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Evaluating Tommy Pham’s case for a roster spot

Might the 28-year-old with a mile-long injury list finally succeed at the big-league level in 2017?

St Louis Cardinals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Two weeks from tomorrow, Cardinals pitchers and catchers will officially report for spring training, and by this time in nine weeks, the Cardinals and Cubs will have already started their 2017 seasons at Busch Stadium on Opening Day, April 2.

Last Monday, we explored reliever Sam Tuivailala’s case for a roster spot; this week, we will do the same with outfielder Tommy Pham.

Here’s what Twitter thought (Note: I neglected to set a shorter time limit on this poll, so the poll will actually be open into Monday afternoon if you’d like to vote):

The Cardinals selected Pham back in the sixteenth round of the 2006 MLB draft out of Durango High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the right-handed-hitting outfielder didn’t log 100 games in a single season until 2009, when he appeared in 114 games at Palm Beach. And from there, Pham ran into even more significant injury trouble.

Pham missed about a month toward the end of the 2010 season with a broken wrist, three months with a torn ligament in his wrist in 2011, and was limited to just twelve games in 2012 with a torn labrum in his shoulder; Pham was hit by a pitch in 2010 and sustained the ligament and labrum injuries while attempting to make plays in the outfield in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Then to top it off in 2013, following a promotion to Triple-A Memphis, Pham tore the labrum in his other shoulder and appeared in just 75 total games that year, including 45 while rehabbing.

The 2014 season was a relatively healthy one for Pham, who maintained a .391 wOBA in 104 games at Triple-A to force a long-awaited call-up to the majors when rosters expanded in September. Pham went hitless in his first two at-bats but would enter the 2015 campaign with an invitation to spring training.

Per his luck, Pham suffered a left quadriceps strain in mid-March and was ultimately sidelined by the ailment through June of that year before he was able to return to action. With injuries at the big-league level leading to vacated roster spots, Pham was promoted to St. Louis in early July and provided some fireworks over Fourth of July weekend, including his first home run.

Pham flip-flopped between Memphis and St. Louis a couple of times throughout the summer before settling in the majors for the final month, which was a grand one for the rookie.

Across 73 plate appearances from September 1 through the end of the regular season, Pham drove in thirteen runs to complement two doubles, three triples, four home runs, and a .303 batting average, all factors that led to his spot on the Cardinals’ postseason roster for the NLDS against the Cubs.

Pham cracked the 25-man roster out of camp last spring but an oblique injury in the first game of the year held the outfielder out until mid-May. Pham later joined the Cardinals in June and remained there for the rest of year, starting 35 games down the stretch and maintaining a solid .769 OPS over 182 plate appearances.

With the offseason subtractions of outfielders Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss, who have signed with the Yankees and Royals, respectively, the Cardinals will enter spring training with their fourth outfielder’s spot up for grabs, and Pham seems to be the front runner for that, if he can stay healthy.

Beyond Pham, the Cardinals’ next option would be Jose Martinez, who we took a look at a few weeks ago. Both 28 years old, Pham brings to the table quite a bit more big-league experience, despite his extensive, injury-crowded past.

While it’s unlikely, there is the possibility that both Pham and Martinez make the roster. With Jedd Gyorko on the roster, the need to carry utility infielder Greg Garcia may not be as urgent as it once was, and that spot would allow the Cardinals to carry two outfielders in addition to Stephen Piscotty, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk, and Kolten Wong, who — though he figures to collect most of his time at second base — could handle the outfield in a pinch.

Regardless of what level he plays at, the 2017 campaign will be important for Pham, who will look to produce in his first setback-free season since 2014.