Baseball is officially back. After a long offseason, the Cardinals finally suited up on Saturday for their Spring Training opener against the New York Mets. The game provided Cardinals fans there first glimpses at new players such as Austin Dean and Kwang-Hyun Kim and top prospects Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman. This article will present a few observations from that game. However, it is important to note that these are simply observations from one Spring Training game; therefore, they will not be indicative of a player’s future success, or the team’s future strategies.
To begin with, the Cardinals lineup composition would have been considered weird (and likely, bad) if this was a regular season game. A top half of Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, and Yadier Molina is certainly not ideal. However, it seems likely that they all hit in the top four in order to get their at-bats early and then get out of the game. Of all of the players that started the game battting fifth through ninth in the order, only Tommy Edman had a regular role at the big league level in 2019, and even his is somewhat uncertain this year. On the other side of things, Jack Flaherty began the game on the mound, and he will serve as the ace for 2020, it makes sense that the Cardinals would like to get him in live action first.
In his first outing of the year, Flaherty appeared to be working on his slider as he threw a disproportionate amount of them in his two innings. He finished at least one strikeout with a slider and threw a low slider followed by a high fastball for another one. His slider appeared to have good, late depth that allowed it to dive underneath bats and his curveball also showed some solid movement as well. He threw a solid two innings and he appeared to have strong command and good movement on his breaking pitches. Additionally, of the six outs that he recorded, three came via the strikeout, and the other came from groundballs.
On the whole, the Cardinals pitching staff was impressive as it shut out the Mets. However, it is just the first spring training game, so this is not necessarily a sign of things to come as this was just the first game of the year for the Mets as well, and they also played a large amount of prospects. However, two other pitchers that impressed were Dakota Hudson and Kwang-hyun Kim. Hudson racked up five groundball outs in his two innings while fanning another batter and walking none. Remarkably, Hudson got through his two innings in just nine pitches. Much of this is likely due to aggression from the Mets hitters; however, this is the kind of control and efficiency that Hudson lacked last season. Hudson previously discussed working on making his delivery more repeatable, but it reamins to be seen if he has improved his control. Either way, this was a solid first step of 2020 for the right-hander. Kim also impressed by fanning a pair of hitters in his one inning of work, while he flashed a 69 mph curveball. He also recorded both of his strikeouts with his slider. It was a brief first look at the Cardinals recent acquisition, but his breaking pitches are certainly worth paying attention too. His slider showed good depth and lateral movement, while the lack of speed on his curveball provides over a 20 mph change of speed.
On the hitting side of things, Tyler O’Neill and Matt Carpenter had solid games and each recorded some interesting highlights. To begin with, O’Neill’s home run was crushed. The ball left the bat at 115.3 mph, which would have given him the 13th hardest hit home run of the 2019 season. Additionally Matt Carpenter clearly went up to the plate trying to hit the ball the other way. The left handed hitter ended both of his at-bats with singles to left field. Even though one of these was a shallow fly ball that likely ends in an out if it does not get caught in the wind, Carpenter’s was clearly focusing on hitting the ball to the opposite field. Once again, it remains to be seen if this is a new approach for him, or if he was simply working on a certain aspect of his swing in the game.
Someone who did not have a great game was Justin Wiliams. The outfielder competing for the left field job batted 0-2 at the plate and had a poor showing on the base paths. He originally entered the game as a pinch runner and was almost instantly caught in a run down after being picked off. He was not ruled to be out, however, as the umpire declared that Mets pitcher Stephen Gonsalves had balked. This was an accurate call as Gonsalves’ front leg made no motion towards first base. He strode directly at the plate but then threw to first. This would be very deceiving to a runner (due to its illegal nature), so Williams can be excused for getting caught. However, once he got to second base, Molina lined a pitch to the left of the second base bag and Williams took off immediately. The shortstop ended up catching the ball and Williams was doubled up. While the ball certainly appeared like it was going to get through on TV, Williams needs to have better baserunning awareness. This is likely something that he will work on during the spring, and it was just one game, so it is not a huge problem.
Overall, it was a solid game for the Cardinals, and it is was nice to watch baseball again. Conclusions should not be drawn from this game, or any singular game for that matter, but there were some interesting developments in this game and it will be intriguing to see if they become more permanent.