With baseball’s off-season officially here, one way to fill the 100-plus days remaining until pitchers and catchers report for spring training in February is looking back at the just-completed season. (Another way is to look ahead to 2013, which we’ll also be doing plenty of in the days ahead.)
What one Cardinal surprised you the most in 2012 — player, manager, coach, GM, whichever one you choose?
That was our question for the United Cardinal Bloggers latest roundtable, and here are their answers (and ours). Who is yours?
Tom Knuppel, Cardinals GM
For me it is Mark McGwire.
His past shows no reason to believe he knew/knows how to coach hitting. He was a primary home run hitter and not a big average guy. This marks several seasons that he has produced a good team average.
Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball
Honestly? Jon Jay. For the last few years, he has stumbled after being handed the job. This season, he proved that he could handle the defensive side of the game and that his offense was a plus and found a home in the lineup.
Going into 2012, I thought Jay was holding a spot until Tavares took it from him. Now, I see a future of Holliday-Jay-Tavares and I’m actually excited for that.
As an “also mention,” I have to say Joe Kelly’s progression this year happened quicker than I anticipated as well.
It seems this “look back” provides a good “look ahead” and I’m excited about it.
Wes Keene, Keene On MLB
I know it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but Matt Holliday. He really managed to avoid the prolonged deep slump that he has been prone to in years past. He did that while struggling for a good portion of the season with back tightness. Matt really powered the ball on the ground through to the outfield and collected some nice hits. I’m fully aware that I might be the only one to mention a big name veteran here, but he’s been critical to the team and he came up for us big at times this year, something he has struggled with previously.
Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat
I’d like to say that the return of Chris Carpenter was surprising, since we didn’t expect that, but really, we should have. Man’s not going to let small things like body parts keep him from the mound.
So I’ll go with Lance Lynn. I thought that Lynn would do well in the bullpen, but when he was thrust into the starting rotation, I was pretty leery. He capitalized on that opportunity, though, and ran with it much farther than I ever thought he would. Whether he’ll get a chance to do that again next year, we’ll have to wait and see, but the 2012 season was a very pleasant surprise for me!
Dennis Lawson, Pitchers Hit Eighth
Quite easily the biggest surprise for me was Yadier Molina. To lead a team with a lineup like the Cardinals had in oWAR and several offensive categories is amazing. To do so while being an elite catcher is positively sublime. Without his ability to call a game, direct traffic, throw out runners, and scoop pitches in the dirt, there is no way this team wins 88 games and makes the playoffs.
Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants
Outside of Lance Lynn in the first half of the season, the one that really surprised me the most was Trevor Rosethal. I don’t get to see the minor league games but wow, is he a hard thrower.
Rodney Knuppel, Saint Louis Sports
Two words: Joe. Kelly.
The guy showed that he could be a front end of a rotation type guy eventually. I think it’s silly to think that he is an ace or even No. 2 right now, but I think he could comfortably fit in as a team’s No. 3 or No. 4. He has good stuff, and showed a lot of poise, IMO.
Chris Mallonee, Birds On The Bat 82
I cast a vote for Trevor Rosenthal as well. Not only was the guy exciting to watch, but he seemed to be calm as a cucumber in any situation he got thrown in to, and hitters looked like they had absolutely no chance against it. I would love to see the organization keep him in the back end of the bullpen instead of try to stretch him out as a starter. While I hope that Motte continues to perform well as closer, history tells us that only a few guys are elite closers beyond 2-3 seasons. We have enough starting pitching depth to keep an arm like Rosenthal’s blowing hitters away in the late innings.
Spencer Hendricks, StanGraphs
I see you didn’t specify that the player/manager/GM had to surprise me in a good way, and since people have already picked all the pleasant surprise stories, I’ll take the other end and go with Marc Rzepczynski.
When the organization traded for him, he was a potential lefty starter down the road who could at least be counted on to pitch effectively in relief for the time being. Instead of taking a step forward in 2012, he posted what was easily the lowest K/9 rate of his career in addition to seeing left-handers hit him much harder than usual (.682 OPS in 2012, .606 OPS career). Considering he turned 27 in August, I guess I just expected him to be entering his peak, and I thought he would be a very good reliever in 2012. He wasn’t, and he certainly isn’t looking like future starter material.
