While it is snowing with temperatures expected to drop below zero yet again here in Iowa, it is a nice thought to know spring training is just days away (pitchers and catchers to report on February 12, position players on the 17th). So, let’s try to warm up by taking a look at some of the off-season moves, how they affect the St. Louis Cardinals, and what up-and-comers you should keep an eye on.
As everyone is well aware, the Cardinals lineup last season dominated the league, especially with RISP (.330 avg). No doubt adding Jhonny Peralta in place of Pete Kozma will boost the offense significantly. Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Adams should all put up good numbers as expected. So, that leaves newcomers Peter Bourjos and rookie Kolten Wong in question. If Bourjos can stay healthy he could greatly benefit the offense. His numbers in 2011 were impressive, and definitely an upgrade from Jon Jay. Kolten Wong, in my opinion, is the biggest wildcard (no pun intended) in the lineup. His numbers in triple-A Memphis were great, but his end of the season MLB debut left plenty to be desired. If he can put up comparable numbers to his days in triple-A, the Cardinals will be a major force to be reckoned with. Don’t forget the base stealing aspect Wong and Bourjos add to this lineup.
Also, keep in mind that if any of these projected starting nine falter, the Cardinals have very capable back-ups in place. For example, if Wong struggles, veteran Mark Ellis can step in at second base and provide good offense as well as defense. Or, if injury prone Bourjos gets injured, Jon Jay can always step right back in. The outfield is one area that could get very exciting if you are looking to the future. The Cardinals could always decide to give highly touted prospect Oscar Taveras a shot in the outfield. While he is commonly a right fielder, with Craig solidifying a spot in right, perhaps the Cardinals would try Taveras in center. I cannot imagine the Cardinals not bringing him to the majors at some point this season. Maybe a better opportunity would be to bring him up if Matt Adams struggles at first. In that scenario Craig could play first leaving right field open for Taveras. Regardless, I am very anxious to see him playing at the big league level this season, and I am sure many of you are as well.
As for pitching, the only issue facing the Cardinals is the fact that they have too much pitching to go around. Adam Wainwright will likely be the day 1 starter. I expect Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Jaime Garcia, and Lance Lynn to round out the rotation. Where is Joe Kelly you might ask? As he proved last season, he could very well be a #3 or 4 for most teams. That being said, if the young Wacha falters, or if Lynn does not perform as he did last season, or if Garcia has a hard time bouncing back from his off-season surgery, Kelly could very well make a handful of starts. Depending on how each player performs in spring training could also open a spot for Kelly. Regardless, I expect him to be used primarily out of the bullpen as a long reliever with the occasional start. This also begs the question of Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal and their desires to become starting pitchers. I would not at all be shocked if Matheny gives Martinez some starts during spring training. However, I feel he is a great asset to our bullpen. He did a fantastic job last season, especially in the postseason, as a setup man for Rosenthal. I do not see Rosenthal making the jump from the pen to a starting role anytime soon. It will be interesting to see how Jason Motte bounces back from his 2013 injury. Having him or Rosenthal as the closer seems like a flawless way to end games.
Due to the amount of young talent in the pitching staff, I can almost guarantee Matheny and the rest of management put Wacha and Miller on innings limits. Miller reportedly had shoulder soreness towards the end of 2013. No need to overwork these young guns when there is an overabundance of pitching. I don’t see either of them throwing more than 175 innings this season.
Onto who to watch this spring. The obvious guys to watch are Bourjos, Wong, and Taveras. If Bourjos or Wong struggle, Manager Mike Matheny may have some headaches. If Taveras plays great, that could be another wrinkle for management to iron out. But, the following list are the top three youngsters I want to see: Stephen Piscotty, James Ramsey, and Carson Kelly. Piscotty has all the tools to be a solid every day player. He also adds versatility in his ability to play third base or the outfield. He has good speed and a very strong arm. However, his power is lacking a bit for a corner outfielder or third baseman. Ramsey is an exciting outfielder that moved quickly from single-A Palm Beach to triple-A Memphis. He plays solid defense, and doesn’t lack much at the plate. Again, like with Piscotty, lack of power is the only negative. Kelly is a third base prospect, but is being converted to play catcher. If there is one position in the Cardinals organization lacking depth, it would be catching. Behind Molina and Cruz, there are no real promising prospects. Converting Kelly to catcher gives the Cardinals a little more depth. Keep in mind he is only 19 years old. His offensive numbers have not been spectacular yet, but they are sure to come around.
2014 is shaping to be an exciting season, yet again, for the St. Louis Cardinals. It seems like no matter what happens in spring training, or if some players don’t live up to expectations, this team is going to succeed. There just simply aren’t any holes in the lineup or pitching staff. If, for some unseen reason, a hole does develop, the Cardinals are jam packed with young talent that can fill in or could be used as trade pieces to shore up this squad. I can’t wait to see what this season has in store for us. All I know is it will be fun to watch. Now, if only I could fast forward through the rest of this seemingly never ending winter. Thanks for reading, and stay warm out there!