UCB Roundtable: Spring Training Intrigue

Baseball is upon us! With pitchers and catchers beginning their workouts at the facilities spread across Florida and Arizona, Spring truly has sprung. With the start of any Spring Training, there is a fair amount of intrigue. The 2020 St. Louis Cardinals are no different, as they have many questions to be answered (hopefully) over the next month and half. And so we turn to our UCB roster to find out what has them intrigued — and what surprises they think we’ll see — as the new camp opens.

Question 1: What are you most intrigued by — or interested to watch — this Spring?

Nicholas Childress (Birds on the Black):

For sure the young prospects. I’m really excited to see Carlson, obviously, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Liberatore and Gorman against MLB talent. Seeing who steps up early is always the fun part, and I personally would love to see Carlson step up and make it difficult for the Major League team to send him down after Spring Training. I’d also like to see Edman get off to a hot start, but he’s going to get his shot anyway after the success he had last year. Either way, I’m just excited to have baseball back.

Jon Doble (Redbird Dugout):

While I’m happy that the Cardinals finally opening things up to let the young guys get an opportunity — something I’ve been arguing they should do for years — I’m most interested to watch how the rotation sorts itself out.

Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas are assumed to be locked in. Adam Wainwright is likely there in pencil, with a name that has been traced over a few times. That leaves Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez, and Kwang Hyun Kim competing for two spots, and I want to see all three in the rotation.

Hudson’s fielding independent numbers scream “luck” to a lot of people, but I like to think that the pitcher has some control over the quality of contact he produces and I generally see a move of him to the bullpen as a complete waste of talent. Martinez is not that far removed from being one of the Top-15 starting pitchers in baseball. And Kim had interest to come stateside years ago, and has seemingly cured the biggest knock against him at the time, his control.

Doug V (Baseball Geek in Galveston – Cards Conclave):

How legit is Carlos Martinez as the closer? And is he being wasted in that role?

Will Harrison Bader back up his starting CF statement?

Rusty Groppel (Bird Law – Cards Conclave):

There are really three things that I want to watch closely: the rotation, young outfielders, and Matt Carpenter.

With the rotation, I want to see if Wainwright looks at all like the pitcher we saw down the stretch in 2019 — though getting a feel for that in spring games is tough. Mostly, I want to see how Carlos does ramping up his pitch count. I’ve been bullish on him returning to the rotation and, if he does, the Flaherty/Martinez 1-2 could rival almost any team.

With outfielders, I mostly want to see how it plays out. I think there is enough potential and upside in the pool that someone is bound to pan out. I just want to see which one steps forward. It could be a surprise candidate, like Justin Williams, or just Carlson staking his claim. Candidly, I’m pulling for O’Neill to break out.

And finally, Carpenter. I believe that a composite of outfielders can at least match (if not exceed) Ozuna’s production, but it will be the rebound of Carpenter that can provide the offensive improvement that the team needs. I’m bullish that the rebound will occur. I’d like to see the team hit the gas with him this spring. Between minor injuries and slow-playing his workload, he has averaged just 31 plate appearances over the last 3 springs. Last year, fellow regulars Goldy, DeJong, and Fowler received 57, 54, and 52 PA’s, respectively. I want to see Carpenter get those reps, both by being healthy enough to do so and by the team not handling him delicately, or thinking they have to. A busy spring may help stave off the slow starts that have plagued him the last 3 years. Spring numbers don’t mean much, but a .172/.292/.483 (3 of 5 hits were HR’s) slash line — as he posted last  year — would be pretty discouraging.

Mary Clausen (MLB Voice):

Mike Shildt — to watch how he continues to mold our Redbirds into World Champions! Shildty’s a joy to follow!

Colin Garner (Prospect Preacher – Cards Conclave):

The health of Carlos Martinez and Matt Carpenter.

