On Sunday, the roles were reversed with Hungo as the inquisitor.
When Matt Carpenter came to the plate in the fourth inning, this was the exchange:
Al: "Dan, let me ask you this. Going into spring training did you think that Carpenter had a chance to make this ball club?"
Dan: "That is a good question. You know, he wasn't the first guy I thought of making this team as far as bench players. Let me put it that way. I thought he had a chance, but he wasn't one of the first choices for me."
Al: "Well, he was smart enough to realize that he needed to become a little more versatile. Playing first and third and he started expanding so he could play the corner outfielders (sic)…"
This discussion hit on a theme about which I have been meaning to comment myself. Carpenter is one of several Cardinals who have restored their standing after a rocky 2011.
In their assessment of the 2012 Carpenter, these aren't the only media members who have praised the natural third baseman for realizing defensive versatility was going to be crucial for him making the major league roster.
I admit I don't understand. The implication that a prospect has any say where he is deployed in the field as he is fighting to become a major leaguer is an odd perception, in my opinion.
Last spring, Tony La Russa tossed Carpenter into the outfield during spring training, despite the third baseman having no experience there. Instead of getting him more repetition at that and other positions during the 2011 season in Memphis, the organization had Carpenter make every start right back at third base.
Why? Did Carpenter tell someone that he preferred not to be versatile? That he'd rather be a third baseman in the minors than a utiltyman in the majors?
Not taking away anything from Carpenter's early season contributions here in 2012, but let's face it, he was the beneficiary of good fortune. Carpenter made the team and is starting today more because unexpected opportunities presented themselves than because of the fact he had another good spring training camp (.357/.438/.661).
Specifically, had Allen Craig and Skip Schumaker not opened the season on the disabled list and Lance Berkman had not injured himself, Carpenter would likely be right back at the hot corner in Memphis instead of starting at first base with St. Louis.
But that is what it is all about – delivering when the opportunity is presented.
That didn't happen in 2011.
Coming off the system-wide Player of the Year Award earned for his 2010 season with Springfield, Carpenter was not expected to do more than make a few token appearances in 2011 major league spring training, then get some Triple-A experience. Instead, he impressed in Florida, batting .340 (17-for-50) including three doubles, three triples and seven RBI.
Though he didn't make the team out of camp, Carpenter made his MLB debut last June. At the time, he was working on a 27-game on-base streak with Memphis.
It didn't carry over. From June 3 until he was returned to Memphis on June 15, the left-handed hitter didn't do much, going just 1-for-15 (.067). He drew four walks for a comparatively-better OBP of .263. That was the last St. Louis saw of Carpenter until 2012.
Despite finishing the 2011 season strongly, including a .417 on-base percentage that was fourth-best in the Pacific Coast League, Carpenter did not receive a return call to St. Louis when rosters expanded in September. Why?
The 2011-12 off-season must have felt very different to Carpenter than the year before. He had to wonder where he stood. Now he knows.
I was also encouraged when Carpenter was tried by Matheny in the number two spot in the batting order recently. I felt Carpenter had been miscast in Memphis. He isn't a power hitter, yet he was consistently slotted into the fifth and sixth spots of the Redbirds order, where run production is more valued.
As a result, despite his extraordinary OBP, Carpenter finished tied for just 65th in the PCL in runs scored. Given he played for the third-worst scoring offense in the 16-team league last season, shouldn't they have tried something else, like batting Carpenter near the top of the order?
For all the talk of the manager putting players in a position where they have the greatest chance to succeed, I did not always see it.
Perhaps that is changing a bit in 2012. Shortstop Ryan Jackson is seeing a bit of time at second base and third base with Memphis in recognition of the reality ahead if he is called to the bigs.
Another player who has improved his standing substantially in 2012 is Mitchell Boggs. The right-hander held the closer's job for a few days almost exactly 12 months ago. Soon, after a couple of blown saves, he was in Tony La Russa's doghouse.
Boggs was exiled to Memphis to work as a starter, a move that no one seemed to anticipate or understand. Though Boggs returned to St. Louis later, he was not a key factor down the stretch.
Now, deploying a 95 mile-per-hour sinker, Boggs has emerged in 2012. He has stepped into an important set-up role for Mike Matheny's club, essentially masking the loss of Lance Lynn to the rotation.
It is encouraging to see both Carpenter and Boggs receiving second chances in 2012 – and delivering – but they both needed help and encouragement to get there that wasn't always apparent in the past.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his minor league features during the season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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