Do the St. Louis Cardinals Have Enough Depth to Survive the Season?


If you were to take a quick glance at the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds’ box score following their Thursday night victory over the Sacramento River Cats, you might be shocked to find that the players in the Redbirds’ lineup are affiliated with the big-league club that currently has the best record in baseball:

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First off, it should be noted that despite their brutal struggles in the batting average department (currently hitting as a team for a Pacific Coast League-worst .228 average), the Redbirds have a team .337 on-base percentage, which aligns perfectly with the league average. While that alleviates some of the concern, it’s still worrisome to see that the Redbirds are having so much trouble making contact. The issues beg the question: do the Cardinals have enough depth to get through the season without trouble if they suffer a few injuries in their lineup?

The Cardinals are uniquely fortunate in that they have three players among their usual bench group—Mark Reynolds, Randal Grichuk, and Peter Bourjos—who have a good chance to produce at at least a replacement level if pressed into starting duty. With Bourjos and Grichuk having the ability to play every outfield position and Reynolds being able to field decently at all the corner infield and outfield positions, they could count on one of those players to fill five of the eight positions. Obviously, a swap of Matt Carpenter for Mark Reynolds or Matt Holliday for a Bourjos/Grichuk platoon would be detrimental. But at least those players don’t project as the type of fill-ins that would actually play an active role in losing games.

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We saw last year that Tony Cruz does not have the ability to offset a long-term loss of Yadier Molina, but in all honesty, nearly every major-league team would be in trouble if they lost their starting catcher for an extended period. After all, with journeymen like Robinson Chirinos, Tuffy Gosewisch, and A.J. Pierzynski currently occupying starting jobs and rookies like J.P. Realmuto, Kevin Plawecki, and Blake Swihart being prematurely cast into the spotlight, it’s reasonable to argue that there aren’t even enough good catchers right now to fill all 30 starting positions around the league.

Despite the fact that he’s filled a starting job at the big-league level for extended periods before, it’s pretty clear at this point that Pete Kozma isn’t cut out to be a starter in the major leagues. However, if Kolten Wong were to go down for a long time, the Cardinals could conceivably move Matt Carpenter back to his former position of second and plug Mark Reynolds in at third. In addition, recently-promoted Jacob Wilson, who can play second and third, may have the best odds of the bunch at Memphis of succeeding in the major leagues.

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Though Wilson’s only played three games at Triple-A, it’s possible that he could contribute as a depth player in the majors this year. The 24-year-old Wilson, who went 10-for-33 (.333) with four doubles and a homer in major-league spring training this year, was productive prior to his promotion despite a lack of impressive “box score” stats. Despite a .225 average, Wilson had a .326 OBP and led the Double-A Springfield club with seven homers and 21 RBI. He showed the ability to make solid contact last year at Springfield, however, hitting .305/.366/.519 in 131 at-bats following a promotion from High-A Palm Beach.

Beyond Wilson, however, the Redbirds don’t seem to have too many bright spots in their lineup. Utility infielder Greg Garcia is putting together an above-average season, as he should be considering that it’s his third go-round in Triple-A, but he’s a low-ceiling big-leaguer and could basically be considered a lefthanded-hitting version of Kozma. The 25-year-old Garcia didn’t really make a great first impression last year by hitting .143 in his first big-league season, and despite his respectable .292 batting average at Memphis this year, Garcia’s current OPS of .717 is actually the lowest mark he’s had in that category over his three seasons with the Redbirds.

Two guys on the 40-man roster, Dean Anna and Ty Kelly, would likely serve primarily as late-inning defensive replacements if they were to be called up to the big-leagues, but nevertheless their lack of success at the plate is somewhat concerning. Unlike some of his teammates, Anna hasn’t even found a way to get on base efficiently, and he currently has a less-than-respectable .629 OPS. Kelly is tied for the team lead in walks with 25, but he has been just plain brutal in terms of making contact, batting for a .186 average with a .263 slugging percentage. Anna and Kelly can both play a multitude of positions, but with both in their third go-round at the Triple-A level, you have to wonder if there’s any way that they’ll ever develop into respectable major-league hitters.

Perhaps more than anyone, top prospect Stephen Piscotty is a concern. The 24-year-old is currently in the midst of his second full season at Triple-A, and he’s hitting for a .226/.335/.423 clip. While that on-base percentage is solid, his batting average is 42 points below the Pacific Coast League’s .268 average, and he’s not hitting for enough power to justify that lack of contact.

Realistically, the clock is running short on Piscotty’s chances of becoming a big-league starter. Not one player among the Cardinals’ primary starting eight position players needed as many games as Piscotty has already accumulated at Triple-A (173) to reach the major leagues. Even more concerning is the fact that Piscotty has actually taken a step back at the plate during his second Triple-A season, as he hit .288/.355/.406 in 500 at-bats last year before deciding to make adjustments to his swing. His strikeouts are also up during 2015.

It’s not as if the Cardinals would soon have a need for Piscotty; even with Jon Jay currently on the shelf, Grichuk and Bourjos are perfectly capable fill-ins, and Reynolds can also provide a capable presence at an outfield corner when necessary. But since organizational players Mike O’Neill and Rafael Ortega are the only other true outfielders on Memphis’s roster, Piscotty is carrying the load as the Cardinals’ major-league-ready outfield depth until Tommy Pham returns from the world’s worst quad strain, which has sidelined him since spring training.

Beyond that, he’d likely be one of the first players whom the Cardinals would call on to fill a pinch-hitting role if they had a long-term injury to a position player. In that case, the Cardinals would need Piscotty to make consistent contact after coming off the bench cold, and since he’s having such trouble doing so as an everyday player at Memphis, the odds wouldn’t seem to be in his favor as a big-league pinch hitter.

The other options for that type of role aren’t exceptionally attractive. Lefty-hitting Xavier Scruggs, who already had two days of big-league service this year, has been just as concerning as Piscotty, hitting .207/.364/.450, though he does have a team-leading six homers. Catcher Cody Stanley briefly succeeded in the role earlier this year, going 1-for-3 in three appearances off the bench for the Cards, but he’s been pretty bad at the plate for Memphis this year, hitting .188/.310/.282.

Above all, the Cardinals just have to pray that they don’t suffer any more injuries to position players. But if they do, they may have to explore the trade market or waiver wire, as it doesn’t appear that anyone in Triple-A is ready to meet the challenge of performing in the big leagues right now.

Next: Potential Cardinals Pitching Trades