I’ll start with Martinez. Anyone who has followed the Cardinals since Martinez debuted in 2013 is aware of his potential. His still has the best stuff of any pitcher on the Cardinals roster (yes, better even than Jack Flaherty) but has been limited to just 18 starts since 2017 due to recurring shoulder issues. Martinez claimed at the Winter Warm-Up that he was “100%.” The Cardinals, to their credit, aren’t guartanteeing anything; the organizational talking point has pretty clearly been that carlos will have the opportunity to ‘compete’ for a spot in the rotation. Last year, it was obvious that Martinez wasn’t ready to start before the first Grapefruit League game, and I suspect we’ll see early indicators this year as well. If Martinez’s bullpens are pushed back or he isn’t able to make a scheduled start, the Cardinals rotation could get awfully thin, awfully quickly.

Matt Carpenter enters Spring Training 2020 in a similar situation to what Dexter Fowler was in just twelve months ago. He had a career-worst K%, AVG, OBP, SLG, and wRC+. Like Fowler last season, the Cardinals attributed some of Carpenter’s decline to a loss in strength, in part because of his focus to limit recurring back injuries during his offseason training heading into 2019. This year, he has focused on regaining that lost strength, and has said he wants to get back to being an all-fields, line-drive hitter. It’ll be harder to get a read on Matt Carpenter than Carlos Martinez, but it’s pretty clear the organization is counting on both to bounce back after the quietest offseason in recent memory.

Josey Curtis (Viva el Birdos):

I’m very interested to see what’s in store for Tommy Edman. With Ozuna gone, there is an outfield spot up for grabs. Outside of the outfield spot, the one position that’s not “for sure” locked up is third base. We know how Matt Carpenter’s health and performance have been in recent years; if the team is serious about winning, Carpenter will not continue to play daily if he is not hitting. All points considered, Edman just might sneak his way into a daily job if he has a hot spring — either in left or at the hot corner.

Adam Butler (Bird Law – Cards Conclave):

My answer is pretty similar to Colin’s. I definitely think the most impactful thing that we’ll find out this spring is whether Carlos Martinez is ready to move back to the rotation or not. I’m not overly concerned with how he looks on the mound, since he’s always been effective when healthy throughout his entire career. I just want to hear positive things about how he’s recovering from his outings and see him build his pitch countup to at least 80 or so by the time they break camp. In my opinion, Carlos is the difference between the Cardinals having a solid rotation and a great one.

With Carpenter, I won’t exactly be looking for results, either. I just need to know that he’s hitting the ball hard like he always had prior to last season. Roger Dean Stadium is such a tough place to hit between the size of the park and the way the wind whips through there. With that kind of environment, it doesn’t make much sense to judge how he’s doing based on 50 or so plate appearances. If we start hearing things through the media about the team being encouraged by how he’s striking the ball, similar to how they did with Fowler last spring, that will be enough for me to be optimistic about his 2020 season.

Josh Gilliam (Prospect Preacher – Cards Conclave):

Crazy to think how close not only Spring games are, but the ones that actually count as well!

For me, that quickness or speed of the game, if you will, has to be the most fascination item on the agenda.

Dylan Carlson, back in 2017, was not even a Top 15 prospect for St. Louis, and now finds himself squarely in the conversation with some of the best outfield names yet to break into the majors. How the Cardinals utilize him this spring will tell me how serious they are about letting the young guns have a say in repeating for the NL Central crown.

Daniel Shoptaw (C70 at the Bat – Cards Conclave):

I think seeing usage patterns will be interesting, especially as we get closer to the midpoint of the spring. Who stays in camp longer than they should, etc.

Brian Swope (N the Zone):

To me, the greatest question is whether or not we see an offense that actually can improve internally. That means letting the best player play regardless of contract, veteran status, etc. If the team truly is committed to an internal turnaround, I want to see how it affects playing time and whether or not they actually put the best players on the field.

 

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Question 2: Who (or what) do you think will be the biggest surprise this spring?

Nicholas Childress (Birds on the Black):

I’m all aboard the Kwang-Hyun Kim hype train. I think KK comes out and shows us why the Cardinals reached out and snagged him. On the other hand, I totally think he could pull a Mikolas and look lost during his first spring training, but I have a good amount of faith that he’ll be solid for us this season. the Cardinals always seem to pull that one guy out of thin air who surprises us, and I think that’s KK in 2020.

