Cardinals: 3 reasons why Jordan Walker won't make the Opening Day roster
#2 - The Cardinals need to find out what they have in their other outfielders
Let's be clear, whenever Jordan Walker debuts in St. Louis, he will be an everyday outfielder for them moving forward. It is in the best interest of the club and Walker that he is playing all the time, continuing to develop his abilities while having a major impact on the big league club. What that means is that the Cardinals need to figure out who the odd man out of Tyler O'Neill, Dylan Carlson, and Lars Nootbaar is going forward.
Sure, one of these four guys can be the designated hitter each day, but with guys like Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, and Alec Burleson also fighting for at-bats, opportunities are getting few and far between. Although Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic will provide some insight into this for the club, that likely won't be a large enough sample size for the Cardinals to make a decision on any of their outfielders.
Nootbaar has received a ton of hype this off-season due to his mini breakout in 2022 and is looking to build upon that in 2023. O'Neill was an MVP candidate in 2021 and was slowed down by injuries last season. Carlson had an excellent rookie season after being a top prospect in all of baseball as well but was also weighed down by injuries last season. The tricky part for St. Louis is that any of these three guys could excel this season, but each of them also has the potential to fall out of favor. The only way to truly find out is by giving them a chance to prove themselves.
The club did this with Paul DeJong in 2022. Gorman was on fire in Double-A, and the clear solution was to move Tommy Edman to shortstop and let Gorman take over at second base. But the club decided to let DeJong have every chance to keep his job, and once he proved it was not going to work, they made the change. If the club was willing to do that with DeJong, you'd have to imagine they'd have longer leashes for their outfield trio.
Now, if any one of the three, or any of the club's DH options, just aren't figuring it out during the first month of the season, you'd expect to see St. Louis bring Walker up and never look back. If things go well for their current core though, you could see Walker stay in Memphis until the summer, when the Cardinals can move some of their other talent for pitching to pave way for Walker or swap out someone like Burleson until they make such a move.
From a management position, this does make a lot of sense. You'd only be hurting yourself if you did not at least see what you have in your current options before moving to Walker, which will be a significant roadblock for him as he looks to make the Major League roster. Still, there is one more thing that may tip the scales for St. Louis when it comes to Walker's debut.