It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No, it’s…..Harrison Bader flying around out there in the outfield and on the bases!
There’s a new buzz in the air in St. Louis and it revolves around a new-look St. Louis Cardinals team. In the span of just a couple of weeks, with the help of an eight-game winning streak, the Cardinals have closed the distance, not only in the Wild Card race, but also in the N.L. Central division race. As of today, Aug 16, the Cardinals find themselves only one and a half games behind Philadelphia and Milwaukee for a wild card spot and five games behind the Chicago Cubs for the N.L. Central division lead.
The Cardinals’ fan base has become rejuvenated with a new level of excitement and it’s because they like what they see happening on the field. With a revamped bullpen and outfield that are performing at a much better level, new manager Mike Shildt has also injected his own brand of play into the team and it has fans reminiscing of the days of “Whitey-ball” from the 80’s.
Maybe not at the scale Whitey had his guys running the bases, but enough to make the fans sit up and take notice and get excited. There ‘s less station station-to-station brand of baseball and more first-to-third, second-to-home type baseball, along with more base-stealing and aggressive tagging-up on fly ball outs. It’s exciting to watch!
And at the center of all of this, the spark plug for all this, in my opinion, is Harrison Bader. Cardinal fans have always loved a good defensive player, and I quickly think back to names like Ozzie Smith, Jim Edmonds, Willie McGee, Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, Curt Flood, and of course, Yadier Molina. And while Harrison Bader still has things to prove he’s quickly showing us he has all the tools it takes to be an elite defender like those mentioned. And with more regular playing time now his bat is improving as well.
Since I’ve been watching baseball I think Jim Edmonds is probably the best center-fielder I’ve watched patrol that position, he was a human highlight reel season to season. Harrison Bader is beginning to make me and a lot of other Cardinals fans start comparing him to the great Jim Edmonds. Big shoes to fill and much more to prove, no doubt, but Bader’s dazzling defense is sparking that conversation.
The other night, Bryce Harper hit a rope to left-center and what looked like a sure double for him in the gap got intercepted by Bader as he sprinted from center at full speed, dove, and caught Harper’s would-be double at full stretch. It was a thing of beauty. The ground he had to cover to get to that ball was simply amazing.
Left-fielder and teammate Marcell Ozuna gave him an atta-boy in recognition and appreciation of just how great of a feat it was and Bader gave him a wink and a head nod in return. You can tell Harrison Bader prides himself on playing great defense, just as Jim Edmonds did, and Cardinals fans and baseball fans, in general, are starting to notice and appreciate it. And Bader isn’t just a good glove man, he can throw the ball as well. Over the last couple weeks, he’s thrown runners out at home and at other bases or at least made it so close runners will be more hesitant to run on him in the future.
Harrison Bader’s emergence shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone either. Bader grew up in the Bronx area of New York City as a Yankees fan. He played high school baseball there and excelled and then committed to play college baseball for the University of Pittsburgh, but later, having never signed a National Letter of Intent, he decommitted from Pittsburgh and committed to the University of Maryland.
However, Maryland didn’t offer him a scholarship so Bader also decommitted from Maryland. Eventually, the University of Florida (Gators) offered Harrison a partial scholarship and Harrison committed to Florida and so began his collegiate career.
As a freshman Bader led the Gators with a .312 batting average and followed that up by leading the Gators with a .337 batting average as a sophomore. And he wasn’t too shabby in 2015 as a junior either, he batted .297 with 17 HR and 66 RBI in 67 games. In the 2015 College World Series Bader batted .348 over five games and was named to the All-Tournament Team.
And the success didn’t end at the college level. Bader was drafted by the Cardinals in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft in the 3rd round with the 100th overall selection. In his first professional game for the Cardinals, playing for the State College Spikes, Bader hit two HR. He was promoted to single-A Peoria in July where he won MWL player of the week awards and between State College and Peoria in 2015 he batted .311/.368/.523 with 11 home runs, 32 RBIs, 13 doubles, and 17 stolen bases. And he just kept hitting.
Bader began 2016 at the AA level for the Springfield Cardinals. Bader had a hitting streak in April while with Springfield where he fell one game shy of tying the club record. He was also named to the mid-season Texas League All-Star game as an outfielder and went 4-5 with a double and a run scored. In 82 games at Springfield that year, 2016, Bader ended up hitting .283/.351/.497 with 16 HR, 41 RBI, and 11 SB.
MLB Pipeline named Bader the Cardinals 2016 Minor League Player of the Year. And he just kept hitting and playing great defense.
Harrison was promoted to the AAA level Memphis Redbirds on July 6th, 2016 where he ended up being selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game.
Bader started the 2017 season out at Memphis and in 123 games he ended up batting .283/.347/.469 with 20 HR, 55 RBI, and 15 SB while playing stellar defense. The St. Louis Cardinals promoted Bader to the major league team on July 25th of 2017 and although he was optioned back to Memphis and then called back up later Bader contributed in helping the Cardinals win several games and flashed his leather and speed. The Cardinals named Bader their 2017 Minor League Player of the Year.
Now here we are in the 2018 season and Bader has established himself as the St. Louis Cardinals everyday center-fielder and in 97 games Bader is hitting .280/.348/.431 with eight homers, 22 RBI, and 12 SB. And he’s playing Gold Glove-caliber defense and bringing an energy level to his team that’s infectious to both his teammates and the fan base.
So when you see those blurs of red and blue flying around the basepaths, flying and diving around out in the outfield, no, it isn’t Superman or a Patriot ballistic missile, it’s the new budding superstar, starting center-fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, namely, Harrison Bader, just doing his eye-popping things for the best fans in baseball. And we approve Harrison!