Cardinals Middle Infield: Getting Creative

A look through the ranks of the Minor Leagues for infield prospects that are blocked in their respective systems who may be of interest to the St. Louis Cardinals.

As the free agent marketplace is now officially open, the St. Louis Cardinals will look to add more stability and offense to its middle infield.  With Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson being the most attractive players at shortstop and second base, respectively, both will look to commandeer large multi-year contracts. 


If this is not the route for the Cardinals to take, General Manager John Mozeliak will have to be creative in looking for candidates to fill the two largest holes in the Cardinals' lineup.


Look for Heavenly Inspiration


Mozeliak might first look to the Los Angeles Angels for possible middle infield help.  The Angels may have the deepest stable of middle infield prospects around.  Shortstop Brandon Wood has always been thought of as one of the upper echelon prospects but has never been able to produce in limited big league call-ups.  In 150 big league at bats, Wood hit .200/.224/.327 with five home runs and 13 RBIs.  At Triple-A, he slugged .595 while hitting 31 home runs. 


If the Angels ever decide to make Wood the team's full-time shortstop, Erick Aybar may find himself as the odd man out.  The Dominican Republic native possesses electric speed and great range on the diamond but is still a work in progress at the plate.  The switch-hitter posted a line of .277/.314/.384 in 346 major league at bats in 2008, sharing time at short with Maicer Izturis. 


If the latter name sounds familiar, that is because his older brother Cesar was the Cardinals' starting shortstop in 2008.  The younger Izturis hit .269/.329/.362 during 2008.  The Angels everyday second baseman, Howie Kendrick, is a superb hitter whose biggest weakness is an inability to stay healthy. 


Another player in the Angels' system that I have always liked is Sean Rodriguez. Their Minor League Player of the Year in 2006 has played shortstop but is probably better suited for second base. He has nice pop (21 home runs at Triple-A) and is better than what he showed in his limited MLB debut.


In the lower minors, P.J. Phillips (brother of Brandon Phillips) and former first round pick Ryan Mount formed a very athletic double play tandem at High Class-A.  Hanley Statia struggled with the bat at Double-A, but is still highly regarded for his glove work at the shortstop position.  The Angels lack a prototypical third baseman (unless Wood finally makes the move over to the hot corner) so David Freese and/or Allen Craig could be of interest.

Don't Be Blue


If Rafael Furcal returns to Chavez Ravine, Chin-Lung Hu would find himself as the Los Angeles Dodgers' odd man out.  Coming behind Hu is one of the Dodger's top position prospects, Ivan DeJesus, Jr.  Rumor has it that if Furcal doesn't re-sign, the team will look at other veteran replacements such as Orlando Cabrera.


Hu had a breakout season in 2007, hitting .325/.364/.507 between Double-A and Triple-A.  The native of Taiwan was named the MVP of the Futures Game before making his big league debut.  The electric fielder with superb speed hit .241 in 12 games for the Dodgers. 


In 2008, Hu really struggled at the plate in the big leagues hitting only .181/.252/.233 in 116 at bats.  The 24-year-old did seem to find his stroke with a .295 average in 41 games at Las Vegas.  He possess above average arm strength, footwork, and hands that could make him a perennial contender for the Gold Glove. 


October Performers


The two teams in the Fall Classic, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, could become interesting trade partners.  The Rays' Reid Brignac was once thought of as the shortstop of the future in Tampa but veteran Jason Bartlett's defense and clubhouse presence was one of the keys to the team's historic run. 


Brignac is only 22 years old and is coming off a year in which he hit .250/.299/.412 at Triple-A.  During 2007, the left-handed hitter led the Southern League in runs scored, total bases, and extra-base hits.  As a 20-year-old in 2006, the 2004 draft pick put himself on the prospect map when he .321 with 24 home runs and 99 RBIs between high Class-A and Double-A. 


A few levels behind Brignac is Tim Beckham, the number one overall pick in the 2008 MLB First-Year Player Draft.  Beckham is a five-tool talent that has drawn comparisons to Justin and B.J. Upton and as such could help soothe the potential loss of Brignac.


The World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies' double play combo of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are blocking a solid middle infield prospect named Jason Donald.  At Double-A, the 24-year-old hit .307/.391/.497 earning him a trip to the Futures Game and on the Bronze Medal winning USA Olympic team.  During play in China, the University of Arizona product led the team at the games in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.  In the Bronze Medal game, he had two hits including a home run.


Donald is now playing in the Arizona Fall League where he has posted an impressive line of .405/.466/.696 in 22 games in the desert. 


Everything's Bigger


In Texas, that is.  The Rangers' second baseman Ian Kinsler is one of the best young players at the position in baseball and shortstop Michael Young is a perennial All-Star with a big long-term contract.  Waiting in the wings in Arlington are two interesting middle-infield prospects.  Joaquin Arias has been on the prospect map for years but is still only 24 years old.  In part-time duty for the Rangers, he hit .291/.345/.409 in 110 at bats.  At Triple-A, he hit .296 and stole 23 bases in 28 attempts.  Plus, he would be the Cardinals first Joaquin since the team had the "One Tough Dominican" on the mound.


The flashier of the two is also the youngest, Elvis Andrus.  The Venezuelan played most of the 2008 Double-A season as a 19-year-old (he turned 20 at the end of August).  A former Atlanta Braves farmhand that was part of the Mark Teixeira trade, Andrus hit .295 with 54 stolen bases and was named a Texas League All-Star. 


In the News


There have been plenty of rumors about the Cardinals' interest in the Atlanta Braves' middle infield starters Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson.  The Braves have the luxury have having good depth to replenish the big league team if needed.  Brent Lillibridge is a leadoff type with above range and arm strength that really struggled at the plate between the big leagues and Triple-A in 2008.  Even so, he was able to steal 23 bases at Richmond. 


Diory Hernandez hit .288 in his first experience at Triple-A while providing sound defense for the Braves.  The 24-year-old is above average in the field with the range to play shortstop but with an arm that is more adequate at second base. 


On Lillibridge and Hernandez' heels is Brandon Hicks.  The Texas A&M product provides superb power from the shortstop position.  At High Class-A, the then-22-year-old hit 19 home runs and slugged .480. 


In the Division


There are several interesting options around the National League Central.  Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy is just coming into his own and the Brewers' best position prospect, Alcides Escobar, has the look of being big league-ready. 


The Cardinals former General Manager's team has a variety of middle infield options. Cincinnati's Walt Jocketty can choose from Jeff Keppinger, Paul Janish, Zach Cozart, Todd Frazier, and Chris Valaika. 


Keppinger logged 459 at bats for the Reds in 2008, his first season in the big leagues.  Janish is a defense-first player whose bat has yet to develop.  A former Ole Miss Rebel, Cozart's defense is better than Janish's and he also has more power, but he hasn't played above the Midwest League. 


Drafted in the supplemental first round in 2007, Frazier has the range to play shortstop according to scouts, but few of them believe in his bat.  The 22-year-old is slugging .547 in the Hawaii Winter League this off-season.  Valaika hit over .300 in each of his stops, including a .302 average in 106 at bats playing in the Arizona Fall League.  The 23-year-old displayed solid power with 20 home runs in 2008. 



 Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at


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