Three position players left the organization during the season. Mark Shorey and Kevin Howard were released while Mike Folli was traded away. Two other outfielders managed fewer than 100 at-bats before suffering season-ending injuries, Shane Robinson and Tyler Henley. Now, just 11 names remain on the list.
Having sorted the stats of the group by OPS is highly illustrative, as it nicely breaks them down into tiers. Cutting OPS' below .800 eliminate the likes of outfielder Joe Mather, catcher Bryan Anderson and second baseman Daniel Descalso, all good players who had a down year for them in 2010.
Between .800 and .850 reside veteran infielder Ruben Gotay, ancient but hard-hitting traveler Amaury Cazana and shortstop Tyler Greene. All three were solid contributors to the club, Gotay with a high walk rate, Cazana with power and Greene with a nice speed and power mix. Yet, none of the three would rate as the top player on the team.
The final two standing are last year's Memphis winner and Player of the Year for the entire system, right-handed hitting outfielder Allen Craig, along with lefty Hamilton, in his first full season at Triple-A.
Interestingly, the two are both 26 years of age, born just 11 days apart. Further, they joined the Cardinals out of college in the same draft, 2006, with Hamilton a supplemental second-round pick and Craig the club's eighth-rounder.
Neither was active the entire 2010 season for the Redbirds. Craig's time was interrupted by five separate call-ups to St. Louis while Hamilton endured two stints on the disabled list, one due to a hand injury and the other a groin problem. The last one caused him to miss a month and a half, including a two-week rehab, playing in the Gulf Coast League.
As a result, Craig had 306 Pacific Coast League at-bats while Hamilton had 258. The first baseman appeared in exactly half of the Redbirds' games, 72, while the outfielder played in 11 more.
Craig drove in 81 runs in those 83 games, a most impressive pace. He also batted over .300 for the fourth-consecutive minor league season.
Despite a lower batting average, .298, Hamilton tied Craig with a .389 on-base mark due to a higher walk rate. He also slugged 46 points higher, primarily due to a team-leading 18 home runs.
Both Craig and Hamilton had a pair of multi-home run games and each had one of the club's four grand slams this season. Hamilton collected four final at-bat game winning hits, including three on home runs. Craig had five, two via the long ball, but Hamilton had the biggest.
Hamilton's 18th long ball on September 6 was most memorable – the game-winner in the final weekend on the road at Iowa that made the Redbirds division winners and propelled them into their second consecutive post-season.
If I was on the fence up until this point, playoff performance offers a clear delineation.
First, there were similarities. Both hitters played every game of the American Conference Championship and the PCL Championship round. Each had 25 at-bats over six games, collecting four extra-base hits and scoring three times.
In his favor, Craig walked four times to Hamilton's two and fanned seven times vs. Hamilton's ten. However, the first baseman batted .360 to Craig's .240, and doubled the outfielder's home run and RBI production with two and eight, respectively.
Both players received a well-deserved promotion to St. Louis once the Redbirds were eliminated from the playoffs. Hamilton made his MLB debut with the Cardinals on September 20.
While he has appeared in a handful of career games in the outfield, including five starts in left field in 2010, Hamilton is considered a full-time first baseman who can play the outfield in a pinch. As such, he is effectively blocked by Albert Pujols in St. Louis.
That doesn't diminish in any way Hamilton's fine season and his selection as The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Memphis Redbirds Player of the Year for 2010 is most deserving.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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