Who realistically has a chance at the Cardinals’ fifth rotation spot?


As Spring Training games begin on Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals are still trying to find an answer to their final rotation slot. While this preseason topic has been tossed around baseball writers like a broken record, it remains an important necessity for the Cardinals’ success.

In recent years, St. Louis has been known for providing opportunities that allow homegrown starting pitchers to compete for a rotation spot. Since 2010, Kyle McClellan, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly have all earned starting roles through this process, providing mixed results for St. Louis. 

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Lynn is the only pitcher of this bunch who remains a Cardinal today and his role is practically secure, in addition to the roles of current starting pitchers Adam Wainwright, John Lackey and Michael Wacha. Assuming Wainwright is available to pitch on Opening Day and barring any other setbacks to the rotation, this upcoming month provides a valuable opportunity for five candidates to earn the Cardinals’ fifth rotation spot.

Perhaps the frontrunner to earn this job right now would be Carlos Martinez, who is on pace to start the Cardinals’ Grapefruit League Opener on Thursday. Martinez earned valuable experience last year, starting six games after a few mid-summer injuries to the Cardinals rotation. Although his career 4.28 ERA and 4-5 record in his first two years with St. Louis aren’t eyeballing, Martinez has a legitimate shot of becoming a full time starter if he continues to improve his fastball control.

Another strong candidate for the fifth rotation spot is Baseball America’s No. 50 ranked prospect for 2015, Marco Gonzales. The southpaw became a pivotal part of last year’s Cardinals’ bullpen after a September call up, picking up four regular season victories en rout to a spot on St. Louis’s postseason roster. Drafted 19th overall in 2013, Gonzales’s career 2.48 ERA in the minor leagues is impressive. If he can brush up his breaking pitches, he could make a strong case to be a long-term fit as well.

The Cardinals also seem insistent on giving Tyler Lyons another chance to prove himself and will look to provide the 27 year-old with more chances to mop up games. Despite some sporadic results, he’s logged 89.2 major league innings in the past two seasons. Lyons will most likely contribute as a spot starter for the third straight season, but he will need to show more control in the strike zone this month if he wants an extended role with the Cardinals in the foreseeable future. 

As Spring Training games begin on Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals are still trying to find an answer to their final rotation slot.

If the Cardinals want to promote more young talent, another unforeseen option could be Tim Cooney. Given that St. Louis has a surplus of left-handed pitchers, it’s unlikely he will start the season in St. Louis. However, Cooney has shown maturity in the minor leagues, leading all Memphis starters with 14 wins and a 3.47 ERA last season. Even if he doesn’t make the major league roster out of Spring Training, Cooney could make a statement for the future if he keeps a consistent approach.

Last but not least, Jaime Garcia would have certainly earned a rotation spot two years ago, but injuries have limited the southpaw’s chance to make a big league impression. He’s started only 16 games in the past two seasons, needing two different shoulder surgeries within that time. Garcia has shown the ability to consistently pitch deep into games when healthy, posting 42 wins and a 3.50 ERA in his six-year career. Ultimately, Garcia will have to overcome recent health concerns to regain the trust of his teammates and reclaim his former starting role.

With these five potential competitors, the St. Louis Cardinals nearly have a major-league ready starting rotation waiting to seize the next big opportunity. Although there is only one notable vacancy that these five pitchers are currently competing for, this depth allows the Cardinals to be creative and flexible when making upcoming decisions.

According to an update from STL Today writer Derrick Goold, three of these five pitchers will start this year’s first three Spring Training games for the Cardinals and all five are expected to pitch in games this weekend. The game times for each starter is listed in CT. The order follows as:

-Carlos Martinez @ Miami Marlins, Thursday, March 5, 12:05 p.m.

-Marco Gonzales vs. Houston Astros, Friday, March 6, 12:05 p.m.

-Jaime Garcia @ Washington Nationals, Saturday, March 7, 12:05 p.m.