Hot prospects at the hot corner
Three Minor Leaguers could replace Glaus at third in 2010
ST. LOUIS -- Troy Glaus takes note of the raft of young third basemen the Cardinals have assembled behind him. He's happy to work with them in the spring. He is not, however, interested in ceding his job just yet.
"They seem to be some good players," said Glaus. "I wish them all the luck ... in the next three or four years."
It could be sooner than that. Glaus, who will turn 33 in August, is signed for one more year in St. Louis. As a condition of his trade to the Cardinals last winter, he exercised an $11.25 million player option for the 2009 season. But that's the end of his deal, and if the tea leaves are right, quite possibly the end of his tenure with the Redbirds.
The Cardinals have three third-base prospects in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues: David Freese, Brett Wallace and Allen Craig. They're all pushing hard, and it's extremely difficult to envision a 2010 Cardinals club that doesn't include at least one of them. That's especially true if it's the difference between, say, Wallace at the Major League minimum and Glaus at eight figures per year.
Glaus acknowledges that he's noticed the situation. He just doesn't worry about it.
"That's a question for somebody else, not me," he said. "I'm sure they're all tremendous athletes and tremendous players, and I wish them all the best. Whatever direction the organization decides to go is not my call. I love it here. I enjoy playing here. And I would love to stay here. But at the end of the day, that really is not my call."
Freese, who turns 26 in April, could conceivably crack the big league roster this spring as a backup at the corners. Wallace, 22, the Cards' first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, may be a little further away, but he also projects as more of an impact player down the road. Craig, 24, is the least heralded in the group, but he has raked in each of the past two years, at Class A Palm Beach in 2007 and Double-A Springfield in '08.
For the organization, the challenge begins before Glaus' deal ends. The Cardinals have to find playing time for all three youngsters. Freese may get some reps at first base, or even in the outfield. Wallace is expected to play some outfield in Spring Training. And if they're all at Triple-A Memphis once the season starts, it's even more complicated.
Freese, at least, has seen it before. Part of why the Padres sent him to St. Louis last winter for Jim Edmonds was that they had their own glut of hot-corner men.
"I'm used to it," Freese said. "In the Padres organization, we had [Kevin] Kouzmanoff -- they traded for him -- and then Chase Headley. ... That's the way baseball works. It's good for the organization to have a logjam. Maybe not so much for the players, but I've just got to worry about myself. Obviously Brett Wallace was a great Draft pick. He's a great guy and an awesome ballplayer. And then Allen Craig, he's a little underrated. He doesn't get as much pub as the other guys, that he deserves."
Freese made the jump from Class A to Triple-A in his first season in the Cardinals organization. Although he struggled some defensively last spring, he enjoyed an outstanding year in the field once he got to Memphis. He also put up fine numbers at the plate, batting .306 with a .361 on-base percentage, .550 slugging percentage, 26 home runs, 29 doubles and 91 RBIs.
For Wallace, it's all new. A year ago, he was preparing for his last season at Arizona State University. He has played some first base and left field, including for Team USA in the summer of 2007, so he's happy to move around if need be.
It's a tough line for the club to walk, though, because Wallace would do well to work on his third base defense. He's still considered somewhat raw at the position, and if he's going to be the third baseman for the Cardinals in 2010, he can use all the work he can get there. He's confident he's already improving.
"I only played third at ASU for that last year," he said. "I think when you stop playing a position you kind of -- the angles and the routes to balls, whether you're going to come get a ball or stay back on it, those are things you might struggle with right away because you're not used to having to make the decision. It's a split-second decision. So I think that's the biggest thing. The more I play there, the more I get comfortable on reading a ball or trusting myself to make the play and not have to force it or do something I shouldn't."
He's able and willing to be patient, though. Wallace likely has a long career ahead of him, whenever it may start.
"I really have no idea as far as what they're thinking," he said. "I know that they want to win, so I'm sure if I can prove in some way that I can help them win, either out of camp or some time during the year, I'll get that call. I really have no idea if [making the team] out of camp is an option or not."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.