There have been two full weeks of Grapefruit League games. That’s just enough time to get some good overreactions going! I’m here to feed those, looking deep into the insignificant and crystal-ball some future lineup and roster decisions. Really, this article format is just a fun way to talk about what happened this week and show some of my favorite highlights.
Who is trending up and down after Grapefruit League week 2?
WHO IS ON THEIR WAY UP
Last week Matt Carpenter occupied this spot, largely based on comments from John Mozeliak and early pre-season playing time. What’s changed in a week? Almost nothing and that feels like everything. As of Friday morning, Matt Carpenter still doesn’t have a base hit on the spring. He has struck out 7 times in 13 ABs. Edman, meanwhile, is up to a 1.038 OPS on the Spring (before Friday’s game) with 6 hits, 2 of which are doubles, in 14 ABs. When Mozeliak referenced Carpenter at second as his “best case scenario” it assumed that Carpenter would hit enough to render his defense irrelevant and allow Edman to fill the do-everything utility role he’s so well suited for. It might not be Mozeliak’s “best case” but I’ll take the scenario where Tommy Edman puts his elite speed to work smacking singles all over the ballpark while playing potentially elite defense at second. So far, Edman is doing what he needs to do and it’s not going unnoticed.
First, I just want to share this Tweet…
Maddux was also very complimentary of Tommy Parsons, saying he looks much more physically mature this year and joking (or not) that he looks like someone who underwent late puberty. Said last year he looked like a teenager, now a man. Thinks Parsons added maybe 4 MPH in FB velo.— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) March 11, 2021
Who the heck is Tommy Parsons? Well, as of Friday morning, he’s the clubhouse leader in innings pitched this spring with 6.1. He’s struck out 7, walked none, and allowed just one unearned run on two hits all spring. He hasn’t received a ton of attention from scouts in terms of his prospect status, but he’s consistently limited walks and has worked to increase his K’s as he’s advanced. Here’s a good intro to Parsons, with some GIFs of his motion and ball movement. What do the Cardinals have here? Back in 2019, he was an arm with enough stuff to give him a long-odds shot at a major league bullpen down the road. Now he’s added significant velocity, grown some hair in some places, and he’s smoking early season major leaguers. Parsons is not just some fill-in getting innings early because the rotation has been a disaster. He’s someone to pay attention to as a legitimate challenger for the roster this season.
Hicks took the mound this week against live competition for the first time in a long time.
In Jordan Hicks’s first inning of work for the #stlcards against an opponent since June of 2019, he had a 1-2-3 inning on 11 pitches (8 strikes):— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) March 10, 2021
That’s enough for me to put him on the “trending up” list. The club is still talking about him as the likely closer and if he continues to put up lines like that one, it’s the role he’ll land in. With the need to protect Hicks’ arm and work him back slowly, I think giving him the ninth is a great plan forward. That allows Gallegos, Reyes, Cabrera, Helsley, and others to come in whenever they are needed for as long as needed. A bullpen full of multi-inning, split-proof arms that are capped by a guy with a 104 mph sinker sounds awfully tasty.
Also trending up: Austin Knizner has been very impressive at the plate. Adam Wainwright continues to pitch like he’s 26. Daniel Ponce de Leon is writing books and should be (quietly) winning any competitions for a rotation spot.
WHO IS ON THEIR WAY DOWN
The Starting Lineup Veterans
I’ll just run through a few OPS numbers for the core of the lineup:
Nolan Arenado – 15 AB, 561 OPS
Dylan Carlson – 15 AB, 494 OPS
Paul DeJong – 14 AB, 343 OPS
Paul Goldschmidt – 13 AB, 497 OPS
Harrison Bader – 7 AB, 536 OPS
Yadier Molina – 11 AB, 580 OPS
No one from this group has a home run. (Update: Yadi changed that on Friday night.) Combined they have 3 doubles. Tyler O’Neill and Edman (cited above) are hitting well but that’s about it. Should we be concerned? No. Spring is progressing and what we want to see is an improvement from these hitters as the club draws closer to games that matter.
