Every baseball player goes into a new season with something to prove. It doesn’t matter if he’s a star. It doesn’t matter if he’s a bench piece. Doesn’t matter if he’s a starting pitcher, a reliever, or a specialist.

I was thinking about this the other day, and decided to come up with a PROVE IT list for the 2023 Cardinals.

THE HITTERS 

Willson Contreras: Show that he’s a better catcher defensively than anticipated. And that he can hit for power at Busch Stadium.

Paul Goldschmidt: Conquer the postseason. In his last 10 postseason games for the Cardinals, Goldy is 5 for 39 for a .128 average, and has struck out in 37 percent of his plate appearances. And the team record in those 10 games is 1-9.

Nolan Gorman: Consistency. In his first 72 big-league games, Gorman slugged .451 with 13 homers. He homered every 18 at-bats, struck out 30.5 percent of the time and performed 21 percent above the league average offensively. But in his final 17 games, the rookie struck out 45 percent of the time, hit one home run in 48 at-bats, and was an alarming 67 percent below league average offensively.

Tommy Edman: Two things: (1) show that he can play shortstop for a high percentage of the season without wearing down. He played 80 games there in 2022. And (2) continue his improvement against right–handed pitching. After two dismal seasons against righties in 2020-2021, Edman finished five percent above league average against them in 2022.

Nolan Arenado: He must come through in the postseason. In three postseason games for the Cardinals — all losses – Arenado is 1 for 12 without an RBI. Including his stats with the Rockies, Arenado is 5 for 35 (.152) with a .385 OPS in eight career postseason games — seven of which were losses.

Brendan Donovan: At the risk of being greedy with this request, how about hitting for more power. Donovan is an outstanding getting-on-base guy but slugged .379 as a rookie and had an expected slug of .365. He ranked in the bottom 25 percent of MLB hitters in average exit velocity and was in the bottom 35% in hard-hit rate.

Tyler O’Neill: Stay healthy. Stay on the field. Last season O’Neill’s busiest month was August when he played in 27 games and had 108 plate appearances. It’s no coincidence that August was also his best month of the season, with O’Neill slugging .462, producing 22 percent above league average offensively, homering every 13 at-bats, and driving home a run every 4.6 at-bats.

Dylan Carlson: Same as O’Neill. Stay healthy. Wrist and thumb injuries depleted Carlson’s power for much of the second half of 2022. Carlson slugged .542 June, then dropped to .385 in July, .337 in August, and .302 during the final month. Carlson, a switch-hitter, must also improve against righthanded pitching. That’s important.

Lars Nootbaar: He has to show that he can get it done over an extended period of time. Once he got the chance to play regularly last season, Nootbaar was 55 percent above league average offensively over from June until the end of August. But then he batted .188 in September-October and was four percent below league average in overall offense.

Juan Yepez: Get back on track. As a rookie Yepez slugged .512 and performed 36 percent above league average offensively. On July 15 he went on the IL with a strained forearm, and things got worse from there. Over the final three months Yepez slugged .330 and performed 40 percent below league average offensively. But he bounced back a bit in September, and hit that memorable pinch-homer in Game 1 of the wild-card series with Philadelphia.

Alec Burleson: Must prove that he can be an effective hitter in the big leagues. Promoted from Triple A Memphis in early September, “Burly” batted .181 in 48 at-bats. That shouldn’t define him, but he’ll have to do better going forward.

Paul DeJong: Prove that he belongs in the majors and isn’t on scholarship just because the Cardinals owe him $9 million in 2023. In 190 games over the last two seasons DeJong batted .182 and was 27 percent below league average offensively. He bottomed out in 2022 with an offensive performance that was 47 percent below league average.

Andrew Knizner: The No. 2 catcher has to clean up his poor pitch framing and other defensive issues. Drafted for his hitting ability, Knizner has a .204 batting average in 553 MLB plate appearances and is 25 percent below league average offensively.

THE PITCHERS

Adam Wainwright: In his final big-league season, the future Cardinal Hall of Famer has to win the bout against Father Time (again) in 2023. Last season there was legitimate slippage in his swing-miss capability, strikeout rate, and a decrease in the effectiveness of his curveball. Waino will be 41 years old on opening day, and 42 years old at the end of the season.

Miles Mikolas: Build on his good work in 2022 when he reestablished his quality and value after pitching only 44.2 total innings over two seasons (2020, 2021) because of injuries. He can become a free agent after the ‘23 campaign.

Jack Flaherty: Rebuild his career and show that he can be fully healthy and consistently imposing. In 2018 and 2019 combined Flaherty started 61 games, threw 347 innings, and performed 35 percent above league average. In the last three seasons he’s started only 32 games, pitched 155 innings and performed only two percent above the league average.

Steven Matz: Deliver a successful do-over season after a troubling 2022. After signing a four-year, $44 million deal as a free agent before the ‘22 season, Matz was limited to 48 innings and because of injuries. One encouraging sign: the lefty Matz posted a career-best 26.1 percent strikeout rate last season, and we all know that the St. Louis rotation is low on strikeout power.

Jordan Montgomery: The tenacious lefthander has to eliminate any lingering concern over his 6.64 ERA in his final four starts of the 2022 season. That was a downer after he pitched to a 1.45 ERA in first seven starts as a Cardinal. The track record tells us that Monty has been an above-average starter in four of his six major-league years. He can become a free agent after the season.

Dakota Hudson: Be more aggressive. Find the strike zone. Earn trust. Fix a flawed sinker that was pounded hard by hitters in 2022.

Matthew Liberatore: The young lefty must show the Cardinals and their fans that the front office knew what it was doing in acquiring him from Tampa Bay for young outfielder Randy Arozarena. That won’t happen unless Liberatore develops a fastball that can rule RH batters. Righty swingers pummeled him last season in his first big-league test.

Andre Pallante: In his second MLB season, Pallante must cultivate a better strikeout-walk ratio. As a rookie in 2022, his K-BB ratio ranked 129th among 140 big-league pitchers that worked a minimum 100 innings last season.

Jake Woodford: He must prove that there’s a meaningful place for him on the 2023 STL staff. But honestly, I don’t know how he does that. In 77 innings of work since Sept. 2021, Woodford has a 2.34 ERA and a 3.03 fielding-independent ERA and still spends a lot of time at Triple A Memphis.

Ryan Helsley: He has to reassure everyone that he can hold up physically and continue to be one of MLB’s top closers in 2023.

Genesis Cabrera: Regroup and return to the impressive form he showcased in 2020 and 2021. Cabrera imploded in 2022, and it was downright ugly.

Jordan Hicks: It’s past time to live up to the hype.

Giovanny Gallegos: Prove that he can be an elite reliever for a fifth consecutive season. Part of that is reclaiming superiority over LH batters. Last season Gallegos was popped for a .441 slugging percentage by lefty hitters.

Zack Thompson: Durability. If the Cardinals plan to use the talented lefty in the bullpen in 2023, his endurance must hold up. As a rookie last year Thompson was excellent but had fatigue issues.

Chris Stratton: Affirm that the Cardinals made the right decision by bringing him back on a one-year, $2.8 deal for 2023.

Packy Naughton: The lefty must prove he’s worthy of a place in the bullpen.

Drew VerHagen: Has to get healthy and stay healthy. He has good stuff … but that didn’t matter because the righthander missed 123 days last season with hip and shoulder injuries.

JoJo Romero: The high-velocity lefty has to give the Cardinals a reason to use him in the majors. Good luck.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link. We’ll have a new Seeing Red for you on Monday, Jan. 16.

All stats are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net, Cots Contracts and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.