Updated: Mar 9
Spring Training is here, and the lack of activity by the St Louis Cardinals has generated many more questions than answers, but I think the one area where there is little debate is the infield. The Bench, however, is suspect, and there are several possibilities. One thing is for sure, though, barring a trade, look for the Bench to be filled internally.
So, let's start with the Infield.
Paul Goldschmidt 1B via Jeff Robertson AP, Nolan Arenado 3B via Eric Espada Getty Images, Tommy Edman SS/2B via MLB.
The corners are solid with gold gloves and thumpers. At 3B Nolan Arenado .293/.358/.533, with 30 HRs, 103 RBIs. at 1B Paul Goldschmidt .317/.404/.578 with 35HRs, 115 RBIs. Then you have Tommy Edman at SS .265/.324/.400 with 13HRs, and 57 RBIs.
The Second base option.
Nolan Gorman via first sports Jpeg Brendan Donovan via Bill Greenblatt UPI
Second Base is the only real unanswered question, with youngsters Nolan Gorman .226/.300/.420, 14 HRs, 35 RBIs. and Brendan Donovan .281/.394/.379 5 HRs, 45 RBIs. both vying for the position. Donovan is the better defensive player at this point, but when you factor in that, Gorman is still, in many respects learning 2B and is improving.
As for Donovan, with Arendo, Edman, Goldy, and even Noot and O'Neill at the WBC, I see him all over the field. I think, ultimately, they would like Gorman at second and Donovan as an everyday plug-and-play from the Outfield to Designated Hitter. But should Gorman falter, Donovan is more than able to slip right into the Second base role.
So what about the rest of the bench?
Well, at this point, either Gorman, Yepez, or Donovan will ultimately be a bench player, then you will have the backup catcher (at this point, Knizner). This leaves you with only two bench positions available.
The first thing to look at this the elephant in the room,
DeJong has been the target of fans' ire since about 2020. It has increased exponentially in the last two years with his anemic performance at the plate. .197/.284/.390 in 21 and .157/.245/.286 last season. Some of that has come due to injuries, but he has yet to come close to his rookie season in 2017 when he slashed .285/.325/.532 with 25 Home Runs and 65 RBIs, finishing 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting to Cody Bellinger. DeJong is in the final year of his contract at 9 million dollars. And there are two team options on the table in 2024, $12.5 Million, and in 2025, $15 Million. DeJong is only 29 and still plays above-average defense. At the Winter Meetings, President of baseball operations John Mozeliak stated that Tommy Edman IS the SS but that DeJong would get every opportunity to earn a spot. At this point, that, to me, is the bench.
Juan Yepez, bench or DH?
Yepez was part of the Matt Adams trade in 2017. He was signed by the Braves when he was 17(2015). The one thing that Yepez can do and do well is hit and hit for power. Yepez has been attracting attention in the last couple of years. He has always put up a good average with some pop, but in 2021 he started popping some eyes.
In 2021 between Memphis and Springfield, he hit .286/.383/.586, 27 Home Runs 77 RBIs. He was impressive enough. that he was put on the Major League playoff roster. He played in the Arizona fall league, where he was named co-hitter of the year, going .302/.388/.640, with 7 Home Runs and 26 RBIs in 103 ABs now if you figure that between Springfield, Memphis, and the Fall League, he hit .289/.383/.596 with 34 HRs. and 104 RBIs.
In Memphis this past season, he continued to rake .277/.341/.580 with 16 Home Runs and 53 RBIs.
In his first 100 plate appearances in St Louis, he hit .278/.340/.456, 4 HRs, and 8 RBIs. He did have some struggles in July and got hurt, but he came back with a good September to finish with a .253/.296/.477, 12 HRs 30 RBIs. so between Memphis and St. Louis, he went .263/.317/.503, with 28 Hrs, and 83 RBIs. I think, ultimately think, he will be the primary DH and be the backup for Goldy at 1B
An Outfield option: Alec Burleson
Burleson was drafted by the Cardinals in 2020 from east Carolina University as an Of/1B, playing mostly the corner positions. In three years for East Carolina, he hit .341/.387/.496 with 12 dingers and 91 RBIs, as well as a 9.6% Strikeout rate (he was also 13-5 as a pitcher).
In 2021 he went through Peoria, Springfield, and Memphis all in one year. Going a combined .270/.329/.454 and slugging 22 Home Runs with 76 RBIs.
