Packy Naughton, LHP
Best-case scenario: Solid sixth- or seventh-inning reliever
Packy Naughton has shown an ability to retire left-handers consistently, and as the second lefty in the pen alongside Zack Thompson, he could be thrust into some high-pressure spots. Ideally, Naughton will be deployed against left-handed-heavy lineups and be able to retire the occasional right-hander, especially with his changeup.
Worst-case scenario: Can’t retire righties and gets demoted
Naughton had issues against right-handed batters last year, who had a .374 average against him. With the extinction of the lefty specialist, Naughton will have to face some right-handers, and if he can’t find a way to get them out consistently, Memphis will beckon.
Lars Nootbaar, OF
Best-case scenario: All-Star season
Lars Nootbaar’s excellent second half of 2022, where he hit 10 home runs, has led many to proclaim him as a breakout candidate in 2023. A potential spark in the lineup and in the clubhouse, Nootbaar could be a strong option to bat second and might provide Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield. His Statcast numbers are off the charts, and if he can translate those to counting stats, he could be on his way to the All-Star game.
Worst-case scenario: Fourth outfielder
Although the metrics point to Nootbaar’s second half being repeatable, if Nootbaar returns to his underwhelming numbers in the first half of the season, where he hit only .200, his best role will likely be as a fourth outfielder and occasional defensive replacement. A question will be whether he can retain his walk rate, which led to a .846 OPS over the second half. If not, his on-base value will dry up.
Tyler O’Neill, OF
Best-case scenario: In MVP discussion
In 2021, Tyler O’Neill hit .286 and finished eighth in MVP voting. If he avoids the injuries that kept dogging him last season, a similar finish could be in the cards. O’Neill is a five-tool player who has a chance for about 30 home runs. He hasn’t taken advantage of his speed to steal a lot of bases in previous years, but the larger bases could remedy that and entice him to take off more often.
Worst-case scenario: Inconsistent in the box and struggles to adjust to center field
If O’Neill experiences long stretches of poor hitting as he did last year, his tenure with the Cardinals could come to an end. Patrolling center field might also be an issue. O’Neill is not a great route runner; his strong fielding metrics are mostly due to his speed. While Carlson and Nootbaar would probably work as fourth outfielders if they have trouble producing, O’Neill’s skill set is too dynamic to have him sit on the bench often. His 2021 season could have several teams salivating at the opportunity to make him right.