Is the next Harrison Bader already in the Cardinals system?
Harrison Bader was recently traded, opening a hole in centerfield. Is his replacement already in the Cardinals’ minor league system?
Now that Harrison Bader has finally debuted with the Yankees (and what a debut it was, going 2-4 with three RBIs), talk has again turned to the trade that sent him from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Bronx for Jordan Montgomery.
Well, at least in New York. Here in St. Louis, the Cardinals and their fans have been thrilled with the trade almost from the jump, as Montgomery has been incredibly effective for the Redbirds (even including his recent clunker against the Dodgers). The tall lefty has gone 5-3 with a 3.12 ERA in nine games with St. Louis, and it’s no coincidence that the team has been on a tear since he helped stabilize the rotation at the trade deadline.
And while the Cardinals lost an energetic speedster who made magic in center field, recent news has me wondering – is the next Harrison Bader already in the system?
The Cardinals announced their Arizona Fall League representatives the other week, highlighted by heralded prospects Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, and Tink Hence (who incredibly are all part of the same draft class). Given those names, the announcement of centerfielder Mike Antico to the Arizona Fall League taxi squad was likely lost in the shuffle.
It shouldn’t have been.
Antico has been a revelation on the basepaths this year. He stole 67 bases across the 2022 season, including 30 while playing AA ball in Springfield.
67! While only being caught stealing seven times. And while defensive metrics for minor leaguers are hard to come by, his defense has earned strong reviews and he’s committed only two errors while roaming the outfield, primarily handling centerfield. You know, Bader’s old stomping grounds.
With all due respect to Ben DeLuzio, who looks like he could go first to home faster than Albert Pujols can go home to first, the Cardinals may already have Bader’s heir apparent plying his trade in Double-A. The 24-year-old, an 8th round draft pick out of Texas in 2021, should get some good exposure while in the AFL. And with bigger bases coming to the MLB, the art of stealing may soon be back in vogue.
Of course, the biggest question will be Antico’s bat. (Doesn’t that make him sound even more like Bader?) He hit .245 this year, with 143 strikeouts in 514 at bats. Not great. But he had a solid (solid, not good) OBP of .344 and a defensive specialist with incredible speed on the basepaths can carve out a starting role on this Cardinals team, especially if the corner outfielders are providing more thump in the lineup.
Plus, his bat has some pop, as he slugged 14 homers and 31 doubles. And he knew how to take a walk, drawing 71 of them. A defensive whiz who knows how to take a walk and then steal his way around the basepaths? That sounds like a Whiteyball fever dream. And possibly a future leadoff hitter.
Plus, Antico’s bat could develop as he does. We saw that at times with Bader, who went through stretches of a season where his hitting was an advantage, instead of a liability.
Of course, Bader now plays in pinstripes. The Cardinals, who seemed to have their outfield of the future set at the beginning of the year with Bader, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill, now find themselves wondering who might cement those starting spots for 2023 and beyond.
It could be Walker, who will find a place somewhere on this team. Carlson and O’Neill could have bounce-back years. Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, or Alec Burleson could make an impact.
But don’t count out Antico, who may steal a future spot on the team as quickly as he did bases in 2022.