Two weeks to go until Opening Day for the Cardinals.
With the fellers cantering through the final days of spring training, I’ve been thinking about what we’ve seen so far. Reasons to be excited. Reasons to be disappointed. And also understanding that things can change before the Blue Jays and Cardinals begin the regular season at Busch Stadium on March 30. There’s still time for individual Cardinals to make a final push for a roster spot and playing time.
All stats cited here were compiled through Wednesday and do not include Thursday afternoon’s exhibition game against the Astros.
Exciting: Jordan Walker. The rookie outfielder has batted .405 with a 1.135 OPS in 12 games. He’s given the Cardinals every reason to put him on the Opening Day roster.
Disappointing: Paul DeJong. Throwing-related fatigue and back pain have limited the backup shortstop to only six games. In 19 plate appearances DeJong batted a faint .154. But early on he walked six times with two extra-base hits to put up a .421 onbase percentage and .462 slug. But he hasn’t played enough to matter. He’s the object of anger and obsession with the fan base. They want him to be gone. They want shortstop prospect Masyn Winn to be in. The DeJong Drama never ends.
Exciting: Masyn Winn. This dynamic and charismatic shortstop talent turns 21 years in five days. He was putting on quite a show – speed, defense and power – while trying to reschedule his arrival time in the majors. But reality intervened, and Winn has gone 2 for 16 (.125) with six strikeouts in his last six games through Wednesday. Winn’s MLB debut won’t happen right away, and it’s imperative for him to play every day – which likely means Triple A Memphis instead of Double A Springfield. But we could see him later in the season.
Disappointing: Alec Burleson. He’s had 32 at-bats to make his case for a roster spot on the big club. But he isn’t taking advantage of the opportunity, batting only .188 with a .278 onbase percentage and .281 slug. Sure, there’s still time for Burleson to crank it up and make a late charge. If he heats up, the left-handed hitting Burleson can be utilized in three different ways: DH, corner outfield, backup at first base. But if this is truly a competition in spring training – as manager Oli Marmol frequently claims – Burleson hasn’t done nearly enough to win a job. Back to Memphis?
Exciting: Jack Flaherty. I make no bold proclamations here. I won’t cite what Jack did in his 2019 career peak and declare that he’s back! But he looks good. He’s back on a positive track after nearly two seasons lost to injury. Flaherty feels better about himself, and his pitching … and that makes us feel better about his pitching. If he can keep it up, Flaherty can upgrade the starting rotation all by himself. Plus: starters Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz have looked great this spring.
Disappointing: Dylan Carlson. He started strong in exhibition play, highlighted by two home runs and two doubles against right-handed pitching. That was encouraging, because the switch-hitting Carlson has been flummoxed by RH pitching. But after the impressive start Carlson has dropped off, going only 2 for 15 (.133) with five strikeouts in his last five games. Because of his early power display, Carlson does have a .467 slugging percentage this spring. But overall he’s batting .200 with a substandard .273 onbase percentage – with a horrible 33 percent strikeout rate.
Exciting: Lars Nootbaar. He’s batted .368 with a .500 OBP for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic. And his popularity is booming. According to MLB.com, a popular Tokyo ramen shop has put “Nootbaar Noodles” on the menu. And Noot’s pepper-grinder celebration has led to a 15 percent increase in pepper-grinder sales in Japan, with fans shaking them at sports bars while watching the WBC. Nootbaar’s following on Instagram has quadrupled during the WBC.
Disappointing: Moises Gomez. I don’t think he had any real shot to make the big club, but the Cardinals added Gomez to the 40-man roster this past offseason and are obviously intrigued by his raw power. But the outfielder has struck out 16 times in 35 plate appearances for a horrendous 45.7% strikeout rate.
Exciting: Zack Thompson. The lefty reliever is building on his first-year success in 2022 with an impressive performance this spring. Thompson has pitched six scoreless innings and zinged his way to a 27 percent strikeout rate. It seems safe to say Thompson has earned the role of the No. 1 lefty in the bullpen.
Disappointing: Genesis Cabrera. This left-handed reliever appeared in only one WBC game – pitching 1.1 innings – for the Dominican Republic. But was it really worth it for him? The D.R. was eliminated Wednesday night, and now Cabrera returns to Jupiter with something to prove over a short period of time. Is there a second effective lefty for the bullpen? Packy Naughton, JoJo Romero and Steve Misiewicz aren’t getting it done.
