Spring has sprung and it's time for the games to start to count. Here's a look at what we've learned about the Cardinals, for better and for worse, in the month and a half since players reported to camp.
Top concerns coming out of spring training:
3) Randy Choate, a curious signing to a three-year deal at the age of 37, was brought in to improve the Cardinals bullpen from the left side. He didn't do a lot to instill confidence that he can get the job done this spring. He allowed eight hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings pitched this spring. That works out to allowing 2.06 runners per inning pitched. And, when you're used almost exclusively in favorable match ups, a .348 batting average against is more than a little bit to be concerned about.
2) Joe Kelly pitched pretty well early in spring training. But when it seemed that Shelby Miller was passing him in the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, Kelly got tight and struggled. Hopefully that's just a coincidence and he'll settle in as a valuable member of the St. Louis bullpen.
1) What's going on at the corners? Both first baseman Allen Craig and third sacker David Freese have fought injury problems this spring. Freese will start the year on the disabled list with a sort back. That's the sort of injury that could linger on over the course of a long season. Craig started the spring as a designated hitter because of a problem with his throwing shoulder. Presumably, he's doing better. But Craig played relatively sparingly this spring. His 53 at-bats were good enough only for ninth on the team. The Redbirds really need these two to be healthy if they're going to compete this season.
Top things to be positive about following spring training:
3) The Cardinals asked Matt Carpenter to switch positions and he embraced the opportunity to seize more playing time enthusiastically. Carpenter played pretty well in the field and he hit .304 while drawing 12 walks. His .402 on-base percentage will look awfully sweet in front of Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and the other big guns in the batting order.
2) Last spring Shane Robinson barely made the major-league roster out of camp. This year he hit so well he made it so the Cardinals didn't have the option of cutting him. He batted .438 in 64 at-bats. While that pace is going to be impossible to keep up, he's going to have to continue to make a big impression because the Cardinals are going to be tempted sooner rather than later to call up Oscar Taveras and add him to the big league outfield picture.
1) Taveras had more at-bats than any other Cardinals hitter this spring and he didn't disappoint. He hit .289 with a pair of homers and 10 RBIs and never seemed intimidate or over-matched. I believe the Redbirds did the right thing while bringing the 20-year-old along slowly. If it's good enough for AL Rokie of the Year Mike Trout to spend a month or so at Class AAA before being called up, it's good enough for Taveras. It's more important that when he arrives that he is here to stay than it is that he gets here as soon as possible.