One thing that still stands out at Springfield is that current Cardinal outfielder Colby Rasmus still owns this place. His image still appears on the scoreboard and his T-shirt jersey is still worn by fans in the stands. So in honor of Springfield's favorite adoptive son, we'll first look at the Cardinals' hitters.
On this trip I was looking forward to seeing the organization's number two prospect, Brett Wallace. I had met Wallace at this past January's Winter Warm Up but his size does not stand out in street clothes like it does in a baseball uniform. The kid is thick and it is easy to see why he is sometimes called the "Walrus." I hate to say this but Greg Luzinski is the name that I keep coming back to when I think of his body type. Not the "Bull" that was a DH for the Chicago White Sox at the end of his career but the one who was a four-time All-Star for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The first thing that stood out at while he was at the plate was his balance. He has a great base which give him great balance (think Tony Gwynn). Wallace keeps his hands back letting the pitch get deep in the zone before exploding with a short, compact swing. Though his lower body might be a hindrance in scout's eyes, the "Hitman" uses it to generate superb bat speed and power to all fields.
On opening night, he hit two opposite field home runs. With his ability to hit it the other way, Frisco decided to pitch him way inside (3 HBP's on Friday) and employ the "Barry Bonds shift" with the third baseman positioned at shortstop, etc.
I will say it; I don't see him being a major league third baseman. Wallace is a tremendous athlete and along with a great work ethic, he could prove me wrong. But unless he makes incredible strides, he won't make it at the hot corner. The key to third base is the quick first step and I didn't see it. During the game on Saturday, a hot shot was hit his way and he didn't even react. The quick first step that is a requirement of a third baseman just was not there.
His hands are playable but he would sometimes seem uncomfortable on the balls hit right at him. The Arizona State product has an average arm to go along with a somewhat quirky throwing motion. The 22-year-old is faster than he looks but still possesses below average speed. Even so, he is an above average base runner due to great instincts and baseball smarts.
Something very noticeable during the pre-game warm up was Springfield manager Pop Warner's constant coaching of Wallace during infield practice. Warner stayed in his ear during the whole session not in a bad way such as a nagging wife (so I'm told, my wife would never do that) but constantly teaching and taking him through scenarios.
When listening to the crowd's cheers, I was unable to decide if Wallace or Daryl Jones was the most popular. Interestingly, Jones had given up the number 29 he wore last year and is now wearing number 4, which was previously worn by Rasmus.
After a breakout season in 2008, I was anxious to see if he had continued to build on his success or if he was showing any signs of regression. I am happy to say that he seems to definitely be building on his breakout season.
If anything, he seemed to be more comfortable in the batter's box. Jones has an idea of what he wants to do at the plate and his pitch recognition seems improved. He will go with the pitch and doesn't try to do too much. His power is improving and he is very capable of losing the ball over the fence.
The 21-year-old uses his electric speed to cover a lot of range in the field. Jones arm is average at best and may keep him in left. On the base paths, he should become a legitimate base stealing threat as he matures.
The player that surprised me the most was second baseman Daniel Descalso. When drafted back in 2007, honestly, I wasn't too thrilled with the pick. I now understand what Jeff Luhnow and staff saw in the University of California-Davis product.
At the plate, Descalso has good bat control and above average bat speed. He has great plate discipline and uses the whole field.
In the field, he was even more impressive. He has really quick feet and the range to play second base. The footwork is superb enabling him to make the double play turn with relative ease.
Only 22, he will move up prospect lists with a productive season at the plate because the defense is there at a premium middle infield position.
With a build of a catcher, I understand why the Cardinals are trying Tony Cruz behind the plate. He definitely has room to improve his footwork but he does have a good foundation in which to start. His arm really does concern me. His mechanics on his throws are shaky and his arm strength is fringe.
At the plate, he has a short powerful stroke that generates good gap power. Though he doesn't look ideal behind the plate, he does seem more natural there than Steven Hill.
"The King" is a very unassuming player with an average build. Though he doesn't look like your typical power hitter, he uses fantastic bat speed to generate above average power. His swing does get long at times that contributes to his high strikeout totals. Hill needs to shorten his stroke as well as improving his pitch recognition.
Behind the plate, Hill has a long way to go. The 24-year-old has poor footwork and a below average arm on his throws to second. Look for a lot balls to end up at the backstop when he dons the "tools of ignorance."
With Pete Kozma and Niko Vasquez behind him, Donovan Solano is an overlooked farmhand in the Cardinals' system. That's somewhat unfair because the native Columbian is a pretty good player in his own right.
Solano has a good first step, soft hands, and an average arm in the field. I am not sold if he has the range to handle short in the big leagues on a daily basis but he definitely wouldn't hurt his team.
In the batter's box, he possesses good plate discipline and hitting eye. Solano is capable of putting the ball in play and hitting behind the runner. His lack of power will hurt him in the long run but he is still really young, having only turned 21 in December.
I don't understand why Warner is playing Jim Rapoport in centerfielder instead of Tyler Henley. Rapoport has little to offer besides speed but to be fair he seems to have a little more power than he possessed last season.
Admittedly, Henley has struggled out of the gate but his combo of speed and pop could be intriguing at the top of the lineup. I did not get a chance to see Henley in the field.
In a utility role, Mike Folli was a pleasant surprise. The former 42nd round pick is really quick in the field along with good speed on the bases. He has a good glove as evidenced with a play up the middle to rob Justin Smoak.
A switch hitter, he has below average power at the plate and will probably max out as an organizational player.
Brandon Buckman is a player that stands out on a baseball diamond. At 6'6, he looks more like a basketball player with his long lean frame. It is this frame that makes his swing long and makes him vulnerable to the inside fastball.
In the field, he seems to have regressed. When he first joined the organization, he was a slick fielder around the first base bag but now is average.
Up next, we will look at the pitchers that will be taking the mound for the Springfield Cardinals in 2009.
Dustin Mattison can be contacted at email@example.com.
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