Bob Netherton, On The Outside Corner
A great question, but for me, very simple. Trevor Rosenthal is the most exciting arm I’ve seen make a Cardinals debut since Todd Worrell at the post-season deadline in 1985 (probably since Jim Cosman two decades earlier). A combination of an electric arm, an array of pitches and the mental make up (from such a young player) to have tremendous success in the major leagues. If he can avoid injury (which has shut down many a brilliant prospect), he should thrill Cardinals fans for years.
If the front office wants to develop Rosenthal as a starter, he might start the season in Memphis to build up his innings — which will make Memphis an exciting team to watch. If the Cardinals do make a deal for a middle infielder (see UCB Question 1), that could create an opening in the bullpen, but I suspect management will pursue the rotation route, drooling at the thought of Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal back to back for the rest of the decade.
Tara Wellman, Aaron Miles’ Fastball
First of all, I’m loving all the Rosenthal love! Maybe it’s what I saw of him last year, or just my naive high expectations for a local favorite, but he wasn’t as much of a “surprise” to me as, say, Lance Lynn was in the first half.
I was certainly not expecting an All-Star performance from him.
I’ll also throw Matt Carpenter in the mix here. I was thrilled that he made the roster this spring, but I was blown away with how smoothly he fit into pretty much whatever piece of the puzzle needed a stop gap. He turned himself into a super bench player, and a capable fill-in starter.
Honorable mention for Mike Matheny himself. His decision making will improve with experience, but he never lost his calm confidence … even when he was in over his head.
Mary Clausen, MLB Voice
I thought that Matheny would do well as a first-year manager, but I’m kinda surprised that he did as well as he did. He made his new job look easy. I guess he’s a “natural” at it.
Kevin Reynolds, Cards ‘N Stuff
For me, there were a lot of surprises and a few that got me excited (like Rosenthal) … but the most “surprising” player this season for me … easily Pete Kozma.
Without The Koz, this team doesn’t make the playoffs or the NLCS. I honestly thought this guy was done and had nothing to offer the team. Even if that September is the greatest run of his career (very likely), he showed he actually can contribute and offer something of value to an MLB team. After watching him flounder in the minors for years … I never thought I would see that day. Pete Kozma showing the ability to drive a mistake pitch, work an at-bat, execute the situational hitting play and keep the composure he kept while playing decent defense was a huge surprise. I honestly expected him to get released or exposed to other teams this year.
Dustin McClure, Welcome To Baseball Heaven
My pick for most surprising is Yadier Molina. First off I was surprised he signed going into his contract year. Not because of Pujols or his desire to play in STL but simply he didn’t have a reason not to let the market set itself other than the risk of injury or a really down year. I assume everyone is glad he did though, amirite?
Aside from that I didn’t think it was possible for him to impress me any more than he already has. He’s already far and away the best defensive catcher in the game in my opinion with his game management ability (control the running game, call a game for his pitcher and save runner advancement by blocking balls in the dirt). Then he goes out this year and puts up fantastic offensive numbers that would play at any position. So essentially he masterfully plays the hardest defensive position on the spectrum and now hits like a corner outfielder. I guess TLR was right: Yadi was the one guy the Cardinals couldn’t afford to lose.
Brian Vaughan, StanGraphs
I’m naming Jon Jay the Cardinal that surprised me most in 2012. If someone had told me Jon Jay would be worth 4.1 WAR (per FanGraphs) in 2012 before the season started, they’d still be in therapy because of my reply.
Jay has really turned into an excellent defensive center fielder, which he’s gotten quite a bit of attention for, but the real shocker for me is his development as a useful hitter. I’m not generally a believer in someone with Jay’s skill set (a skill set that is generally terrified of extra-base hits) being an annual “high average hitter” since batting average is dependent on so many other factors, so it’s good to see him coming up with ways to post a .373 OBP. A lot of that improvement is due to getting drilled by pitches. but we’ve seen players go to that well successfully before.
So keep taking every baseball to the body you can, Jon. Between the bruise-makers and the squibs that just barely evade the grasp of opposing infielders you just might make a fine lead-off hitter.
Miranda Remaklus, Aaron Miles’ Fastball
I recall last off-season, specifically after That Guy That Used To Play First Base signed with the Angels to win championships, Cardinals fans were a bit bent out of shape about who exactly was going to be the leader or face of the organization. No one, for some odd reason, expected it would be Yadier Molina.
