From Top left Lane Thomas photo by Jeff Curry - Gettyimages, Tyler O'Neil Photo by Baseball America, Harrison Bader photo by Patrick Smith - Gettyimages, Dylan Carlson photo by Chris Kohley - St Louis Post-Dispatch, Austin Dean photo by Jeff Roberson- AP. Justin Williams photo by Bill Greenblat UPI
One of the significant concerns of fans during the off-season was the Cardinals outfield. In particular, the offense output was the sticky point. At the end of 2020, arguably the best offensive effort in the outfield was Dexter Fowler .233/.317/.389 with 4 HR and 15 RBI (although Tyler O'Neill had more Hrs (7). O'Neill and Carlson had more RBIs (19 and 16, respectively). Fowler is gone, sent to Anaheim. Both Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson did end the year on upswings in a closer look, but it was barely noticeable. Hope was fleeting that the youngsters were any good.
Some fans still had hoped for a few of the kids. Most realized that last year was not a good one to base a lasting opinion on. However, many fans I saw wanted the Front Office to improve the outfield situation. While George Springer was seemingly out of the price range that the Cardinals were willing to go. People were suggesting Joc Pederson, Jackie Bradley Jr, or David Dahl. Some were even saying, Bring back Marcel Ozuna or take a chance on Yasiel Puig. Several fans even considered Kyle Schwarber. In the end, it seems the Cardinals are rolling the dice and banking on the youngsters. Many are not sure what that is based on.
So far, in 5 Spring Training games, the birds are 1-2-2. They are scoring a total of 24 runs, including being shut out twice. Early stats from the outfield competition are not instilling much faith. Collectively the main six are hitting just .265/.362/.320 O HRs 2 Doubles, 5RBIs, 5BBs, 20Ks.
The proposed starters O'Neill, Bader, and Carlson are 4-17, 1 double, and 1 RBI. So here is a quick look at what we have so far with the top six candidates based on current performance.
Lane Thomas, in 10 Spring ABs he is hitting .500/.583/.600 with one double and 3 RBIs. He is tied for the team lead in RBIs with John Nogowski and Jose Rondon. He has the most hits on the team (5). He is currently listed as 3rd on the Depth Chart for ALL 3 outfield positions. Thomas has had very few big league ABs, but in 2019 he made the most of it, going .316/.409/.684, 4Hrs, 12RBIs in only 44 plate appearances. His hot start so far could bode well. I think he moves up the depth chart, and some guys should get nervous.
Tyler O'Neill has played sparingly, only three games and 7 ABs. He is sporting a .286 Ba with a .375 OBP. But so far, it has only been singles. Still playing good defense, so I do think Left Field is his to lose. However, unless he gets the thunder in his bat to start up, he may be looking over his shoulder after getting his K-rate down each of the last three years. Early results show it climbing, but hey, it is only 7 ABs so let's give it a little more time.
Austin Dean saw virtually no playing time last year. He saw action in 3 games, getting a double in 4 ABs.
So far this spring, he is stuck in a rut. With a .273/.273/.273 slash, with 5 Ks in 11 at-bats. Career-wise, in his two limited seasons in Miami. He went .223/.268/.388 with 10 HRs and 35 RBIs, and a -1.5 WAR. He did hit well and with power at AAA New Orleans in 2018 and 2019. .326/.397/.475 9 HRs and 52 RBIs with a 15% K-rate in 2018 .337/.401/.635 18HRs 57 RBIs with only an 18% K-rate. in 2019. He has the potential just has not manifested it in the big leagues yet. He is 27, so the window is still open but getting shorter. Unless he can find that AAA magic, he will have a tough go this year at the Big league level.
Harrison Bader has only played in 2 games with 4 ABs. Currently, he is day to day with an elbow/forearm issue. Hitting .250/.400/.500. He does have 1 of the two Extra-Base-Hits by the outfielders. His defense is still excellent; his offense we shall see. At this point, his competition is Lane Thomas, who is making the most of it. Bader Struggled against RH pitching last year .185/.309/.333 but was tagging LH to the tune of .360/.429/.800. If he can't get his hitting against RH pitchers up, he could end up being a platoon player. However, with his defense and speed, that may not be a bad option.
Dylan Carlson, so far, has been starting games in RF(3). Not much to show yet. 167/.375/.167. Like Bader, however, low number of ABs (6). 2020 was not the rookie season that neither he nor the Cardinals had planned. He struggled early, slashing .162/.215/.243 with 1 HR and 5 RBIs, before being sent back to Satellite Camp. When he came back his last 12 games, he went .278/.325/.611 with 2 HRs 11 RBIs. So I look for him to get adjusted pretty quickly and get somewhere near that. I think once he gets re-acclimated to the bigs, He will be fine and the starting Right Fielder; however, you never know.
Justin Williams, Probably having the worst Spring training start of his career. He has appeared in 6 games, all as a reserve. He has one hit in 11 ABs. He also has scored a Run and has driven in one. His slash is pathetic, .091/.231/.091. He is a solid defender; however, what makes him valuable is that he is a Left-Handed bat. Something that the Cards would like coming off the bench. He has hit well in the minor leagues at all levels. IF Williams can get to a respectable average, he might have a shot. But with a short Spring Training schedule, he might be on the bus to the satellite camp. Time will tell the story here.
To sum it up, some concerns about going with youth in the outfield seem to be warranted, particularly in the case of Dean, Bader, and Carlson. However, I think Lane Thomas is making a case for himself. I watched the game today while writing this, and he made TWO very nice catches and showed a good arm in CF. Tyler O'Neill had a couple of good at-bats, showing patience to not swing like a fence gate. Carlson had a hit today, as did Dean. I think O'Neill has Left Field, and that is about it. Thomas is pushing Bader hard in CF, but if Bader comes back and gets his act together, Carlson struggles. Thomas could play RF. Still way too early to make definitive statements. Let's revisit this in about ten days, shall we?
Until then, thanks for reading!