In professional sports, adjustments are the achilles heel of a young athlete. They either make them and reap the rewards, or sink faster than a rock in an ocean.
In October, I asked St. Louis Cardinals top hitting prospect, Harrison Bader, what he needed to work on this upcoming season to take the final step into a big league uniform, and this was his response: "Pitch selection. I was handled far too many times this year."
Bader was making a reference to the 131 strikeouts in 465 minor league at bats during the 2016 season, which included a .654 OPS in 49 games with the Memphis Redbirds. Bader elaborated further on difference between AA and AAA pitching: "The pitches move a little later and are more firm. The movement is sharper for sure." Bader had homework before the 2017 season began; it's safe to say he has gotten an A-plus on his assignment so far this summer.
After hitting just .231 with Memphis last year, Bader is swinging a slash line of .293/.353/.514 this season at the AAA affiliate. The strikeout percentage is still higher than normal-26 %-but the hard contact rate is better, and the results are satisfying. The 23 year old is hurting baseballs, collecting just two less home runs (17) than he had last season in over 150 less at bats. Bader has 35 extra base hits this season and 93 hits. It is safe to say that minor league pitching doesn't have the upper hand anymore.
It's time for the Cardinals to ring the Bader bell. The mantra echoed throughout the organization ever since John Mozeliak took over as General Manager in 2007 is that if young ballplayers do the work, the reward isn't a fairy tale, yet a visible reality. When I asked Bader over the winter if that inspired him to constantly improve his ability, the outfielder agreed, adding, "If you take care of your business, you'll be rewarded for it."
So reward the man. He's done the work, countered opposing pitchers efforts to shut him down, and conquered the minor leagues. If Stephen Piscotty isn't 100 percent, shut him down for ten days, and see what Bader can do at the big league level. In baseball, a hitter strikes down and dominates. Then, the pitcher adjusts, and attempts to out the batter as a fluke, showing he has no real skill. It is then up to the hitter to figure out how to re-adjust. Bader has done that, and if anyone needs to sit down and reset, it's Piscotty, owner of a .171 batting average in July.
This can work in a number of ways, benefiting the Cardinals in the present and future. Bader can come up, do well, and impress other teams filling stadium with scouts at the moment. The trade value goes up for a team that needs to sell certain parts, and the present team improves with a jolt of young athletic play. Or Bader can simply come up, slump, and reveal that some more work is required. Either way you slice the pie, it's time to see what's under the hood of this fine young gent who hasn't stopped slugging (double digit home run totals in three straight years) since he stepped up to the plate with the State College Spikes and cranked a home run in his first game.
The Cardinals aren't in a pure freefall anymore, finding new ways to hang around the National League Central race, but that doesn't mean they need to take their eyes off the future-and that includes their top "healthy" prospect in Bader. With reassurance being met with miserable disappointment every other week in St. Louis, a dose of youth is always welcome.
Bader has done the hard work, so give him a call. Ring the bell!