ST. LOUIS– As Spring Training begins in earnest this week for the Cardinals in Jupiter, the team welcomes back generational franchise stalwarts in Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, while adding a new star in third baseman Nolan Arenado. Here’s a look at a diamond-full of storylines the team hopes to answer before breaking camp next month:
- Who bats leadoff? Tommy Edman would seem likely to get an early first crack, although he and the Cardinals will be hoping his production matches his 2019 line (BA/OBP/SLUG/OPS)
All of those numbers dipped in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, particularly the OPS, which dipped to .685.
Dylan Carlson could also be a candidate, as he could be a candidate in the 2nd slot or even the cleanup role.
2. Rotation Outlook: Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and KK Kim have three spots locked down. How the other spots shake out will be health-dependent and may be one reason why rumors persisted that the team was investigating starting pitchers still on the free agent market.
Is Miles Mikolas fully recovered from surgery last summer on a flexor tendon? Carlos Martinez, entering the final year of his contract (with two option years remaining), told reporters Wednesday that he’s “100 percent ready” and focused on starting, saying that his 2020 performance was impacted by COVID and complicated by asthma.
Proud new dad Daniel Poncedeleon is firmly in the mix, trying to show he can get through more innings without burning up his pitch count. Alex Reyes will get a chance to stretch out as a starter. Johan Oveido impressed when called upon to start in 2021. Genesis Cabrera is also a tantalizing talent.
Minor league prospects Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson, who spent 2020 in the Springfield Satellite Camp, will be in big league camp this spring. They could both see St. Louis at some point in 2021, but could they break camp in the rotation?
3. Back End Bullpen: Jordan Hicks returns after opting out of 2020, but Mike Shildt said Wednesday it’s too soon to name a closer. Reyes, Ryan Helsley, Andrew Miller, Giovanny Gallegos, John Gant, Tyler Webb, Kodi Whitley all figure to have some prominent roles getting from innings 6-9.
4. Outfield Production: The trade for Nolan Arenado may take a fraction of the pressure off players like Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader when it comes to producing eye-popping power statistics, but only ever-so-slightly.
The Cardinals made clear by trading Dexter Fowler that this would be the year the team figures out what it has in the outfield. Thomas gets a chance to show what he can do, having been sidelined in the past by injury and COVID; O’Neill and Bader get to show if they’re able to cut down on strikeouts and produce offensively the way they already can on defense. Carlson, after struggling early last year and getting sent to the Satellite Camp, returned and even manned the cleanup spot for the Cardinals. Does he take over right field, or will he move around, based on matchups? Justin Williams will also be in this mix, after getting a look in the 2020 summer camp.
5. Bench roles: After spending the past few seasons trying to regain the offensive form he showed in 2018 when he hit 36 home runs and had an OPS of .897, Carpenter will start the season as a lefty bat on the bench since there is no universal designated hitter (at least as of yet). With Arenado and Goldschmidt not likely to miss many games (health-permitting), Carpenter could see some getaway day starts at second base.
The Cardinals did not shore up their backup infield inventory in the offseason. Will they need someone able to spell Paul DeJong at shortstop so he doesn’t wear down offensively? This would be the year for Edmundo Sosa to prove he can do it.