The St. Louis Cardinals are four days into spring training day and the first settled position has been announced by manager Mike Matheny. It also provided us with Matheny’s insight into an aspect of the game not seen for some time in Cardinals’ baseball, the utilization of speed and base running.
One thing we know for certain, the Cardinals’ closer is definitely Jason Motte. There is no competition; it isn’t ‘his job to lose’. It is his. Matheny believes that Motte has earned the job through his late season success and his brilliant overall performance in the 2011 post-season. Matheny seems to want to make life as simple for his players as possible by defining roles as soon as possible. He feels that if he does this, the players can concentrate on getting the work in versus worrying about their place on the team. This makes perfect sense to me.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives us Mike Matheny’s Quote of the Day (2/22/12)
"“If we triumph in the little things of our common hours, we are sure to triumph in our lives.”— Unknown Author"
Translation – winning begins by doing the small things right. Be productive with your outs, run the bases well and pay attention to the game situation at all times.
Speaking of running the bases, Matheny has been very vocal about the need to change the way the Cardinals run the bases and use their speed. As noted by Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch, last season the team stole 57 bases, led by Tyler Greene with 11. Greene had all of 121 plate appearances last season. The fact that Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock and Willie McGee will be in camp provides the Cardinals with plenty of experience in the proper way to run the bases and hone their abilities to steal.
The piece of this I do not get is the way the media continuously mentions Carlos Beltran’s speed and his ability to steal bases. Hummel states, “Carlos Beltran, who, with 293 steals in 334 attempts, has one of the best basestealing marks of any major league player at 85 percent, also could help the Cardinals’ basestealing become more of an issue.”
The problem is Beltran has stolen 18 bases in 287 games since 2009. How many bases is he really going to steal? We have seen the last of Beltran’s 20/20 days. Let’s have him concentrate on hitting and driving in runs. The only other player on the team with significant speed is Greene and this could be the main reason why Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak have insisted that Greene will be given ample opportunity to win the second base job this spring.
On the topic of the second base competition, MLB.com reporter Jenifer Langosch wrote a nice piece about Greene’s realization that he was placing undue pressure on himself while with the big club over the last couple seasons. He is taking his chance to play second base everyday as a challenge he feels he can succeed in. Greene has been working at the Cardinals facility since the first week of the year taking grounders at second base. Well over 90% of his playing time has come at shortstop, so Greene felt any addition time he had to learn the position before camp would be beneficial.
I think that Greene is the best option for the position provided he is not going to be a detriment in the field. In my opinion, Rafael Furcal is slowing down and will not cover as much ground. The Cardinals pitchers throw a lot of ground balls so the infielders up the middle have to be prepared to cover their position well. Greene’s bat, with a larger number of plate appearances, should prove better than Daniel Descalso or Skip Schumaker, his competitors for the position. His upside at the plate is amplified by his ability to steal bases as noted above.
Greene’s confidence is revealing, “It’s not that I wasn’t working hard before, but that trust and that confidence of ‘here it is, this is me, this is what I do’ was sometimes missing…It was a leap of faith that I am going to live and die on my ability and put it all out there.” Good for Greene, hopefully he can take the next step this season. The Cardinals will be better if he can.