Cardinals organization taking responsible approach to development of Magneuris Sierra, Oscar Mercado

May 9, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Magneuris Sierra (43) scores the go ahead run in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Magneuris Sierra (43) scores the go ahead run in the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cardinals are finding ways to keep two of their top center field prospects active at Double-A Springfield.

While last week’s “promotion” of outfielder Magneuris Sierra–who began 2017 with High-A Palm Beach before being promoted to the majors for a two-week cameo–to Double-A Springfield was widely considered a good thing for the St. Louis Cardinals organization, it did present the organization with some obstacles.

Since Sierra hit .367/.406/.367 in 32 big-league plate appearances, it wouldn’t have made much sense to send him back to Single-A. At the same time, it felt premature to send the 21-year-old, who was widely considered to be a raw, average-dependent hitter before his big-league stint, to Triple-A, where he would have displaced the organization’s top outfield prospect, Harrison Bader, in center.

Thus, Sierra was sent to Double-A, which seemed to be the level most suited for his development.

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And while the Cardinals aren’t trying to get a premium prospect like Bader regular reps in center at that level, they are still attempting to get something out of 2013 second-rounder Oscar Mercado, who was converted to the outfield last summer after crashing and burning at his natural position of shortstop. Through the early part of 2017, it looks like a lightbulb may have turned on for Mercado, a .238/.305/.323 career hitter, as he’s slashing .302/.373/.453 with four homers (which ties a career high) through his first 178 Double-A plate appearances.

Since the beginning of Mercado’s offensive success as a professional directly correlated with his transition to center field, though, it seems like it might not be the best move for his development to shift him to a corner position on a full-time basis. He’s clearly a guy that brings his defensive performance with him to the plate, and if he’s thinking too much about new angles and responsibilities at a new position, it’s distinctly possible that he might not hit as well as he has to start the season.

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Similarly, Sierra looks like a guy who might have a chance to start in the majors at some point after tearing it up in the big leagues for nearly a fortnight. If he’s going to do that any time soon, though, it likely won’t be in center field, as the Cardinals have Dexter Fowler under contract for four more seasons after this one. While his best position is center field–and he’s almost certainly a better defensive center fielder than Fowler–the Cardinals aren’t going to do anything to upset their $82.5 million-dollar man if they don’t have to, so Sierra will have to settle for a corner spot for the foreseeable future if he’s in the big leagues.

In order to deal with both of these issues, the Cardinals have devised a very sensible plan. Derek Shore of reports that Mercado will get the bulk of the reps in center, as he’s still getting accustomed to the outfield and is most experienced at that position. Shore adds, however, that Sierra is still expected to a solid share of reps in center, too. That’s exactly the way it’s worked so far through Sierra’s three games in Double-A, with Mercado getting two starts in center and Sierra two in left before the two switched positions on Monday night.

While the arrangement certainly isn’t the most ideal one possible for Sierra and Mercado, it’s by far the best one that can be mustered while still allowing both hitters to face the quality of pitching that they’ve earned the right to go up against.

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If there’s any potential negative aspect to Sierra’s addition in Springfield, it’s that José Adolis García probably won’t get many more opportunities in center field. García seems to project as more of a corner outfielder–specifically in right, because his arm is so good–over the long term anyway, so it won’t hamper his development to mostly play the corner spots from now on.