I wrote this for my college paper
I figured i'd put it somewhere where someone would actually appreciate it. : )
After a stunning 2006 and a less than spectacular 2007, the St. Louis Cardinal’s can expect a team in transition from an injury riddled, aging roster, to a (very) slightly less injured roster with a lot more potential for the future.
The Cardinal’s outfield will be missing a couple familiar faces this year, but will be gaining some whose names you should probably learn. Yes, Jimmy “Ballgame” Edmonds is gone, but so are his diminishing speed, bat, and glove. In his place, at least for the beginning of the season, is Rick Ankiel, a speedy and powerful ex- Cardinal’s pitching prospect.
In 2005 Ankiel began the season as a recovering young Cardinal’s ace. That spring, he switched to the outfield, and amazingly made his way all the way back to the big leagues, this time as an outfielder. Matthew Leach, MLB.com’s Cardinal’s beat writer, is also excited about Ankiel.
“Rick Ankiel is a ridiculous talent, someone who makes things look so easy,” said Leach “To me, he's a can't-take-your-eyes-off kind of player.”
Left field will still have Chris Duncan and his unpleasant fielding skills, but his bat is more than good enough to make up for it.
Right field is a little more of a question mark. The two leading candidates are Brian Barton and Ryan Ludwick. Barton is an undrafted RF from University of Miami, taken from Cleveland in the Rule V draft.
Barton, if he wins the job, could fill the lead-off void left by David Eckstein. He’s also pretty fast, and has a nice glove, but his throwing strength is lacking. He’s also had some knee problems in the past, but seems to have recovered perfectly. Ludwick was a reserve outfielder last year, and did a pretty nice job Ludwick brings some power to the table as well as pretty average defense.
One name Card’s fans should get to know is that of Colby Rasmus, a 2005 first round draft pick that has jumped to the top five of nearly every baseball analyst’s prospect list.
Leach says that, “Colby Rasmus looks like a special player, and it will be fun to watch him grow into the player he's going to become.”
Rasmus is probably ready for the Cardinal’s starting CF job, but will go to the team’s AAA Memphis affiliate for a little more seasoning before he is brought up.
Skip Schumacher and the loser of the Barton/Ludwick competition will back up the outfield. Minor leaguer Joe Mather will most likely see some playing time as well this year.
The infield will also look different this year. Shortstop David Eckstein signed a free agent deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, the same team that swapped their third baseman for ours. The right side of the infield remained steadfast through the off-season.
Third base will have a different starter for the first time in five years. Scott Rolen has moved north, and left quite a void at 3b, but his replacement is the highly, if not more capable, Troy Glaus. Glaus brings a powerful bat to the table, as well as above average defense. 3b will definitely be an exciting position to watch this year.
Shortstop is a different story. Over the off-season, the Cards signed Cesar Izturis to play SS. Izturis is well below average with the bat, but is known for his slick fielding. Up to this point in the year, he has been absolutely miserable with both. Tony LaRussa may let him start the season, but another, and probably better player is waiting in the wings, and his name is Brendan Ryan. Ryan was a backup infielder last year, and is not an outstanding or flashy player, but he is average and reliable, two things the Cardinals could use in a year that could become quite tremulous.
Second base is occupied by Adam Kennedy, who had an abysmal 2007 campaign. Most of his performance problems last year were attributed to injuries. If he underperforms again, he will lose the starting job to Aaron Miles, a LaRussa favorite. Miles is a guy who can play 2b, SS, and 3b, but is below average defensively. He hits for a high-ish average with some speed, but very little power. Watch out for Jarrett Hoffpauir, a minor leaguer who had a nice season last year.
First base may not be as stable as it seems. Albert Pujols had his worst season since 2002, mainly due to the fact that the one, four, and five hitters in the Cardinal’s lineup were the worst in the National League. He could not rack up RBIs without guys on base! Pujols has also had some injury problems over his career, but this year could send him to the disabled list for quite some time. Pujols is suffering from elbow problems that could (and most likely will) lead to Tommy John surgery, and his foot problems could also creep up again. Cross your fingers Cardinals fans. If El Hombre damages his elbow enough, he will never be the same. If Albert goes down, look for Chris Duncan to move to first base.
Catcher is another stable position, at least for now. Yadier Molina will try to maintain his impressive offensive performance (for him) of last year, while continuing to show off his excellent throwing arm. Yandi’s backup, free agent signee Jason LaRue will prove to very a very solid back up. Bryan Anderson is a stud catcher in the Cardinal’s farm system, and could attempt to take over the starting job in the next few seasons. If either catcher goes down with an injury, expect Anderson to be called up.
The Cardinal’s pitching situation is a mystery of its own. While the bullpen looks strong, the starting pitching is another story.
Three of the Card’s five starting pitchers are on the disabled list. Chris Carpenter, the ace of the rotation, is out until at least June or July because of a Tommy John surgery. Mark Mulder is recovering from a second rotator cuff surgery, and should rejoin the rotation before the All-Star break. Matt Clement, an off-season addition, is recovering from soreness and may be on the team for opening day.
The rotation does have some bright spots. Adam Wainwright looks to be a mainstay in the Cardinal’s rotation, and will be the opening day starter. Kyle Lohse is an interesting story. He was thought to be the second best free agent starter this off-season, but did not sign until early March because his asking price was too high. Lohse will be a nice addition to the rotation. Braden Looper impressed a lot of people last year with his transition from the bullpen to the rotation, and will try to keep up his performance. Todd Wellemeyer, Brad Thompson, and Anthony Reyes will duke it out for the last two spots of the rotation.
The 2008 bullpen looks sharp. Jason Isringhausen returns as the closer. RHPs Russ Springer and Ryan Franklin and LHP Randy Flores are locked in to their spots. After that, things get complicated. The loser of the Reyes/Wellemeyer/Thompson race will pitch out of the ‘pen. LHP Ron Villone will most likely make the team, at least until LHP Tyler Johnson comes back. Other bullpen options include: Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan, Blake Hawksworth, Josh Kinney, and Mark Worrell.
The Cardinals are going to have a rough year, no doubt about it. Just think of this as the transition to 2009, when there will be a lot more answers than question for the roster, and not just any answers, but talented answers.
Projected Opening Day Lineup:
1. CF Skip Schumacher
2. LF Chris Duncan
3. 1B Albert Pujols
4. RF Rick Ankiel
5. 3B Troy Glaus
6. 2B Adam Kennedy
7. C Yadier Molina
8. SS Brendan Ryan