Holder of the Keystone: Joe Thurston

With the recent release of Adam Kennedy, the St. Louis Cardinals may turn to minor league free agent Joe Thurston.

With the recent release of Adam Kennedy, the St. Louis Cardinals go to spring training without a regular second baseman. General Manager John Mozeliak has promised an open competition with Brendan Ryan, Skip Schumaker, Brian Barden, Jarrett Hoffpauir, and Tyler Greene among the participants. Another candidate, Joe Thurston, is the most intriguing to me.

Originally drafted in the fourth round of the 1999 MLB First Year Player draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Thurston was once a highly touted prospect that has struggled in limited action. He comes to the Cardinals at the recommendation of former Cardinal, Eduardo Perez, who introduced him to third base coach Jose Oquendo.

According to Thurston, "My manager in Puerto Rico was Eduardo Perez and he introduced me to Oquendo who told me what to expect and how I need to come here and be ready and work hard. That's what I do so I am looking forward it."

Both Oquendo and Perez were managers in the Puerto Rican Winter League in which Thurston played. During league play, Thurston hit .293/.387/.421/.808 with more walks, 16, than strikeouts, 14. The native Californian proved his value on the basepaths with seven steals in 11 attempts.

Once a highly touted prospect, he was the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year in 2000 and 2002. Also in 2002, he was named the Triple-A Player of the Year. Unfortunately, Thurston has never been able to make the jump from the minor leagues to the major leagues. In 66 career major league at bats, he has posted an anemic line of .227/.264/.303/.567.

Since being the second baseman of the future for the Dodgers, Thurston has bounced around from organization to organization. A "Crash Davis" of sorts on the minor league circuits, he has a career line of .295/.358/.421/.779 in over 4600 at bats. Last season at Pawtucket, he hit .315/.367/.456/.823 earning him team MVP honors. His 158 hits led the International League.

His Pawtucket manager, Ron Johnson, had this to say about him, "if there's been one guy who has been the catalyst, and the MVP of the ball club, it's been Joe Thurston. The energy he brings to the club. The vocalness he brings to the club — everything is a plus."

One of the reasons the Cardinals brought him in was his versatility. How versatile? He has started over 900 games at second, over two hundred at shortstop, and sixty games in the outfield.

On a utility role, "Wherever they want me to play, I will play it the best I can. My best (position) is anywhere on the field."

Thurston is a superb athlete with good speed. He shows good instincts on the basepaths but needs to be more selective when choosing to steal bases. He has a nice, smooth stroke and is able to square the ball up against advanced Triple-A pitching. The left-handed hitter shows good plate discipline and has the ability to hit the ball the other way. In the field, he has good range and a solid average arm.

On his strengths, "Hard work, aggressiveness. Knowing the game, playing the game the right way," says Thurston. "Going out there and giving it my all, all the time. Doing whatever I can to help the team. Whether its running the bases, playing defense, getting the bunt down, or stealing a sign in the dugout, whatever it takes to win is what I'm about."

"I just wanted to come here and play hard and work hard and compete", adds Thurston.

On the basepaths, Thurston could be a difference maker. "I won't say I'm the fastest guy but I know the game. One of my great mentors was Maury Wills when I was with the Dodgers. He is one of the fastest guys ever. I always stood by him to learn different things: reading the pitcher, reading the catcher."

On being a Cardinal, "Any picture I've seen of the St. Louis Cardinals, the stadium has been packed with a lot of fans. To play in a new stadium with a lot of fans and a great atmosphere, I knew this was I would want to be. Then I came to the World Series (2004) with nothing but red and its freezing outside and everybody was like "so what" that's an awesome feeling."

When I asked him if he feels his struggles at the big league level was due to lack of opportunity, he responded, "I do. I do think that's what it is. It's one of those things where no matter the opportunity is they know I am going to play the game the right way; I am going to play the game hard. The more at bats I do get the better I will be."

Did you know? Thurston is the second cousin of big dollar pitcher CC Sabathia.

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