Enough is enough. The St. Louis Cardinals need to play Lane Thomas every day in the outfield.
Look, there are times when waiting to give a young man the reigns to a full-time job is the right course of action. Let's say the veteran players are doing a fine job, or you don't want to overexpose the player too soon to Major League pitching.
When it comes to Thomas and the Cardinals, this isn't one of those times to hold back. Start the kid. Look at today's thrilling 11-9 victory over the Pirates, which earned St. Louis a sweep. All he did was win the game for the Cardinals by hitting a grand slam, knocking a triple to the opposite field, and throwing out a runner at home plate. He drove in five runs, saved another, and looked like a confident vet while doing it.
Here's the thing. Since being called up on July 30, Thomas had a total of four at-bats heading into Sunday's finale against Pittsburgh. There's something criminal about that. While I give Tommy Edman props for putting together a nice set of games over the weekend, he shouldn't start in the outfield over Thomas, someone who has played the position since he was a kid. Edman, according to himself, hadn't played the outfield since middle school. I rest my case.
Thomas is the team's 9th ranked prospect according to MLB.com. While he may not be the full-package talent that Dylan Carlson is, Thomas is ranked above Randy Arozarena, whom many Cardinal fans have campaigned for this summer. Those fine people are being short-sighted, looking at what Arozarena has done in a partial year at Memphis this summer and overlooking what Thomas did in 107 games combined over the past year at Triple-A.
In those 107 games, Thomas hit 16 home runs, 24 doubles, and compiled an OPS of .815. While he wasn't exactly cranking at Memphis this year, he does have raw power that has grown like a plant since high school and the instincts to play all three outfield positions, even if center field holds his most value. As one could see on Sunday, he has the arm and the range to be a plus-defender out there. As he has shown in a short time at the plate, he has the power to hit home runs too.
The timing to play him is ideal. Jose Martinez collided with the outfield wall hard on Sunday, so he may be out a few games. Dexter Fowler showed some life at the plate over the weekend, so he can move to right field. Harrison Bader is still struggling to find his swing in Memphis, so there's no need to push him. You could easily run with an outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Thomas, and Fowler for the next week of games.
That is unless the Cardinals do call up Arozarena and just run with the young guns for a week. But we know that won't happen, so let's settle on keeping Fowler in there until Mike Shildt and John Mozeliak go radical on the rest of the league. At least giving fair measure to Thomas' talent will be an engaging start of a new beginning for this team, which needs all the offense it can handle ... when they aren't facing the Pirates.
Now, it's a good thing the rest of the month is a calm breeze. The Kansas City Royals (who have a worse record than Pittsburgh) and the Cincinnati Reds (whom the Cards took 3 of 4 from in mid-August) are next up on the schedule before the Milwaukee Brewers (inconsistent) and Colorado Rockies (last in the West) fill the next ten games. You can see what Thomas can do before Tyler O'Neill, Martinez, and possibly Bader, all come back.
Bypassing Thomas for Edman over the past week was pure malpractice by Shildt, but the young man fixed that on Sunday by blasting the Cardinals to victory. Without Thomas' work, the Cardinals lose the game, sit three games behind the Cubs, and quite honestly, are hanging low at the moment. You need a sweep of the Pirates to maintain momentum because let's face it, the season is getting old. There are just 46 games left, and if the playoffs started tomorrow, the Cardinals would face the Washington Nationals in the wildcard game. While that's nice, a higher spot would be lovely for a team with such high hopes and deadline stubbornness.
After all, all Thomas needed was some health. He was drafted at 19 by the Toronto Blue Jays, but couldn't stay healthy or produce, so they traded him to the Cardinals two years ago, where the soon-to-be 24-year-old quickly ascended. Some things take time.
Other times, things just work themselves out at the right moment. A young player strives to get more playing time, gets a chance, and doesn't waste it. Thomas showed what he could on Sunday. It was like a highlight reel playing inside a single game, just close enough for Shildt to take it all in.
Stop messing around and play the kid. You may win a few more games that you shouldn't.
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