+ HR, 115-120 RBI if he can just manage to stay in the lineup this season.
On the other hand, the Cardinals have 24 year old Matt Adams in their minor league system. In his first exposure with the parent club as an emergency fill in last season, Adams produced a .244 average, 2 HR, 13 RBI, and 5 walks against 24 strikeouts in 91 plate appearances. Obviously, this production doesn’t force the Cardinals to feel they have to play him in the every day lineup come opening day, but the reason his name has been on the lips of many Cardinals fans is because of the numbers he has produced throughout the minor league system. In 2010, while playing for the Quad Cities affiliate, Adams produced a .310 average, 22 HR, 88 RBI, and 33 walks against 78 strikeouts in 510 plate appearances. In 2011, while playing for the Springfield AA affiliate, Adams produced a .300 average, 32 HR, 101 RBI, and 40 walks against 90 strikeouts in 513 plate appearances. That season while setting the S-Cards franchise record for homers and RBI, Adams also earned the Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year Award, as well as the Texas League Most Valuable Player Award. At the end of last season Adams suffered an injury on an odd swing which ultimately led to him having bone chips removed from his elbow. This injury prevented him from being a September call up, and effectively ended his 2012 campaign. He has already completed offseason rehab work, and has reported to Spring Training Camp well ahead of many position players in an effort to let the coaching staff get a good look at what he can bring to the club. In a recent radio interview, Adams mentioned that during this offseason he consulted with the Cardinals head chef in an effort to get more lean. The results of this consultation, and subsequent carbohydrate watching regimen, has been a 15-20 pound loss of weight. He mentioned that the dividends from this weight loss are such that he will be able to generate even more power through faster hip rotation as well as faster hands through the hitting zone.
As you can see, Adams is doing all the right things to prove his dedication to the Cardinals organization and to playing the game of baseball in the major leagues. The quandary is that he is blocked in the Cardinals organization by Craig’s proven track record of production at first base. Sure, Craig has played some outfield in the past, and he may do so again once Beltran moves on from the organization after his contract expires at the end of this season. However, this opportunity isn’t a lock because Top MLB Prospect Oscar Taveras looms on the horizon ready to take over right field next season thus negating any type of need for Craig to make starts in the outfield.
At this point there seems to be three primary options for St. Louis going forward.
Will the Cardinals keep Adams on the 25 man roster parceling out plate appearances in the form of pinch hit opportunities and spot starts in an effort to keep Craig healthy as well as bolstering their bench strength?
Will the Cardinals send Adams back to AAA Memphis to play every day as the starting first baseman so that he gets the plate appearances he needs to continue his maturation process as a 24 year old rising hitting star in the organization?
If Rafael Furcal fails to prove healthy or breaks down physically at any point during the season, will the Cardinals dip into this depth and attempt to package Adams with some of the young starting pitching to acquire the one true potential need in this organization, a shortstop?
From my vantage point it seems at this time that the most prudent option would be sending Adams back down to Memphis, giving him everyday at bats, and furthering his development. Meanwhile, St. Louis can hope that he forces them into adding him to the 25 man roster because his production is eye popping rather than simply holding him back as an insurance policy in the event that someone on the Cardinals main roster gets injured.
Whichever way this situation pans out, having this type of quandary within the organization is a great problem to have, and at the very least it will give Cardinals fans continued hope that the well isn’t going to run dry anytime time soon at first base.