Mar. 5, 2009
If Tony La Russa is Victor Frankenstein and Dave Duncan is Igor, then Skip Schumaker is their monster.
In the 14 years La Russa has been captain of the St. Louis Cardinals' ship, fans among Cardinal Nation already have a scrapbook full of his more “creative” ideas.
Ideas that included Albert Pujols playing the outfield, but not being allowed to throw when his elbow was injured in 2003. Braden Looper’s conversion to a starter after an entire career in the bullpen.
My favorite was the deadly-duo relief pitchers Aaron Miles and Scott Spiezio.
While watching the two infielders try and pitch was a strange combination of ecstasy and depression at the same time, it is without a doubt that La Russa’s latest experiment will be the most watched out of them all.
We are talking about a guy who has not played in the infield since college, which is ages ago in baseball years. Schumaker’s always been considered an above average outfielder, and now he has to throw all that ability out and start from scratch.
Sounds like fun, huh?
How would you like it if you came into work on Monday and your boss said that you were moving to a different department? One that you took a class in college on, but otherwise know nothing about.
That is essentially what is happening to Schumaker. With his paycheck, though, he should not complain.
And by all means the kid is not whining at all.
In fact, he is embraced the chance to learn a whole new position, literally. A few days ago, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that Schumaker was taking 95 mph ground balls from a pitching machine.
Talk about commitment, that sounds like suicide to me!
Beatings aside, Schumaker’s even got it down in the public relations department. When he was referred to as an outfielder by the media, he was quick to correct them. His answer was as definitive as it was short: “I’m and infielder now.”
Since spring training began, Schumaker apparently has not even put on his outfielder glove. Not once. Since the disgruntled Adam Kennedy was released a few weeks before camp broke, his entire focus has been on learning second base.
It is a good thing the guy’s working so hard at it, too, because truth be told, the Cards are pretty damn thin at second on the depth chart. “Competing” with Schumaker for second base are Brendan Ryan and prospect Joe Thurston.
Ryan has the defensive experience to play second, but his offensive numbers were not nearly good enough last year to be an everyday player.
While Thurston is a second basemen as well, it would be quite a jump to go from the minor leagues to a starting second baseman in the MLB. If he makes the team, which he can thanks to the position he plays, be prepared to watch him sit next to Ryan as a utility player.
So even though Schumaker has never played an out at second base in the big leagues, you heard it here that he will be starting there come April 6. While he still has a long path ahead of him to learn the position, it is actually his place in the lineup that makes him so valuable.
Schumaker batted .308 with over 500 at-bats in his first full major league season, which was a nice replacement for the departed David Eckstein.
Because of his value at batting leadoff and his potential to play second, Schumaker’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses when compared to Ryan and Thurston. He has the offense down; now he just needs to polish his new defense.
If he can do that, then Schumaker will be La Russa’s greatest experiment of them all.
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