MILWAUKEE — Before offering some thoughts on the ascendant Cardinals prospect, outfielder Dylan Carlson, manager Mike Shildt caught himself, and paused.
“Heck, he’s 20 years old,” Shildt said. “Not a lot of history with Dylan.”
That’s bound to change.
Carlson, a switch-hitter, won the Texas League Player of the Year award Tuesday, almost two weeks after he left the league and Class AA Springfield for a promotion to Class AAA. Carlson carried an impressive debut in big-league spring training into the regular season and has been among the Texas League leaders in almost every significant offensive category all season, including leading the league in homers (21) and slugging percentage (.518) still weeks after he went to Triple-A Memphis.
“He dominated that league at a young age,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. “You think about going wire-to-wire (as a leader). It’s a hard league to dominate unless you’re truly an elite player.”
With his assertive season and promotion to Memphis, Carlson has played his way into the Cardinals’ plans for 2020. They have not had any discussions about having him join the big-league club this season as a September callup, and it would take a series of injuries above him on the depth chart for that to happen. That’s because of scarce playing time and placing him on the 40-man roster would leave another prospect exposed this winter when the Cardinals are not required to protect Carlson.
The switch-hitting outfielder has been selected to play in the invitation-only Arizona Fall League, though the Cardinals have not decided if Carlson is better served shifting from this season to resting and prepping for spring training.
The Cardinals are ready for him to compete for an opening day role.
“He’s been extremely focused every step of the way,” said farm director Gary LaRocque about the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2016. “If you look back on the levels, he’s always brought himself up to the level of the league quickly. He’s the type of kid who thrives on the opportunity that the next day comes, whether he was four-for-four or oh-for-four. Whatever it was. He thrives on that next day. He’s going to go after it.”
Carlson hit .281 at Class AA with an .888 OPS that still ranks second in the league, and his 81 runs scored also still rank second. In his first 11 games for the Redbirds, Carlson already had three consecutive three-hit games and hit .455 with a 1.283 OPS and three homers. Since Harrison Bader’s return to the big leagues, Carlson has been playing center field, where the internal reviews have been positive and the Cardinals could see him competing for at-bats.
“He does it all,” Mozeliak said. “Very complete player.”
Carlson joins Matt Adams (2011) and the late Oscar Taveras (2012) as Springfield Cardinals who won the league’s MVP equivalent, and in 2017 Dakota Hudson won the pitcher of the year award. Shildt was Taveras’ manager in Springfield, and it was that season that vaulted Taveras, like Carlson, into the highest-rankings of prospects and prompted Mozeliak to call Taveras the best hitting prospect the Cardinals have had since Albert Pujols.
“That’s a very intimate league,” Shildt said of the Texas League. “You play the teams in your division 33 or 32 times, so there is a lot of intimacy to that league. You’re not fooling anybody.”
BASEBALL OPERATIONS ROAD TRIP
A small group of Cardinals executives, including the heads of each facet of baseball operations, joined the big-league team in Milwaukee this week for the department’s annual late-season meetings. Mozeliak usually meets at this point in the minor-league season with the department, often at a minor-league site or on a retreat. This year, the Cardinals streamlined the number of officials present for the meetings and took the smaller group on a big-league trip to discuss 2019 and continuing planning for 2020.
Along with Mozeliak are general manager Michael Girsch and assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez. They are joined in the meetings by the heads of five areas of baseball operations: player development/farm system (LaRocque), amateur scouting (Randy Flores), international scouting (Luis Morales), performance (Dr. Robert Butler), and analytics (Kevin Seats).
KEEPING CARLOS CRISP
Closer Carlos Martinez’s curious appearance Monday for one out in a 10-run ballgame can be traced back to a conversation he had with Shildt and the weekend he had at Busch Stadium. Even as they swept the Rockies in a four-game set, Martinez was rarely used, and with an off day arriving Thursday he and the coaching staff did not want to go too long between appearances.
Along with veteran lefty Andrew Miller, Martinez spoke with Shildt about getting some work in the game, and both were scripted to appear regardless of the score. Unlike Miller, the role is new for Martinez, who is still working on a regimen that keeps him sharp and available.
“It’s the conundrum a little bit of keeping him fresh, keeping his feel, which is very important to him, and also knowing that there are roles for the guys,” Shildt said. “If you get them out of order a little bit you don’t know what the next couple of days look like. (Monday) was as cut and dry as you could make it. There really wasn’t a choice to any of it based on workload and the freshness of Miller and Carlos. They need to absorb some of the innings.”
Kolten Wong (bruised toe) had a pinch-hit RBI double in the seventh Tuesday, stayed in the game to play second and also had a run-scoring single in the ninth. Shildt said Wong was an “emergency” option Monday, and the infielder could be back in the starting lineup as early as Wednesday. … Shelby Miller, a former first-round pick for the Cardinals, opted out of his minor-league contract with Milwaukee on Tuesday. Miller, who has spent time this season with Texas and the Brewers, immediately becomes a free agent, looking for a third team. … John Gant is the first Cardinals reliever to win nine games in a season since Braden Looper in 2006, and he’s the first to go 9-0 since Frank DiPino in 1989. The club record for wins by a reliever is 13, set by Al Hrabosky in 1975. Gant is second on this year’s team in wins.