One of my favorite parts of Spring Training is the competition between two teammates for a starting role. The matchup of a seasoned veteran and a green-eyed rookie is always a wonderful sub-plot to the start of a season. With almost every starting position player returning this season, St. Louis Cardinals fans can be content knowing that they will most likely have a World Series contender in the Gateway City this year, even if it means they will miss out on early season drama.
The one position that the Cardinals are not 100 percent sure of is (surprise!) second base. If you feel like this is a familiar story, you’re right. The Redbirds have employed seven different opening day second basemen in the last nine seasons. Not since Fernando Vina was batting leadoff, getting drilled by an inside pitch three times a day, and sporting the most perfectly manicured goatee I’ve ever seen (Sorry, Dustin Hermanson) have the Cardinals had a second baseman they could rely on for more than two seasons. Realistically, Daniel Descalso, Ronny Cedeno and Kolten Wong could all earn the starting nod.
The favorite at this point is Descalso. He is an excellent clubhouse guy and a product of a terrific Cardinals system that finds value in every type of player. He has arguably the best arm on the infield, and his range and instincts are second-to-none as well. He is also a smart player, capable of executing the finer points of the game like sacrifice bunts, hit-and-runs, and taking the extra base when possible. That said, Descalso certainly has his shortcomings. The most glaring is his ability to make meaningful contact. While not a strikeout machine (Descalso’s 19.4 percent K rate was about on par with the league average), he doesn’t consistently get base hits, as evidenced by his .226 batting average in 2012 and his career .245 batting average. He also has very little power, which isn’t a huge deal for an NL second baseman, but you would like to see more than 21 extra-base hits in 143 games. Descalso would be a terrific and extremely versatile bench piece, but GM John Mozeliak has said he expects him to be the starter.
A second option is newcomer Ronny Cedeno. The former Chicago Cubs prospect bounced around from The Windy City to the Seattle Mariners, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets before settling on a two-year deal in St. Louis. At this point in his career, we can clearly see Cedeno for what he is: a .250 hitter with an above average glove and minimal power. His best season came in 2010 when he hit .256 with eight home runs, 38 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Cedeno is exactly the type of player the Cardinals needed to sign this off-season, as he will provide insurance in case Rafael Furcal‘s injury history rears it’s ugly head, and he can also be a swingman that can adequately give the starting middle infielders a day off. While Cedeno is expected to be a 10th man, a good spring could give him a more prominent role on this team.
The last option, and probably the biggest long-shot, would be giving the starting job to former first-round pick Kolten Wong. Wong looks like a prototypical second baseman who has excelled at every level he has played. After winning Hawaii’s award for the top prep baseball player in the state in 2008, Wong was an All-American at the University of Miami before being selected 22nd overall by the Cardinals in 2011.
After hitting .335 in 47 games in A-ball, Wong successfully made the jump to double-A Springfield where he batted .287 and got on base at an impressive .348 clip for the Texas League champions. Wong did nothing but improve his stock in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .324 over 74 at bats. He has a very quiet stance with a short swing and excellent strike zone judgement. He can play any position on the diamond, including catcher and center field, but his future is at second where his offensive numbers wont be as highly scrutinized and he will have an opportunity to get consistent at bats on this Cardinal team. His glove is about league average.
My gut feeling is that Descalso will earn the starting job, Cedeno will be the backup middle infielder, and Wong will begin the season at Triple-A Memphis. However, if Descalso struggles out of the gate, the birds will be ready to call up Wong at the drop of a hat.