New Year Resolutions for the St. Louis Cardinals infield.
Yadier Molina: Improve defensively to regain status as an elite defensive catcher.
I covered this here a few weeks ago, so I’ll just summarize now: Yadi’s defense has fallen for four straight seasons, and a further drop might actually mean he would be below average defensively. Yadi’s defense, along with his command of the pitching staff, is his most valuable asset, so improvement here would go a long way toward improving the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017.
Carson Kelly: Continue to improve at the plate in AAA.
Carson Kelly has been getting a quite a bit of praise lately. He is one of the St. Louis Cardinals top prospects for 2017. He has already won a Minor League Gold Glove, back in 2015. Additionally, the bat started to come around in his age-21 season, as he posted a .289/.343/.395 line between AA and AAA last year. Look for him to start developing his power next season.
Eric Fryer: Be a good enough backup to Molina to hold Kelly back in AAA.
When the St. Louis Cardinals re-signed Eric Fryer a few weeks ago, it became clear the plan was to use him as Molina’s primary backup. Importantly, this will allow Kelly to continue developing in AAA where he will play every day. For Fryer to be a success, he doesn’t need to have a breakout campaign; he simply has to play serviceably enough.
Matt Carpenter: Produce 100 RBI for the first time in his career.
For his career, Matt Carpenter is a .295 hitter when he hits first in the batting order. When he hits anywhere else, he’s a .255 hitter. The pattern held true again in 2016, when Carpenter hit .276/.386/.527 from the leadoff spot compared to only a .217 average from anywhere else.
With the addition of Dexter Fowler to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team’s primary leadoff man from the last few years will be moved to a more traditional run-producing spot in the lineup. If the team hopes to again be one of the top offenses in the National League, they will need Carpenter to produce from the heart of the order.
Kolten Wong: Go the entire season without being benched for three consecutive games.
Kolten Wong’s well-documented struggles have plagued his first few MLB seasons. Since debuting in 2013, he has spent parts of two seasons continuing to bounce between St. Louis and Memphis. This year, the club even experimented with using him as a center fielder in AAA, an indication that management might think his potential to be the everyday second baseman is gone.
Yet, GM John Mozeliak has stood by his belief in Kolten Wong. He has gone on record saying that Kolten Wong has the talent to be a “Gold Glove-caliber second baseman.” His career track record in the Minors, where he has hit for a .308 average and .833 OPS, suggest the bat has the potential to be a weapon as well.
Hopefully, the St. Louis Cardinals commit to Wong manning second base as the everyday starter. Surely he will continue to be spelled by Jedd Gyorko at times, but if he can avoid starting three straight games on the bench, that will mean he is playing an important role in 2017.
Jhonny Peralta: Play average defense as the 2017 starting third baseman.
While a thumb injury may have been to blame for Peralta’s lackluster 2016 season, it does not really explain his terrible defense at third. In over 570 innings at the positions, Peralta was worth a woeful -8.8 UZR. However, there is reason to hope that he could improve enough defensive to be considered average for the position.
In over 1,700 innings at third in 2009 and 2010, he posted a combined -2.1 UZR, which is just slightly below average. In 2010, he was 2 defensive runs saved above average. With a full offseason to prepare, Peralta should be able to make significant strides defensively, which would be a significant upgrade to the 2017 defense.
Aledmys Diaz: Cement his spot as the Cardinals shortstop for years to come.
Diaz breakout campaign likely has most fans thinking that he has already assured his position at short for the foreseeable future. However, the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals were at least interested in Andrelton Simmons this offseason leaves doubt. This signals that the front office is not confident enough in his defensive ability to rule out moving him to either second or third base in the future.
There are reasons for these doubts. For one, the young shortstop had a -8.4 UZR. However, as I’ve noted previously, his fielding percentage improved dramatically over the course of 2016 as he adjusted to the speed of the Major League game. If he can continue to make improvements defensively this offseason going into 2017, it will be near impossible to move him anywhere else.
Jedd Gyorko: Maintain a 20.0%+ HR/FB rate.
Jedd Gyorko led the 2016 power surge in St. Louis, leading the team with 30 homers. This was supported by a 24.4% HR/FB rate, the highest rate of his career by far.
While this may be a bit of an outlier year, it is clear that Gyorko made adjustments to become a more pull-oriented fly ball hitter: he posted a career high FB% of 40.3 and Pull% of 45.2%. If he can continue to refine this batted ball profile, he should remain one of the Cardinals best power threats.
Greg Garcia: Post a walk rate in excess of 13.5%.
Garcia has been a capable defender filling in a second, third and short, and has hit for decent average in the MLB to date. Yet, his walk rates are elite: his 14.8% walk percentage ranked 10th among all players with 250+ plate appearances in 2016. His career mark between the Minors and Majors is 13.5%, so look for him to continue that development at the plate.
Matt Adams: Hit over .300 with 5 home runs as a pinch hitter.
With Matt Carpenter set to take over at first base next season, Matt Adams will again be relegated to bench duties. However, he has been a great weapon in this role for St. Louis throughout his career. Over 105 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, Adams has hit for a .330 average and slugged 7 home runs.
Last year was more of the same, as he posted a .324 average and hit 3 dingers in 38 pinch hit attempts. With Brandon Moss likely gone, Adams’ left-handed bat will be even more important off the bench in 2017.