Merry Christmas, VEB! I don’t have anything too long for you today, but since we should all be in the spirit of Christmas, I have a St. Louis Cardinals Christmas wish list to share with all of you.
Feel free to add onto this list in the comments. Enjoy!
Tyler O’Neill - Health
In 2021, we all saw what Tyler O’Neill can do when he is healthy. He was a 5.6 fWAR player and he was a 6.3 fWAR player per 600 plate appearances. Unfortunately, 2022 didn’t go the same way. He could not only be the best outfielder in what could be a really strong group of outfielders, he could actually rival Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado as the best player on the team.
Dylan Carlson - Power
An average exit velocity of 86.1 mph isn’t usually a sign of a good hitter. Dylan Carlson’s wrist injury last season was likely a key contributor to that number, so maybe we should be wishing for health and not power. However, he simply hasn’t been a powerful hitter at all in the majors. In 2021, he had an 88.2 mph average exit velocity which is better but not really all that impressive. And he had a .172 ISO, which is fine, but, again, it’s not all that impressive.
He is limited at the plate without power and he hasn’t shown much of it so far in his major league career. So, health is a good starting point for Carlson, but it’s not the sole cause for his lack of pop.
Carlson is the only player who may be able to play an above average centerfield so he his bat will be key. If he can’t hit enough to stay in the lineup, the Cardinals will have to sacrifice defense to play someone else.
Jack Flaherty - Health
Anyone know the last time Jack Flaherty threw 100 innings or more? That would be 2019. In fact, since then he hasn’t topped 78 1⁄3 innings. Nor has he posted a sub-4 FIP since then either.
We all know about the talent that Jack Flaherty has - he can truly be a top of the rotation starter when he’s at his best - but he needs to stay on the field before he can truly deliver on that talent. He is really the only pitcher who has a chance at being a high-end starter for the Cardinals in 2023 (even if that’s not very likely to happen) so it would be a huge boost to the team if he could stay healthy and consistently take the ball every fifth day
Young Pitchers - Establish Themselves
After discussing Jack Flaherty’s health, it’s only appropriate to discuss the arms who could replace him in the rotation should he go to the IL. Gabe and I have already discussed this extensively, but the Cardinals have four gaps in the 2024 rotation and at least one should be filled internally. That leaves the upcoming 2023 season as a competition for the young arms to see who can establish himself as a major league starting pitcher.
There should be plenty of opportunities considering Flaherty’s injury history, Steven Matz’s injury history, and the ages and recent workloads of Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright.
Is 2023 the year that Matthew Liberatore finally takes a leap? Maybe Connor Thomas and his new cutter are good enough to pitch in the rotation? Can Gordon Graceffo progress fast enough to put his name in the mix? And can Zack Thompson or Andre Pallante prove capable of making the jump from the bullpen to the rotation?
There are spots up for grabs in 2024 and there should be plenty of opportunity for young arms to prove themselves worthy of one of those spots in the upcoming season.
Nolan Gorman and Alec Burleson - Left-Handed Power Bat
There’s been plenty of talk this offseason about how the Cardinals need a left-handed bat. I think need is a bit too extreme of a word for a team that probably has a top-5 lineup already, but, regardless, that bat may already be on the roster.
Nolan Gorman has some swing-and-miss issues but he has real power from the left side of the plate. He’s still only 22 years old and got his first taste of the major leagues this year. 300 plate appearances and then an offseason to adjust may be just what he needs to fully emerge next year. He may not have an everyday spot in the field but I would expect him to compete for the DH role against right-handed hitters.
Alec Burleson doesn’t have those same swing-and-miss problems. He has a better hit tool to go with plenty of power. His statistical production wasn’t great at the major league level but he only took 53 plate appearances. He hit the ball hard in that time and didn’t look overmatched at all. A full season as the fourth outfielder, backup first baseman, and part-time DH should be plenty of opportunity for him to prove that he can hit at the highest level.
Jordan Walker - MLB Debut
I don’t want to set the bar too high with Jordan Walker. He is one of the best prospects in baseball (if not the best), but it’s unfair to expect him to be an all-star caliber player or come in and change the course of the Cardinals’ season as a rookie. Plus, there is a strong group of outfielders ahead of him who already have MLB experience.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to keep my expectations down and simply say that I hope he debuts in 2023. He hasn’t been outfield very long so I would expect to him to start in Triple-A to get more experience at the position even though the Cardinals are saying he has a chance at making the Opening Day roster.
I would love to see him crush Triple-A, improve his defense and work his way onto the roster at some point during the season because, selfishly, I’m really really excited to watch him play.
Adam Wainwright - A Special Last Season
We all loved the retirement tour of Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols last year and now we get another one with Adam Wainwright in 2023. He is going into his 18th major league season, all with the Cardinals of course, and has a chance to reach a bunch of milestones. Not the least of which are 200 wins (he has 195) and 50 fWAR (he has 47.8).
Beyond that, I want it all. I want the standing ovations, the complete games, and all the special moments.
Playoffs - Reach NLDS at a Minimum
I’m sure you’re already aware of this fact, but the Cardinals have lost in the wild card round in three straight seasons. I would love if that streak didn’t extend to four years. The pitching staff may still be mediocre but the lineup sure isn’t. This is a team that has a really good chance at the making the playoffs and winning the division and hopefully they can actually advance past the first round for the first time since 2019.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a merry Christmas!