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Expect the Cardinals to make big changes to this team — and soon

Expect the Cardinals to start making room on the roster for Adolis García, Luke Voit, and several other top prospects.
Expect the Cardinals to start making room on the roster for Adolis García, Luke Voit, and several other top prospects. AP

Are you worried about the St. Louis Cardinals with Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong struggling to hit their weight?

Look no further than the Memphis Redbirds for hope about the future. The Cardinals organization’s top farm club has no less than eight regular players hitting .300 or better including Tyler O’Neill (.432), Max Schrock (.408), Adolis Garcia (.350), Randy Arozarena (.343), Oscar Mercado (.341), Alex Mejia (.303), Patrick Wisdom (.300) and Rangel Ravelo (.300). That’s not counting Luke Voit, who has a cool 1.000 batting average in one plate appearance.

O’Neill has six homers, two doubles and a triple in 44 at bats. Arozarena has six stolen bases in six tries and has worked five walks for a .429 on base percentage. O’Neill could be the homegrown power source St. Louis has been looking for since Albert Pujols departed as a free agent. Shrock and Mercado each have four stolen bases to join Arozarena in giving the Cardinals the possibility of team speed they haven’t seen since Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee were playing.

People have been concerned for the past two years that the Cardinals are wasting the talents of Carson Kelly (batting .182 with one homer and three runs batted in) who stands to wait at least a couple of more years before inheriting the starting catcher’s job from St. Louis stalwart Yadier Molina. But it’s a much bigger concern what the team is going to do with its young outfielders. Fowler is only in the second year of a five-year contract and Pham is under team control for just as long, thanks his tardy establishment as a major leaguer. Ozuna is only under contract for one more year. But he’s probably the outfielder the Birds would least like to part with, a legitimate power hitter who is capable at defending his position and a leader in the clubhouse. If the Cardinals could extend Ozuna’s contract, they’d have to trade Fowler (who has a no-trade clause) and/or Pham to make room for the prospects.

The talent logjam isn’t only limited to hitters. The Cardinals are going to have to find some space for some budding hurlers, too.

We all saw how well stud pitching prospect Jack Flaherty did when he made a major league start in place of then-injured righty Adam Wainwright. He hasn’t missed a beat in Memphis, racking up a 2-0 record with a 2.77 ERA and 16 strikeouts compared to two walks. Fellow starting pitching prospect Dakota Hudson is 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA. John Gant, whose 2017 season was interrupted by injury problems, is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and Daniel Poncedeleon, who suffered a horrific head injury last year when he was hit by a line drive, has incredibly bounced back with a 1-0 record, an 0.82 ERA and 17 strikeouts over two starts that spanned 11 innings.

The Cardinals will almost surely find room for one new pitcher next year when Wainwright’s contract expires. But let’s not forget that Alex Reyes is tabbed for that spot — and he’s not even pitching competitively yet, being held back after elbow ligament surgery last spring. Let’s also not forget that Jordan Hicks jumped over Class AAA Memphis to establish himself in the major league bullpen.

If I had my way, I’d love to see the Cardinals improve the top of their roster while clearing out some of the middle of it to create room for the youngsters. I’d trade bottom of the rotation starters Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Miles Mikolas for a true number one or two hurler at the top of the rotation and Reyes and Flaherty bringing up the rear. Likewise, if the Cardinals could trade Kolten Wong, Fowler, and Matt Carpenter, they could invest the money they saved on a legit young player like Manny Machado in free agency and fill the opened holes with prospects.

It’s not that I am giving up on this season. With a couple of tweaks, the 2018 Birds could be a contender. But changes are coming — and it’s best to be prepared for them.

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