If asked about the future face of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise, the name Colby Rasmus is likely to be one of the first players that come to mind. He is an amazingly talented young ballplayer, and when he is on a hot streak, there is nobody better. He has the prettiest left handed swing since Ken Griffey, Jr, and so far this year it has produced 16 home runs, including the second longest blast (483ft on June 27) in the major leagues. His greatest asset is his speed – the young man runs like a gazelle. I haven’t seen anybody run from first to third like Rasmus since Andy van Slyke – who coincidently was the Colby Rasmus of late 80s. Unfortunately, the playing style of a Tony La Russa managed team doesn’t allow Rasmus to unleash this speed as his Hall of Fame predecessor did, and I think that is a shame. There are cries of “Run Colby, Run” all over Cardinal’s nation.
While admiring the recent contributions of Jon Jay, I looked at some of the offensive numbers from Rasmus this year and they looked very familiar. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, so I went searching. It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for. Take a look atthis mystery player and see how he compares to young Mr. Rasmus.
|Colby Rasmus (2010)||299||54||81||19||2||16||43||38||96||.271||.353||.508||.860|
|Mystery player (2008)||413||65||109||21||2||25||71||42||100||.264||.337||.506||.843|
to same number of ABs
It’s not that much of a stretch to say that these are comparable players. Each of them has roughly the same time in the major leagues, although one of them toiled in the minors a bit longer, so was a bit older than Rasmus. Our mystery player also has a beautiful left handed swing and is capable of launching moon shots worthy of a NASA logo. Finally, our mystery man also runs like a gazelle. I’d love to see a foot race between the two of them – I don’t know who would win, but if you blink, you would miss the whole thing.
Like many in Cardinal’s Nation, I’m bought into the hype of Colby Rasmus. Completely – hook, line and sinker. Oh, but that’s such a terrible pun since young Rasmus can’t really hit the sinker just yet. As the 2010 season started, I was looking forward to Rasmus in center field each day, dazzling fans with stellar defense and terrorizing right handed pitchers, while holding his own against the port siders. Sadly, that hasn’t quite been the way it has gone for the sophomore outfielder. When he spends time with his dad as a personal hitting coach, he seems to figure things out and go on a red hot streak, but his dad is not a major league hitting coach. He may be a genius, and certainly knows Colby better than anybody in the organization, but he doesn’t have access to the same information and facilities as the Cardinals actual hitting coach, Mark McGwire. While there are many in Cardinal’s Nation that don’t think McGwire is a good coach, the difference between the two is that McGwire is the hitting coach and ultimately will be judged by his ability to help the entire team produce, and daddy Rasmus isn’t.
Now it is time to reveal the name of our mystery ballplayer, and I’m curious to see if it makes you rethink your opinion of Rasmus at present.
The mystery player is former starter turned center fielder, Rick Ankiel.
While their offensive numbers are eerily similar, nobody would mistake Ankiel and Rasmus on the defensive side of the game. While Rasmus seems mostly lost in center field, often taking a bad route to a baseball hit in his direction, Ankiel was a one man highlight reel. When Rasmus catches a fly out or scoops up a base hit, it’s almost as if he pauses while trying to figure out what to do next. Son, you will have to learn to walk and chew your gum at the same time. Savvy baserunners are starting to exploit that weakness and take an extra base. The biggest difference between the two is in their arms, both strength and accuracy. We all remember the game in Colorado when Rick Ankiel threw out two baserunners trying to advance to third. In the same game. One with the game on the line. I’m pretty sure that Ankiel can throw the ball from center field in Kaufmann stadium to home plate in St. Louis with fewer bounces than Rasmus could from medium centerfield in Busch Stadium.
Let me ask one simple question – is there anybody in Cardinal’s Nation right now that would want Rick Ankiel as the every day center fielder for the 2010 Cardinals ? Yeah, I know there is a lot emotion tied to the Ankiel story, both pro and con. Let’s cut to the point – aren’t we all genuinely happy that Rick Ankiel is in Kansas City with a chance to restart his career and enjoy some prolonged success ?
I’m still impressed by young Colby Rasmus, but perhaps his shining armor has lost a bit of luster. Certainly the recent play of Jon Jay has shown that we do have some options, and quite frankly, they aren’t too bad. Before you start yelling at me, Jon Jay will also go through some tough times. No doubt that pitchers will find weaknesses and exploit them. Nobody plays like Jay has for the last month over an extended amount of time – yes, the young man will come back to Earth soon. But let me ask you – when was the last time that Colby Rasmus went on a tear like Jay ? I’ve been pleased that Rasmus has increased his walk rate this year, but his strikeouts come at a frightening pace.
What this team needs more than anything else is an offensive catalyst at the top of the order. OK, maybe we need a more productive shortstop and a couple of starting pitchers more, but let me get back to my point. The top of the order has been a nightmare for the Cardinals all season. If you want to look into the reason for all of the offensive production of Daniel Descalso and Allen Craig in Memphis (AAA) this year, a large part of that was Jon Jay hitting leadoff. I’d love to see Jay hitting there right now with the big club, followed by Ryan Ludwick channeling his inner Larry Walker hitting second. If Descalso and Craig can clean off a table set by Jay, imagine what Ludwick, Pujols and Holliday can do.
The Cardinals did just fine without Andy van Slyke – OK, they really didn’t but it wasn’t his fault. They could have had van Slyke for the rest of his career and they would have ended up in pretty much the same place. As we are entering the last 24 hours before the the non-waiver trade deadline, I don’t think that I would be upset if the front office decided to moved Colby Rasmus, as long as they got some fair value in return.
In closing, let me add how much I dread the nonstop MLB Network coverage of the trade deadline. It has about all the thrills and anticipation of a PBS pledge drive. Fortunately it will all be over soon and we can get back to focusing on the players we have on the roster and down in Memphis, rather than the ones we’d like to see come in a trade.