Exciting: Tyler O’Neill. I know it’s the WBC, and the pitching can be mediocre, but I’m in favor of any trend that can embolden O’Neill and give him more confidence. O’Neill returns to Jupiter after batting .615 and posting a 1.491 OPS for Team Canada.
Disappointing: Jordan Hicks. He’s an experienced and established big-league reliever, and in most cases I don’t care a lot about those kinds of dudes in spring training. But I’d just like to see Hicks pitch with command and settle into a consistent groove. This spring Hicks has a 5.79 ERA in 4.2 innings – with a terrible walk rate of 17.3 percent.
Exciting: Closer Ryan Helsley. It’s all systems go. He has punched out seven of 15 batters faced for a strikeout rate of 46.6%. He’s been nicked for a .154 batting average and .431 OPS.
Disappointing: The so-called competition to be the No. 2 catcher behind Willson Contreras. If it’s a real competition, then why does Andrew Knizner have 24 plate appearances – compared to only 10 plate appearances for Tres Barrera? Knizner is batting .130. Barrera is hitting .143. But at least Barrera has a homer and has gotten on base at a healthy rate. Unlike Knizner, Barrera isn’t on the 40-man roster … so I think we know how this “competition” will go.
Exciting: Tink Hence. The immensely gifted 20-year-old got his first chance to pitch in an MLB exhibition for the first time and had a 2.70 ERA in 3.1 innings. His only real negative was walking five batters. But Hence also stuck out 26.3% of batters faced and held opponents to a .214 batting average.
Disappointing: Gordon Graceffo and Michael McGreevy. The two prospects are fairly close to making it to the majors. And while we shouldn’t hold the rookie-type jitters against them, it would have been nice to see them pitch well. But in 6.1 combined innings McGreevy and Graceffo were blasted for a 14.21 ERA, 14 hits, four walks and two hit batters.
Exciting: Jake Woodford. He’s been given a long look this spring and is making the best of it. In 12.2 innings Woodford has a 2.84 ERA and limited opponents to a .190 batting average. Woodford will never be a big–gun strikeout pitcher, but his improved slider has resulted in a 23% strikeout rate this spring. He’s locking down a middle-relief role.
Disappointing: Tommy Edman had two hits in 11 at-bats with only one walk in the WBC (.220) for Team Korea. In the grand scheme of things, those stats don’t matter. But Edman was 1 for 5 before departing Jupiter. And now he comes back to Jupiter and will be scrambling to find a rhythm. It’s been a chaotic spring – with little success – for Edman. He’ll be fine, but it may take some time for Edman to sync up offensively.
Exciting: Nolan Gorman. He made adjustments to his swing and approach during the offseason and is doing a better job handling high-heat fastballs. He trained to improve his first-step quickness in the field and is smoother at second base. In 33 plate appearances this spring Gorman has a .286 average, .394 OBP and .500 slug.
Disappointing: Back to Gorman. He’s struck out nine times in 22 plate appearances this month. That’s an alarming strikeout rate of 41 percent. That’s a concern. The challenge continues for the second-year slugger.
Exciting: Brendan Donovan. Take a look at that power! He has a .677 slugging percentage and four home runs in 31 at-bats. And is still getting on base (.350 OBP.)
Disappointing: Juan Yepez. In his 10 games this month, Yepez has batted only .194 with a .219 OBP and .405 slug. And a strikeout rate of 27 percent. We expected more. If this is a competition, Yepez hasn’t jumped ahead of anyone. But Yepez can raise those numbers over the final two weeks to make his bid for a spot in the DH rotation. Yepez can also play first base and occupy land in the corner outfield areas, and Marmol appreciates having a versatile player. The rest is up to Yepez. He’s a bat-first professional hitter. So he’s gotta hit.
Exciting: Reliever Wilking Rodriguez. Powerful arm. And then there’s a healthy Drew Verhagen, who looks like he can take on a meaningful relief role. Lefty pitching prospect Connor Thomas has impressed. Second-year lefty Matthew Liberatore has improved. And then there’s right-handed reliever Guillermo Zuniga. He impressed everyone who saw his fireballing work for Team Colombia in the WBC, striking out six batters in three scoreless innings. I think we’ll be seeing him in the St. Louis bullpen sooner rather than later.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his 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.
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All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
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.