Spring training is a time of expectation and reflection. You look back to last season and think about how much the Cardinals can improve in 2024. Most of the focus will be on pitching performance, and that’s the team’s most important variable. And with that, a more capable defense is a necessity.

The Cardinals have the pieces to put together one of the better offenses in the majors in 2024. The FanGraphs projections have St. Louis scoring an average of 4.81 runs per game, a rate that would make them eighth overall and fourth in the National League.

The Redbirds can score more than that if enough hitters improve, surprise, or slow their inevitable decline. The individuals matter because they’ll form the whole and determine the shape of the St. Louis offense.

I’ve been thinking about their hitters. Doing some reviewing. Assessing  where each player stands in the turn to 2024. Wondering if each guy is capable of doing more. Identifying reasons that can make it possible. And in some cases, I just don’t know.

In no particular order, here are my one-paragraph thoughts on 13 St. Louis hitters that – one way or another – will significantly influence the St. Louis offense in 2024. The abbreviation UT stands for utility player.

C Willson Contreras: First on the list is improved pitch-framing skill. But there’s also this: more production when used at DH. Last season Contreras had 127 plate appearances at designated hitter and hit one home run and slugged .330. When used as a catcher (363 plate appearances) Contreras hit 19 homers and slugged .516. Huge difference. Promising rookie catcher Ivan Herrera is on the big club this season and will likely play two or three times a week. That would mean more DH work for Contreras and he’ll have to provide more offense when he isn’t catching. Were last season’s DH numbers an outlier? Possibly.

RF Jordan Walker: As a 21-year old rookie in 2023, Walker had a rough time playing defense in right field but gradually got better and should improve even more after spending a lot of his offseason working with the acclaimed fielding instructor Jose Oquendo. But let’s talk about the historical prominence of Walker’s hitting. During the expansion era (1961-present) only two St. Louis hitters with at least 400 plate appearances in a season at age 21 or younger have posted a .342 onbase percentage or higher and a .445 slugging percentage or higher: Albert Pujols in 2001, and Jordan Walker in 2023. And the top three OPS+ figures by an age-21 hitter in a season were Pujols in 2021 (157), Ted Simmons in 1971 (114) and Walker in 2023 (114). Minimum 400 plate appearances. Walker had a 47 percent ground ball rate and needs to work on driving more pitches into the air. But he closed the 2023 season with a flourish — batting .286 with a .356 OBP and .470 slug over the final two months. Over that time Walker performed 28 percent above league average offensively.

1B Paul Goldschmidt: His underlying hitting metrics (via Baseball Savant) were outstanding in 2023 but he experienced a significant downturn in the actual results. Compared to 2022, his batting average dropped 49 points, and his slugging percentage decreased by 57 points. Goldy didn’t pull the ball as often and hit more fly balls to right field. That weakened his numbers. When he pulled a fly ball to left field last season he batted .541 with 15 homers. When Goldy hit a fly ball to the opposite field, he had four homers and a .157 batting average.

UT Brendan Donovan: There’s a lot to digest here. Going into 2023, Donovan made changes to hit for more power and had a mixed-bag outcome. Indeed, his slugging percentage jumped 43 points from his rookie year, up to .422. After homering every 78.2 at-bats and finishing with five HR as a rookie, Donovan homered every 29.7 at-bats last season and had 11 HRs last year. He was more aggressive at swinging early in counts, and did more damage when attacking the first pitch, but the new approach reduced his walk rate and onbase percentage. Using park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) Donovan was 28 percent above league average offensively in 2022 but fell to 18 percent above league average in 2023. Donovan is trying to find the right balance between power and onbase percentage. One other note: the left-handed hitting Donovan pulled the ball more frequently in 2023 and that’s how his power surged. As a rookie he hit .289 with four homers when pulling pitches to right. And in 2023, he batted .342 and struck for all 11 of his homers when pulling to right. Smart hitter.

3B Nolan Arenado: Rejuvenation is the word that applies here.  Let’s hope Arenado has fewer problems with back pain in 2024 because that was a factor in his downturn in 2023.  The frustration of losing got to him, so he needs a mental and emotional reset. Last season Arenado’s slugging percentage went down, his ground–ball rate went up, his walk rate decreased, and his strikeout rate increased. His defense was surprisingly inconsistent. What’s required is general improvement across the board. He’ll be 33 years old on April 16 and the 2024 season will tell us a lot about the state of his career. Arenado has four seasons remaining on his current contract and can make a push to ensure his eventual induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

2B/DH Nolan Gorman: In 2023, the left-swinging slugger made progress in his second MLB season with a slugging percentage that increased 45 points from his rookie year. His 27-homer campaign in ‘23 was a blast in the right direction. He also walked at a higher rate which pushed his onbase percentage 28 points higher, to .328. The other positive from last season – and it’s a smallish sample – was Gorman’s encouraging performance versus lefty pitching. He didn’t get much of an opportunity to face them as a rookie. But in 86 plate appearances vs. LHP in 2023, Gorman slugged .480, homered every 18 at-bats, and posted an .840 OPS. He had a .478 slug and .798 OPS against righties. One oddity: in his two seasons Gorman has a .473 slug and .800 OPS at Busch Stadium – and a .436 slug and .743 OPS on the road. As we know, Busch Stadium is more favorable for pitchers than hitters. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gorman go off and do more damage on the road in 2024. Last season only seven regular MLB hitters had a higher barrel-rate percentage than Gorman’s 16.5%. And he won’t turn 24 until May 10.

