Players most important to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015:
5) Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha (tie). Both these young hurlers could be huge difference makers for the Cardinals in 2015.
Wacha has the ability to to be the Birds' number two starter if he's healthy following a 2014 season interrupted by a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder. He says he's 100 percent healthy as he readies to report to spring training. But this is the sort of thing that could be a chronic, recurring problem over the course of his career. All we can do is wait and see what happens.
Rosenthal lost his gunslinger nerve in 2014 and got himself into trouble despite the fact that he's got exceptional velocity. He needs to trust his stuff and pound the strikezone. otherwise he gets too predictable. That's really bad news for a closer. The Redbirds can't afford to give away games in the ninth inning.
4) Kolten Wong - He had a safety blanket in veteran Mark Ellis last year in Mark Ellis to help ease his transition to the big leages. Ellis bombed and Wong still was sent to the minors. But, after his return, Wong clicked and was at his best when the pressure was the highest -- during the playoffs.
Hopefully his feet are firmly planted in the big leagues, putting an end to the merry go round at second base.
Wong might also be the answer to the question of who will take over as the St. Louis lead-off man. But, no matter where he plays, he needs to help make the batting order consistent and productive from top to bottom.
3) Jason Heyward - Whether it's fair to him or not, Jason Heyward has the responsibility of filling the expectations that were heaped upon late St. Louis prospect Oscar Taveras.
Heyward was projected to have MVP talent when he broke into the big leagues at 20 in 2010. While he's shown the ability to get on base and steal bases at a high percentage, play some of the best defense in baseball among right fielders and had burst of power, Heyward hasn't put it all together yet.
But he could end up being one of the best outfielders landed by the Cardinals in trade since they landed Lou Brock in 1964.
Heyward won't only be counted on to help spark the St. Louis offense in 2014. He needs to prove to the front office that he's worthy of a long term contract so he can fill the cornerstone role that Taveras was supposed to play.
2) Adam Wainwright - One of the top aces in Major League Baseball, Wainwright not only is the guy the Redbirds want on the hill for their most important games. He's a mentor and leader to a starting rotation that has two 23-year-old hurlers in Micheal Wacha and Carlos Martinez.
Wainwright is going to be 34 in August and he's really racked up the mileage on his arm with 468 2/3 innings pitched over the past two years. It showed at the end of the 2014 season and in the playoffs when his velocity was down and his command was very unlike what we've grown to expect from Wainwright.
Hopefully Wainwright is better after getting his elbow scoped over the off-season -- and after some much needed rest. He's the one guy on the St. Louis rotation that just isn't replacable.
1) Yadier Molina - As important as Adam Wainwright is to the Cardinals, Yadier Molina is even more vital because he makes the entire pitching staff better with the way he calls games and guides hurlers through opposing batting orders.
He also is invaluable defensively not only because of his ability to block balls behind the plate but because of his ability to shut down the running game of the opposition.
It will be a big boost to the St. Louis offense if Molina's bat can rebound from a sub par 2014. He hit .283 last year, pretty good for a catcher, but 23 points lower than his second-lowest batting average of the last four seasons. His .333 on base percentage was 20 points lower than the average of his previous seven seasons.