Around the Horn: Cards elite at infield corners

Goldschmidt, Carpenter among MLB's top 10 bats over past 6 years

January 16th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- This is the second piece in a five-part Around the Horn series that is taking a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into the 2019 season. After examining the club's catching depth last week, let's move on to the corner-infield options now.
Projected starters: (1B) and Matt Carpenter (3B)
The December acquisition of Goldschmidt provided an instant upgrade to the offense and gives the Cards one of the best corner-infield duos in the game. Consider that since 2013, both Carpenter and Goldschmidt rank in the Majors' top 10 in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, hits, walks, runs, home runs and doubles. The Cardinals will keep Carpenter in the leadoff spot and are strongly considering having Goldschmidt hit right behind him.

Other candidates/reserves:, , ,
Gyorko has exceeded 400 plate appearances in each of his six MLB seasons, though reaching that number will become much harder in 2019 with Goldschmidt in the mix. Gyorko lines up to be the team's primary backup behind Carpenter -- assuming, of course, the Cardinals don't deal him before Opening Day. Munoz was a Swiss Army knife of sorts last season and can slot in anywhere on the infield. Martinez has the bat to provide coverage at first base, though his defensive troubles there make him an unlikely candidate for more than the rare spot start. And then there's Robinson, a mid-December addition who has tremendous defensive flexibility and the added benefit of swinging from the left side.

Prospect to watch: Nolan Gorman
Elehuris Montero, the reigning MVP of the Midwest League, would have been a solid choice here, but we'll go with Gorman, the first player born in the 21st century to be picked in the MLB Draft. Gorman, taken by the Cardinals in the first round last summer, shot up through both the system and the prospect rankings. He currently occupies the No. 2 spot on St. Louis' Top 30 prospects list, as compiled by MLB Pipeline. Gorman won't be ready to break through to the Majors this year, but after reaching a full-season affiliate at the age of 18, his rise could be rapid. Gorman hit .291/.380/.570 in 63 Minor League games last year.

Biggest lingering question: How will Carpenter fare defensively at third base?
While Goldschmidt brings Gold Glove defense to the right side of the infield, there are questions about how Carpenter will handle a move back to third. Familiarity isn't an issue; he's actually started more games at third (488) than at any other position. But things haven't always been smooth for him there. Carpenter's unorthodox throwing motion has contributed to shoulder pains, and his range isn't elite. But perhaps there is a hint of promise: Carpenter is coming off his best defensive season at the position, ranking sixth in MLB with plus-six Defensive Runs Saved at third in 2018.

Notable number: 4.21
That's the average number of pitches per plate appearance for both Carpenter and Goldschmidt in 2018, according to Statcast™. The veteran infielders remain among the most patient hitters in the game, and their keen eyes contributed to the 192 walks Goldschmidt and Carpenter combined to draw last season. Carpenter is one of only two players in the Majors to draw 100 or more walks in two consecutive seasons. Goldschmidt beat him to that feat by reaching the century mark in '15 and '16.
Statcast™ note: Goldschmidt and Carpenter ranked second and third, respectively, in barrel rate percentage among the 110 National League hitters who put at least 250 balls in play last season. Goldschmidt's 13.6 percent barrel rate trailed only (16.9 percent) of the Dodgers. Carpenter finished with a percentage of 13.4. Goldschmidt's 57 total barrels tied for most in the Majors.
The term "barrel" was created to define any such combination of exit velocity and launch angle that has resulted in a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast™ was introduced MLB-wide in 2015.