After a boring offseason, Spring Training finally approaches. The Cardinals haven't added many pieces over the winter in large part due to their strong depth in the minors. Don't let that fool you. There's plenty to keep an eye on before the regular season.Don
Carpenter missed most of 2012 not pitching until September 21st against the Chicago Cubs. It's not just the integrity of his elbow and shoulder that should offer concern. Carpenter will turn 38 in April with a lot of wear and tear on his body from years of pitching and injury. Whether the Cardinals get any appreciable return on their $21M year extension with Carpenter signed in 2011 remains to be seem.
Garcia on the other hand will try and prove that his late season injury -- not immediately disclosed to the club -- doesn't require surgery. After missing all of July last season, Garcia's ability to pitch in the rotation every five days is questionable. He's made a full season of stats in only one of his three years in the rotation (2011) peaking at 194 innings.
If Carpenter and/or Garcia goes down, who gets the spot? Joe Kelly spent part of 2012 in the major league rotation. Trevor Rosenthal lit up radar guns in the bullpen in 2013. Former #1 prospect Shelby Miller came on strong in Memphis to complete his minor league season before his cup of coffee in the majors. All three are about as ready as you can get.
2). Is Daniel Descalso really the Cardinals only option at 2nd base?
When Fangraphs released the ZiPS projects for the team, the lowest wOBA projection for a starting position player was Descalso's .293. That's 12 points below the next lowest, which belongs to 35 year old Rafael Furcal. This is exactly the type of situation the Cardinals were trying to fix when they drafted Kolten Wong in the first round of the 2011 draft.
Wong's ZiPS projection isn't tremendous but it clocks in closer to league average and 18 points higher than Descalso's at .311. Over a full season or 650 PAs, that's 10 runs on paper or a full win's difference between the two in terms of offense. It's questionable whether Descalso's defense can make up for that kind of a difference -- especially since Wong is well regarded as a defender as well. But after just completing a season in Double A Springfield where his performance was good but hardly outstanding, the obvious place for Wong is with the Triple A Memphis ballclub.
3). Oscar Taveras is coming to play.
The Cardinals top prospect, after a huge season in Springfield, earned an invite to major league camp. In case you'd forgotten, Taveras trailed only Mike Olt in the Texas League in wOBA among qualified hitters. He ranked 5th in all of AA by those standards as well. All this, while patrolling centerfield regularly, as a 19/20 year old.
There isn't room for Taveras with the major league club at the moment. Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Jon Jay occupy the outfield with a bevy of potential backups from Allen Craig to Matt Carpenter to Shane Robinson. Taveras will get a chance to mix with the veterans and play a handful of games though. That alone is worth watching.
4). Is there a dark horse for the bullpen?
The left hand side of the Cardinals bullpen seems set with adequate southpaws Randy Choate and Marc Rzepczynski. Jason Motte signed a two year deal to continue as closer. Mitchell Boggs seems settled as a late inning reliever. Midseason acquisition Edward Mujica and control artist Fernando Salas will settle in to 7th/8th inning roles as situation warrants. That still leaves a slot at the end of the pen that the Cardinals could fill creatively.
They could stick with a classic mop-up guy in Victor Marte who pitched 40 innings last year. If Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller finds themselves without a rotation slot, they could ply their trade in the bullpen. Fireballers Maikel Cleto and Jorge Rondon both pitched well in Memphis' bullpen. Or could this be the return of once-future-closer Eduardo Sanchez?
Sanchez was a top ranked prospect before injuries and mechanics undid him. He pitched just 27.2 innings in 2012 with decidedly mixed results. The strikeouts remained potent with a 8.46 K/9 but the control was non-existent with a Gary Daley-esque 6.83 BB/9. (Aside: How long until Seth Blair takes up Gary Daley's mantle as a pitcher with no control?) Sanchez would seem to need to wow in Spring Training with not just velocity but also throwing the ball where he actually intends to but it would be foolish to write him off completely at this point.
5). What do the Cardinals do with all the blocked "prospects"?
Using the loose definition of the word prospects, the Cardinals are looking at a list of players who are nominally ready for the big leagues but don't have an opening on the major league roster. Oft discussed Rosenthal, Miller and Kelly top the list for pitching. They're joined by first baseman and future DH Matt Adams who has posted two monster offensive seasons in a row but is blocked by Allen Craig. Ryan Jackson and Pete Kozma, erstwhile 2012 shortstops find a veteran Ronny Cedeno added to the mix and presumably the primary backup for Rafael Furcal. Speedster Adron Chambers may lose the backup centerfielder role to Shane Robinson despite being favored by ZiPS.
All of these players still have options, so there is no urgency to their push for major league roster spots. The Cardinals can retain their depth in Memphis for emergency situations or because they want to cultivate a great AAA squad. Whatever the reason, most of these players probably find their way back to the minors for another season. In that case, you'll simply have to read about them on Future Redbirds.