Could Lemmerman ever become another Eckstein?

Lemmerman was rushed in 2011; was flat in 2012

Some reports about the St. Louis Cardinals new minor league shortstop evoke the memory of one of the club's former major league starters at the position. Will Jake Lemmerman have "just enough"?

Now that his trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Skip Schumaker has been finalized, 23-year-old shortstop Jake Lemmerman has become the newest member of the St. Louis Cardinals system.

Some were quick to draw negative conclusions based on Lemmerman's .234 batting average in his one-month 2011 Double-A introduction, followed by a .233 mark for the entire 2012 campaign at the same level.

Lemmerman
It isn't quite that cut and dried, however.

The fifth-round pick of LA in the 2010 draft from Duke had begun his professional career well. Assigned conservatively to the rookie-level Pioneer League upon signing (comparable to the Cardinals' Johnson City club of the Appalachian League), the right-handed hitter thrived, batting .363 and being named league MVP. Following the season, our Dodgers counterpart, LADugout.com, ranked him the organization's 20th-best prospect.

The Dodgers then got aggressive with him, skipping him over short-season A and Class-A to open 2011. In 103 games with A-Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, Lemmerman logged a nice line of .293/.379/.420 and was named a California League all-star. He was then moved up to Double-A Chattanooga for the final month.

Despite the limited upward exposure, comparable to what Mike O'Neill had this year, the Dodgers assigned Lemmerman to the Arizona Fall League following the 2011 campaign. The shortstop was totally overmatched at the plate in the desert, posting a line of .156/.299/.203.

How bad was it? His batting average was 63rd among 64 league qualifiers. His .502 OPS was dead last. In fact, he was only one of three AFL players with an OPS under .600.

In comparison, Ryan Jackson also competed in the AFL in 2011. Granted, he is a year older and had a entire season of Double-A experience compared to Lemmerman's one month, but against the same pitching, Jackson's line was .342/.438/.500/.938. In other words, day and night contrast.

Here is another data point. The year before, Pete Kozma OPS'sed .742 in the AFL at the same age as Lemmerman was the next fall, 22.

So, it seems pretty clear that Lemmerman was rushed and rushed again in 2011. My bigger concern is that he did not pick up his game in 2012.

After a decent first half, he seemed to run out of gas after the break, with a second half line of just .197/.333/.362. If fatigue was problem the year before in the AFL, as some suggested, it hit him even earlier in 2012.

As a Cardinal, it appears likely that Lemmerman will be back for another shot at Double-A in 2013. He will turn 24 in early May, so if he is going to step forward in performance, this would seem to be the time.

Regarding his skills, I had only seen him play briefly in the 2011 AFL and not surprisingly, my limited observations were not favorable.

Checking what others have to say, there are a lot of "scrappy," "grinding it out-kind of player," "plays above his tools" themes in various scouting reports. He gets credit for his make up and consistent defense (instincts, reaction, hands).

On the other hand, I've seen mention of him being a below-average runner and his numbers support a below-average power assessment. While one report says he has a "very good" arm, a conflicting and concerning report from Baseball America during last off-season indicated he has "just enough arm strength to get by at shortstop for now."

Of course, having "Just Enough" arm at short became an actual nickname for former Cardinal David Eckstein. The organization can only hope Lemmerman has that much runway ahead.

It is only fair to note that as a 24-year-old in his first shot at Double-A in 1999, Eckstein logged an OPS of .856. It was his third consecutive minor league season with an .800-plus OPS, but after a slow start at Triple-A the next year, he found himself on waivers by that August.

An .856 OPS feels like a "just enough" target for Lemmerman at Springfield in 2013. Let's see what he can do.

Footnote: FOX Sports' Frankie Piliere filmed the video below during batting practice at the 2011 Arizona Fall League.





Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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