St. Louis Cardinals: Starting the year without Dylan Carlson
From the beginning of Spring Training, it has seemed that Dylan Carlson only ever had an outside shot to make the St. Louis Cardinals Opening Day roster. This is what the team might look like without him.
Coming into Spring Training, it was apparent that John Mozeliak & Company would prefer Dylan Carlson to start the year in AAA. This way, he would not gain Super 2 status and the St. Louis Cardinals would have an extra year of contractual control. This is seen by many as foolhardy and in rather poor taste. Carlson starting in AAA also would let the team figure out what they have in terms of current 40-man outfielders.
Of course, it is both of those things. But Captain Bowtie (Mozeliak) hasn’t done much in recent years for Cardinals Nation to allow him the benefit of the doubt. Without Carlson, the Cardinals outfield situation becomes rather fluid.
To start the year, I believe the outfield will consist of Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and Lane Thomas. This situation would become a competition for the first two months of the year, until Carlson gets called up. The odd man out would then become the fourth outfielder.
In the event that all three of these guys way overachieve expectations, the Cardinals will probably roll out a four man outfield rotation to get all of these guys at-bats. This becomes much more viable with the sudden and bizarre release of Yairo Munoz.
Based on Spring Training results, Dexter Fowler will not be a starting St. Louis Cardinals outfielder in 2020. Hitting .080/.179/.080 simply doesn’t cut it for a player who has had questionable (at best) offensive output in the last couple years. As much as I like him as a person, the time has passed in Dex’s career where he is productive on a daily basis.
Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill, however, have had themselves quite nice springs so far by hitting .296/.441/.481 and .280/.438/.560 respectively. Both have shown significant progress from lackluster 2019 seasons.
Bader struck out in 33.7% of his at-bats in 2019, compared to just 22.2% so far in spring. This is a significant improvement on one of his biggest flaws. Bader is one of those guys that you really like to see put the ball in play due to his elite speed. A reduced strikeout rate would allow him to be at least Major League average as a hitter, which, combined with elite defense, would make Bader one of the top 5 center fielders in baseball.
O’Neill will always have some swing and miss to his game, which is unfortunate. However, he is drawing more walks this spring and looks very comfortable at the plate. Tyler is walking in 16.7% of his plate appearances, compared to just 6.6% of his plate appearances in 2019. This represents a huge change for the blossoming slugger, and will more than likely win him the open job in left field.
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Lane Thomas has done nothing but perform with any opportunity he’s been given with the major league club, hitting .316/.409/.684 in an abbreviated 2019. He has continued to impress with a .259/.375/.519 slash line thus far in spring.
Thomas is a guy who does everything well. He takes walks, hits for contact, and runs like a cheetah. He’s a guy who could potentially have a fully-fledged five-tool arsenal at the major league level. It’s hard to not be excited for the guy.
Coming into 2020, it seems like Bader, O’Neill, and Thomas will be getting the lions share of playing time, with Dexter Fowler and Austin Dean/Rangel Ravelo serving as backups. I’m very much so in favor of this for a number of reasons.
For starters, as much as we love him, Dylan Carlson has only played 18 games at the AAA level. He’s also only 21 years old. A little extra seasoning, along with the guarantee of everyday at-bats, is not the worst thing for a prospect of his caliber. The last thing you want to do is rush a prospect and push him too hard. Just ask Billy Beane.
I also think it’s make-or-break time for Harrison Bader. This is the year he proves whether or not he can hack it at the major league level. I also think it’s time to give O’Neill and Thomas everyday at-bats to really see what they can do. I don’t think either guy has been given a true opportunity to show what they can do.
The only way to achieve all three of those things is for Carlson to start the year in AAA. With the seemingly cost-oriented thinking of the front office, this seems to be the path of least resistance for the St. Louis Cardinals to take.