St. Louis Cardinals: In-house replacements for Marcell Ozuna
With Marcell Ozuna hitting free agency for the first time in his career, he could be due to make a ton of money very soon. The St. Louis Cardinals are among the teams that are interested in his services, but what if they decide not to bring him back?
Marcell Ozuna was responsible for a large part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ production on offense last season; hitting for 29 home runs as well as a .800 OPS. This output was the second-highest on the Cardinals in the season before hitting free agency for the first time.
Though his offensive numbers are very solid, Ozuna was a liability in the field and has also been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury over the past year. Both of which could scare the Cardinals away from giving Ozuna the long term extension that he seeks.
If the Cardinals do decide to let Ozuna walk and claim the compensatory pick that comes with it, there has to be a replacement on hand that is capable of producing at a high level. The free-agent outfield market seems to be very weak this season, and it does not seem like John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch want to spend a lot of money this offseason anyway.
As fans have seen the last couple of years, the Cardinals farm system is very outfield heavy. Many prospects that have graduated already are currently in the outfield; which could mean that the Cardinals would want to go in-house to replace Marcell Ozuna. Who could replace Ozuna?
Before the 2017 Trade Deadline, John Mozeliak pulled a sudden move; acquiring Seattle Mariners No.2 prospect Tyler O’Neill in exchange for Marco Gonzales. Gonzales was a prospect who flew through the Cardinals farm system but injuries were derailing what could have been a bright future for the left-handed pitcher.
Tyler O’Neill was known for his freakish raw power, his dad was a bodybuilder and even won Mr. Canada and it was obvious that his genes rubbed off on Tyler O’Neill.
In 2018, Tyler O’Neill made his debut and showed flashes of potential with his power, but with little room at the inn, O’Neill got limited at-bats and would get sent down to Triple-A so he could get consistent playing time.
2019 would be the same story, O’Neill would show off his power, but would get shortly replaced because Marcell Ozuna was the guy in left field.
With Ozuna potentially leaving St. Louis though, this could be the perfect opportunity for Tyler O’Neill to finally show off his power potential full-time. He has combined for 54 home runs over the past two seasons in both Triple-A and the Major Leagues.
Though O’Neill is known for his power, he does have a concerning strikeout rate, which has hovered at around 30% during his time in the Majors. This is something that O’Neill would have to cut back on if he wants to succeed in the Big Leagues.
O’Neill has more tools than just his power though, he is a pretty solid fielder and has very impressive speed for his size. These tools could very well make him the favorite for the job next season.
Dylan Carlson was Top-15 prospect in the Cardinals organization heading into the season, but he hadn’t shown up on the box score after being a first-round pick in 2016. This was before Carlson would have a massive breakout season in Double-A and put himself in a great position to make the 2020 Major League roster.
Carlson was invited to the Major League Spring Training roster back in March and made a solid impression, one that earned him a spot on the Double-A roster at only 20 years old.
He had an outstanding season as a hitter in Double-A, hitting for a .882 OPS with 21 home runs before earning a promotion to Triple-A Memphis in early August.
Carlson finished out the 2019 season in Memphis and put together some insane numbers. He clocked out with a .361/.418/.618 line with five homers in just 18 games. This could give John Mozeliak and co. the impression that Carlson is potentially ready to make that jump to the Major Leagues.
The 21-year-old is now the highest-rated prospect in the Cardinals organization and is the 24th best prospect in all of baseball, so yeah, his future is pretty bright.
Lane Thomas came onto the scene quickly for the St. Louis Cardinals when he hit a home run in his very first Major League at-bat against the New York Mets. For the most part, Thomas was just on the Major League roster for depth in the outfield whenever somebody would go to the Injured List (Marcell Ozuna for example).
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When Thomas did get his opportunity though, he always managed to do a solid job. Though he had only 38 at-bats in a Major League uniform, he finished the season with a .316/.409/.684 line, and even hit two home runs; one of those being a huge grand slam which won the game for the St. Louis Cardinals against the division rival Pittsburgh Pirates.
In Triple-A, Thomas did a solid job; posting a .268/.352/.460 line with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. His season was cut short due to a wrist injury, right when he was starting to find his stride too.
Baseball Reference projects Lane Thomas to have a great season, hitting for a .849 OPS as well as 11 home runs at the big league level. Lane Thomas is an under-the-radar name that could very well get a ton of playing time next season, and maybe even run away with a starting spot.
Regardless of what happens with Ozuna over the offseason, his production will most certainly be missed; and it won’t be easy filling that spot in the lineup. With these three though, they are the best options to perform the way that Ozuna did.