The Cardinals roster was cut to 26 with four outfielders on it. Two were no surprise, and two played their way on. One of the early favorites was sent down, and one is on the IL, and two infielders could see time on the outfield lawn.
THE INJURY - Harrison Bader
The injury initially showed up in early March as Bader was struggling. Explained as soreness, the tendon has been checked and structurally intact, So surgery is not needed. They did give him a Platelet Rich Plasma injection last week in an attempt to promote healing. The Cardinals announced he would be on the IL to start the season. Bader was hitting. 107/.167/.143, 0 HR, 1 RBI. With Bader going to the IL, it opened up an excellent opportunity for guys like Williams, Dean, and other roster hopefuls.
NO SURPRISE HERE
The first two outfield assignments were pretty much a given, but both have proved their worth.
LEFT FIELD - Tyler O'Neill
Yes, this was obvious from last year, and the fact that the Cardinals made no outfield moves in the off-season. It was pretty much his job to lose. This Spring, he led ALL outfielders with a slash .356/.383/556 and RBIs with 10. (1 behind team leader John Nogowski), Second on the team in hits with 16. His K-rate was 28.8%. Slightly higher than last season's 27.4%. While batting order has not been set in stone and may be revised as the year goes along. I think either a 5 or 6 slot may be where he winds up even if he drops to 7. That is still a lot of raw potential power in the back half of the line-up.
CENTER FIELD - Dylan Carlson
Dylan had a slow start to spring but heated up to meet the expectation of a starting spot. Centerfield is the most likely spot with the injury to Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas to extended Spring training or taxi squad. Carlson put up a decent slash of .239/.327/.415, 2 Hrs, 8 RBIs. It was pretty much the conclusion that unless he fell apart that Carlson would make the club. He is one of the most highly touted rookies to come up since Pujols. Like O'Neill, where he hits is still a mystery. Most fans would like to see him in the #2 slot behind Tommy Edman. (count me in that group) Shildt would be wise to give Carlson the type of protection with Goldschmidt and Arenado going 3-4. So far the manager hasn't asked me my opinion on the subject.
THE SURPRISE SELECTIONS
Many fans did not consider the other two outfielders named as having much hope, so in effect, they are surprises by definition. I also see this as a possible platoon situation.
RIGHT FIELD / LH BENCH BAT /PLATOON- Justin Williams.
The departure of Kolten Wong, Dexter Fowler, Brad Miller, and Matt Wieters from the 2020 squad left Tommy Edman, Matt Carpenter, and Dylan Carlson on the left side plate. I do think the Cardinals were looking for an LH bat. The 6 Non-Roster Invitee outfielders were all Left-Hand hitters. Williams had a slow start but caught a little fire and pushed himself into the mix even before the Bader's injury. Williams slash does not look impressive (.229/.308/.343, 1 HR, 4 RBIs.) He has limited power, and he is a slight pull hitter but does hit to all fields. I think, however, we will see them rise with a steady amount of playing time, with Only 7 MLB PAs in two years. He does display a good outfield presence and has an average to slightly above-average arm. So you could consider him a defensive upgrade.
RIGHT FIELD / PLATOON - Austin Dean
Dean was having some early issues, but like Williams, he seemed to find another gear and made the coaching staff take notice. posting a .397/.341/.432 1 HR 7 RBIs. We could see a Dean/Williams RF situation depending on opposing pitching. Dean also has some pop in his bat (10 HRs in 318 PA for Miami 2018,2019) More of a straightaway CF hitter but can go to any field. Defensively he is no Harrison Bader, but he is about average. He is not extremely fast, but he is a good base runner. He could also find himself as the DH at times.
OTHERS WHO CAN HELP
As we have seen with Edman, Carp, and others. Some can play in more than one position. The Cardinals think they have a guy like that in John Nogowski.
A SECOND POSITION COMES IN HANDY
John Nogowski is the First Baseman by trade. So you would not think he would make the roster with Paul Goldschmidt on the roster. However, his surge is hitting .333/.477/.515 with 2 HRs and 12 RBIs 9 BB and 3 SO in only 44 PA. This put in the category of; need to find a spot for this guy. Obviously, to make effective use of his bat Pinch Hitting and the occasional spot start would not be enough. So they are trying him in corner outfield spots, most notably LH, as a backup to Tyler O'Neill. If this works out and Nogowski can carry his spring numbers forward, he could be an effective weapon to have.
Tommy Edman - As mentioned Before, Tommy Edman is no stranger to playing more than one position as he has done the last two years playing multiple positions in the infield and outfield. He is slotted as the starting second baseman after the departure of Kolten Wong. He could be pressed into the outfield in a late-inning switch or to give someone a day off. I don't see any more than that. With the Taxi Squad and the alternate training site being in play until May, Quick replacements for injured or Non-performing outfielders will be close at hand. He has had an outstanding spring .378/.404/.422
ROSTER CUT - Lane Thomas
In a somewhat surprise move, Lane Thomas (once considered the favorite to make the roster). It was cut to make room for presumably either Austin Dean or Justin Williams. Early on, he was making a good case for himself. . In the early games of the Spring, he was hitting and playing the outfield very well. Then both attributes seemed to leave while his hitting suffered, so did his fielding, looking almost unsure at times. His numbers are low .212/.250/.273 0 HRs and 5 RBIs. The alarming figure, however, is his strikeouts, 13 in just 36 PAs. I don't think that the team has given up on him, as some have suggested. He has been assigned to the Taxi Squad, Which will travel with the team on road trips. So he could be back on the roster very soon.
TO SUM IT ALL UP.
The lack of off-season outfield moves signaled that the Cardinals thought they had the internal pieces to fit the puzzle. I, for one, was excited about this, Not that signing a proven veteran would have upset me. I have long held that Tyler O'Neill has not been given a fair opportunity to show what he can do. I felt the same about Lane Thomas with his first two years. The craziness of 2019 covid baseball hampered Dylan Carlson's first year. I wanted to see if Bader could become his rookie self again.
When Bader comes back, a different set of questions may have to be asked.
That's my take
Talk to ya soon
Player Photos - Tyler O'Neill by Call to the pen .com, Dylan Carlson by Chris Kohley - St Louis Post dispatch, Justin Williams by Chris Kohley - St Louis Post dispatch, Austin Dean by Jeff Roberson AP, John Nogowski by Sam Navarro USA TODAY, Tommy Edman by Getty Jpeg, Lane Thomas by Jeff Curry Getty images, Harrison Bader by Patrick Smith Getty images.