Poor Reyes is ending up on this list while doing nothing but dominating hitters. Reyes has featured a shorter motion with a more direct line to his release point. Here’s what I’m talking about:
The results have been very promising: he has struck out 6 and walked no one in his 4 spring innings. The walks are telling. Reyes’ extreme movement and inconsistent release point have caused concerningly high walk rates throughout his pro career. Maybe his refined windup will improve that?
So, why is Reyes listed in the “trending down” section? Reyes was removed from the starting rotation competition this week. He’s locked into a bullpen role for the year because of concern about ramping up the stress on his arm too quickly. Mike Maddux offered this (as reported by the impeccable Jeff Jones):
As part of a long Zoom with Mike Maddux just now, the #stlcards pitching coach laid out a compelling case for why Alex Reyes’s workload is more monitored than other pitchers — team and docs believe it takes ~2 years to build back to full strength from TJ. Reyes hasn’t had that.— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) March 11, 2021
Read the whole thread. It explains what’s going on. I understand what the Cardinals are doing but it’s very difficult for a pitcher to get above 90 innings out of the pen. Mozeliak might want Reyes to be a (his words) “full-go” starter in 2022, but throwing less than 100 IPs this season doesn’t put him in position to jump to 175 next season. I would have pushed Reyes to 120 by giving him 12-15 pitch-limited starts and piggy-backing with other starters (Gant, for example) in scheduled 2-3 inning relief outings. I strongly believe that type of pitching plan is a safer way to build up Reyes’ arm than throwing him into the volatility and inconsistency that the bullpen demands.
Also trending down: Kwang Hyun-Kim probably pitched better than his stat line in his second start of the pre-season but it’s hard not to feel nervous about him. Fringe bullpen arms are experiencing a spring innings crunch that’s limiting their opportunities. This includes Kodi Whitely, as well as Junior Fernandez and Johan Quezada. Hopefully, these pitchers will get a few more chances as spring progresses and fewer opportunities go to players who aren’t on the 40-man roster.
My 26-Man Lineup/Roster Predictions (as of today)
1. Tommy Edman (2b)
2. Paul Goldschmidt (1b)
3. Nolan Arenado (3b)
4. Paul DeJong (SS)
5. Dylan Carlson (RF)
6. Tyler O’Neill (LF)
7. Yadi Molina (C)
8. Harrison Bader (CF)
Bench: Andrew Knizner, Matt Carpenter, Lane Thomas, Justin Williams, Jose Rondon
1. Jack Flaherty
2. Adam Wainwright
3. Kwang-Hyun Kim
4. Carlos Martinez
5. John Gant
Bullpen: Hicks, Gallegos, Reyes, Miller, Cabrera, Webb, Helsley, Ponce de Leon
Offense: Max Moroff, Edmundo Sosa
Pitching: Miles Mikolas (IL), Kodi Whitely, Jake Woodford, Tommy Parsons.
Based on some of the things that we’ve seen this week, I’m switching back to a 13/13 split between offense and pitching. I do this with some hesitancy, as I think the club will want extra arms early. Carrying 14 pitchers is an unnecessary luxury and could cost them a player – Williams or Sosa – to waivers. They need to keep Williams.
Sosa, on the other hand, is out for me in favor of Rondon. Both players can provide above-average defense all over the infield, but Rondon has a recent history of intriguing offense that Sosa can’t match. With Edman and Moroff around as well, I just don’t think the Cardinals need to be afraid of another team claiming Sosa. He’ll likely clear waivers anyway.
On the other side of the roster, Gant moves to the rotation over Reyes, with Ponce nipping at his heels. Elledge is the cut from last week’s roster to get down to 13 pitchers. Whitley and Parsons are poised to rise if anyone falters.
Special thanks to Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat for the up-to-date news and @cardinalsgifs for the incredible side-by-side. Give them a follow!