Why Dylan Carlson is important in 2023
This will be Carlson's fourth season in the major leagues and it is a season where he is going to have to earn his way into the starting lineup. Manager Oli Marmol announced before Spring Training that Carlson will compete with Tyler O'Neill for the starting center field job, and Carlson has prepared himself for that competition.
First off Dylan came to camp in great shape. He has put some weight and muscle on which has improved his physical appearance, and hopefully helps him improve at the plate. The rise of Lars Nootbaar last season, and the rise of top prospect Jordan Walker this spring, has forced the Cardinals' hand a bit in having to find playing time for everybody in the outfield, which has left Carlson without being guaranteed the center field job in 2023. One way you can surely stay in the lineup every day is to hit, whether it's for average, power, or extra bases, find a way to be productive with the bat in your hands, and it's important for him to find that hitting stride again.
The offensive numbers for Carlson last season are just not going to cut it for an ex-first-round pick. In all fairness, he's going into his age 24 season, and he was very productive in 2021, he can contribute at the plate if healthy, An advantage Dylan has over Tyler O'Neill this spring is that O'Neill left in the middle of spring to represent Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, so that means more at-bats with the Cardinals and he has impressed so far. As of Sunday, Carlson is 5th on the team in AVG, tied for 2nd in home runs, 1st in RBI, 4th in SLG, and 5th in OPS. 2023 is a year Carlson is going to have to show something to the Cardinals and he's off to a solid start.
What really makes Dylan Carlson important to the Cardinals is that we have not given up on him yet. Dating back to the 2019 off-season, the Cardinals traded away Randy Arozarena to the Rays, they gave Adolis Garcia away for literally nothing, Carlson was the Cardinals' number 1 prospect going into the 2020 season: were we making room for him? Fast forward to last season when Lars Nootbaar was forcing himself into the lineup every day, we're going to sacrifice one to help with starting pitching most would assume, they went with Bader and moved Carlson to center field: is that another sense of confidence to Carlson?
And as I mentioned earlier about Soto, Carlson was rumored to be a main piece going back to Washington, we didn't pull the trigger. Now, look at all of those players that I've brought up. Adolis Garcia has 58 home runs and 191 RBI in the last 2 seasons, he looks like a perennial All-Star, Randy Arozarena turned into Babe Ruth in the 2020 playoffs and is one of the best hitters in the American League, of course, Juan Soto is a superstar, the Cardinals see Carlson as a key piece. Now Dylan has not put up anywhere near the numbers Garcia, Arozarena, and Soto have, it's time for him to shine.
With all the outfield talent the Cardinals have given away or walked away from over the years, Dylan has to come through.