The starting second base job for the Saint Louis Cardinals is up for grabs this season as spring training is warming up the cold winter weather. As it looks now, its a two man race with a wildcard contestant that might not be Major League Baseball ready.
The past few seasons second base has been a revolving door of faces that has included Daniel Descalso, Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker, Tyler Green and Pete Kozma. Descalso and Carpenter will be the two that will square off for the majority of playing time with the outside chance of Kolten Wong stealing the job.
Descalso automatically makes the best candidate for the position. He’s got two full seasons under his belt, mostly at third base in 2011 and mostly at second in 2012. Defensively Descalso is an average fielder who holds a -2.8 UZR/150 with five errors (four fielding, one throwing) in his career at second. He’s a career .245 hitter with a .655 OPS; below average in both cases. He strikes out nearly 20 percent of his at bats, but at other times he tends to make good contact and puts the ball in play (81.7 Percent Contact Rate). Descalso does not have power nor is he a speed guy on the bases. Other than his experience, his numbers don’t make a strong case for a starting job. This will be his third year and he could turn into a much more productive player.
Then we have Carpenter who showed a ton of potential in his first season in the majors. Carpenter hits for good power and gets on base consistently based upon his .828 OPS. He hit .294, finished with a WAR of 1.6 (Descalso had a 0.5) and was a consideration for NL Rookie of the Year. Without question, Carpenter is the superior offensive player. Defensively Carpenter spent 2012 playing all over the field; mostly at first and third. He played just five games at second without an error but an atrocious -48.1 UZR/150. Carpenter is strongest at third but right now that spot is occupied by the (oft injured) David Freese and his understudy will probably be newly-acquired Ty Wigginton. Mike Matheny has made it known that he wants Carpenter to learn second base.
Given Carpenters lack of experience at the position as well as his ability to play all over the field, it looks like Descalso will end up playing there come April. Due to his lack of production, Descalso will have very little room for error not only with Carpenter hungry for playing time, but with upstart prospect Wong who, at 22, might not be ready for the bigs just yet. Ideally, the Cardinals would like to groom him a bit more in AAA but don’t be surprised to see him come summertime.
My prediction will be that Carpenters’ bat will provide too much stability in the lineup and, while he won’t be winning any gold gloves anytime soon, his defense will be good enough to win the starting job from Descalso by the All-Star break.