Another edition of Spring Training in Jupiter, Florida has come and gone. Opening Day is this weekend, but first, let’s take a look back on the spring for the St. Louis Cardinals.
February 14: The St. Louis Cardinals send their top overall prospect Alex Reyes to receive an MRI on his pitching elbow. The scan reveals a complete tear of the elbow ligament, ending Reyes’ season before it begins. He had Tommy-John surgery two days later.
This was a bitter pill for Cardinals fans to swallow, especially since it came on the first official day of Spring Training. It had been an extra long winter for the Redbirds after missing the postseason by just one game in 2016, and this was not the news they wanted to break on day one.
Since it came at the beginning of camp, however, the team had plenty of time to rework their plans regarding the pitching staff for the upcoming season.
February 25: Newly acquired center fielder Dexter Fowler draws a walk and steals a base in his first plate appearance with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fowler’s spring with the Cardinals and his fit in the clubhouse looks like a great match for St. Louis so far. He went 15-for-43 (.349) at the plate in the Grapefruit League and consistently set the table at the top of the lineup for the team.
It all starts counting on Sunday, where the top-of-the-lineup trio of Fowler, Aledmys Diaz, and Matt Carpenter should be a strong salvo for the Cardinals to greet opposing pitchers with in the first inning of ball games.
February 25: Harrison Bader goes deep in his first Grapefruit League at-bat, the beginning of a strong spring for the St. Louis Cardinals’ top outfield prospect.
Bader wound up with the sixth-most plate appearances of any Cardinal this spring (57), and certainly made the most of them. His 18 hits were second only to Jose Martinez‘s 19, and his .346 batting average was third among players with more than 33 spring plate appearances.
He’ll begin the year in the triple-A Memphis outfield, and leads a deep pack of outfield talent currently in the Cardinals’ organization. He’s likely to get the call to St. Louis at some point this season.
February 27: Lance Lynn makes his first start for the St. Louis Cardinals since October 4, 2015. He pitched two innings, allowed four hits and one run, walked one, and struck out none.
Lynn will make his first official start for St. Louis sometime next week (likely Wednesday against the Cubs). He’s coming off Tommy-John surgery, and his solid spring was a positive step toward returning to dominant form.
He made four more spring starts, and allowed as many unearned runs in those starts combined as he did in his first one. He finished Grapefruit League action with a 1.20 ERA.
March 2: Paul DeJong hits a three-run home run against the Atlanta Braves, raising his early-spring batting average to .455.
DeJong, an infield prospect drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 draft, had a fine spring for the Cardinals in his first invite to big-league camp. He drew the seventh-most plate appearances (56) of any Cardinal and stuck around with the major-league team until the final week of March, when he was optioned to triple-A Memphis.
The 23-year old displayed power and the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field during Grapefruit League action. That bodes well for him as he moves closer to a major-league debut.
It could come sometime this season should a need arise, but if it doesn’t, he could still fit into the Cardinals’ future plans at third base (Jhonny Peralta‘s contract expires at the end of the this season), second base if the team chooses to part ways with Kolten Wong, or at shortstop, where he worked during the Arizona Fall League last year and this year during Spring Training.
March 7: Patrick Wisdom hits his third home run in four days for the St. Louis Cardinals, raising his spring batting average to .357.
He ended the spring with an even .300 average to go along with a .405 on-base percentage in 37 plate appearances. He’ll begin the year at triple-A Memphis as a corner infielder after a strong spring that puts him back on the organization’s radar.
March 17: Matt Carpenter returns full-strength to the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup after being held out for 14 days due to discomfort in his lower back. He had to skip playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic as a result of the injury.
Carpenter will have a new position in the field and in the batting order this season for St. Louis. He moves from third to first on the infield, and from first to third in the lineup. The Cardinals are expecting big things from him this year.
Wacha entered camp uncertain about what his role would be for the upcoming season. Part of that was due to the presence of Reyes, who figured to compete for a starting role. The other factor was the stress reaction in Wacha’s pitching shoulder that slowed him down in 2014 and 2016.
Reyes is out for the year after getting Tommy-John at the beginning of camp, and Wacha’s spring performance might have won him the rotation job anyways. He went 4-0 in seven starts (26 innings), while posting a 2.42 ERA and holding opponents to a .242 batting average. He walked only six and struck out 22. He’ll likely start the fourth game of the regular season for St. Louis.
March 24: Matheny acknowledges that Jhonny Peralta will begin the year as the team’s regular third baseman.
Peralta entered spring competing with Jedd Gyorko for spring at-bats. Neither had eye-popping statistics during the spring, but both are ready to go for the regular season. Gyorko may siphon more at-bats from Wong at second base than he does Peralta at third.
March 25: Matheny announces that outfielder/first baseman Jose Martinez will begin the year on the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster.
This will be the first time Martinez is on a major-league roster on Opening Day. He had the best spring statistically of any Cardinal at the plate, hitting .380 with a .508 on-base percentage. He led the team with 19 hits and 15 runs batted in, smacked four home runs, and drew 12 walks. The 28-year old also hit four doubles and a triple.
Martinez will serve as the team’s fourth outfielder but also is a viable option at first base, a position he worked on during the offseason and Spring Training. He can play the corner outfield positions and also offers a right-handed option for Matheny at first.
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Last year it was Jeremy Hazelbaker. This year it’s Jose Martinez. Let’s see if he sticks.
March 26: Yadier Molina goes deep in his first at-bat back from the World Baseball Classic. Hovering over the Cardinals’ front office is Molina’s contract, which expires at the end of the 2017 season.
Molina was the heart and soul of Puerto Rico’s second place team at the WBC. After the fun run his country had, he said he “feels like 20” again and hopes to play for many more years in Major League Baseball.
He also stipulated that the Cardinals have only until Opening Day to work on a contract extension with his agent, or else he plans on hitting free agency at the end of the season.
March 28: Matt Adams hits his team-leading fifth home run of the spring. He also got some fly balls in left field for the first time in a game and caught both that came his way.
Adams went 16-for-40 (.340) this spring, and finished second on the team in runs batted in (11) to Martinez (15). What’s more impressive is he compiled those numbers after beginning the spring 0-for-12. After those 12 at-bats, he posted a .421 batting average the rest of the way.
His strong spring could spill over into a bid for playing time as the regular season begins. As it stands, he’s blocked by Matt Carpenter at first base and Randal Grichuk in left field, so he’ll likely be coming off the bench as a pinch-hitting threat in the first few weeks of the season.
Matheny could get creative with his defensive arrangements, as he often does, if he wants to find room for Adams in the lineup. He could move Carpenter around the infield to open up first base for Adams. He could also shuffle outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, both of whom struggled this spring, in and out of the lineup to get Big City in the lineup as a left fielder.
March 29: The St. Louis Cardinals win their 20th game of the Grapefruit League schedule, finishing 20-8-4. It was the first time they won 20 spring games since 1997. They went 8-1-1 in their final 10 exhibition games.
The Cardinals had a very successful spring in many ways. They won more than twice as many games as they lost, the roster rounded out nicely with players that earned their spots, and young prospects assured the organization that the cupboard is far from bare. Now, we turn the page to the regular season, where we’ll find out if all the work pays off.