We are within 3 weeks of 2024 MLB Spring Training and the St. Louis Cardinals have one of their biggest seasons ahead of them. The organization is making an overhaul of veteran leadership to lead the direction of the team after a very disappointing 2023 season. Many younger players were given the opportunity to display their talents with the clubhouse lacking any experience or leadership. Going into camp, this focal point will be observed heavily by the front office and fans to see if that will be the solution to an unexpected collapse from the prior season.
Spring Training is a platform for stars in the game to get their timing down and additional work needed before the regular season begins. But for many young prospects, this is a place to showcase their value as a future product of Major League Baseball. The Cardinals have a deep position player prospect pool and a newly reformed pitching prospect pool. Seeing the newly acquired arms via trades from the deadline and the recent free-agent acquisitions during the off-season will be one of the biggest highlights during Spring Training. But many players who are not on fans' radars will make some noise and will be known after camp finishes.
Here are three players who will surprise people in Jupiter this year.
With a rejuvenated farm system of pitching depth, one player is rising through the rankings quietly. Max Rajcic has been dominant through every level he has pitched at and continues to rise. In 2023, he pitched 62 innings for class low A Palm Beach, where he went 6-3 with a 1.89 ERA, .81 WHIP, and an opponent batting average of .183. After being promoted to high A Peoria, he pitched 61.1 innings, going 3-3 with a 3.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and an opponent average of .251. With much competition ahead for pitchers entering camp in Jupiter, Rajcic will be ready to display his consistent development.
Given this will be his second season in professional baseball, he will have to dominate camp to make the final 26-man roster. Expect Rajcic to start the year in double AA Springfield, where he will fully be tested in the Texas League.
Koperniak is a steady bat in the Cardinals farm system who continues to repeat his career slash lines at any level. His season-ending OPS from 2021-2023 are .850,.807, and .799. Players should be struggling more often and overcoming adversity when moving up in the farm system, but Koperniak keeps producing with improvements along the way. His doubles, home runs, and RBIs keep increasing year after year. From 2022 to 2023, his hit totals increased by thirty with twenty-one extra at bats. His strikeouts only increased by six with the extra thirty plate appearances.
This is a player who struggles to show any challenges to his game and provides a pretty established floor for his future value. What fans will be expecting in Spring Training is how high his ceiling can go.
In a competition of baseball names alone, this guy might win it all. But from a prospect perspective, he provides an interesting profile. A left-handed swinging catcher who has a 1.11 hit/strikeout ratio with 42 extra-base hits and a .791 OPS in his first full season in professional baseball. He comes from the University of Oklahoma where he was a part of the 2022 Omaha run that ended the Sooners run in the championship round.
The future of the catching position is a little clouded currently for the Cardinals. The organization is still trying to find its identity with the absence of Yadier Molina on the field and an offense-minded catcher in Willson Contreras taking over. Ivan Herrera is now blossoming into the player profile many fans were expecting to see and has now replaced Andrew Knizner as the team's backup catcher. The remaining catchers in the organization will be competing hard against one another in Spring Training. Crooks has a great chance to show off his unique plate approach and earn himself some recognition amongst the clubhouse and the front office.
Who do you think will have a big Spring Training in 2024? Let us know on our social media platforms! You can catch more Spring Training content at Redbird Rants to keep up to date with news, stories, and player profiles. Also, check out the number one podcast for St. Louis Cardinals fans, Noot News: A St. Louis Cardinals Podcast, featuring Redbird Rants' very own Josh Jacobs, Sandy McMillan, and Andrew Wang.