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Schumaker set to add to versatility

Schumaker set to add to versatility

ST. LOUIS -- Less than three weeks ago, Skip Schumaker laughed off the notion that he might see some time at second base this spring and during the 2009 season. Now, as Schumaker prepares to head to Spring Training in Florida, it's not just an idea -- it's a reality.

Schumaker is going to get a good bit of work at second base this spring, not only to add depth to the club and versatility to his game for 2009, but to open up some possibilities in 2010 and beyond.

Ever a team player, Schumaker is simultaneously intrigued by the opportunity and deferential to the man who holds the second base job now for St. Louis. He worked out a good bit with Adam Kennedy this winter, and urgently wants to avoid any suggestion that he's coming for Kennedy's job.

"They just kind of mentioned it to me, threw it out there a little bit," Schumaker said. "They told me its Kennedy's job, and they expect him to come to Spring Training and it's his job. But they told me to be ready and take ground balls there. If it's a utility thing, where I take some balls here and there and also play the outfield, it's more valuable to the team."

The Cardinals have an outfield crunch, with at least six players seriously vying for roster spots and playing time: Schumaker, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan, Colby Rasmus and Joe Mather. So any versatility that any of them can add only helps. Mather will see some time in the infield this spring as well, though more likely at first and third base than the middle infield.

The long view for Schumaker, though, is a different situation. Kennedy's contract ends after 2009, and the Cardinals will need a second baseman at that time. No one is committing to the idea of Schumaker being that player, but it's easy to see the connection.

"I see this as going into the future," Schumaker said. "We have a guy [Kennedy] that's done it before. Everybody knows he's done it before. I know he's looking to rebound. I hit with him a few days a week. I know he's working hard and getting ready for spring also. But I do know his contract's up [after 2009] and I do know there could be an opportunity there for me."

Barring a trade of one of their outfielders, a position switch might be the most elegant solution to the Cards' glut. Rasmus looks very much like the center fielder of the future, and the Cards could have a number of big bats for the corner spots, even if Ankiel leaves as a free agent after 2009.

Hot Stove
But none of those players, save possibly Rasmus, really looks like a leadoff man. Schumaker hit at the top of the order for most of 2008 and did a fine job at it. Finding another spot for him could solve several problems at once.

"There's a couple ways to look at it," said general manager John Mozeliak. "One is where he hits in the lineup. Two is how he performed last year. So if he could move that type of offensive production to second base, he'd definitely become more valuable, especially for a team that ultimately is deep in the outfield."

So Schumaker will be a very busy man this spring. He'll be working extra hours with coaches Jose Oquendo and Joe Pettini while also putting in his regular time in the outfield and at the plate.

"If I go there, I don't want to be bad there," Schumaker said. "I want to take it and do something with it. I don't want to be just adequate."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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