With spring training underway, players are getting ready for the season. For some players, their role with the St. Louis Cardinals could be a question.
With spring training games taking place and actual box scores to analyze, it’s a good time to revisit the discussion regarding spring games. Do they matter? Broadly, the answer is no. But for some players, a spot on the roster could be up for grabs. For others, their future with the St. Louis Cardinals could be in jeopardy.
Here are a handful of players who have more to gain than just a roster spot entering 2021.
Their future in the St. Louis Cardinals organization could depend on these next few weeks.
Edmundo Sosa has had a few cups of coffee in the bigs with the Cardinals, appearing in 11 games between 2018 and 2019. He is now out of options so the urgency for him to make the team has never been greater. While it seems like he can be a useful utility infielder, he has some competition from newcomers Jose Rondon and Max Moroff.
My guess would be that all things equal, he would probably get the roster spot if production is similar. But Rondon has already shown some pop and he, along with Moroff, have more MLB experience than Sosa. If he doesn’t break camp with the big club, his future in the St. Louis Cardinals organization is certainly a question.
Acquired in the Tommy Pham trade in 2018, Justin Williams is a lefty outfielder. The Cardinals could use a left-handed bat off the bench but Williams hasn’t been able to crack the roster. He made a brief appearance in 2020 with the team and recorded his first major league hit. If he can hit his way onto the roster, I think he could be a fine 4th outfielder.
To date though, he has not hit enough and has been stuck in limbo. His chances of making the roster for 2021 seem small, and one has to wonder at what point he no longer factors into the team’s plans.
Another outfielder, Austin Dean was traded to the Cardinals from the Marlins in 2020. He had some meaningful playing time with the Marlins and looked poised to serve a valuable role on the Cardinals bench. That didn’t happen, but Dean is back in the mix now and has a real chance to make the team.
The Cardinals have quite a bit of outfield depth, so players like Dean and Williams have to produce or they could become an afterthought. His role would likely be as a bench bat but if he struggles to find his way onto the roster this spring, he could find himself more as organizational depth than a major league contributor.
This one might be a bit of a surprise. Ryan Helsley in 2019 looked like he was on his way to being an elite reliever, putting up a 2.95 ERA in 24 games. Last season he struggled a little, watching his ERA jump up to 5.25. It was a small sample size, only twelve innings, and the shortened 2020 season can be looked at with all kinds of caveats.
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Still, he’s not as prominent in the discussion as he was even a year ago. I think he has a good chance to make the team, so his inclusion in this article is not in the same context as the others so far. However, this could be a big spring for him. He now seems destined for the bullpen when once it seemed he was looked at as a possible option to start.
His role with the team is not quite up in the air, but it appears to be muddied a little. If he struggles this spring there could be a scenario in which he does not make the Opening Day roster. In that situation, he would be facing the uphill climb to get his way back to the majors. Helsley can pitch, no doubt. There’s a future for him with the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s just more complicated now than it has been before.
Junior Fernandez is a relief pitcher but unlike Helsley, he has not been able to put it together at the big league level. In sixteen career games his ERA sits at 7.98. Only 24 years of age, it’s way too soon to give up on him.
But with lots of talented pitching coming up through the system, he is going to have to start producing or he will quickly get leapfrogged on the depth chart. This spring could be important for him because if he is not able to make the roster, there are other pitchers who could. Fernandez could find his way into a tight pinch soon if he’s not able to get to the majors and stay there.
These are some players that I think have a lot to prove (or lose) the rest of the 2021 spring training. The St. Louis Cardinals seem to be in good shape for competing in 2021, and several players on the roster could catapult themselves into bigger roles with solid production this spring. For some players, though, there’s more on the line than just a role on the team.