Through his brief three-year career as a St. Louis Cardinal, highly-touted prospect Dylan Carlson has not lived up to the hype he received when he was coming through the minor league system. Yet, despite these inconsistencies, he still deserves every chance to play regularly in the lineup.
Injuries have plagued the 24-year-old's career. However, after getting his start in the majors with the Cardinals in 2020, Dylan Carlson had an incredible rookie season in 2021. In 149 games for the Cardinals in his first full season in the MLB, Carlson finished the year with 18 home runs and a 115 OPS+.
This performance netted the former first-round pick a third-place finish in the National League Rookie of The Year voting. He trailed Jonathan India of the Reds and Trever Rogers of the Marlins for the league's best rookie award.
His momentum after the 2022 season was short lived, however as his 2022 season was full of underwhelming stretches of baseball. He played in 128 games for the Cardinals and was exactly league average after producing just eight home runs and 42 RBIs. Comparatively, India had a down year in Cincinnati after bursting on the scene for the Reds. Last year, India had an OPS+ of 91 after appearing in 103 games for the Reds and slugging just 10 home runs while hitting .249 on the year.
Despite the struggles offensively, Carlson proved more than capable of taking over for Harrison Bader in centerfield and was good defensively for St. Louis. However, his defensive capabilities are not good enough to overshadow the lack of offensive production.
His inability to hit right-handed pitching also raised eyebrows in a negative way during the 2022 campaign. For his career, he is an excellent .317 hitter against left-handed pitchers. However, conversely, he has a .225 average from his career when hitting left-handed.
His ability to switch hit makes him valuable for St. Louis as the team is lacking impact bats from the left side. Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and Nolan Gorman are the best left-handed options the team has. Carlson is the most experience out of the bunch and would be a big factor in St. Louis' offense when right.
The negatives to sticking with Carlson are notable and have been repeated heavily by Cardinal fans. The front office has been making him available in trades, prioritizing him over Nootbaar in many negotiations.
This would be a mistake. The age of Carlson makes him an easy bounce-back candidate for the 2023 season. At just 24 years old, Carlson has the ability to have a 20-20 season while hitting close to .280 in a year.
An outfield with Carlson playing up to hos potentials solves a hole for the Cardinals and their need for an impact bat. Unless the Pirates make Bryan Reynolds available to their division rivals, Carlson has the ability to produce at the same rate. As the outfield is currently constructed in St. Louis, Carlson should be your everyday centerfielder while Tyler O'Neil, Nootbaar, Donovan, and potentially Jordan Walker battle it out for the two corner spots.
It is too early in Carlson's career to move on so quickly from the switch-hitting outfielder. Even if his 2023 season resembles that of his 2022 campaign, he still provides financial flexibility if you have to keep him as a platoon option.