Around the Horn: Corner infielders
Carpenter shifts from second to third, while Adams gets full-time gig at first
This is the second of a seven-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into next season. Last week, cardinals.com took a look at the catcher position. Up next: Corner infielders.
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals are projected to feature a new-look corner infield in 2014, though the faces won't be new at all. David Freese has moved on, leaving third base to last year's second baseman, Matt Carpenter. And with Allen Craig likely shifting from first base to right field, Matt Adams should get a chance to do what Carpenter did last year -- parlay everyday playing time into a permanent job.
The organization had these two players in mind when it went about its roster retooling this offseason. Carpenter's versatility -- coupled with the Cardinals' desire to make room for Kolten Wong -- made Freese expendable. He was ultimately traded to the Angels.
As for Adams, his readiness to play regularly made it easy for St. Louis to step out of the bidding war for Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals, while pleased with the production Beltran provided for two seasons, believe that their lineup will be no less prolific by sliding Craig to the outfield and Adams in at first.
General manager John Mozeliak hinted at those coming moves when, days after the World Series ended, he publically stated his desire to see what Adams could do if finally given 500-600 plate appearances in a season.
"I think he has the potential power to be a 30-home run type," Mozeliak said. "I think he matured quite a bit in the month of September when he got more opportunities. I do think he has the chance to be a special hitter, and clearly, we would like to give him that chance."
Though Adams' projected playing time will be at least loosely connected to top prospect Oscar Taveras' path, this looks to be Adams' first extended chance to prove his value as a starting first baseman. The organization got its first sustained look at Adams' potential in 2013 when, despite tallying less than 300 at-bats as a part-time player, he finished third on the team with 17 home runs.
Adams took over at first base when Craig suffered a foot injury on Sept. 4, and hit .326 with eight homers, 15 RBIs, 19 runs scored and a .355 on-base percentage while finishing the regular season as a starter. He put up those numbers, too, while dealing with recurring discomfort in his elbow.
Before Craig's injury, manager Mike Matheny was deliberate in getting Adams one or two starts each week to keep him sharp off the bench. This system, however, allowed for Matheny to pick his matchups, meaning Adams saw minimal looks at left-handed pitching. That will change in 2014, and Adams will have to prove that he can be more effective against lefties than his career .208/.219/.375 slash line would suggest.
Adams likely won't be able to afford a sluggish start, as the Cardinals could soon have an outfield logjam that could come at his expense if Adams is not producing. Taveras' arrival would give the Cardinals a young right field option, which could result in Craig moving back to the infield.
The Cardinals' depth at first base includes Adams, Craig and even Carpenter, who could fill if the team is in a bind. There are no other first basemen on the Cards' 40-man roster, though none should be needed.
Across the diamond, Carpenter will seek an encore to his special 2013 season. Though his success came as a second baseman last year, he is moving to a defensive spot at which he has much more experience. Replacing Freese with Carpenter at third should make the Cardinals more defensively sound at the position.
Of much more intrigue is what he will do at the plate. It will be a tall order for Carpenter to repeat the success he had in 2013, when he finished fourth in the NL Most Valuable Player race after leading the Majors in hits (199), multihit games (63), runs scored (126) and doubles (55). He earned an All-Star invite, a Silver Slugger Award and a job as the team's leadoff hitter.
He had one of the best offensive years by a second baseman in Cardinals history. Now, the club hopes for similar production from him at third.
"You just look at what Matt has accomplished this year, especially a guy that just never had the route paved for him and what he's been able to overcome and the things that he's been able to do just purely by will and hard work and talent, obviously," Matheny said toward the end of the season. "It's got to be very rewarding for him. He's won over the respect and admiration of the league, the fans and absolutely the clubhouse."
Though the Cardinals will have an added element of speed with Peter Bourjos and Wong on the roster, Carpenter still seems the likely candidate to fill the leadoff spot. His on-base percentage -- which, at .392, was the second-highest among all NL leadoff hitters last season -- makes him an ideal candidate to remain atop the lineup.
The Cards will have the flexibility to move Carpenter to other places on the diamond, if needed, and have other third base options on their roster. Daniel Descalso is a backup candidate and played well enough at third in a part-time role in 2011 to be a Gold Glove finalist.
Jhonny Peralta, while signed to be the team's everyday shortstop, has experience at third. The Cardinals are also expected to have new signee Mark Ellis get some work at the position this spring.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.