Stephen Piscotty earned a surprise demotion on August 7. His play through 8 AAA games demanded a promotion.
Well that was fast.
Stephen Piscotty played in the Little League Classic Sunday night as the Cardinals’ 26th man. Instead of returning to AAA, Piscotty stayed with the big league club. The Cardinals decided to option Luke Voit back to the minors and keep the 26 year-old outfielder.
Void played well enough in his short time with the Cardinals to earn more playing time in September. But Piscotty raked during his short stint in the minors. He gave the Cardinals no choice but to find a roster spot for him, and Voit was the man to go.
The Cardinals have a minor issue with figuring out playing time, but they absolutely made the right move. If he is back to doing what he did last year, then Piscotty is the kind of player the team needs to find a spot for every day. Maybe he isn’t back to being himself yet, but the Cardinals have to take that chance. The team is 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, and Piscotty’s time in AAA is one of the biggest reasons to believe that they have a shot at postseason baseball.
8 Games is Enough
Triple-A pitching was no match for Piscotty while he was in Memphis. In just 8 games and 38 plate appearances, Piscotty hit four home runs and scored seven times. It took him 37 games to reach four homers in the majors this season, and 20 games to reach seven runs.
When he wasn’t hitting homers, Piscotty was still reaching base. He walked nearly 16 percent of the time, and held a .421 on-base percentage, despite a .286 batting average on balls in play. Piscotty’s AAA walk rate would have put him 4th in the majors, just behind Matt Carpenter.
Piscotty’s improved plate discipline is the reason that I suggested his season was not a disappointment despite lower production. While in the minors, he maintained his improved discipline while hitting the ball much harder and producing more. If he can continue that level of play after the promotion, then Piscotty may actually be even better than he was in 2016.
I don’t think that eight games is enough to know that Piscotty has turned it all around. However, eight games is certainly enough to know that he should be back in the majors. He did everything the Cardinals could have asked him to do. He regained some power without regressing in some areas he had made strides in. Apparently he learns quickly.
There was no point in having Piscotty wait in the minors any longer. The Cardinals may have a logjam in the outfield right now, but Piscotty has produced at the major league level before and was crushing minor league pitching. He earned another shot at the major leagues, and his short minors stint indicates that he has more power than he showed in the first half.
Does he play every day?
The Cardinals now have a good problem to have in their outfield, which is they have too many guys. This is the problem many envisioned once Tommy Pham started carrying the offense in May and June. The Cardinals now have Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, Pham, and Piscotty to find time for. And Jose Martinez has earned his share of consideration, too.
We know that Fowler will continue to play as the every day center fielder, but Mike Matheny might get creative for the corner outfielders. Matt Carpenter has played surprisingly well at first base, but he can move to another infield spot. If first base is open, then Matheny has to think about putting Piscotty there.
Piscotty has limited experience playing first base, and is actually a good right fielder. However, he is the only one of the four outfielders who has any experience there. The net effect may only be positive if Piscotty really hits for power. He will hurt them in the field at first, and Carpenter is not as good at second base as Kolten Wong is. Carpenter is also a defensive downgrade at third base over Jedd Gyorko.
The Cardinals aren’t far out of the playoff race, but they are trailing strong teams. Arizona, Colorado, and Chicago all sport run differentials of +50 runs or greater. The Cardinals aren’t far behind, but the National League doesn’t have any fluke teams in the race (see Wild Card, American League). They probably need an extra something that they haven’t been getting. Given that trades likely won’t bring much, they may also have to gamble that it’s Piscotty’s bat.
Ultimately, the options for playing Piscotty are either to play him at first base or to bench Grichuk. The latter option isn’t the worst thing, but Grichuk is actually in a similar situation. He struggled to begin the year, but has been a big part of the team since. The team may also need to bet on his bat staying where it is.
Grichuk is much more boom-or-bust than Piscotty is at the plate, so Matheny does have an interesting choice if he is opposed to the first base option. Either way, he needs at least one of them to keep up their recent power surges. With two players out there, the odds increase that at least one is successful, the Cardinals just need to figure out which one it will be.
Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale – USA TODAY Sports