Loaded with talent, the St. Louis Cardinals are in a precarious position when it comes to prospect Matt Adams. The first baseman obliterated opposition at every level of the farm system yet is still without a secure job in the big leagues. What are the Cardinals to do with the player who was expected to be the heir apparent of Albert Pujols?
After wrecking opposing pitchers for 54 home runs in the minors since 2011, Adams finally got the call to the Cardinals last May. In his first plate appearance, the young slugger connected for a single. Adams would proceed to connect for another single in his debut.
While it wasn't flashy, Adams showed the power of his swing in his debut. From May 23 through May 28, Adams would put on a show of force at the plate. In that six-game span, Adams hit for an average of .458 with one HR and five RBI.
Unfortunately, Adams went hit-less in 10 of his next 12 games. His call-up would end following his 1-for-4 outing on June 21 at the Detroit Tigers. He would finish his first stint in the major league with an underwhelming .244 AVG, .669 OPS, 2 HR and 13 RBI. His struggle with plate discipline is telling with his 26.4 K percentage rate when compared to his 5.5. BB percentage rate.
Additionally, Adams' right elbow was giving him problems.
Following his assignment to Triple A, it was reported on July 5 that Adams would need to rest his enfeebled right elbow. A little more than a month later, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweeted that Adams underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.
Metrically, things did not look too promising for Adams following his MLB debut. For instance, he posted a Wins-Above-Replacement (WAR) of -0.2 and a Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of .317.
To make matters worse, Allen Craig was finally at full health and settling in nicely at first base.
Despite battling injuries throughout most of his short big league career, Craig made a seamless transition from the outfield to first base following Adams' assignment to Triple A. Craig posted a respectable WAR of 3.1 and a line of .307 AVG, .669 OPS, 22 HR and 92 RBI. The now able-bodied Craig was an integral piece to the Cardinals' playoff run late last summer.
It's often difficult to displace someone from the position they are expected to hold but it seems in this case that the nagging bone spur in Adams' right elbow is partially to blame. While Craig was always considered a fine slugger with potential to hit for close to 30 HR and 100 RBI, Craig was never a lock to hold down first base until he triumphed in Adams' absence.
As we head into 2013, one question remains—what will it take for Adams to unseat Craig at first base?
With Adams expected to begin the season with Triple-A Memphis, an extraordinary turn of events would have to take place for Craig to be displaced. Craig is no longer an option for the outfield with super prospect outfielder Oscar Taveras waiting in the wings. Therefore, an injury to Craig with a certain level of severity coinciding with a strong beginning to the season for Adams is the only realistic scenario.
But forecasting injuries or even considering them is bad karma.
Therefore, a trade would provide Adams with the greatest opportunity to test his bat at the big league level on a full-time basis. Then again, Adams has never been rumored to be on the trading block.
There is hope for Adams though. The nostalgic baseball forecaster Bill James has Adams pegged with the following stat line for 2013—282 AVG, .836 OPS, 27 HR and 89 RBI in 533 plate appearances. The only problem with this projection is that it does not consider opportunity, or lack there of.
Adams has the potential to be a powerful slugger in the coming years but the only thing preventing him from being so is a lack of opportunity. For the talent-rich Cardinals, they are not motivated to rush Adams back into the big league clubhouse due to their astounding organizational depth. It would do the franchise no good to have Adams spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout with a part-time role.
On account of that, we can only take a wait-and-see approach as to whether or not Adams' hitting prowess is sustainable at the major league level.