Once That Guy left, people, including myself, were convinced Yadi was going to follow his BFF to Anaheim.
Well. He didn’t!
Yadi … to my complete surprise … went ahead and before spring training was even over, signed an extension to play with the Cardinals for many years to come for a pretty big pay day. It was as if … he WANTED to play for the Cardinals. How refreshing, right! He didn’t care that his BFF was with another team. He wanted to play for the team he started with. And how awesome and refreshing is that!
And once the season started, Yadi did the amazing!
It was as if he has been hiding something from us.
Sure, no one runs on Yadi. Sure, he can lead the pitching staff like nobody’s business. But, who knew he had a bat and even more who knew he was FAST! For many seasons, I complained that it didn’t seem like he was hustling out runs to first or could even steal a base. Psssh! PROVED ME WRONG! Dead wrong.
And I am more than happy to admit it! Keep it up Yadi! Please!
Honorable mention will go to Lance Lynn. Went into spring training to be a reliever. Started the season in the starting rotation and oh … he lead the team in wins. The surprise got a little spoiled at the end of the season as he obviously became fatigued from the increased workload. And he couldn’t make it four innings. Yeah, that was disappointing. I liked the start of his season, though. I hope he learns from this season and just gets better and better!
Matt Whitener, STL Sports 360
I’m going in a different direction, one that I’m a bit surprised hasn’t been hit already. In a year full of surprises from post to post, the biggest surprise of the year for me was David Freese.
I say Freese because he came into the season with an expectation to remain a player he never had been before. However, he played at very high level for parts of the season and, even more, he did it all while being under the constant burden of fanbase that expected the world from him.
Now, we aren’t really those fans. We look at everybody on the team for who they are and what they offer. And when looking at Freese that way, he was even more impressive. He grew as a complete hitter and even expanded his potential some, especially in the power area, the one questionable part of his offering as a batter coming into the season.
In the field, I was very impressed with how many more balls he got to in comparison to 2011, and he became a non-worry point defensively.
Most importantly, he stayed healthy. He was actually one of the most dependable players on the roster this year, and while he still has some flaws (especially sliders off the plate and slumping … hard), he really grew as a player and presence on the club.
Mark Tomasik, RetroSimba
Pete Kozma is Cardinal who surprised me the most. Though his time was short, he contributed more than I ever imagined he would. I didn’t think he could even bat his weight.
Dathan Brooks, Cards Tied For First
As I saw everyone’s replies coming in throughout the day yesterday, it made me realize that what I thought was a pretty simple, straightforward question was anything but.
As much as it pains me to agree with Bill, I also have to go with Jon Jay.
Citing many of the same reasons, I just didn’t see him being the Cardinals’ everyday centerfielder. This is one instances (of several) where my April thoughts turned out to be way off the mark. As I read what others have written, though, there are many many other legitimate names that fit quite well as an answer to the question.
Nick, Pitchers Hit Eighth
I’ll say Shelby Miller, particularly after his atrocious start in Memphis. Never would have expected him to rebound and make an appearance in September the way he was pitching mid-summer.
His adjustment in pitching an attitude is going to pay dividends for the Cardinals in 2013.
For me, the player who by far surprised me the most was Matt Carpenter. That’s because he seemed to come out of nowhere. After all, if Skip Schumaker hadn’t strained his oblique in spring training and started the year on the DL, Carpenter probably wouldn’t have even made the roster (though he did light up spring training with a .438 OBP/.661 SLG). I kept waiting for him to taper off — and yet he wound up with the seventh-highest WAR (1.6) among position players on the team, despite having the ninth-most plate appearances.
Mary Clausen, MLB Voice
I think I will also put Matt Carpenter into this answer. Carp2 (that’s the nickname I gave him on mlbvoice.com) earned his nickname all season. He came through for us in many situations – defensive & especially offensive. I’ve kept an eye on him for the past couple of years and was glad that he made the team this year and prove how he can come through for the team. We saw a lot of him, especially as the season ended. His numbers are good and will only get better.
And my choice
Trevor Rosenthal. For all the reasons that are included here, and especially for having both the talent and the poise to go from pitching the Quad Cities River Bandits to the Midwest League Championship on Sept. 17, 2011 (which I was there for) to being in high-def-in-your-face-FOX-close-up on my big-screen TV during the NLCS just 13 months later.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.