UT/DH Matt Carpenter: What’s fair to expect from Carpenter in 2024? He’s 38. And if we take away his 2022 batting success inflated by Yankee Stadium, this is what Carpenter averaged in his other four seasons since 2019: a 189 average, .321 onbase percentage, .325 slug and a .646 OPS. Using adjusted OPS, he was collectively 22 percent below league average offensively in the four seasons. Since 2021, eight hitters have made at least 100 plate appearances in a season at age 38. Only one, Justin Turner in 2023, posted an above average OPS+. The other seven collectively posted an OPS+ that was 25 percent below the league average. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

SS Masyn Winn: I’ve covered this before, but it’s worth repeating. After his late-season promotion to the majors last summer, the shortstop was pretty much bad at everything as a hitter in his first month. But in his second month Winn dramatically reduced his chase rate on pitches outside of the strike zone. He had no walks in the first month and 10 walks in the second month – increasing his onbase percentage by 84 points, and cutting his strikeout rate by 7.7 percent. He recognized the need for smarter plate discipline and made the adjustment. This was a very good sign for a 21-year old novice who went against MLB pitchers for the first time.

LF Lars Nootbaar: Given a chance to showcase his talent, Nootbaar’s development kicked in after his first 215 MLB plate appearances. Through July 10 of his 2022 season, Noot had a .206 career batting average and .646 OPS. Since then – in 760 plate appearances – he’s batted .258 with a .370 onbase percentage and .450 slug for an .820 OPS. He’s an exciting player but hasn’t reached his full potential. In 2023 Nootbaar did a good job of raising his onbase percentage but his slugging percentage decreased 30 points from 2022. The best thing for him is avoiding injuries and staying in the lineup to establish more consistency. Good hitter, yes … but can he become a great one?

CF Tommy Edman: He’s impressed with his defense in center field but I just wonder if he’ll hold up physically. He’s aggressive in tracking baseballs, but that leads him to banging into outfield walls and mashing his upper torso into the ground in dives for bloopers and line drives. After graduating from the minors in 2019, Edman had a .283 average and an outstanding .850 OPS in 349 plate appearances. Per wRC+, he was 14 percent above league average offensively in his first year. But since the start of the 2020 season Edman has a .705 OPS and is 10 percent below league average offensively. In that regard the trending arrow is pointing down. Baked into all of that is the switch hitter’s declining performance against right-handed pitching. Edman provides plenty of value with his defense and baserunning. Great dude. His energy is a constant. But at this point is it a stretch to believe Edman will reverse the negative trend and improve offensively?

OF Dylan Carlson: The perplexing center fielder is about to begin his age-25 season. He was a good hitter in 2021, an opinion supported by his 11 homers, 15 doubles and .505 slugging percentage after the All-Star break that year. But the last two seasons have been high on misery and low on positivity. It fell apart for Carlson last year. Compared to his high-mark 2021 number his OPS was down by a glaring 125 points in 2023. After hitting 18 homers in 2021, he managed only 13, combined, over the next two seasons. And his baseball health is an issue. Carlson missed only 10 in-season days in 2021. But since then he’s missed 108 in-season days including 78 in 2023. Carlson needs a season of revival. He can be an important player for the 2024 Cardinals but at some point he has to make it happen. And that’s on him.

RF/LF/1B/DH  Alec Burleson: His bat took a respectable turn after the 2023 All-Star break when he put up a .742 OPS and had a wRC+ that was three percent above average. Nothing dramatic; just progress. But with Matt Carpenter’s return to the Cardinals, Burleson’s likely playing time is uncertain. He’s 25. He’s got time. But in 2024 we don’t know if Burly will spend most of his time hitting, sitting or anchoring the lineup for Triple A Memphis. He can help himself by lowering his chase rate and being more selective about finding pitches to launch for extra bases.

C Ivan Herrera: He’s clearly ready for big-league duty in 2024 and the Cardinals moved on from Andrew Knizner to make the up-and-coming Herrera their No. 2 catcher. Herrera, 23, batted .297 with a .451 OBP and .500 slug last season at Triple A Memphis. In limited time for the Cardinals he showed the ability to draw walks and hit the ball hard. He has defensive upside. It’s not easy to forecast his 2024 because much of that depends on playing time. But he sure is talented.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions and Cot’s Contracts unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.