The Cardinals are only a week and a half into the spring training schedule, but the roster battles are already starting to take shape. I've counted 18 players who are (barring injury) locks to make the Opening Day roster, leaving 7 spots potentially available. There has been a surprising amount of movement on these competitions for only nine games in. Since we're only three plus weeks from Opening Day, I thought it'd be a good idea to take a closer look at the available spots and offer my best guesses on who ends up making the trip up north with the big club.
NOTE: This is assuming the club doesn't make any big acquisitions in the next 3 weeks, which seems to be the case at this point. As much as everyone would like the team to take a shot on Dallas Keuchel or even Gio Gonzalez, the team seems content to start 2019 with the players it has.
Locks (1): Yadier Molina
Players for Available Spot (1): Matt Weiters, Francisco Pena, Andrew Knizner
This job is almost certainly Weiters' to lose. He is a markedly better hitter than Pena, and was seemingly brought in specifically to take Pena's job. Pena's oblique injury today, even though it doesn't look too serious, all but clinches Weiters' role as Yadi's backup. Knizer, who is the heir apparent, is due to start everyday in Memphis, regardless of how he performs in Jupiter.
Prediction: Matt Weiters
Locks (5): Paul Goldschmidt, Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong, Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko
Barring injury, the four starters are locked-in as the (very good) everyday infield, with Gyorko set to be the primary backup for two if not three positions.
Players for Available Spot (1): Drew Robinson, Yairo Munoz
This will probably come down to Shildt's preference and what kind of flexibility he prefers. Munoz is a better hitter, but bats from the right side and was below average last year in the field at multiple positions (small sample size disclaimer here). Robinson is the better fielder, but has a worse bat. Crucially, Robinson plays a roughly average CF (again, with a small sample size). He's also a lefty, which could be advantageous considering the Cardinals' righty-heavy lineup. If Tyler O'Neill doesn't make the team, I don't think Shildt will want Munoz or Fowler (::shudder::) as the team's backup CF. And right now it looks like the team will likely roster 8 relievers, leaving O'Neill as the odd man out in the outfield. Although all of this could change, especially if Ozuna isn't healthy enough for Opening Day, right now it looks like Robinson has the edge.
Prediction: Drew Robinson
Locks (4): Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez
Like it or not, these will be the four outfielders on March 28 in Miller Park (unless Ozuna's shoulder is gimpier than we've been lead to believe). This leaves the Meat Pillar left to crush dingers in Memphis, unless Shildt surprises everyone and keeps seven relievers.
Starting Pitchers (5)
Locks (4): Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright
These four seem pretty set in stone. Mikolas and Flaherty are the anchors right now, Wacha is a mainstay if healthy (and he's healthy right now), and Waino's been fine this spring. And as long as he's fine, he'll get the ball every fifth day. The news on Carlos keeps getting worse and worse, and at this point it's almost certain he starts the season on the DL.
Players for Available Spot (1): John Gant, Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce De Leon, Alex Reyes
Besides perhaps the back end of the bullpen and the utility spot, this could be the most volatile competition in Spring Training. Gant would probably be the first logical choice, and considering he's performed better than Gomber or Ponce De Leon so far, he has the edge right now. But I could see a few bad Gant outings, or a few sparkling ones by the others potentially changing the calculus. Reyes seems likely to start the year either in Memphis or on the DL, which is probably the smart move. He'll likely be on an innings count this year, and he'll be better deployed later in the year, when injuries have inevitably taken their toll on the rotation.
Prediction: John Gant
Locks (4): Andrew Miller, Jordan Hicks, Dominic Leone, John Brebbia
Players for Available Spots (4): John Gant, Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce De Leon, Alex Reyes, Chasen Shreve, Brett Cecil, Dakota Hudson, Luke Gregerson, Mike Mayers, Tyler Webb
Injuries, ineffectiveness, and options make the bullpen particularly interesting. Mayers is out of options and seemingly healthy, so while he's been bad, he's probably safe. Gomber, assuming he doesn't take the 5th starter job, is probably also safe as a lefty option. I think Ponce De Leon gets sent to Memphis to work out as a starter so he can be the first man up in the rotation. Reyes is likely bound for Memphis or the DL. Gregerson and Cecil have inspired no confidence, either last year or this spring. However, neither of them seem completely healthy. Unless they both bounce back and prove effective and healthy, my guess is both of them start on the DL with more or less phantom injuries. That leaves two spots for Shreve, Hudson, and Webb. Hudson has been good this spring, and he proved effective last year, so he makes the team. That leaves Shreve and Webb. Although Webb has been great this spring, he has an option. Shreve doesn't. The team won't want to risk its biggest piece from the Luke Voit trade. So Shreve gets the last spot.
Prediction: Austin Gomber, Chasen Shreve, Dakota Hudson, Mike Mayers
And that's the team. I'm sure things will change in the next 23(!) days, but this is one writer's best guesses as of right now.