Two days from the start of Spring Training games in Jupiter, the position player side of the 25-man roster seems all but set.
2019 is different than years past, where competition for starting jobs was the storyline in late February and March. The buzzword of this season has been “committed.”
Lineup spots may shift, but everything else seems static, barring injury. The bench may have a bit more room for flexibility, but even that is minimal. Francisco Peña, José Martínez and Jedd Gyorko are virtual locks for Opening Day. It comes down to one roster spot.
Derrick Goold reported that Mike Maddux intends to use 12 pitchers out of the gate, though he remains open to using 13. The Cardinals have gone with a larger staff for the past several years, and now it’s looking less like a Mike Matheny preference and more like a National League trend.
Until given reason to think otherwise, this article presumes 13 will win out and the bench will remain at four.
That final spot would more than likely belong to either Yairo Muñoz or Drew Robinson.
Age (majority of season): 24
Positions: 2B, 3B, SS, OF
2018 Stats: 329 PA, .276/.350/.413, 9.1% BB, 21.6% K, 16 2B, 8 HR, 5 SB, 106 wRC+, -10.5 Def, 0.0 fWAR
2019 ZiPS: 435 PA, .253/.304/.386, 6.7% BB, 22.8% K, 21 2B, 2 3B, 11 HR, 9 SB, 85 OPS+, -5 Def, 0.7 fWAR
Muñoz has the advantage of having a year with the team already under his belt. He was far from excellent in 2018, but he had some meaningful moments—looking at you, walk-off homer against Pittsburgh—and ultimately didn’t provide negative value.
What really carried Muñoz was his offensive success. A .350 OBP in just over 300 PA is far from awful.
After a terrible March and April, Muñoz erupted when called up again in May. His production was the definition of feast or famine, though. His monthly wRC+ from May through September/October read like this: 196, 66, 163, 59, 112.
Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys, and Muñoz took it to the extreme in 2018. It’s hard to know which guy you’re getting. ZiPS isn’t that optimistic he can maintain above-average production this season, with a projection of an 85 OPS+.
Projection systems obviously don’t predict the future, but something around Muñoz’s projected mark isn’t ideal for a bench player whose value came mainly with the bat.
The field was where Muñoz suffered. He logged time all across the infield, excluding first base, as well as innings at all three outfield spots.
The problem is that you really have to squint to see the positive in his play in those spots. Muñoz had -6 DRS at both second base and shortstop, the positions where he logged the majority of his time. Though he had 1 DRS in just under 100 innings at third, his UZR/150 at the hot corner was -10.5. Even so, Jedd Gyorko is in line to draw more starts at third than Muñoz, who would be seen more as a backup to DeJong.
As we always say in small defensive sample sizes, these metrics aren’t extremely reliable until one, two or three years down the line. Still, Muñoz had 18 errors in 114 games, with 13 of those coming from the middle infield. As Rick Hummel reported, Muñoz cited the infield as his best, most comfortable place to play.
It really isn’t worth digging into Muñoz’s outfield numbers at this point. He logged just under 95 innings across the three spots, and the numbers aren’t very pretty. DRS shows a net zero across all three, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. That was propped up by play in left field that was neither good nor bad. Right field gave him a bit of trouble, and the 20-inning experiment in center is probably something that shouldn’t be revisited unless he shows marked improvement this spring. The outfield is his clear weakness.
Muñoz may be able to play all across the field, but it seems he does so below the level of the average major leaguer at those positions. If his bat doesn’t live up to standards and the defense doesn’t improve, it’s hard to see a fit.
Age (majority of season): 27
Positions: INF, OF
2018 Stats: 125 PA, .183/.288/.294, 12.8% BB, 45.6% K, 3 2B, 3 HR, 2 SB, 57 wRC+, 0.5 Def, -0.1 fWAR
2019 ZiPS: 380 PA, .203/.286/.379, 11.6% BB, 41% K, 16 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR, 8 SB, 78 OPS+, -1 Def, 0.4 fWAR
Drew Robinson is essentially Greg Garcia 2.0™—now with more versatility and less on-base ability.
Robinson is a few years older than Muñoz and is headed into his third major league season. Though he may have the years, his playing time in each of the last two seasons was around half of what Muñoz saw in his rookie campaign.
The benefit for Robinson on the offensive side his his handedness. Being a lefty bat off the bench gives the Cardinals something they wouldn’t have otherwise, and acquiring one was a specified goal from the front office this offseason.
Robinson may have a baked-in advantage simply because he’s one of the pieces we’ve been told was a calculated offseason acquisition for the 2019 push.
Still, there’s not much to see beyond his left-handed swing. After 93 wRC+ in his 2017 debut, Robinson posted just 57 in 2018.
What stands out the most is his strikeout rate, a whopping 45.6%. K’s in half of one’s at-bats doesn’t fare well. Even if teammate Joey Gallo rubbed off on him, he’s definitely missing the power component.
2019 ZiPS projections have him closer to the midpoint between his last two seasons, but the K-rate remains high. If new hitting coach Jeff Albert can find something to correct in his approach, maybe we see a new hitter.
The opposite of Muñoz, Robinson’s value comes from his glove. He’s played every position in the majors but first base, pitcher and catcher, with the bulk of his innings coming in the outfield, where he says he feels most natural—again a foil of Muñoz.
He’s had just two major league innings in right field, so we’ll throw that out. Interestingly enough, he’s fared better in center than left.
108.1 innings in left field have resulted in -2 DRS and a monstrous -27.8 UZR/150. Looking at a larger sample of 206 innings in center, those numbers are -2 and -0.3, respectively.
Still not excellent, but viable. What the team really lacks at this point is a clear backup center fielder, and Robinson is poised to provide that. It seems like he would be more Peter Bourjos than Jon Jay.
The big thing hurting Robinson defensively is his lack of major league time at shortstop. He’s played just 15.2 innings at the position in his two big league years. Looking through the minors, it’s easily one his least-frequented spots, with just under 400 professional innings.
Still, he’s combined for positive value in both DRS and UZR at second and third. After some time working with José Oquendo and new infield coach Stubby Clapp, Robinson is sure to get some innings at short this spring. If he does well, he has a clear defensive advantage.
Who would you choose?
Both players don’t project to provide a ton of value. One favors the bat, one the glove. One the infield, the other the outfield. Still, it looks like one of the two will fill the final roster spot for the Cardinals. If you were calling the shots, who makes the 25-man roster out of Jupiter?
Who’s your super utility out of Spring Training?
This poll is closed