With the World Baseball Classic underway, 13 Cardinals from their 40-man roster are away from camp to compete in the WBC.
In Jupiter there’s another competition going. This fray involves a bunch of Cardinals that can benefit from the extra playing time created by WBC-related absences. At stake are spots on the 26-man roster, the composition of the bullpen, and decisions on outfielders.
Let’s take a look at the “Jupiter” Cardinals who are doing positive things and going in the right direction — and those who need to get going and take advantage of the opportunity to shine before the WBC guys return.
Note: All spring-training game statistics cited here were compiled through Wednesday, March 8.
Outfielder Jordan Walker: The 20-year-old tower of power is making a charge to the Opening Day starting lineup by hitting .429 with a .857 slugging percentage and a 1.286 OPS. Six of his 12 hits have gone for extra bases. One oddity: Walker is 0 for 8 against left-handed pitching. But he’s pummeled righthanders for 12 hits in 20 at-bats (.600 average) and all of his doubles (3), homers (3) and RBI (7) ) have come against righties. The organization’s top prospect has homered every 9.3 at-bats and has a reasonable strikeout rate of 17.8 percent.
Outfielder Moises Gomez: The young slugger must start putting the ball in play and hit with authority. So far he’s had only one extra-base hit (a double) and struck out 10 times in 24 plate appearances. His current 41.6 percent strikeout rate will doom his minor chance to make the big club.
Outfielder Dylan Carlson: The challenge? Make a strong case for a starting job. And with Lars Nootbaar and Tyler O’Neill playing in the WBC, Carlson has a terrific opportunity to enhance his status. He’s been dealing with arm fatigue that doesn’t prevent him from swinging a bat. But the 24-year-old switch-hitter has looked good against right-handed pitching and that’s what manager Oli Marmol wants to see. Carlson has five hits in 15 at-bats (.333) when facing righties. The five hits include two home runs and a double, and that’s generated an .875 slugging percentage against the RHP. I don’t think this means much, because Carlson has hammered left-handed pitchers during his time in the majors. But so far this spring Carlson is 0 for 5 with four strikeouts vs. lefties.
Outfielder/DH Juan Yepez: He’s off to a slow start in the Grapefruit League, batting .240 with a .296 onbase percentage, an anemic .304 slugging percentage, and only one extra-base hit (a double) in 23 at-bats. A big-league roster spot could come down to a choice between Yepez and Alec Burleson and Yepez must assert himself.
Outfielder/DH Alec Burleson: He’s been slowed by ankle discomfort. On the positive side, Burleson has drawn four walks in 12 plate appearances to inflate his onbase percentage to .400. On the downside is Burly’s weak .313 slug. It’s time to crank up some power ball.
Second baseman Nolan Gorman: Unless he crashes offensively to the point of causing alarm, the second-year slugger is on the club. But a muscled-up Brendan Donovan is having a potent spring training, slugging .696 and leading the Cardinals with three homers and nine RBIs – and doing so while maintaining a high batting average and onbase percentage. What does that mean for Gorman? He could lose playing time to Donovan at second base. But the Cardinals would prefer to use Donovan as a chess piece, moving around to play at six defensive positions. At this stage of camp, Gorman is up to the challenge. He’s progressed defensively. He’s hitting .286 with a .375 OBP and .571 slug. He’s blasted two homers and driven home five runs. The only concern is familiar: the big fella has a 33.3 percent strikeout rate in the exhibition games.
Catchers Andrew Knizner and Tres Barerra: They’re scrapping to be the backup to starting catcher Willson Contreras. Knizner is 1 for 12 (.083.) Barrera is 1 for 6, but his lone hit went for a home run. For what it’s worth, young catcher Ivan Herrera had three and two walks in nine plate appearances – for a .429 batting average and .556 OBP – before checking out to play for Team Panama in the WBC.
Utility Man Taylor Motter: Does he have a remote chance to win a spot on the Opening Day roster? I highly doubt it – unless the Cardinals continue to carry Paul DeJong. But you never know for sure. Motter is 33 years old. He’s played for six different MLB teams. In 159 big-league games, Motter has a .191 average, .292 OBP and .309 slug. His career OPS+ is 44 percent below league average offensively. But during his career Motter has played at every infield position and the corner outfield spots. He’s having an interesting spring, hitting a homer and leading the Cardinals with five walks to post a .391 OBP.
