St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training Wars

cardspring

Here is a very comprehensive  write up by Connor Byrne in MLB Trade Rumors. Its a great read. I love seeing the competition, it always brings out the best in them.

Before they attempt to bounce back from their first non-playoff season since 2010, the Cardinals have a few positions they’ll need to figure out leading up to April. Let’s take a look in the latest edition of MLBTR’s Camp Battles series

Third Base

Jhonny Peralta
Age: 34
Bats: R
Contract Status: One year, $10MM
Options Remaining: Can’t be optioned without consent

Jedd Gyorko
Age: 28
Bats: R
Contract Status: Three years, $28MM (club option worth $13MM – or $1MM buyout – for 2020)
Options Remaining: 2

Judging by their disparate 2016 outputs, this shouldn’t be much of a competition. Peralta slashed .260/.307/.408 in 313 plate appearances, which paled in comparison to Gyorko’s .243/.306/.495 line buoyed by a team-high 30 home runs across 438 PAs. However, the Cardinals continue to value the normally steady Peralta, who dealt with a thumb injury last season and looks like the favorite to open the year at the hot corner for the Redbirds. If a healthy Peralta grabs the job, Gyorko would serve as a fallback option all over the infield, having accrued double-digit appearances at first, second, short and third last year.

Prediction: Peralta does indeed win the battle, leaving Gyorko to begin the season in a utility role.

Starting Rotation (one spot)

Michael Wacha
Age: 25
Throws: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until at least the 2020-21 offseason
Options Remaining: 2

Trevor Rosenthal
Age: 26
Throws: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until at least the 2019-20 offseason
Options Remaining: 2

Luke Weaver
Age: 23
Throws: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until at least the 2022-23 offseason
Options Remaining: 3

Star prospect Alex Reyes might have been the front-runner for this role before tearing his ulnar collateral ligament, which could be a yearslong blow to the Cardinals organization if he’s unable to regain form after Tommy John surgery. While the Cardinals hope for a smooth recovery for Reyes, they’ll choose among three intriguing candidates to fill the No. 5 spot in their rotation this year.

Wacha is easily the most experienced starter of the trio, having totaled 82 appearances from the rotation since debuting in 2013. Wacha looked like a front-end starter in the making in his first three years, during which he combined for a 3.21 ERA (3.48 FIP), 7.95 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 44.3 percent ground-ball rate over 353 innings. Unfortunately, shoulder injuries have undermined Wacha lately, especially during a 138-inning 2016 in which he spent some time in the bullpen. Wacha posted a bloated ERA (5.09) and a career-low swinging-strike percentage (8.1, down from a lifetime 9.5), though that did come with a 3.91 FIP and normal strikeout (7.43 K/9), walk (2.93 BB/9) and grounder rates (45 percent). He also maintained his typical velocity.

Like Wacha, Rosenthal went from an eminently valuable contributor during his first few big league seasons to a player who endured a shoulder injury-plagued year to forget in 2016. While Rosenthal has worked exclusively out of the bullpen to this point, he was once a well-regarded starting prospect. The 26-year-old became a top-level setup man/closer from 2013-15, but Rosenthal surrendered the ninth-inning job to Seung-hwan Oh during the summer as he lost his control (his career 3.99 BB/9 climbed to 6.47), saw his home run-to-fly ball ratio more than double (from 6.1 percent to 12.5 percent) and posted a sky-high BABIP (.425, up from .338). However, after returning from a multiple-month absence in mid-September, the hard-throwing Rosenthal closed the season on a high note. In his final five appearances (seven innings), he yielded just one earned run and two walks while striking out eight. Regardless of whether Rosenthal starts or relieves this year, the Cardinals will obviously hope his late-2016 surge proves to be a sign of things to come.

Weaver, meanwhile, has been great in the minors since 2015, which helped lead to a nine-appearance, eight-start audition in the bigs last year. Despite notching 11.15 strikeouts per nine against 2.97 walks, Weaver had home run issues en route to a 5.70 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. All told, Weaver gave up seven long balls and induced grounders at a meager 30.7 percent clip. But Weaver’s troubles last season haven’t turned off MLB.com or Baseball America, two outlets that rank him as a top 70 prospect. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wrote in January that Weaver “projects as a solid, league-average starter.”