At AAA Memphis last year, Burleson had his best season going .331/.372/.532 with 20 Home Runs and 87 RBIs. He also had 25 doubles and still sported a low 15.5% strikeout rate. He only played 16 games for the Cardinals last year, so putting anything into his .188/.264/.271 would be unfair. This spring, he should get plenty of opportunity to show his wares, and if Jordan Walker does not make the team, Burleson could be in the 4th Outfielder/DH mix.
The SS Phenom
In the last few years, the Cardinals have had some highly touted prospects rise through the rank many that I have already mentioned. But I think I can safely say that I haven't seen this much excitement for a SS prospect since Gary Templeton.
Winn was drafted by St Louis in 2020 and, like many players, of course, did not have any season in 2020. He put up modest numbers in 2021 in A and AA. .242/.324/.356, 5 HRs and 44 RBIs, and 32 Stolen Bases.
This past year playing for Peoria and Springfield, he .283/.364/.468, 12 HRs 68 RBIs, and 43 Stolen Bases. Like Donovan and Yepez last year, he had a really good Arizona Fall League .294/.407/.353, 1 HR, 9 RBIs, and 9 SB in 68 ABs. With Edman in the WBC, Winn will get the opportunity to show what he can do. I don't think Winn will be coming north with the Redbirds, but you never know. He can also play third, being a former pitcher. He has very good arm strength.
Would it surprise me if he makes the cut? No, not really, but I would think they would want to get him regular ABs Which I doubt would happen in St Louis.
There are three other outliers who, if they don't make the bench, could very well have passes for the Memphis shuttle.
Jose Fermin via Adam Carins- Columbus dispatch Oscar Mercado via Scott Rovak- USA Today Moises Gomez via Paul Halfacre- STL Post Dispatch
Jose Fermin was traded to the Cardinals from the Cleveland Guardians in exchange for cash considerations and placed him directly on the 40-man roster. He has spent 6 years in the Cleveland organization. He was signed when he was 17 and played in the Dominican Summer League. He spent last year at AAA Columbus. where his numbers weren't so good.215/.336/.322 with 8 Home Runs and 31 RBIs. He can play 2B, 3B, and SS, although he is pretty much an average defender, and he is only 23, so there is still room to improve, and The redbirds may be hoping for a breakout year. It seems at this point that will have to come in AAA.
Oscar Merchado is a name that should be familiar to most Cardinal fans. Initially drafted by the Cardinals in 2013. He was traded to Cleveland in 2018 for John Tores(minors Palm Beach), and Conner Capel was selected off waivers by the Oakland A's. after going back and forth between the guardians and Phillies, he opted for Free Agency and signed with St Louis November 18, 2022. In his first year with Cleveland, he hit .269/..318/.443 15 Home Runs and 54 RBIs. He was slowed by a wrist injury in 2021 and never seemed to get on track in 2022. If he is fully healthy, he could be in the mix for the 4th Outfield spot. Allowing the team to get hot prospects Burelson and Gomez more regular playing time, albeit at AAA.
Moises Gomez, the power-hitting Outfield prospect who slugged 39 Home Runs between AA Springfield and AAA Memphis to lead ALL of the minor leagues in Home Runs in 2022. Gomez was claimed off of waiver from Tampa Bay on November 7, 2022. Along with his 39 Home Runs last year, Gomez slashed .294/.371/.624 and drove in 94 runs. His Strikeout rate is high at 39%. Defensively he is a slightly above-average defender. If he can get the strikeout rate down, he could make the team as a bench bat/RH DH IF Yepez somehow doesn't make the squad.
I think with all of the variables, and it really will come down to who performs best this Spring. Even Knizner is not a true lock to be the backup catcher. If I had to guess right now, I would say Gorman will be at 2B, and Yepez will be the primary DH. this would leave a bench of Knizner, Donovan, Burleson, and DeJong. Donovan will play almost every day as the super utility guy, and Burleson will be your LH DH/4th Outfielder.
Again much could change if Jordan Walker makes the team as John Mozeliak said recently. IF Walker breaks camp with the team, he WILL be the starting LF, which would presumably make Nootbaar your 4th Outfielder and put Burleson back at Memphis. Right or wrong, I think the backup infield position is DeJong's too loose at this point due to the contract.
Whatever happens, it should be fun watching it unfold this spring. So until next time, see you soon, and don't forget to check out my podcast, Talking Sports on the Bleachers. It can be found on Google podcasts, apple podcasts, and Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Bye for now.