Hear me out on the third option. Jordan Walker began Spring Training by ripping the cover off the baseball. In recent weeks, he has cooled off, but could still very likely be starting in St. Louis on Opening Day in a corner outfield spot. The ceiling of Jordan Walker cannot be easily overstated and there are many who believe when he makes it to St. Louis, he is here to stay.
In a situation where incumbent outfielders Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, and Dylan Carlson start the season healthy and productive, there should still be a route to get Jordan Walker at-bats in St. Louis. It seems unlikely that Walker will be with the Major League club just to sit on the bench and be a fill-in outfielder when someone needs a day off. However, one way to ease him into the Major Leagues could be to fill that bench outfield role supplemented with some at-bats as designated hitter.
Walker’s 2022 splits show that he could be effective against lefties or righties. In 355 at-bats against right-handed pitching (at Springfield AA) Walker slashed .313/.394/.518 adding 15 HRs and 47 RBIs. Conversely, in 106 at-bats against left-handed pitching he slashed .283/.370/.481 with 4 HRs and 21 RBIs. Also, all three of his home runs in Spring Training this year came against righties.
If Walker sees considerable at-bats as a designated hitter in 2023 that will likely mean that Nootbaar, O’Neill, and Carlson are all healthy and playing well (which would be a great thing). My feeling is that Cardinals management wants to give Walker the full opportunity to earn a starting outfield spot as opposed to handing him the designated hitter reins.
The Cardinals have a plethora of options for the designated hitter spot this year. Injuries tend to throw a wrench in squeaky-clean pre-season predictions, but right now it looks like a crowded competition for DH at-bats. I predict that Yepez will start the season getting most of the at-bats against lefties and the position will be re-evaluated frequently.