Cardinals: Five players under the most pressure entering the 2023 season

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds
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Dylan Carlson

If the Cardinals did not have the depth they have right now in their outfield, I don't think Dylan Carlson would make this list. But after struggling last season and the emergence of other young options, Carlson needs to turn things around early on in the year.

He was a top 20 prospect in baseball before the 2021 season and finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting after slashing .266/.343/.437 with 18 HR and 65 RBI. Can we stop and think about that for a moment? He was 15% above league average at age 22 with the ability to play very good defense in center field. After struggling with a wrist injury in 2022, his OPS dropped down to .695 and many fans have flipped their opinions on him.

Carlson has already shown two elite tools to this point in his career. First, his defense has the potential to be Gold Glove level, which is extremely valuable in today's game. He boasts both an ability to track down balls in the outfield at a high level, and use his hose of an arm to nail runners on the basepaths.

On top of that, Carlson has an .869 OPS in 293 PA against left handed pitching, making him an absolute weapon in the lineup or off the bench versus southpaws. The club needs to see if Carlson can turn things around against right handed pitching, because if he can, he puts his name in the conversation as one of the best young center fielders in today's game.

Carlson is just 24, and even with some hiccups this year, I don't see the Cardinals giving up on him unless it nets them an ace. Unless O'Neill bounces back in a big way, it seems like St. Louis is setting up their outfield of the future to be Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, and Jordan Walker, and for good reason. Still, Carlson does face a ton of pressure, as if he does not show signs of progression, he will lose playing time, and questions will have to be asked about his long-term future with the club due to their other options.