The news of the recent recall of top catcher prospect, Carson Kelly, brings optimism, but it comes at the cost of two other prospects who have proven themselves valuable in brief playing time with the St. Louis Cardinals. The way Mike Matheny has used his young players is very questionable.
Obviously, I know I can’t expect Matheny to be a masterful baseball conductor like Tony La Russa was in his days with the St. Louis Cardinals. However, I do expect a certain standard of competence when it comes to preparing for the future.
I don’t feel like I am being too unreasonable in saying young players need to play way more on the Cardinals, and have needed to since Matheny assumed the helm. It is unhealthy for the team’s, and in some cases the player’s, future if they don’t get the chance.
I can somewhat understand the idea that management wouldn’t want to call up a player before they are 100% ready because of arbitration rules. But, for many of these prospects, they have already been called up to the league, whether it be to fill in for an injury or as a long-term player.
Either way, it’s unquestionable that Matheny has a leash on young players that’s just too tight. Guys like Sam Tuivailala, John Brebbia, Luke Weaver, and Magneuris Sierra have not been given the chances they need. Matheny will ignore these young players despite their excellent performances in the little playing time they get for struggling veterans.
However, sometimes it goes beyond just short-term performance. You have to think about the long-term development of these young talents. Matheny has proven to be inept at that based on how he has managed these young players. This is no more so true than with the unfortunately maligned Cardinal outfielder, Randal Grichuk.
The poster child of untapped talent, Grichuk has been the bane of many Cardinals’ fans existences’ for some time now. They see him as a guy with a lot of pop potential who just can’t get a feeling for the strike zone. As of now, Grichuk hasn’t been able to do anything to disprove that since his solid 2015 season. However, it’s not as much Grichuk’s fault as people believe.
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First, I’d like to present the long-held idea that baseball is a game about timing and rhythm.
Cardinal fans have seen it for ourselves many times, such as in the 2006 World Series where, as much as former manager Jim Leyland and players on that team tried to deny, a week-long break following an ALCS sweep played part in muting the Detroit Tigers.
Grichuk hasn’t been given enough room to develop rhythm in my eyes. A young player needs consistent playing time at the major league level in order to get into a consistent rhythm both on and off the field. I don’t think Grichuk has been given a particularly fair chance to develop that.
Even in his 2015 season, he wasn’t given a great deal of consistency in his playing time or role, but the effects of Matheny’s leash really started to show at the very end of the 2015 season. Following his return from a DL stint on September 7, there were twenty-six games left in the season. Overall, Grichuk took part in seventeen of them, but there’s more to it than that.
Taking a look at the time he played, and the plate appearances, things become more clear. Of the seventeen games, he had four plate appearances in just five of those games. To better visualize the lack of consistency, here is a list of Grichuk’s plate appearances over those last twenty-six games: 0, 2, 4, 0, 0,1, 0, 0, 0,1, 0, 1, 0, 3, 1, 3, 3, 1, 0, 4, 1, 0, 4, 4, 1, 4.
Grichuk was really never able to get it going in the last part of the season. However, in my eyes, Matheny’s constant change to his roles over this period was only detrimental to Grichuk’s situation. Carrying over into the 2016 season, it got a whole lot worse.
Once again on the surface, Grichuk only missed 5 games aside from injuries while on the active major league roster: games 13, 22, 32, 54, and 102. However, the consistency in his playing time was just as up in the air as it was at the end of 2015. Following a tough first two games of the season, Matheny tightened the leash again.
Before a demotion to the minors after game sixty-six, which was actually a move by Matheny that paid off, here are the games which he had two or less plate appearances: 3, 5, 13, 22, 24, 26, 29, 32, 39, 41, 42, 48, 54, 56, 61, 64, 65.
While I understand it is difficult to play someone hitting in the lower .200’s consistently, the way Matheny handled Grichuk’s playing time through it was abysmal. If he’s not going to get more than ten games of consistent playing time, as a 24-25 year old, send him back to the minors (which is what Matheny finally did).
After coming back from a 20-plus game minor league stint, Grichuk was able to raise his average up over twenty points in just eight games. However, as soon as a couple of bad games rolled in, Matheny brought out the leash again. Here are the games Grichuk had less than two plate appearances after his return: 94, 96, 99, 101, 102, 103, 105, 156.
You’ll notice the leash was finally taken off after game 105, and a turnaround ensued for Grichuk. When he was given the room to play over the last quarter of the season, he showed he clearly can play in the majors. He hit .275/.303/.579, with twelve HR, thirty-three RBI, twenty-seven R, and sixteen doubles in 185 plate appearances in that final stretch.
Now, that potential is most likely lost to the Cardinals forever. There are still glimpses of his talent still yet untapped. Just barely about to turn 26, Grichuk has plenty of time in his body to make a solid MLB career. Unfortunately, the way Matheny has handled Grichuk in his time with St. Louis has made his potential success turn into a shot in the dark.
Having a vaunted farm system has no merit if the major league manager does a poor job in allowing them to transition into the MLB. All we can hope for as Cardinal fans is Matheny somehow learns from his mistakes and gives the young Cardinal prospects the playing time they deserve and need.