There’s really one position that is open for a lot of debate in the Cardinals’ infield and that is first base. It’s been talked about in great length here at Redbird Rants about the first base battle, and it will continue to be a major topic of discussion throughout Spring Training. The rest of the infield is pretty much set, but let’s go through it.
We’ll start with first base.
1B: Brandon Moss
Brandon Moss is my guy at first base, and I stated as much last week. I believe Moss will win the starting first base gig in Spring Training and be on his way to a bounce-back season. The 32-year old has averaged 23 homers and a .450 slugging percentage throughout his career. Moss has already said that 20 homers is a number he expects this year, and I expect more than 20.
The big question is will Moss be consistent enough throughout the season to continue getting starts at first base? This Spring Training battle could be a toss-up if Matt Adams is indeed healthy.
Both players have something to prove this season, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Matheny winds up going with the hot hand throughout the year. For now, I say Moss takes the reigns at first and hits 27 long balls for the Cardinals in 2016. They’ll need the power.
2B: Kolten Wong
Take a look at these two players:
I am a big believer in Wong. It’s easy to forget that he just turned 25 this past October, and last season was really his first as the full-time second baseman for the Cardinals. With no real backup at second base, Wong tired out in the second half of the 2015 season.
But there’s no doubt that Wong is the Cardinals starting second baseman going into the 2016 season. Now, I’m not saying Wong will go on to amass career averages of 22 homers and 83 RBI a year, like Kinsler. Wong doesn’t quite have that kind of power.
It’s worth noting too that Kinsler played in 30 less games than Wong in his age 24 season and the next season he went out and hit 20 homers in just 130 games. Still, I believe we have yet to see Wong’s ceiling with the Cardinals. With Jedd Gyorko providing more rest for Wong, he shouldn’t fizzle in the second half of 2016 like he did last year.
If he can cut down the strikeouts and get on base more frequently, I say Wong puts it all together this season and hits .280 with 17 homers, 75 RBI, 85 runs scored and 23 stolen bases for the Cardinals. Sounds like an All Star worthy season to me.
SS: Jhonny Peralta
Getting Jhonny Peralta more time off this season will undoubtedly be the Cardinals number one priority in 2016, and it should be. Peralta has played in 312 total games over the last two seasons — tops in the National League among shortstops during that time. Much like Wong, the 33-year old faded in the second half of 2015. I don’t expect that to happen again this year.
It will be interesting to see if Peralta can put together another solid season for the Cardinals in the third year of his 4-year deal. With more rest and barring no injuries, I believe he will do just that. I project Peralta for 22 homers and 80 RBI for the Cardinals, while hitting .285 en route to a second straight All Star game.
Cardinals fans should enjoy it while they can. The shortstop position will get real interesting for St. Louis after the 2017 season.
3B: Matt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter is not only the Cardinals starting third baseman, he’s the best offensive player on the team and should be a main leader this season.
Carpenter posted a 5.2 fWAR last season, which was second on the team behind Jason Heyward. Carpenter was also the only Cardinal player to hit more than 20 homers and score more than 80 runs (he had 101). Carp is the key to this Cardinals’ offense, and they will need another monster season from him to stay atop of the NL Central.
Fellow colleague, Landon Clapp, says Carpenter could be a dark horse MVP candidate in 2016, and I absolutely agree. The big question is whether or not Carpenter moves down in the lineup and gets a chance to drive in more runs.
Probably not. Carpenter has more than proven that he is most comfortable in the leadoff role and most productive there too. Either way, it will be fun to watch the 30-year old TCU product hopefully put up another stellar season for the Cardinals.
Catcher: Yadier Molina
Yes, I know Yadier Molina is rehabbing from two surgeries on his catching thumb. And yes, I know that the Cardinals are exercising patience with their All Star catcher. Still, can you imagine an Opening Day without Yadi behind the plate? Not me.
I believe Molina will, indeed, be in the starting lineup come Opening Day. But I don’t believe that he will finish the game there. We all know that Molina will work as hard as possible to get ready for Opening Day. And I believe his hard work will pay off. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cardinals, depending on just how “ready” he really is, get Molina out of the game a bit early and see how his thumb reacts.
I could be completely wrong. It wouldn’t surprise me either if the Cardinals play it safe and stick newcomer Brayan Pena behind the plate. Pena can handle the duties too. Besides, it is more important to have Yadi fully healthy and ready to go for the home opener.
Molina is a tough guy, I expect him to be ready to go at the end of April by the latest. The Cardinals need their game manager behind the plate for a full season. Anything else he gives them offensively is a bonus.
Next: In the Outfield