The St. Louis Cardinals have a unique mix of veterans and young prospects all jostling for a place on the 25-man roster this spring training. The Cardinals farm system is ranked first in Major League Baseball by many respected, but as seen below those prospects may have to wait in line behind established veterans. Here is a breakdown of the Cardinals projected starting lineup and 25-man rotation based on the latest news from the past 48 hours, including reports from beat writers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Projected Starting Lineup
1. Jon Jay – Center Field
2. Matt Carpenter – Second Base
3. Matt Holliday – Left Field
4. Allen Craig – First Base
5. Carlos Beltran – Right Field
6. David Freese – Third Base
7. Yadier Molina – Catcher
8. Pete Kozma – Shortstop
The Sure Things (Barring Injury): Jay, Holliday, Craig, Beltran, Freese, Molina, Kozma
The Unsure Thing: Carpenter
Ty Wigginton – Third Base, First Base, Left Field, Right Field
Daniel Descalso - Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base
Tony Cruz – Catcher, First Base
Matt Adams – First Base, Bat
Shane Robinson – Outfield
Sure Things (Barring Injury): Carpenter, Wigginton, Cruz
Unsure Things: Adams, Robinson
Last Four Left Out: Adron Chambers, Kolten Wong, Ronny Cedeno, Oscar Taveras
There have been two changes since the last update.
First, Rafael Furcal suffered a setback with his right elbow and decided to undergo what will very likely be season-ending Tommy John surgery. Pete Kozma has hit well this spring with (.467 OBP and .714 SLUG) while playing better defense than Ronny Cedeno. Until General Manager John Mozeliak can pull off a trade, which likely would not be until mid-season, Kozma appears to be the likely starter.
The other change is at second base. The question coming into camp was whether Matt Carpenter could play good enough defense at second base to get his bat in the lineup. According to a report published this morning by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Carpenter has adjusted well. Manager Mike Matheny said of Carpenter abilities at second, "We were very confident that this was something he was going to be able to do." Since Carpenter had much better offensive numbers than Daniel Descalso last year he is penciled in as the starting second baseman.
Cedeno was given a $1.15 million contract to as insurance for Furcal, but Cedeno has had a poor spring both at the plate (.733 OPS) and in the field (2 errors over the equivelant of five games). If Cedeno does not play good defense there is no real reason to keep him on the roster since he has been a below average offsensive player. Even with the contract, Cedeno looks like a roster cut at this point.
Shane Robrinson and Adron Chambers are battling for a bench spot as a backup outfielder. Robinson and Chambers are very similar in that both has speed that fails to produce the kind of stolen base numbers one would expect. Both can play excellent defense, and both have very little power coupled with impressive OBP rates in the minors. One could really toss a coin in deciding which one wins a roster spot, but Robinson wins at this point for three main reasons: (1) The club gave him more time at the Major League level last year; (2) Robinson bats right-handed and so provides nice balance if he subs in for Jay against a tough left-handed pitcher (3) Robinson has had perhaps the best spring of any Cardinals player with an insane 1.586 OPS.
Wong is still likely a few months away from being able to play at the Major League level since he finished last year at AA. Given the options of Descalso and Carpenter the club would probably prefer Wong get more grooming at AAA.
Matt Adams has also had an excellent spring and has little to learn in the minors after an excellent season last year in AAA. Even though Adams is blocked by Craig at first base, the club could keep him around simply for the power of his bat off the bench, especially given the struggles of Ty Wigginton so far this spring training.
Jay and Carpenter both had a very high OBP last year which make them perfect plate-setters for Holliday, Craig, and Beltran. The fifth, sixth, and seven hitters could be switched around depending on their statistics against a given pitcher. Kozma will almost certainly hit eighth since he is the weakest hitter of the bunch.
Carlos Beltran has missed significant playing time with knee issues in 2009 and 2010 but the last two years Beltran has played over 140 games each season. If Beltran was to experience any problems top prospect Oscar Taveras would be ready to take over the role.
Projected Starting Rotation
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Jaime Garcia
3. Jake Westbrook
4. Lance Lynn
5. Joe Kelly
Sure Things (Barring Injury): Wainwright, Garcia, Westbrook
Pretty Sure Thing: Lance Lynn
Unsure Thing: Joe Kelly
Fernando Salas - 6th-7th inning
Marc Rzepczynski – 6th-8th Inning
Trevor Rosenthal – 5th-7th Inning
Edward Mujica – 7th Inning
Randy Choate – Whenever the key left-handed hitter shows up in a crucial spot
Mitchell Boggs – 8th Inning
Jason Motte – 9th Inning
Sure Things (Barring Injury): Motte, Boggs, Choate, Mujica, Rzepcynski
Pretty Sure Thing: Rosenthal
Unsure Thing: Salas
Last Three Out: Shelby Miller, Sam Freeman, Barret Browning
Starting Rotation Analysis
Wainwright, Garcia, and Westbrook all have the top three slots locked down assuming they are healthy, which is still a question mark for Garcia given the shoulder problem he struggled with last year. Garcia has pitched relatively well this spring (3.00 ERA) and, most importantly, reported no problems with the shoulder.
The injury to Chris Carpenter assured Lance Lynn of a place in the rotation unless Lynn falters badly in spring training. Lynn began last year as an All-Star with a 3.41 ERA. Lynn then tired in the second half with a 4.32 ERA and eventually was removed from the rotation. Lynn showed up to spring training in better shape this year, which should allow him to weather the 162-game season better this year.
The largest question going into camp is who will be the number five starter. At the beginning of camp Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, and Shelby Miller were all competing for the fifth spot. On Thursday Derrick Goold reported that Rosenthal was told that he will be used out of the bullpen this year, which leaves Kelly and Miller.
Kelly is projected to win the spot in my projection because he has the most starting experience at the Major League level and has performed relatively well this spring with a 2.25 ERA.
Finally, the Cardinals may be motivated by finances to send Miller down to AAA for a month or two. The "clock" on Miller's arbitration eligibility would begin this year if Miller began the year as the fifth starter, but if the Cardinals wait they can gain an extra year of Miller's services at non-arbitration prices.
Most of the bullpen is also already set with established players that have Major League contracts. The roles are also fairly defined with Motte as the closer, Boggs as the setup man, Choate as the left-handed specialist, and Mujica and the rest taking care of the seventh or sixth innings as needed.
The question marks are Rosenthal and Salas.
Rosenthal’s extraordinary fastball makes him an ideal fit in the bullpen, and his starter experience would give the team a long-reliever if needed.
Salas was given the last spot over the rest given his significant Major League experience of over 120 IP, including 24 saves.
Barret Browning (1.73 ERA over 41.2 IP in AAA) and Sam Freeman (2.08 over 30.1 IP in AAA) could both get looks because each would give the bullpen three left-handers, and, theoretically at least, more flexibility. However, both struggled at the Major League level last year which suggests that they may need more development in AAA.