Pitchers and catchers report to St. Louis Cardinals spring training Wednesday.
All I can say about that fact is that it’s about darn time.
Maybe it’s the brutally cold winter we’ve had this year in the St. Louis area. Maybe it’s the bitter taste left in Redbirds rooters’ mouths after the home team ran out of gas in the middle of the World Series. Or maybe it’s both.
But, even though we can’t see it or touch it in the still iced over metro-east, it makes me happy to know that somewhere the Cardinals are breaking out a new shipment of bats and that baseball — or at least elements of it — is being played.
This is going to be a huge year for the Redbirds no matter how it shakes out.
First, we’re finally going to get to see the long-awaited, young pitching staff hitting on all cylinders. Barring an injury of unforeseen setback, Michael Wacha seems ready to graduate to the big leagues on a full time basis joining Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn.
Then we’re going to see Jaime Garcia, who was once the star of the Redbirds’ young hurlers, back at 100 percent for the first time in more than two years. Garcia is something of a forgotten man because he frustrated fans by trying to pitch through a shoulder injury. But those who remember how he pitched before his setback remember what a difference maker he can be — IF he’s truly healthy.
Speaking of health... What Cardinals fan isn’t excited about the likelihood that we’ll finally see Oscar Taveras smacking balls in St. Louis. He’s trying to come back from an ankle injury that robbed him of half a season at Class AAA Memphis last season. But the reports indicate he’s going to be ready to go when camp opens to position players in a few days.
Beyond the youngsters, the Busch Stadium crowd has a few new veteran faces to learn in 2014.
Most prominently, the Cardinals signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta to take over the starting duties at the position from Pete Kozma. Peralta offers a ton more offense than the guy he’ll replace. But the best part about his presence is that fact that it didn’t cost the team any of those promising prospects to acquire him.
Kolten Wong, who made his MLB debut last year, will likely get the bulk of playing time at second base. But, just in case Wong suffers a setback, the Birds have signed Mark Ellis. He was a member of the hated Dodgers last post season. But Ellis will at least give the Cardinals a veteran presence and versatility on the infield.
A lot of people are excited about the addition of Peter Bourjos, acquired in the David Freese trade with the Anaheim Angels. Bourjos offers a speed element that the Cardinals haven’t had since Delino DeShields was in town. But the question remains about if he can get on base at a high enough clip to make his speed worthwhile. I have a feeling that Bourjos’ presence will improve the Redbirds in ways beyond his contributions. Incumbent centerfielder Jon Jay will likely be inspired to push a little harder as he tries to hang onto his starting job. Unless Bourjos impresses the front office enough to inspire a Jay trade, I believe both centerfielders are going to get a lot of playing time in 2014.
There are no promises as the new season starts that the Cardinals will make it back to the World Series. But, maybe more than any other season in recent history, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of this club. And that says a lot because the Redbirds have played in four World Series over the last decade.