With guys like Oscar Taveras, Michael Wacha and Matt Adams set to start out on the farm, one wonders if a collection of Cardinals’ minor leaguers might be better than the Astros this year.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak made it clear today that Taveras, likely the best pure hitting prospect in baseball, would open the season in Triple-A rather than claim a spot on the St. Louis bench, adding that it had more to do with getting him regular at-bats than it did starting his free agent and arbitration clocks.
Taveras is hitting .302/.348/.535 with two homers and nine RBI in 43 at-bats this spring, but it would make little sense for the Cardinals to carry him on Opening Day. Carlos Beltran should sit once a week, but Matt Holliday is a full-time player and since Taveras and Jon Jay are both left-handed hitters, there’s no way to divvy up the center field job at the moment. The Cardinals also have Shane Robinson tearing it up this spring; he’ll likely be the fourth outfielder.
Taveras, Adams and second baseman Kolten Wong will likely form the backbone of a strong Memphis lineup this season. Shelby Miller is likely to lead the rotation initially, though he still hasn’t been eliminated from contention for a spot on the major league roster. As for Wacha, it’s not yet known whether he’s Double- or Triple-A bound. The 2012 first-round pick has quickly established himself as one of the game’s elite pitching prospects this spring.
This Day in Transaction History: The Kirk Nieuwenhuis orbit
Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis had, on the surface, a forgettable 2015 season. Taking most of his cuts with the Mets, he finished the year with a .645 OPS over 141 plate appearances. Two things stood out during that campaign, though: he had an out-of-nowhere power surge in one game, and he started and ended the year with the Mets but sandwiched a stint with the Angels in there.
After striking out in a pinch-hit at-bat in the 10th inning of a May 18 game against the Cardinals, Nieuwenhuis owned a .257 OPS across 40 trips to the plate. Unsurprisingly, the Mets designated him for assignment. A little more than a week later, the Mets found a home for him, sending him to the Angels in exchange for cash considerations.
Nieuwenhuis would spend roughly two weeks with the Angels, batting .136 in 22 at-bats. The Angels designated him for assignment on June 10. And wouldn’t you know it, the Mets claimed Nieuwenhuis off waivers from the Angels several days later. The Mets had him report to Triple-A Las Vegas, spending about a month there before returning to the majors.
Nieuwenhuis had a great first game back, starting in left field. He drew two walks and hit a double in a 3-0 win over the Giants. He would go hitless in his next five plate appearances, spanning four games. On July 12, something magical happened. To date, Nieuwenhuis had zero home runs. Something got into his bat in this afternoon game at home against the D-Backs. He drilled a solo shot to the opposite field off of Rubby De La Rosa in the second inning, opening the scoring. In the third, with a runner on first base and the Mets leading 2-1, Nieuwenhuis swatted a De La Rosa fastball out to left-center field for his second homer of the day. Nieuwenhuis made it three, leading off the fifth against reliever Randall Delgado, this time pulling a breaking ball down the left field line.
Nieuwenhuis became, at the time, the 10th Met to have a three-homer game. As Gary Cohen noted in the below clip, he became the first to do it at home. Somehow, the first nine Mets — Jim Hickman, Dave Kingman, Claudell Washington, Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter, Edgardo Alfonzo, José Reyes, Carlos Beltrán, and Ike Davis — all did it on the road. In the time since, Lucas Duda, Yoenis Céspedes (twice), and Robinson Canó have had three-homer games. Duda and Canó’s were at home.
In one afternoon, Nieuwenhuis went from zero to three homers on the season and raised his OPS 190 points. Later that month, he would bang out a four-hit, four-RBI game in a blowout of the Dodgers. It was only the second time in his career he had a four-hit game, and the third time he had a four-RBI game. However, after the game against the Dodgers, Nieuwenhuis would slump, batting .194 through the end of the season, spanning 41 plate appearances. He’d add one more homer to his ledger, a pinch-hit, go-ahead solo shot on September 8 against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Nieuwenhuis went to the Brewers for the 2016 season, getting semi-regular playing time. He racked up 18 doubles and 13 homers with 44 RBI over 125 games, but finished with a subpar .709 OPS. In 2017, Nieuwenhuis got off to an abysmal start, holding a .473 OPS on April 20. The Brewers placed him on waivers, but he went unclaimed, so he ended up accepting an assignment to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He made it back to the majors just one more time on July 29, providing a pinch-hit single. That was the last time he played in the majors. Nieuwenhuis inked a minor league deal with the Mariners for the 2018 season, then played for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. He retired last July. Nieuwenhuis will always have July 12, 2015, though.