Infielder Paul DeJong: Only 12 plate appearances so far. But between his double, homer, and three walks DeJong has a .417 OBP and .667 slug for a 1.084 OPS. DeJong has mostly served as a DH this spring as he copes with right arm fatigue. DeJong is protected by his $9 million salary for 2023. The Cardinals don’t want to eat that money by releasing DeJong.
Shortstop Masyn Winn: The No. 2 prospect in the STL organization is a dazzling presence in Jupiter because of a performance that has exceeded all expectations. Winn is batting .389, has a .476 OBP, is slugging .611. A double. A homer. Three stolen bases. Five runs scored. A thrilling brand of defense. This action-packed starring role has prompted discussions about the possibility of Winn leaving camp with a job on the MLB roster. He’ll be 21 later this month and hasn’t played above the Class AA level. I’d be stunned if Winn didn’t begin the season at Triple A Memphis — but he certainly is speeding up the timetable for a promotion to St. Louis. Walker and Winn are special talents.
QUICK NOTES ON BULLPEN CANDIDATES
RHP Drew VerHagen: He’s healthy and that’s the most important thing for now. He hasn’t given up a run or hit in two innings. VerHagen has faced only seven hitters, so we’ll have to wait and see how he’s doing two or three weeks from now.
LH Relievers: Genesis Cabrera made the decision to pitch for the D.R. in the World Baseball Classic. That’s a questionable move for a guy coming off a terrible 2022 season. And he had a 9.33 ERA this spring. Cabrera’s departure will lead to more work for lefties Zack Thompson, Packy Naughton and Anthony Misiewicz.
Thompson has increased his velocity and looks strong. If he stays healthy, he’s a lock for a lefty-shutdown role in the bullpen. In his four innings Thompson has given up two hits without a run and has struck out five of his 14 batters faced. That’s a strikeout rate of 35.7%. … Naughton has been slapped for a 7.36 ERA in 3.2 innings, with opponents getting to him for five hits, two walks and three earned runs … Misiewicz has been tagged for a 6.00 ERA in three innings but has truck out 28.5% percent of batters faced. That’s in line with the nearly 30% strikeout rate that intrigued the Cardinals before they acquired him from Kansas City .
RHP Wilking Rodriguez: The Rule V pickup is throwing between 96 and 98 mph. His velo was the top reason the Cardinals signed him; they wanted to turn up the power pitching in their bullpen. But in his four innings for the Cardinals in exhibition play, Rodriguez posted a disappointing 20% strikeout rate. That should go up. At this point I’d expect him to make the team. If he doesn’t make the team the Cardinals would have to offer him back to the Yankees or acquire him via a trade with the Yanks.
RHP Chris Stratton: His numbers aren’t good so far, but I doubt that it matters. I assume Stratton is all set. The front office and manager Oli Marmol really like him. He’s more durable than most relievers, and can work frequently, and that’s a plus. And it’s also the reason why the Cardinals got him from the Pirates in the deal that put Jose Quintana in the STL rotation.
RHP Dakota Hudson: is he in the mix for a long-relief role in the bullpen, or is he destined to go to Triple A Memphis to build up starter innings? Probably the bullpen. Hudson’s spin rates have improved by quite a bit, and that’s a positive development. He’s allowed only one run in nine innings this spring – but has struck out only one of the 23 batters he’s faced so far. New pitching coach Dusty Blake believes he can help make Hudson a better pitcher – and Hudson enthusiastically agrees. That’s another reason why Dak will likely open the season in St. Louis.
RHP Jake Woodford: Will it be the St. Louis bullpen, or the Memphis rotation? Woodford was outstanding against the “A” quality Yankees lineup this week. In three appearances so far, he’s yielded only five hits and one run in nine innings. Woodford has been outstanding since late in the 2021 season, and I have no idea what this guy must do to earn a sure-thing role with the big club.
LHP Matthew Liberatore: He looked sharp in his only exhibition game to date. He’s gotten better by being more aggressive in attacking hitters with his fastball. Libby is probably Memphis-bound to start the season, but he could earn a prominent role with the Cardinals in 2023.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Fielding Bible, and Baseball Savant.
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.