Happy new year to all of you readers! May this year be filled with winning baseball and a deep playoff run for our St. Louis Cardinals! With the changing of the years I am going to make some predictions about the season ahead and I, for one, can’t wait to look like an idiot come July. So feel free to pull this back out when everything I say turns out to be wrong.
The Cardinals will make it past the wild card round
Let’s start with the big one because this is something the Cardinals haven’t done since 2019 when they were swept in the NLCS.
This is something I truly believe will happen. This is a team with a very deep and talented lineup. Pujols may be gone but Contreras is in and Arenado and Goldschmidt are always dangerous. In fact, pretty much everyone in the lineup this year should be an above average hitter. That doesn’t happen very often. And then let’s consider the bench where the Cardinals will have Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez who were both above average hitters last year, as well as Alec Burleson who may be one this year.
This is truly a deep lineup and probably one of the best in baseball. Then there’s the pitching staff. It’s deep too with plenty of starters capable of filling in when injuries happen. The bullpen also should be a strength this year with Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, and Jordan Hicks getting key outs while Andre Pallante and Zack Thompson emerged in 2022.
That means the only real weakness on this team is the top of the rotation. This is a concern but, despite that, this is a team truly capable of making it out of the wild card round even in a talented National League. My next prediction will help with this one too because I think...
The Cardinals will trade for pitching at the deadline
Much like they did last year, the Cardinals are probably going to be in the pitching market when the trade deadline rolls around. Barring any key injuries, if the Cardinals have a hole to fill it will be the same one they didn’t fill this winter: the top of the rotation.
John Mozeliak has publicly discussed how the trade deadline is particularly difficult for buyers because the going market price is always at its highest. That seems to be a warning not to expect big moves at the deadline but the Cardinals were reportedly in on Juan Soto even if they didn’t get him.
If the Cardinals are looking to improve the team, it will be the pitching staff that gets help. And the Cardinals will have plenty of mid-to-back-end rotation arms (again, barring injuries) so I would expect them to look for someone who could be a rotation anchor in the playoffs.
Maybe they don’t. Maybe they go the Quintana/Montgomery route again. That’s still something (and it would make this prediction come true) but I can envision the front office going big game hunting again, especially with rotation spots open in 2024.
Alec Burleson will have a better year than Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, and Jordan Walker
This prediction is about opportunity and it’s about belief in Alec Burleson’s bat. He did nothing but hit in the minor leagues and I think his bat is way better than his 58 wRC+ at the major league level in 2022.
I believe in Alec Burleson’s bat but I also think he has the clearest path to playing time. He should be the fourth outfielder in an outfield that contains Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson which basically means that I wouldn’t be shocked if he got 400 plate appearances at a minimum.
The DH spot is where he will need to find most of his early plate appearances though. And that’s where he will have competition with Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman. The thing is that Gorman and Yepez will have a harder time finding their way into the field as Burleson is likely a better outfielder than both of them and Gorman’s glove isn’t particularly compelling at second base.
Finally, I think the Cardinals will keep Jordan Walker in Triple-A until there’s an obvious need for him. His glove could use some more experience in the outfield and the Cardinals already have a number of young outifelders on the 40-man roster to sort through.
So, like I said before, my belief in Burleson is because of his bat and opportunity. It’s not because I don’t believe in Gorman, Yepez, and Walker.
Miles Mikolas will lead the team in innings pitched and earn an extension
This one doesn’t need much explanation. Miles Mikolas topped 200 innings last year and the Cardinals rotation has plenty of potential for injuries. I think he will be the ever-present stalwart who takes the ball every fifth day and pitches deep into games. He’s been that guy before and I think he’ll be that guy again in 2023. And that will earn him an extension.
The Cardinals currently have 4 open spots in the 2024 rotation and at least one of them is likely to be filled in house. I think Miles Mikolas is that guy.
Jack Flaherty is likely to test the open market, Jordan Montgomery may too considering it’s probably his last chance to test the market at an age where he can reasonably expect a decent contract. But I also think the Cardinals won’t be looking for another lefty considering Steven Matz and any of Connor Thomas, Matthew Liberatore, and maybe even Zack Thompson could be in the 2024 rotation. That leaves us with Mikolas who has remained effective despite pushing into his mid-30s.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see a two-year extension given to Mikolas at some point during the season to add some stability and familiarity to the 2024 rotation.
Jordan Walker will be in the playoff lineup but take fewer than 200 regular season MLB plate appearances
I don’t think we’ll see Jordan Walker early in the year. However, I do think we’ll see him by August. His glove may need some time but the Cardinals will be ready for his bat to give them a boost.
I think he’ll get promoted sooner than Alec Burleson did last year and he will be a fixture of the lineup come October.
Freddy Pacheco will establish himself in the bullpen
Relievers are volatile. We know this. They also get hurt. And the Cardinals have Freddy Pacheco on the 40-man roster ready to take a spot as soon as one opens up.
He reached Triple-A last year where he put up a 2.97 FIP in 33 2⁄3 innings after a promotion from Springfield. He also struck out over a third of the batters he faced in 2022 and has two plus pitches that are MLB-ready in his fastball and his slider.
For me, Pacheco is the best relief prospect in the minor leagues. And he’s about as close to MLB ready as he can get without getting MLB exposure. I expect to see him up in the majors this upcoming season and I won’t be shocked if he establishes himself early and earns some higher leverage assignments by the end of the season.
Lars Nootbaar will be the best outfielder
I am buying into Lars Nootbaar’s breakout. He added bat speed and that led to power. That makes sense. His plate discipline is also elite. And he’s fast. And he has a cannon for an arm. He should be an above average outfielder with a potentially 120ish wRC+ bat and that’s a really good player. This may seem a bit optimistic to some of you but take a look at his Baseball Savant page.
That’s a lot of red. He should be a top of the order hitter and a good outfielder in an outfield full of question marks.
I’m not particularly low on Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson either. I think Carlson’s wrist injury hindered him last year and if he’s fully healthy I expect to see him hit the ball with more authority in 2022. The same goes for Tyler O’Neill. He was outstanding in 2021 and if everything breaks right for him then he is the best outfielder on the team and not by a particularly small margin.
For me, though, the same bet is on Nootbaar so that’s my prediction. He will be the best outfielder (by fWAR) on the team in 2023.
I would make a prediction about Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt but what would I say? They’ll keep being amazing? That’s not exactly a shocker and I’m not about to predict an MVP season for either of them though it’s always in the realm of possibilities.
Making predictions like this is a fool’s errand but these are my 7 predictions. Let me know what you think in the comments section and feel free to provide some predictions of your own.
Happy New Year VEB and thanks for reading!