NCAA Football

Stanford in the MLB: Minor league success

May 10, 2016

Given how good Stanford baseball has been in the last two decades or so, it’s fairly surprising to note that only a handful of former Cardinal baseball stars have been able to stick in the major leagues in the recent past.

STANFORD, CA - FEBRUARY 17, 2012: Stanford Baseball faces off against Vanderbilt University on February 17, 2012 at Sunken Diamond. Stanford won, 8-3.

Former Stanford baseball player Stephen Piscotty ’12 has asserted himself as one of the Cardinals’ best hitters this season, recording a .323 batting average and 40 hits. (MATTHEW ERSTED/stanfordphoto.com)

With the retirement of Carlos Quentin ’04 following his release from the Twins’ spring training roster in March, outfielder Sam Fuld ’05 and shortstop Jed Lowrie ’04 alone remain in the major leagues (both with Oakland) as part of the “old guard” of the Stanford teams of the early 2000s.

But even though the Stanford well is running a bit dry right now, many of Stanford’s recent draftees have been moving up organizational ladders in a real hurry and are threatening to make Stanford sightings in big league ballparks all around the country once again a common occurrence, much to the delight of Cardinal baseball fans.

Look no further than St. Louis, where 2012 draftee Stephen Piscotty ’12 has quickly asserted himself as part of the Cardinals’ long-term future by becoming arguably the team’s best hitter to start the 2016 season despite not even having played the equivalent of a full season of major league ball in his career.

After being called up late last season at the ripe old age of 24 to fill in for an injured (and aging) Matt Holliday and provide depth off the bench for the Cardinals, Piscotty didn’t show any signs of inexperience and immediately gave St. Louis — known for its mature hitting — some of its most professional and impactful at-bats right out of the gate. He finished a 63-game cameo in The Show last season with a .305 average, 7 home runs and 39 RBIs despite a scary collision in the outfield, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“Stephen’s been just a very consistent spot for us. He’s had his times, too, when it didn’t look quite right and he’s going to continue to, [and] we’ll try to help him wade through that,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to ESPN. “But he’s got a very simple approach with a lot of ability and it’s going to be fun to continue to watch him adjust and adapt to this league.”

Through 31 games this season, Piscotty is the RBI leader in a powerful Cardinals lineup loaded with names like Holliday, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina and is second behind just rookie shortstop sensation Aledmys Diaz in batting average. This is particularly impressive considering that St. Louis asked Piscotty to work on his power stroke over the offseason, which has him on pace to top 30 long balls this season but also hasn’t increased his strikeout numbers from last season.

Piscotty should be Stanford’s lone representative at the MLB All-Star Game in San Diego this season, though he has an outside chance at being joined by Lowrie, who has quietly put together his best season since 2013 at the plate with a .304 average and 17 RBIs through the first month of the season.

It won’t be long before Piscotty will likely be joined in the big leagues by some other top prospects that have recently left The Farm — it’s only a matter of time now before 2013 first overall pick Mark Appel ’13 will finally get the call after several seasons of minor league struggles.

Though Appel has been hit hard at virtually every stop of his tour through the minor leagues with both the Astros’ and Phillies’ organizations, he’s finally seemed to put it together this year, with a 3-1 record and a 3.00 ERA through his first five starts of the season. Though he’ll need to display more consistency over a longer period of time, he should see a look in the majors this year, especially if Philadelphia stops stubbornly pretending like it’s a good team this season.

Hot on Appel’s heels are Alex Blandino ’14 (Reds) and Austin Slater ’13 (Giants), who are both struggling at the plate for the first time in their careers as they adjust to double-A pitching following their full-time promotions to the penultimate level of the minor leagues. Neither is on his Major League club’s 40-man roster, making an advancement unlikely in the near future and suggesting that they the soonest they can expect to see their first major league action is next season.

And don’t be surprised if Blandino and Slater are jumped by shortstop Drew Jackson ’15, who has continued to stun the baseball world with his domination of pitchers at the low minor league levels, where he currently owns a .317 average with the Mariners’ high-A affiliate. The speedy Jackson even got an invite to big-league spring training after his 2015 Northwest League MVP season, when he moved up organizational prospect charts with a shocking .358 average and 47 stolen bases.

However, other Cardinal contributors that have made past impacts at the major league level have faltered. Aside from the aforementioned release of Quentin by the Twins, 37-year-old veteran pitcher Jeremy Guthrie ’02 is struggling in the minor leagues with an 8.40 ERA for San Diego’s triple-A affiliate, while outfielder John Mayberry, Jr. ’05 didn’t make the Tigers’ regular-season roster after getting a spring training invite.

Meanwhile, Astros catcher Jason Castro ’08 is still struggling to replicate his success at the plate from his breakout 2013 campaign, when he hit .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs. Since then, he’s been on a steady decline, seeing his average drop first to .222, then to .211 and now to .189 despite plenty of opportunities at the plate.

Finally, after a well-publicized break with Washington following Jonathan Papelbon’s insistence that he wanted to close, Drew Storen ’09 has struggled mightily for the Blue Jays this season, having allowed 11 runs in his 11 innings pitched for an ugly 9.00 ERA in the early goings of the year.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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