The Cardinals will be leaving the summery weather of Jupiter to head back to their Midwest home for the regular-season opener at Busch Stadium on March 30. And this ritual transfer is happening fast, with only 17 days between now and Game 1 of the 2023 season.

Questions. We all have questions. And more questions will pop up between now and Opening Day. I have questions of my own …

1) What are the most interesting developments in spring training?

Three things on my list:

The booming presence of top prospect Jordan Walker and his big push for a spot on the opening-day roster. This is easily the most excitement surrounding a prospect since the rookie Albert Pujols in the 2001 camp. And yes, I think Walker will be starting in an outfield corner spot when the Cardinals launch the regular season. It’s not a lock. But through the weekend, Walker led all qualifying MLB players in slugging and OPS. And if he finishes strong, he’ll clinch the roster spot.

The spirited competition for a place, and meaningful playing time, in the outfield. More on that later.

Manager Oli Marmol’s attempt to expand on the team’s position-player flexibility. Latest example: using second baseman Nolan Gorman at third base, his original position. Marmol wants to have as many options as possible.

“This is where Gorman’s versatility is actually really nice,” Marmol told The Athletic late last week. “You can DH (Nolan Arenado), you can move Gorman to third, you can have Donovan at third. I’m not married to one way of doing it. I haven’t been, and I’ll probably stay that way.”

2) What’s been the best part of spring training?

Just seeing all of the young talent on display. Walker, shortstop Masyn Winn, a promising crew of developing arms, and the collection of second-year MLB players such as Gorman, Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez. The Cardinals are in good shape for the future.

3. Primary concern?

Starting pitching. Always the starting pitching. There isn’t a No. 1 starter. That’s old news. From a performance standpoint, the top concern is Adam Wainwright’s diminished velocity. The real answers for Wainwright and the other rotation members won’t materialize until the Cardinals get into their regular-season schedule for six weeks, or two months, of games. For now, and good pitching health permitting, the planned rotation has the potential to pocket more strikeouts. Over the past two seasons St. Louis starters ranked 28th in MLB with a 18.4 percent strikeout rate. But Steven Matz, Jordan Montgomery and a healthy Jack Flaherty (crossed fingers) have the ability to ratchet up the strikeout percentage.

4. The horse race in the outfield: how’s that looking?

The outfield talent pool includes Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Jordan Walker, Juan Yepez, Alec Burleson, Moises Gomez and super-utility dude Brendan Donovan. But Donovan isn’t cast as an outfield regular; he’s a six-position contributor. If Walker makes the big club, that’s four outfield regulars – the others being Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill. There’s enough at-bats to keep four outfielders in service — but what about a fifth outfielder?

Gomez hasn’t done enough to warrant serious consideration. If the the Cardinals want to go with a fifth outfielder who can also DH, that decision likely comes down to Yepez vs. Burleson. Yepez may have a slight edge because he can be used as a DH, corner outfielder, and corner infielder.

5. How is the bullpen shaping up?

The Cardinals have plenty of right-handed bullpen depth to rely on. It would be nice to see Jordan Hicks get grooved in. (Hardly a new thought.) The healthy form of Drew VerHagen is impressive; we’re seeing why the front office pursued him as a free agent before the 2021 season. The Cardinals will have some difficult choices to make in setting the opening-day bullpen, but there will be plenty of relief to go around. Last season the Cardinals had 11 right-handed relievers pitch at least 10 innings – with nine topping 20 IP. But to begin the season, how many lefties will reside in the STL bullpen? Zack Thompson is the one sure thing, but will Marmol want a second lefty for added protection? Possibilities for a second LH reliever include Genesis Cabrera, Packy Naughton, Anthony Misiewicz and JoJo Romero.

6. What will the front office do with Paul DeJong?

The backup shortstop has drawn six walks this spring, with a double and a homer. So give DeJong credit for his 421 onbase percentage and .883 OPS through Sunday. But we’re only talking about 19 plate appearances for Pauly so far. The recent trend isn’t helpful; DeJong has gone 1 for 10 in March. But the front office is committed to Tommy Edman as the starting shortstop and isn’t ready to promote Masyn Winn from Double to the minors – perhaps they will later, but not now.

The Cardinals could go with Edman at shortstop and Gorman at second base, and have Donovan there as the starter or backup at both positions.

Here’s another way to put it: If DeJong is excluded from the alignment, the Cards still would have enough versatility to fill several infield areas:

Second Base: Gorman, Edman, Donovan.

Third Base: Nolan Arenado, Gorman, Donovan, Edmonds.

Shortstop: Edman and Donovan.

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, Donovan and Juan Yepez.

Donovan plays pretty well defensively overall, but shortstop is probably his weakest position. At this point, I’m thinking the front office will still wait this out and hope for a DeJong turnaround. But they do have the pieces for a new arrangement. The straightest line would Edman sliding back to second base, Winn taking over at shortstop, and Gorman becoming the DH against right–handed starting pitching. But the front office doesn’t appear to be ready to relegate Gorman to full-time DH status at age 23.

7. Wait. Isn’t Masyn Winn better than DeJong?

Yes. He could be the starting shortstop by early in 2023. But Winn, almost 21, has played only 86 games above the Class A level, and has no games at Triple A. Some extra developmental time could benefit him. Financial considerations are part of this equation.

DeJong is owed $9 million this season, and I’d be surprised if the Cardinals cut ties with him before the regular season, or early in the regular season. Management obviously prefers to salvage its investment in Pauly instead of flushing that $9 million guaranteed down the toilet. But that could happen later on. The Cardinals have done it before, paying the $6 million they owed to shortstop Jhonny Peralta on June 13, 2017 to terminate the final months of his four-year, $53 million deal.

A similar move with DeJong would open a spot for Wynn, but management’s track record tells us something: the Cardinals won’t promote a promising prospect to the bigs unless they’re committed to playing him full-time, or close to it. There’s a way to have Winn on the roster before the All-Star break. But do the Cardinals have the will to do it?

8. How are the pitchers adjusting to new starting catcher Willson Contreras?

All signs and indicators are positive, but it’s early in the pitcher-catcher relationship process. It isn’t easy to adapt when you are used to pitching to the living baseball monument named Yadier Molina. But the Cardinals see how hard Contreras works and competes. They see how he’s taken the initiative to learn about them, and get on the same page. They’re impressed by his intensity and guard-dog nature. (Opponents shouldn’t try to mess with this guy.) This is a favorable situation. Contreras was stung by the anonymous whispers of criticism from Chicago about his catching, and he’s determined to set everything right.

10. How is everyone adjusting to the rules changes including the pitch clock for both pitchers and hitters, and the prohibition of extreme defensive shifts? 

Save for the relatively few expected glitches as the players adapt, there doesn’t seem to be any real problems. Not yet, anyway. One thing to monitor when reliever Giovanny Gallegos returns from the WBC is how he’ll progress with the shorter time between pitches.

Thanks for reading …


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 or the 590 app.

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All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference and Stathead.