Going into 2020, the St. Louis Cardinals have a multitude of internal options to start in the outfield. Here is a case for each and every one of them.
The St. Louis Cardinals have had a logjam in the outfield for about half of the past decade. Ever since Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk came up, there has been a steady stream of solid minor league outfielders coming up.
Acquiring Marcell Ozuna for two years took up left field and Dexter Fowler’s five-year deal has done the same for right/center field. However, with Ozuna likely gone in free agency and Harrison Bader struggling offensively in 2019, there’s room for the young players to come up into bigger roles.
Josh Magee wrote on three specific internal options to fill just left field in 2020 here but given the athleticism of most of the young players, manager Mike Shildt really has a lot of flexibility with where to play everyone. With that in mind, what does each possible contributor bring to the table for 2020?
Jose has worked diligently to improve his defense over the last couple of years. He has gone from an absolute disaster to a competent, albeit limited, right fielder with a good arm. His baserunning has also been more than adequate for his type of player.
Martinez’s bat has never been a question, providing 20 homer pop with a .300 batting average coupled with the ability to get on base. Jose is a very good candidate to be the 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Opening Day right fielder.
Dex has fallen short of expectations since signing with the Cardinals. To be fair, he was coming off of his career year and that is what we paid for. Great marketing by Fowler and his agent, bad Front Office work by Cpt. Bowtie and Co.
Money aside, Fowler still remains one of the better options at the leadoff spot in the lineup, offering a high OBP from both sides of the plate. His defense may be lackluster, especially in center field, but he is by no means terrible. Fowler did bounce back in 2019 setting career highs in homers and RBIs but still is overpaid.
The only thing Bader has yet to prove is whether or not he can hit consistently at the major league level. His defense is other-worldly, and he is a terror on the basepaths. But, much like Billy Hamilton, you can’t steal 1st base.
Unlike Hamilton, Bader has shown flashes of power and contact ability in his brief career. Should he put it all together, Harrison is a perennial All-Star and Gold Glove candidate. This upside alone makes him a prime candidate to be in the Opening Day lineup in 2020.
O’Neill has the highest power ceiling of anyone not named Nolan Gorman in the Cardinals system. He has light-tower power and routinely destroys baseballs. The problem for him has been making contact. There is a whole lot of swing and miss in O’Neill’s game, which has been detrimental towards his allocation of playing time.
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You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but O’Neill poses elite sprint speed, along with a very strong throwing arm. He would be a valuable starter in left field on almost any team. I am a firm believer that O’Neill’s production would benefit from having consistent, every-day playing time without the worry that his job will be taken from him at the drop of a hat. Give him that in 2020 and he could grab the left field job and keep it.
Carlson is one of the most highly touted Cardinal hitters in recent memory. In fact, he is the highest-ranking hitting prospect since the late Oscar Taveras. Carlson has the unique ability to hit for both a high average coupled with over-the-fence power.
With a 20-20 season split between AA and AAA, Carlson showcased his baserunning in addition to his other skills. He projects as a 5-tool contributor in the heart of the St. Louis lineup for years to come.
Thomas has done nothing but perform in his brief time in St. Louis. He came up with clutch pinch hits, demonstrated the ability to hit for power, played good defense, and showed off above-average wheels. He is another potential 5-tool contributor, but not to the extent of Carlson. That said, Thomas could absolutely be a viable starting center field option for 2020 and on.
Another center fielder with plus plus speed, Arozarena has not had many opportunities in St. Louis to date. However, he had a historic season in the minors, slashing a combined .344/.431/.571 in 92 games between AA and AAA. His numbers actually improved following the transition to Memphis, indicating the ability to handle higher-level pitching.
When in St. Louis, Arozarena performed admirably, slashing .300/.391/.500 in 20 at-bats. Arozarena has firmly thrust himself into St. Louis’s plans for the future with his absolutely outstanding 2019.
Edman became a bit of a folk hero in 2019, stepping up to fill in for an injured Kolten Wong before becoming an every-day fixture at the top of the lineup. Edman has the unique ability to play almost any position on the diamond, allowing him to be used as a Ben Zobrist-esque super-utility type player.
A solid hitter from both sides of the plate, Edman showed that he has the ability to make consistent contact, hit the ball with authority, and come through in the clutch. The common opinion on Edman is that he doesn’t get on base at a high clip, but that is simply not true.
In the second half, once he had secured playing time and adjusted to Major League pitching, Edman reached base at a .357 clip. That is over half of the season, not a very small sample size.
Tommy Edman will remain at the top of the St. Louis Cardinals lineup for 2020. The only question is where his name will show up on the field each day.
To wrap it all up, the St. Louis Cardinals have 8 internal options to cover 3 everyday outfield spots. It presents a playing time problem, but that’s a good problem to have. Hopefully the kids of the group can step up and play at the Major League level. It looks like a good time to be a Cardinals fan.