Happy New Year, Cardinals fans! If there was ever a season where the Cardinals truly needed a calendar change, it was the disaster that was 2023. While they've done some lifting to address some of their issues from last year, the jury is still out on how successful they'll be at making 2024 a year to remember.
I recently revisited my bold predictions for the 2023 season, and in honor of the new year beginning, I decided to make 10 bold predictions for the Cardinals in the year 2024. These predictions are not just limited to the 2024 season but will encompass things that will happen between January 1st and December 31st of 2024.
Prediction #1 - Dylan Carlson wins the Opening Day center field job
Last year I predicted that Carlson would become the clear-cut fourth outfielder for the Cardinals. While hindsight makes that seem like an easy prediction, there was an open competition between Carlson and Tyler O'Neill for the center field job, and Carlson was just a year removed from finishing top 3 in Rookie of the Year voting.
The 2023 season was filled with injuries and statistical regression for Carlson, he actually saw an increase in his average exit velocity, barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, xSLG, xBA, xwOBA, and improvements in both his strikeout percentage and walk percentage. Under the hood where things were concerning for Carlson, things improved. He also had a terrible BABIP of .256, so there are a lot of reasons to believe things will be better for him in 2024.
It's easy to forget that after the Cardinals traded Bader at the 2022 Trade Deadline, Carlson battled a wrist injury that hindered him the majority of the second half, and then came into 2023 with the cards stacked against him in Spring Training. I am by no means making excuses for Carlson, but it's really not hard to see how he is due for positive regression, and could even start hitting the potential that many saw in him just a few years ago.
After coming up for the first time during the COVID season, Carlson posted a .780 OPS and 18 home runs en route to a third-place finish in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2021. He's already shown he can be a quality everyday outfielder, and I'll boldly predict he will regain that spot to start 2024 as well.
What does this mean for Tommy Edman? Well, this gives the Cardinals the flexibility to be patient with Masyn Winn if he has a rough Spring Training and have him begin the year in Memphis, or if Winn is ready to go, Edman is the perfect super-utility player for St. Louis. He can fill in at shortstop, second base, or any of the three outfield positions on any day, and would likely start against left-handed pitching still.
I also don't necessarily think Carlson breaking out in the spring means that he will keep the center field job all year, something we'll look at again later.