Descalso knew what to expect this spring, having been given a 37 at-bat cameo at Springfield to close the 2008 season, his first full year as a professional. The 22-year-old had been taken in the third round of the 2007 draft from UCal-Davis.
At that point, his Springfield manager, Ron "Pop" Warner, still wasn't sure what he had in his second baseman.
"I had Descalso briefly at the end of 2008 and he hit .300, but it was a short time and pitchers maybe hadn't exploited his weaknesses yet. I wasn't sure yet. In spring training, he didn't miss a beat from last year and I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Warner explained.
The left-handed hitter began the regular season on a tear, earning our Scout.com Cardinals Minor League Player of the Month award for April. Descalso finished the month on a 13-game hit streak.
At that point, Descalso led his club with 21 RBI, four triples, 30 base hits and 50 total bases. He was second in most other offensive categories including six doubles, .385 batting average, .442 OBP, .641 slugging percentage and a 1.083 OPS.
Descalso was named to start in the mid-season Texas League All-Star Game for the North Division, with the contest held on July 1. Word at the time was that he was on pace to seriously contend for the League's Player of the Year.
At that point with Springfield, Descalso had eight home runs and 51 RBI in 288 at-bats over 73 games. His line was an impressive .323/.396/.531. They would also be his final stats there.
The very next day, the call came. Memphis needed a second baseman with Jarrett Hoffpauir having been called up to St. Louis. Descalso received the promotion and did not return to Double-A when Hoffpauir was optioned back down.
Warner was both delighted and disappointed at the same time.
"Daniel definitely was the leader of our offense," the manager said. "It really hurt to lose him, but that is our job – to get guys ready for the next level.
"The guy is a leader, a grinder a blue-collar player. He grinds out his at-bats better than anybody. He doesn't give at-bats away all year long and that is something that I can't say about everybody else on our team," said Warner.
Descalso did not continue his pace with Memphis and moved into a part-time role. His Pacific Coast League OPS was just .647. Warner warns not to read too much into that.
"To me, Triple-A is the hardest jump," Warner observed. "You have crafty guys that can throw any pitch at any point in the count. It is another learning process, another step you need to adjust to. He didn't play everyday like he did when he was playing here too. It was probably a little bit tougher for him then.
"I have seen a lot of guys make the jump from Double-A to Triple-A but not a lot of the guys take off where they left off in Double-A. There is a little bit of an adjustment period for them," he said.
Descalso is the kind of player who doesn't have the sharpest of any single tool, but uses what he has better than most.
"Mentally, Descalso is very, very strong," Warner said. "A great make up to go along with a pretty good skill set. If you look at him, he doesn't have maybe the best ability compared to some of the guys out there, but he is going to pass them up with the work ethic and make up."
Having only seen Descalso play in limited innings during spring training, I asked Warner about the second baseman's defense. The manager didn't try to sugar-coat his reply, but ended up making a very favorable comparison.
"Defensively, I thought he was a little bit slow in the first step," Warner acknowledged. "In spring training, he really worked on it and got off the ball really well. He gets good reads off the bat for his lack of quickness. Cal Ripken didn't have good quickness, but he had good range. That is the kind of player Descalso is.
"He finds a way to get to the balls. He finds a way to get the bat on the ball and make solid contact. He is a great student of the game. He has good intangibles. He is a good baserunner. He does everything well," Warner said.
Descalso didn't finish the season with the Triple-A Redbirds, as he was honored with a spot on the Team USA squad that took the gold medal in the World Cup. He has continued to play into the fall due to a berth in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
Warner expects his AFL manager to be pleased with his second baseman. "Whoever has him down there is going to like him," he promised.
Descalso was also named to the annual Texas League Post-Season All-Star Team, a much more select group than the two full squads that face off in the mid-season game. His season's-end selection was especially noteworthy since he did not play in the league for the final two months.
Reaching the major leagues seems the next goal for Descalso, a level Warner believes is attainable, not just as a reserve, but as a starter.
"If he progresses the way he did this year and keeps up that progression, then I think he can be a major league starter. There is going to be a time when he is going to have to make an adjustment up there because the speed of the game is a lot faster. Routine ground balls are sharply-hit ground balls, but I see him making that adjustment. He is going to have to.
"He is not one of those guys I would bet against," Warner concluded.
Congratulations to Daniel Descalso, our Scout.com Springfield Cardinals Player of the Year for 2009.
Other competitors: Among Descalso's strong competition for this Springfield recognition are outfielder Tyler Henley and catcher Steven Hill. Henley's .303 batting average was fifth-highest among Texas League qualifiers and his on-base mark of .367 was 15th.
Henley's and Hill's slugging marks of .482 and .470 respectively were sixth and seventh-best in the league and Henley's .849 OPS was fourth. Hill's 19 home runs were good for seventh and his 64 RBIs tied for 11th. Henley was right behind at 63 RBI and tied for sixth in doubles with 31.
Note: To follow our entire series of Players of the Year at each level of the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, check back here at The Cardinal Nation daily. To see the roster of winners and article schedule, click here.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog.
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