If you were to map out a projected lineup of the Cardinals for the next three, four or five years, many of the everyday positions wouldn’t be that difficult. Matt Holliday’s under contract for a while. Yadier Molina is, too. Allen Craig and David Freese don’t figure to be going anywhere.
But what about shortstop? That’s got to be the hardest one to figure out. Rafael Furcal is signed through 2013 and, at 34, isn’t exactly getting much younger.
The Cardinals have tried and tried and tried to draft young shortstops and develop them in big leaguers. And time and time again they’ve failed. 2007 1st round pick Pete Kozma has just 556 hits in 2355 career minor league at-bats (for those scoring at home that’s a borderline embarrassing .236 average). The recently departed Tyler Greene actually made it to the big leagues but couldn’t crack even a .300 on-base percentage for his career.
There is someone else though. He’s slowly but surely worked his way up the minor league system without the burden of carrying the label of “1st round pick” unlike Kozma and Greene.
In 2009 the Redbirds drafted this kid named Ryan Jackson out of Miami (FL) in the 5th round. When he was picked, then-VP of amateur scouting Jeff Luhnow called him major league ready defensively. It was his offense that needed to catch up.
By all accounts and reports, Jackson hasn’t really done anything to lose his value on the defensive end. In fact, in my experience watching him in spring training, I’ve seen someone who is remarkably consistent and can make the occasional great play. Think just a notch below what Brendan Ryan used to do.
Jackson’s offense though has been better than the pessimists feared. However, there are still questions about whether he’ll hit enough at the big league level to be a starter.
The Miami native usually hangs around the .300 mark for a while but has ended up finishing every season in the .270 range to go along with a .330 or so on-base percentage.
If that holds true in the majors, I think the Cards would find that to be serviceable on a daily basis. Getting gold glove caliber play defensively at a premium position while getting solid-if-unspectacular offense hitting, say, 8th is nothing to sneeze at. Especially if someone like Kolten Wong gives them a long term option hitting leadoff.
Ryan Jackson will start to get his first taste of the big leagues as he is brought up to take the roster spot vacated by Tyler Greene. Time will tell if he can develop into a legitimate starter or just be a simple utility guy.
Otherwise the search for the future shortstop on this ball club might continue for a few more years.