When camp broke, St. Louis Cardinals prospect Matt Carpenter seemed destined to start the 2011 season as the third baseman for Triple-A Memphis.

After putting up a .458./.552/.708 line in his first 24 spring at-bats, he may have thrust himself into a possible bench role and his debut in the Show. FOXSportsMidwest.com’s B.J. Rains reported yesterday that Carpenter and middle infielders Ramon Vazquez and Daniel Descalso have entered a competition for the final spot on the Cardinals roster.

Carpenter, the 2010 Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year, is looking to follow a slightly similar career path (albeit delayed) to that of the last third baseman to win MLPOY for St. Louis—Albert Pujols.

Both players were drafted in the 13th round, played third whilst rocketing through the minor league system, won the Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year Award and in their first full big league spring tore up Jupiter with hitting ability that has to be seen to believed.

Today, manager Tony LaRussa decided to test Carpenter by hitting him second today against Twins ace Carl Pavano in a star-studded lineup that included every projected Opening Day starter—except third baseman David Freese.

“[He’s getting] a lot of at-bats and playing time now,” La Russa said to MLB.com reporter Matthew Leach. “It could go away. We could decide he’s not ready or it just doesn’t fit. He may be ready, but it doesn’t fit our club. But the difference here is that [reserve infielder Nick] Punto is out, so there are not only spring training at-bats, but there’s a month of a spot for somebody. So we want to be inclusive, not just decide ahead of time.”

Carpenter went 1-for-4 on the day with two strikeouts, but let’s not forget that this was against a major league pitcher.

So, can we take this seriously?

My answer: Absolutely. Depending on what you’re looking at.

If you think that we’re looking at the second coming of Albert, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Carpenter is already 25, and doesn’t have a shot at a starting role as of now. He’s not the next great in a line of Cardinals third basemen that includes Ken Boyer and Scott Rolen, either.

But if you’re looking for an infielder that can come off the bench for a big hit, play solid defense and can give your starter a day off every once in a while, then Carpenter is your man.

He brings a certain confidence to the plate that not even some of the veterans on the St. Louis roster provide. He also shows immense respect for himself and the team, as evidenced by this sound bite he articulated on Saturday to MLB.com’s Leach:

“All that is really out of my control…All I can control is when I get an opportunity to play, giving it my best effort and having good at-bats. Try to play good baseball. That’s kind of how I’ve been going at it. When I got invited here, I was just excited to be a part of it. I got the opportunity to play, and I was trying to make the most of it. Things have kind of been going well for me, and I’m just trying to continue that.”

Right now, he’s exactly what the Cardinals need with starting third baseman David Freese expected to need time off every three games or so to rest his ailing ankles. As a lefty, Carpenter brings the added bonus of complementing the right-handed Freese as a platoon partner if LaRussa sees that Freese is struggling.

LaRussa, who has publicly expressed that the team has an opening for Carpenter, also chose to keep the TCU graduate in for four at-bats today. This spring, Matt Carpenter is playing for more than just seasoning. He’s playing for a job.

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