The player I WANT to surprise us the most is Matt Carpenter. He doesn’t have to hit bombs or do anything flashy (not that he’s all that flashy in the first place), i just want him to consistently make contact with the ball without whiffing so hopelessly. Since he’s older and is a fairly proven player, he may not get that many ST reps, but if they decide to throw him out there, I hope he’s consistent.

Also, really scared that Edman might catch Aledmys Diaz syndrome (surprisingly good 1st year, disappointingly bad 2nd year), but I don’t want to discuss that kind of surprise.

Jon Doble (Redbird Dugout):

I’m going to go unpopular answer. I think Brett Cecil might be the biggest surprise of spring training. He hasn’t pitched in awhile, but I’ve generally come to the opinion that players generally don’t just lose the ability to play, they’re often hurt and just not dealing with it the way they should. I think Cecil qualifies there.

He had great numbers when healthy in Toronto. His first season in St. Louis had some troubles, but far more good than bad. You take out his worst 3 appearances that year and he had a 2.32 ERA in his other 70(!). His last year on the mound was terrible, that was a bit of Stephen Piscotty syndrome going on, I think, with off the field issues preoccupying him.

If he’s finally healthy, I think he has the ability to surprise a lot of us this year.

Rusty Groppel (Bird Law – Cards Conclave):

Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I want to say that Tyler O’Neill cementing himself as the LF and 5 hitter will be the pleasant surprise, but he had a great spring last year — so tearing up Roger Dean won’t be shocking — and actually solidifying his role will stretch into the regular season.

I’m also not giving enough credit to Lane Thomas, who could be Mr. Steal Your Job this spring. How fun would Thomas and Bader in the same OF be, defensively?

Guys, Ryan Helsley might just wind up as the closer on Opening Day. (Call for the curve and change-up, Yadi!!!!)

And finally, Alex Reyes. Healthy. Good. Alex. Reyes. The year that we have all essentially given up on counting on him — or really even considering him as a possible contributor — seems like the year he will finally get to do something. Put me down as believing a normal offseason will go a long way. Hit me baby, one more time.

Mary Clausen (MLB Voice):

Kwang-Hyun Kim! C-Mart is kinda questionable and I’m looking forward to seeing what this guy has! I have good feelings about the Korean pitcher that joined us in December!

Adam Butler (Bird Law – Cards Conclave):

I’m going to say that the biggest surprise this spring will be Griffin Roberts. He’s lost a bit of his prospect luster since he was drafted between the marijuana suspension and just not putting up great number in the minor leagues. What he does have, though, is a slider that is major league ready. I think if we see him in 1-2 inning appearances this spring he will really open some eyes with that pitch. I imagine his home will ultimately be in the bullpen with the major league team, and it would not surprise me to see him force his way onto the roster when they break camp. I think he will at least put himself in line for an early season call up. A pitcher with that type of swing and miss potential is a beautiful thing to be able to add to your bullpen as some pitchers tire out.

Josh Gilliam (Prospect Preacher – Cards Conclave):

My favorite question of the roundtable always centers around the surprise of Spring. For me, honestly, it will be a certain outfielder who locks down CF.

Harrison Bader finally takes to a message from one of the hitting coaches and literally runs with the job. Not sure he ever becomes a top of the order hitter, but not having to worry about at least one spot on the grass makes all the difference!

Daniel Shoptaw (C70 at the Bat – Cards Conclave):

I’ll say the biggest surprise will be that Alex Reyes looks ready to go and is effective in spring. I don’t know if that’d be enough for them to take him north, but given all the time he’s missed, they might not want to risk injury in Memphis.

The other big surprise will be if Mo actually trades off some of these guys, like Ponce de Leon, that don’t look like they’ll make the roster.

Eugene Tierney (Nyrdcast):

Brad Miller, biggest surprise? Didn’t see that coming.

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Last updated: 03/26/2020

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