Anyone who has been following the St. Louis Cardinals spring training this season should be familiar with the name Paul DeJong. The 23 year old infielder has been opening some eyes so far this spring. DeJong leads the team with 35 at-bats and has 2 home runs while slashing .257/.297/.486. He has shown the ability to consistently hit the ball with authority.
Perhaps even more impressive though, is that he is also proving that he is capable of handling the shortstop position. The Cardinals seem to draft a lot of polished college hitters that don’t have a set defensive position moving forward. Stephen Piscotty and Matt Carpenter are a couple that come to mind.
Something interesting that was pointed out in DeJong’s prospect review on The Redbird Daily is that scouts were all over the place on what position they thought he would play. Most saw him as a third baseman but some thought he was better suited for the middle infield. There were some scouts that even thought he could be a good catcher. He seemed to have settled in as a third baseman for the Cardinals until the 2016 Arizona Fall League. He was moved to shortstop, and he seemed to hold his own.
Why the position change?
I don’t think anyone expects DeJong to push Aledmys Diaz off of shortstop anytime soon. It seems that the Cardinals believe Diaz will be manning that position for the foreseeable future. So by moving DeJong to short, the Cardinals seem to be doing one of two things. They are either preparing him for a utility role, or trying to showcase that he can handle a premium position in order to build up his trade value. However, I guess it is possible that they made the move with both things in mind.
I believe this had more to with wanting DeJong to be able to handle a utility role more so than the team pumping up his trade value. Jedd Gyorko showed us this past season just how valuable a power hitter that can play anywhere on the infield can be when coming off the bench. Gyorko’s versatility led to 438 plate appearances last season, even though he was considered a bench player. This is a role that I can see DeJong inheriting.
There will likely be an opening for DeJong.
Much of what the front office does with the team for 2018 will be determined by this upcoming season. But as it stands right now, I think the most likely scenario at third base is that Jhonny Peralta leaves in free agency and Gyorko take’s over as the everyday third baseman. This would open up a spot that DeJong would be perfect for. He is a pretty similar hitter to Gyorko. Both are low on-base players with above average power. DeJong could potentially bring better defense to each position he plays though, especially shortstop.
I don’t expect over 400 at-bats to be the norm for this position on the team though. Kolten Wong‘s demotion along with injuries and Gyorko’s good play contributed to that amount of at-bats. Somewhere around 300-350 at-bats should be achievable though. It would help keep the regulars fresh and give DeJong a good amount of at-bats to break into the big leagues.
DeJong will need to keep hitting the way he has since the Cardinals drafted him, but I believe he will make an impact in the major leagues. Whether he works his way into a starting position or fills a utility role, he will make an impact.
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