Not much can be gleaned about the future of the St. Louis Cardinals based on two spring training games.
But I’m glad for those two games all the same. It’s like having an old friend in town for an overdue visit to suddenly have games on the television. And seeing the sun-kissed field at Roger Dean Chevrolet season makes me eager for my rapidly-approaching annual pilgrimage to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.
We don’t see much of the regulars at this point of the spring. But that’s not such a bad deal when it comes to the Redbirds, which have a strong crop of prospects in the middle to upper minor leagues. It was fun to see infielders Tommy Edman and Edmundo Sosa, catcher Andrew Knizner, outfielders Adolis Garcia and Randy Arozarena plus pitchers Genesis Cabrera, Seth Elledge and Ryan Helsley.
It’s a lot of fun to get a glimpse of the future. But, unfortunately, it appears the view we’re going to get is going to have to tide us over for a while.
While nobody in baseball lights up a radar gun like second-year St. Louis closer Jordan Hicks, Helsley is sure going to try, hitting triple digits on the Roger Dean radar gun in his spring training debut. In his first two innings of work, he struck out three and didn’t allow a hit or a walk. In a regular year, he would make things complicated for the front office with a strong spring. But I fear, especially considering the comments John Mozeliak made during the game, that the team will make decisions based less on merit and more on service time and contractual considerations. Mike Mayers and Chasen Shreve are out of options while the likes of Helsley, Cabrera, Dakota Hudson and even Alex Reyes could be sent to the minor leagues without the risk of losing them to another club. Brett Cecil is going to get every benefit of the doubt because he still has two years left on a big contract, so the team will do everything it can to justify the expenditure and to reclaim some return on its investment.
I would hate to see another situation like last year when the Cardinals stuck with a compromised relief corps for half the season before pulling the plug on underachieving veterans and plugging in some of the kids who possibly should have been on the big league club much earlier. Sam Tuivailala was a guy who was out of options last year, so he made the team until the Cardinals decided he wasn’t the future of the bullpen after all and traded him away. If the Birds would have made the move a month sooner, they might have made the playoffs instead of sitting at home for the third year in a row.
It’s nice that the Cardinals are committed to developing contributors from the farm system. But the team needs to do a better job of evaluating its own talent so the team can decide when it’s time to move on. We seem to see a lot of players who are highly-touted when they’re in Class AA and Class AAA yet, somehow, they can’t seem to make the jump from dominating in the minors to being an impact player in the big leagues. Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk and Tuivailala fit that description. Currently, slugging outfielder Tyler O’Neill seems to be on the bubble for a big league job for some reason. Why? What is there for him to prove in Class AAA Memphis where he crushed 29 homers with a .311 batting average in 64 games. Dexter Fowler has already been awarded the starting right field job, although he badly misplayed a fly ball in the field Sunday while striking out and popping up in two trips to the plate. O’Neill is 10 times the fielder Fowler is and he hammered an impressive opposite field home run against the Washington Nationals.
It was a feel good story that the Redbirds gave Jose Martinez a two-year contract after spending half the winter accepting offers for his services. But, if St. Louis has decided that Martinez is the club’s right-handed bench bat, presuming Fowler and Marcell Ozuna start in the outfield corners and Paul Goldschmidt is playing first base, I don’t see a whole lot of sense in keeping Jedd Gyorko around. The Cardinals seemed intent on keeping Drew Robinson on the big league roster before the Grapefruit League games even started solely because he is left-handed hitter. Neve rmind that he is a .204 hitting left-handed swinger, they desperately wanted a lefty. So if you have Martinez as your righty bench bat and Robinson as a utility player, there aren’t many spots left. Depending if the Birds keep seven or eight relievers, they’ll have four or five bench spots. So, there are those two and the backup catcher plus one or two spots between Gyorko, O’Neill and Yairo Munoz. Gyorko seems to have had a diminishing role with St. Louis during the past two years and one of the reasons was Munoz last year who both out-hit him and showed more defensive versatility.
If the Birds keep Munoz and Gyorko, it probably means that Munoz and Robinson will serve as backups in the outfield. And I would rather see O’Neill get a chance to hone his skills against big league pitchers than spend another year paying Gyorko to take fewer at-bats.