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Cardinals Spring Opener: 5 Things to Watch

Baseball is back!

MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals Workouts Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is back!

The Cardinals open their Spring Training schedule today with a 12:05 CST start against the Washington Nationals from Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. The Cardinals have an extensive broadcast schedule this spring with games on Bally Sports, KMOX radio, and

Hopefully, by now you have figured out your way of accessing Cardinals games with or without cable. Personally, I made a little exchange with my dad yesterday to get things squared away. He wanted to know “what’s the name of that Cardinals website your write for again?” so he can brag about me to the other Missouri snowbirds down in Florida. I wanted to know the cable login and password so I can watch the team that I write about. A quick text exchange later and I’m all up and running on Bally.

In the past, the spring opener has always been more about the anticipation of the game and not the game itself. If I’m being honest I would tell you that I typically watch the first few innings of spring games, promptly fall asleep, and wake up to “minor league guy” standing on third base. It’s a time-honored tradition in my house. The best naps are spring baseball naps.

Today, though, I think I have more reasons to stay awake.

Soon many of the primary starters for the Cardinals, including Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Tommy Edman, Lars Nootbaar, and Tyler O’Neill, will be heading out to their respective national teams to compete in the world baseball classic. If you want to see the Major Leaguers, now is the time to watch.

If you are like me and prefer watching young players and prospects during Spring Training, this is the season for it! When the more established players head out to their national teams, it will open plenty of playing time for young MLB’ers who are working on refinements to their game and for minor leaguers looking to make a name for themselves.

Nolan Gorman, for example, should get plenty of time this spring at second base. If he can show that he’s made significant strides with his glove at the position, he has a real shot at challenging Brendan Donovan for playing time.

Dylan Carlson doesn’t have to worry about his spot on the roster. He does have to worry about his spot in the lineup. With O’Neill and Nootbaar elsewhere, Marmol and the coaching staff will get a long reminder of what Carlson can do in center field and a good look at what his bulked-up physique can do from the right and left side of the plate.

That will still leave plenty of space for elite prospects like Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn to gain valuable experience against the best pitching they have seen. And for arms like Gordon Graceffo, Connor Thomas, Cooper Hjerpe (Jerpee), and Tink Hence to leave their impression on the MLB staff.

With so much of my time in the season devoted to watching analyzing and writing about the MLB team, this spring will serve as my primary scouting method for the prospects.

There’s plenty to watch this Spring. And that starts today. Here are my five things to watch for during today’s Spring Training opener:

1. The Pitch Clock

If you’re just catching up after a long winter’s nap, yes, the pitching clock will be in play for the 2023 season. (You can catch up on the new rules here.) Pitchers will have 15 seconds with the bases empty to come set and fire. That increases to 20 seconds with runners on. Batters have to be in the box and ready with 8 seconds to go.

Early returns are very positive… if you’re like me and are excited about the possibility of snappier games. The two games on Friday were about a half-hour shorter than normal.

If you’re a traditionalist and don’t like changes to the game you love, well, you’ll probably hate this. Just remember you won’t have to suffer through Dakota Hudson and Gio Gallegos throwing a pitch every fifteen minutes. (I know that’s not the case but it certainly felt like it!)

I’m sure this will take some getting used to. For players. For fans. For broadcasters. Spring is when the bugs get worked out for everyone.

2. Adam Wainwright’s Velocity

I wrote about Wainwright on Wednesday. You can read that article here. It’s spring. And it’s very early in spring. All of that means you should take velocity data with a grain of salt. That said, I would like to see Wainwright throwing his fastball consistently in the 88-90 mph range and not at 85-87. Velocity is certainly not the most important aspect of his game, but a few miles per hour helps buy him a little more grace. And at 41 years old, he needs as much of that with hitters as he can get.

I’m also curious to watch his command and control after he struggled with this landing and release late in the season. I don’t think I’ll be able to tell any difference. And command/control can be spotty in the early spring anyway. Still, if he can spot his breaking pitches in the zone, it would probably set my mind at ease about his recovery from his late-season collapse.

3. Chip Caray’s Calls

For the first time in forever, the Cardinals will have a new play-by-play voice behind the microphone. Chip Caray, son of Skip and grandson of Harry, was hired to replace Dan McLaughlin. Having not listened to very many Braves broadcasts over the years, I can’t say that I’m all that familiar with his style. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I also frequently listen to games on mute.

My advice? Give him plenty of latitude. McLaughlin was here forever. And he had developed a very good report with Brad Thompson. (Not so much with Edmonds.) Caray won’t have that history. It will take them all a while to find their voice and vibe. Listen but don’t judge too harshly today. They’ll get better.

Or they won’t. That’s why there’s the volume/mute button.

4. Jordan Walker

I have watched a lot of Walker’s plate appearances. I have seen a ton of his hits. Most of those were in replays and highlights; selected samples to illustrate a specific scouted skill. I don’t know that I’ve watched more than a handful of his PAs live without knowing the result in the end. It’s going to be fun to just watch him hit! And not hit! Because that happens a bunch too.

Walker has a legitimate chance to make this club. Even if he can’t do it out of Spring Training it seems certain that he will make his debut this season. I’m anxious to see how ready he looks. Both at the plate and in the outfield.

5. Early Bullpen Battle

The Cardinals have about a million choices for the bullpen from both the right and left sides. I find the whole situation fascinating, as arms that would seem to be locks – like Andre Pallante and Dakota Hudson – could easily find their way to AAA. And maybe not because they couldn’t lock down a spot! The Cardinals not only have to fill out their roster, but they also have to secure starting pitcher depth. Almost nothing would surprise me! Jake Walsh could lock down a spot in the bullpen. So could Matthew Liberatore. Drew VerHagen could get cut. Drew VerHagen could push his way into a prominent role. Did you all know that Kodi Whitley is still with the club? He’s a non-roster invitee. Would it shock me if he made the club? Not at all!

A handful of spring inning will decide these things. So, even what we see today counts and will factor into the equation.

If you want to chat, we’ll try to post a game thread about the time the game starts. Jump in there and talk about the action. I’ll be around. Or I’ll be napping.

And no, you can’t have my cable login. Sorry. Gotta keep that in the family.

Baseball is back. Viva el Birdos! Have a happy Saturday, everyone.