(BaseballSTL) -- How many bench players around Major League Baseball do you think finish with a line of .294/.365/.463 as a 26-year old rookie? Better yet, how many do you think do that in fewer than 300 at-bats where they aren’t given regular starts?
I can’t fathom very many are capable of accomplishing what Matt Carpenter has done and what he continues to do in a Redbird uniform.
No, Carpenter isn’t the greatest player ever or even having the greatest rookie season ever. Not even close. What makes his season so ridiculously impressive is how he’s been able to do this while not being a regular starter.
You see...big leaguers - by definition - are used to being the best players on their team. From little league to high school to college and the minor leagues, they’re the best. And the best are starters. Every single day.
That means repetitions. Lots of them. Barring injury they’re never going to go, say, three or four days without stepping on the field. That would never happen.
But once you make it to the big leagues all of a sudden you’re surrounded by other guys of the same talent. All of a sudden, you’re not the best anymore. And that means, you guessed it, fewer reps.
Instead of starting everyday you’re coming off the bench and waiting for an opportunity.
That’s a role many people struggle with.
Take Allen Craig for instance. We all agree he’s an elite hitter? Thought so. Well, when Craig first came up to the majors in 2010 he couldn’t adapt to that bench role. In 114 ABs that season he hit just .246 with a .298 on-base percentage. The RBI machine mustered just 18 in 44 games.
Once Craig became a starter and got regular at-bats, he turned into the monster you see today.
Carpenter hasn’t fallen victim to that though. He’s having success whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. He’s having success whether he’s getting 30 at-bats a week or 10. And that comes down to preparation. Not to say Craig or any other player who struggled coming off the bench didn’t prepare...but Carpenter is as good at that as anyone.
He’s become such a monstrous asset to the Cardinals they can comfortably say that if anyone gets hurt (cough cough, Carlos Beltran, cough cough) they can plug in another starter to take his place. Not many teams around baseball can say that.
What this means for his future remains to be seen. Matt Carpenter is a starter, without a doubt. But with Carlos Beltran signed for another year, top prospect Oscar Taveras ready to replace him and David Freese locked in at third base, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where that starting spot will be.
Second base? Maybe. I wouldn’t put anything past Carpenter and his work ethic. But don’t forget this organization invested a first round pick two years ago in someone (Kolten Wong) who plays that exact position. And that someone just so happens to be flying through the minor leagues...currently hitting .476 (10-21) in the Arizona Fall League.
For now, and maybe the near future, Carpenter’s role might be best valued as a super sub who backs up first base, second base, third base, left field and right field. It’s tough for him because he deserves to get 550 at-bats as an everyday starter somewhere. But he’ll get there one day. Whether it’s here in St. Louis or not.