With the St. Louis Cardinals about ten games into their spring training schedule, is there anything we know for certain about the team’s fortunes?
Well, maybe the most certain answer for the St. Louis Cardinals is that we know that there’s relatively little uncertainty, but just enough to create sufficient intrigue for the remainder of the spring. We have a pretty strong level of certainty on the position player side. On the hurler front, welllllllllll……we’ll talk.
But first, the hitters. Are there any serious questions? Absent any deals or injuries between now and Opening Day, there are few issues as to who will occupy the major-league roster.
The catchers, Yadier Molina and Carson Kelly, are set. Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong and Jedd Gyorko are more than likely to serve as the daily infield, with Jose Martinez a lock for one of the reserve spots. Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler will be patrolling the outfield.
So that makes ten, leaving only three spots when there are 12 pitchers and alas, only two when there are 13. Who gets them?
On the outfield front, while the abundance of young talent is truly impressive, it seems clear that Harrison Bader holds the lead. Young Tyler O’Neill is recovering from a slight injury, and while the bumper crop — among them Oscar Mercado, Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena — have impressed, Bader’s defense, speed and at bats to date, after a bit of a slow start, will almost surely win the day.
That leaves either one or two more slots, and one will have to be an infielder capable of filling middle infield spots, and possibly third base to boot.
The obvious choice is Greg Garcia, who is hitting lightly in a meager 13 at-bats through March 4, but has managed to take enough good plate appearances to coax four walks. It’s going to be hard to displace Garcia, who has shown the ability to be unspectacularly adequate in a utility role.
But there’s a new kid in town, and his name is Yairo Munoz, and he has been just excellent. He’s hit well, fielded very nicely (with quite the slick play this Sunday on a ball deflected from the pitcher) and looks, even at 23, like he belongs. It’s doubtful he’ll jump ahead of Garcia, especially since he’s a right-handed bat, but he may be giving Alex Mejia a run as the next man up.
And if there’s a fifth bench person? Hard to say. I personally think that the young outfielders provide a better profile for speed and offense, and are probably as good on defense, as Mejia or Munoz. But if history is an indicator, as soon as we get into the dog days, the Cards will ditch that fifth bench spot for another arm anyway.
And so, about those arms? Hmmm, well now, that’s pretty interesting.
We haven’t seen a whole lot from the starters yet, and by not a whole lot I mean, not many innings. Carlos Martinez had a horrendous first start and missed his second due to cryptic personal reasons, but he’s not going anywhere, of course.
Michael Wacha‘s looked good, twice. True, this Sunday he got into some trouble, mostly due to seeing-eye balls, but his stuff seemed pretty sharp. Luke Weaver‘s only now approaching his second start, but he had no real problems his first time around.
That leaves the other two expected starters, veteran Adam Wainwright and Pacific Rim returnee Miles Mikolas. Waino didn’t crack 91 MPH or so in his first outing and took close to 50 pitches for two innings. So not impressive but way too early to tell.
Mikolas, however, has looked off through two starts. His ERA is off the charts in a bad way, as is his WHIP. Velocity’s not an issue, as he’s bringing it at 95 with regularity, but whether he can adapt to the MLB arena quickly enough to contribute to the rotation remains to be seen.
If not, the most likely next one up, especially if Bud Norris is hurt, is John Gant. He’s looked dandy, unfazed at this level, and with a whopping nine strikeouts in his first five innings. While Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson may have the bigger upside potential, the former is working to harness his fabulous stuff facing major-league hitters, and Hudson just plain needs more work.
The bullpen, however, could have some real battles, if not at the beginning, then as the season progresses. While many (including this writer) believe that the Cardinals would be advised to sign or deal for a closer, the depth of the bullpen is pretty impressive, if the first week and a half are any indication.
It can be safely assumed that Luke Gregerson, Matt Bowman, Tyler Lyons, Brett Cecil and the Blue Jays arrival, Dominic Leone, are locks. That leaves either two or three more spots, depending on whether 12 or 13 pitchers break camp.
More from Redbird Rants
- Cardinals Rumors: 3 pros and cons of signing Carlos Rodon
- What’s next for the St. Louis Cardinals after Contreras signing?
- Report: Cardinals Emerge As Mystery Team for Carlos Rodon
- Cardinals: Trade targets after signing Willson Contreras
- Reflecting on the 2013 Cardinals’ top 30 prospects
Again not knowing Bud Norris’ health status, and assuming some patience on Alex Reyes, it looks like the remaining pot would come from the following, in order of likelihood: John Brebbia, last year’s nice surprise who has two strikeouts per inning thus far; Sam Tuivailala, the most experienced who hasn’t stumbled yet; and Ryan Sherriff, with some decent performances at this level, a lefty, and just dandy so far in the spring.
While the above would include three lefties, a surprise to some has been another southpaw, Mike Mayers. Bombing at this level previously, Mayers, who’s seemingly proved all he can at Memphis, may have reasserted his position as a potential long reliever in St. Louis.
And Josh Lucas, already 27, has been given a load this spring, appearing in half the games and performing quite well, giving up nary a run.
I’m guessing that given the early, relatively open schedule, the team will leave Florida with only seven relievers. But if not, or when they do their callups, I’d bet on Sherriff before Mayers, and Mayers before Lucas.
This whole projection will likely change in another ten days, based on performances, injuries and possibly late deals. But for now, it’s a guesstimate of what the top 25 will look like come April.