Retooling Cards will rely on rookies in NL Central

March 27, 2009

By Thom Henninger

The Hardball Cooperative’s look at the top rookies by division moves to the National League Central. Not all featured prospects will make Opening Day rosters, but chances are looking much better now for this trio from the NL Central.

David Freese, Cardinals, 3B
Acquired by the Cardinals in their Jim Edmonds trade with San Diego in December 2007, Freese bypassed Double-A ball last season and hit .306/.360/.550 (26 homers and 91 RBIs) at Triple-A Memphis. As he had in two previous Class-A seasons, the right-handed batter hit for average, drove the ball to all fields and demonstrated good power. Freese, who turns 26 in April, was destined to return to Memphis this spring, but the third-base job is open with Troy Glaus still rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. Going into camp, the veteran was expected to return in early May, but his progress has been slow and recent reports suggest he may be out longer. Freese, who has been slowed by an Achilles’ injury, is a good bet to start at third base. A year off in the distance, top third-base prospect Brent Wallace should arrive in St. Louis, so this is an opportunity for Freese and the Cards to find out what he can do.

Colby Rasmus, Cardinals, CF
Like Atlanta’s Jordan Schafer, Rasmus is a top prospect and his team’s center fielder of the future. Also like Schafer, Rasmus is coming off a mildly disappointing minor league season and looked destined for Triple-A ball this spring, but both have made a case for a major league job in camp. The 22-year-old Rasmus, arguably the Cardinals’ best prospect and a potential impact hitter, looks better situated to start 2009 in the majors after it was announced Thursday that the second-base competition had been won by outfielder Skip Schumaker. The left-handed-hitting Rasmus wouldn’t necessarily be a starter if he sticks with St. Louis, but he should play if he hits. Despite being a notoriously slow starter, Rasmus is batting .270 in 21 spring games, with six doubles, a triple and 12 runs scored. A stint with Triple-A Memphis might provide more playing time, but either way it won’t be long before Rasmus is a fixture in the St. Louis lineup.

Chris Dickerson, Reds, LF
It’s been a long, slow climb for Dickerson, a 26-year-old tools-rich athlete who has struggled to find his way at the plate. He was better last season at Triple-A Louisville, where he improved against breaking stuff and batted .287 with 16 doubles, nine triples, 11 homers and 26 steals in 97 games. The left-handed batter, who was promoted when Adam Dunn was dealt in mid-August, hit .304/.413/.608 with nine doubles and six home runs in 122 plate appearances for the Reds. Although Dickerson hasn’t provided a big payoff on his power potential, he strikes out like a slugger. He has a history of striking out once in every three trips to the plate, and he’s whiffed 17 times in 46 at-bats this spring despite a .348 average. He’s also prone to injury. His 2008 campaign ended with a stress fracture in his heel in mid-September. A good bet to make the Opening Day roster, Dickerson is the favorite to be the left-handed hitter in a left-field platoon.

{ 4 comments }

Greg Dunn 03.28.09 at 5:53 pm

And in Milwaukee, Mat Gamel and Alcides Escobar might make some noise by midseason. What’s your take on those kids, Thom?

james 03.28.09 at 11:05 pm

I like Gamel, at least with a bat in his hands. If he can even play a competent third base I see him in Milwaukee pretty soon. Escobar will hit in time, but I don’t see him as an impact offensive guy yet, and J.J. Hardy is a pretty good shortstop so his path is at least temporarily blocked. Milwaukee’s got a nice farm system right now to be cranking out players like this.

Ron Thompson 03.29.09 at 4:11 pm

I’m surprised that Brewers catcher Angel Salome doesn’t get more attention. He’s been teammates with Gamel for 4 years now, and posted a better BA every year, even though Gamel’s never hit worse than .288. Gamel over those 4 years has 1 homer in every 33.32 at-bats (50 in 1666); Salome has one in every 32.20 at-bats (41 in 1330).

Thom 03.29.09 at 8:39 pm

Gamel has played four minor league seasons and his defensive ability at third is still a question mark. I’m starting to wonder if it will take a Fielder trade to find a position for him. Or a deal that ships Gamel to a team looking for a first baseman. Escobar, who has struggled at the plate this spring, may reach Milwaukee first. I’m under the impression that Salome’s defensive game needs a lot of work, too, much like Gamel’s.

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