Among the most celebrated angles to the St. Louis Cardinals' surprising start in 2008 is the five-man outfield by committee manager Tony LaRussa has utilized. With Gold Glove centerfielder Jim Edmonds traded to San Diego (for current Memphis Redbird David Freese) and rightfielder Juan Encarnacion sidelined with a catastrophic eye injury suffered last summer when the veteran was struck by a foul ball, the Cardinals are fielding the youngest -- and most flexible -- outfield St. Louis has seen in years. And eighty percent of that outfield has connections to Memphis. (Brian Barton was acquired from Cleveland over the offseason.)
Here's a look at the players who chased flies at AutoZone Park before earning their current gig up the River a bit:
RICK ANKIEL -- Even with a late-season report connecting him to human growth hormone, Ankiel was the feel-good story of the Cardinals' system in 2007. Once a promising pitching prospect (he was the Minor League Player of the Year in 1999, when he won seven games for the Redbirds), Ankiel made it all the way back to the big-leagues as a slugging outfielder. In 102 games for Memphis, Ankiel cleared the wall 32 times and drove in 89 runs while batting .267. After his promotion to St. Louis in mid-August, Ankiel drilled 11 more homers and drove in 39 runs in just 47 games. He's looked comfortable in centerfield over the first month of this season (the position he roamed at AutoZone Park) and will probably get the most at-bats among the team's current quintet of outfielders. Through Sunday, he'd hit four homers and driven in 11 runs.
CHRIS DUNCAN -- The big son of Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan led the 2005 Redbirds with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs, but played almost the entire season at first base (a position occupied in St. Louis by one Albert Pujols). After hitting another seven dingers in 52 games for Memphis in 2006, Duncan was promoted to St. Louis, and was a major contributor -- from leftfield -- in the Cardinals' unexpected run to a World Series victory. Duncan's power numbers dropped off in 2007 (his 21 homers were one fewer than he had in 2006, and in almost 100 more at-bats). With Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds gone, Duncan has some heavy lifting to do in the St. Louis batting order, whether he's hitting just before or just after Mr. Pujols. Through Sunday, he'd only hit two home runs but had a solid on-base percentage of .397.
SKIP SCHUMAKER -- Over three seasons (2005-07), Schumaker played in 269 games as a Redbird, hitting .287 the first year, followed by an average of .306 in each of the next two campaigns. His speed and ability to work a count made him a rare commodity in the Cardinal system and, after brief stints in St. Louis the last three years, he's platooning with Ryan Ludwick in rightfield this season. He had a game-winning hit at division-rival Milwaukee on April 21st and then a walk-off base hit last Saturday against Houston. Schumaker's speed at the top of the batting order can't be overemphasized (he's scored 20 runs for the Cardinals through Sunday). David Eckstein led the 2007 Cards with a measly 10 stolen bases.
RYAN LUDWICK -- The 29-year-old Ludwick had the shortest stay in Memphis among this quartet, having played in 104 big-league games (for Texas and Cleveland) before suiting up with the Redbirds to open the 2007 season. In 29 games for Memphis, Ludwick hit .340 with eight homers and 36 RBIs and compiled a 14-game hitting streak. When Preston Wilson went down with an injury in St. Louis, Ludwick was the obvious promotion. He went on to hit 14 homers and drive in 52 runs over 120 games. Among Ludwick's chief values is his proficiency at any of the three outfield positions. He's hitting .323 and has driven in 14 runs (in only 62 at-bats) for St. Louis.