Cardinals: Lane Thomas a candidate for increased playing time

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Lane Thomas #35 of the St Louis Cardinals bats during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 1, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cardinals defeated the Reds 16-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Lane Thomas #35 of the St Louis Cardinals bats during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 1, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cardinals defeated the Reds 16-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lane Thomas is a candidate for increased playing time

Prior to spring training, before pitchers and catchers reported to Jupiter, Fla., many people penciled in Tyler O’Neill as the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting left fielder. But it might not be as simple as that.

Lane Thomas is “poised for an increased role” within the Cardinals outfield, manager Mike Shildt told Jon Morosi of MLB Network, though he did not clarify at what position.

It is fair to insinuate, however, that Thomas will see playing time in left field — perhaps being a candidate to start over O’Neill. The other two outfield jobs are primed to go to Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader, barring injury or drastic struggles in spring training. But Thomas, if given the chance to win the starting job, could provide a nice boost for the Cardinals.

Thomas performed well in limited time in 2019 before breaking his hand, and he dealt with lingering effects from COVID-19 this past season. Shildt said on MLB Network Radio that Thomas is no longer dealing with side effects from the virus, with the team hopeful he can perform close to the player who slashed .316/.409/.684 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 34 games in 2019.

The Cardinals are optimistic that the numbers Thomas put up last season — .111/.200/.250 with one home run and two RBI in 18 games — were an anomaly and largely because of COVID-19. If he proves that, and performs close to the player he was in 2019, not only will he compete for playing time in left field. He just might be the Opening Day starter.

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It is a nice luxury for the Cardinals to have in the outfield. Though if both Thomas and O’Neill do not perform well, and the team is a legit playoff contender, it is highly likely the front office will explore external upgrades.

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