A number of St. Louis Cardinals fans, apparently unfamiliar with the club’s minor league system beyond the names of a handful of top prospects, reacted negatively on Friday when infielder Jermaine Curtis was added to the organization’s 40-man roster and promoted to St. Louis from Memphis.
Rather than being excited for the 25-year-old, the cleaned up reaction from some was along the lines of, ‘Who in the world is this guy and why is he here?’
In all fairness to them, Curtis is not a big name. The Californian had never been invited to big-league spring camp and logged just two hitless at-bats with St. Louis this spring after being called over from the minor league fields.
While the Cardinals’ fifth-round draft pick in 2008 was second in the Texas League batting race to teammate Oscar Taveras and first in on-base percentage last year, Curtis is not just a one-hit wonder.
Among his 1,861 career minor league plate appearances over parts of six years was a strong 2011, during which he batted .315 for Springfield. Along with third base and second base, Curtis can help out in left field. In an emergency role, the right-hander even threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings from the mound.
After that season, we rewarded the former UCLA star with a ranking of 31 among the organization’s top prospects here at The Cardinal Nation (free article). Lack of power expected from a corner player, unclear opportunity as well as a strong 2012 draft class kept Curtis from repeating.
While Curtis’ strong start at Memphis this season – including 17 RBI in 17 games – was an important factor in his call up, that is not the whole story.
Folks should not underestimate the value to other players by the organization recognizing a good soldier. I am not saying Curtis is not worthy, but it could easily have been someone else instead getting the call to St. Louis and no one would have questioned it.
It takes more than a handful of top prospects to run a successful system and to carry out The Cardinal Way.
Sure, the Cardinals could have promoted Taveras, Kolten Wong or Greg Garcia to sit on the bench as the 25th man on St. Louis’ roster. The organizational reaction might have been different had the need presented itself to replace a starter, rather than a reserve. But why do it now in this situation?
Even though Curtis did not appear in his first game as a major leaguer on Friday night, the setting seemed fitting. On the mound was Lance Lynn, another member of the Cardinals 2008 draft class. Curtis is the sixth of that later-blooming group to reach the bigs. Others are Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson, Alex Castellanos and Sam Freeman, with Eric Fornataro, Scott Gorgen and Xavier Scruggs among others still working their way up.
In talking with Cardinals officials and coaches in Florida this spring, it became clear to me that the organization was very pleased with Curtis despite the outward appearance to some that sending him down to Springfield from Memphis last summer was a demerit. Curtis went on to play a key role for the 2012 Texas League champions.
Instead of taking it easy during the off-season, Curtis packed his bags for Mexico. For the second consecutive winter, he rode the buses and played winter ball in baseball anonymity. No one told him to do that.
Over on my blog, one poster argued with me this spring after I shared the likelihood that Curtis would be starting at third base for the Redbirds this season. His assumption, like many others, was that the Cardinals’ top prospects would shove Curtis out of the way.
It did not happen, at least not yet. Curtis is now a big-leaguer and no one can ever take that away from him.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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