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Early Results Are Positive in Latest Cardinals Second Base Experiment

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COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Cardinals have tried some off the wall experiments over the years when it comes to attempting to get players into the lineup.

Over the past four seasons career outfielder Skip Schumaker was tried at second base with mixed results. Two years ago former manager Tony La Russa even played slugging outfielder and first baseman Allen Craig in a handful of games at second. My fantasy baseball team was grateful for that. Still, the move didn't really have a future because Craig couldn't get the hang of turning a double play.

But the Redbirds' latest second base experiment seems to actually have legs. Natural third sacker Matt Carpenter has been working out at second base since the end of last season. And Cardinals infield guru Jose Oquendo said he's impressed with the progress Carpenter has made. He's been watching over Carpenter as the 27-year-old infielder fields 300 grounders a day at his new position.

The only question about Carpenter's move is why didn't the Cardinals try this sooner. Carpenter, even as a minor league player, didn't profile as a third sacker. Major league corner infielders are usually guys with power bats while middle infielders are speedier sorts who get on base a lot. Carpenter managed double figures in home runs only twice in the minors -- and both of those seasons came at hitter friendly Class AA Springfield. What he brings to the table is a .299 batting average in four minor league seasons with a .408 on-base percentage. He also hits a lot of doubles with 26 or more in three of his four minor league campaigns.

The Cardinals have a ton of power in their batting order with Craig, Carlos Beltran, David Freese and Matt Holliday in the middle. What they need is another guy who can get on base to score runs when the big boys hit.

Playing mostly as a fill in at first base last season for injured slugger Lance Berkman, Carpenter batted a very solid .294 with 46 RBIs in only 296 at-bats. He offers St. Louis a ton of flexibility if he can handle the defensive aspect of second. He could bat just about anywhere in the order. And he also helps by keeping versatile infielder Daniel Descalso available off the bench as a utility player.

Descalso basically took over second base by default at the end of the 2012 season and in the playoffs. But with Rafael Furcal still complaining that his throwing elbow hurts, Descalso will likely be needed to play some shortstop and to fill in at third base when Freese needs a break. Descalo's got a great glove and he certainly has a role on this team. But he's a .245 career hitter. Carpenter has the bat to be a major league starter. He just didn't have a position -- at least not until now.

Second base isn't an easy position to learn. Fielders have to cover a lot of ground there, ranging from second base to turn a double play all the way to first base to handle the throw on a bunt. There's complicated footwork to master, avoiding base runners at second and being in good position to throw a ball hit to your right across your body to first base. It's different that playing the corners where fielders play shallow and don't have as much time to move side to side. But Carpenter has a leg up on Schumaker because he's at least experienced on the infield.

It's tough to get used to the speed of the game on the infield when you've never played there at the major league level. Carpenter's been at the hot corner and at first base. Instead of trying to completely reinvent a player as the Cardinals did with Schumaker, they just need to polish Carpenter a little bit to make this experiment pay huge dividends.

Scott Wuerz has been a reporter and columnist at the Belleville News-Democrat, located in suburban St. Louis, since 1998. During that time he has covered three St. Louis Cardinals World Series appearances, the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star game and Mark McGwire's chase to break Roger Maris' home run record. He has penned the View From the Cheap Seats Cardinals fan blog for the News-Democrat since 2007.

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