Prediction: Wacha joins Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Mike Leake in the St. Louis rotation. Rosenthal stays in the the bullpen. Weaver heads back to Triple-A Memphis.

Bullpen (one spot)

Tyler Lyons
Age: 29
Throws: L
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until the 2020-21 offseason
Options Remaining: Out of options

Miguel Socolovich
Age: 30
Throws: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until the 2022-23 offseason
Options Remaining: Out of options

John Gant
Age: 24
Throws: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until the 2022-23 offseason
Options Remaining: 2

Sam Tuivailala
Age: 24
Throws: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until the 2022-23 offseason
Options Remaining: 1

Jordan Schafer
Age: 30
Throws: L
Contract Status: Minor league contract (terms unreported)
Options Remaining: Can’t be optioned without consent

Considering he’s on the mend from a right knee injury suffered last summer, Lyons technically isn’t battling for a role right now. He could be ready in time for Opening Day, though, according to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Lyons came up as a starter, but he worked solely from the bullpen last season and recorded a 3.38 ERA, 8.63 K/9 and 2.63 BB/9 in 40 innings. He was especially tough on left-handed hitters, who batted a paltry .152/.214/.250 against him.

Socolovich, like Lyons, is out of options on the heels of a productive 2016. His 2.00 ERA and 53.5 percent grounder rate came over a mere 18 innings, though it was the latest encouraging performance from a reliever who has held his own through 64 career frames (2.95 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 7.73 K/9, 3.38 BB/9).

Gant spent the previous two seasons with the Braves, who sent him to the Cardinals in the teams’ Jaime Garcia trade in December. The former Mets farmhand debuted in the majors last year in Atlanta, where he made 20 appearances and seven starts. Along the way, he registered fairly even numbers as a starter compared to a reliever (4.80 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 in 30 innings from the rotation; 4.95 ERA, 9.0 K/9, 3.15 BB/9 in 20 frames out of the bullpen).

The bat-missing Tuivailala brings a fastball which averages 96 mph to the table, but he has had difficulty controlling it. Tuivailala, whose first action with the Cards came in 2014, has handed out 16 free passes in 24 2/3 major league innings and recorded a 4.6 BB/9 in 93 Triple-A frames. He seems like a strong bet to get further seasoning in Memphis to begin 2017.

Schafer, too, could have trouble cracking the 25-man. The longtime outfielder and non-roster invitee’s versatility intrigues the Cardinals, however, and his best chance to make their roster is if he shows the ability to work as a competent hybrid player.

Prediction: Either of the two out-of-options relievers will land the last spot in the Cardinals’ bullpen. If it’s a healthy Lyons, he’ll take it. Otherwise it’ll go to Solovich. Regardless, the Cardinals are loaded in the bullpen, where they figure to prominently feature Oh, Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Brett Cecil, Jonathan Broxton and Matthew Bowman. They also have depth with some of the names above, not to mention on-the-mend pitchers in Zach Duke and Marco Gonzales.

Fourth Outfielder

Tommy Pham
Age: 29
Bats: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until the 2021-22 offseason
Options Remaining: 1

Jose Martinez
Age: 28
Bats: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until the 2022-23 offseason
Options Remaining: 2

Todd Cunningham
Age: 27
Bats: S
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; cannot become a free agent until the 2022-23 offseason
Options Remaining: Out of options

Chad Huffman
Age: 31
Bats: R
Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; annot become a free agent until the 2022-23 offseason
Options Remaining: Out of options

The odds-on favorite to end up as the Cardinals’ top outfielder behind Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk is likely Pham, who has seen action at all three positions in the grass and slashed a respectable .245/.333/.455 with 14 homers in 358 PAs since debuting in 2014. But now-Diamondback Jeremy Hazelbaker improbably turned a strong spring into a spot with the Cards a year ago, and Martinez, Cunningham and Huffman are surely hoping to follow in his footsteps.

Martinez is the only one of the three who has played with the Cardinals, having picked up 18 PAs with them in 2016, and owns a .324/.392/.483 slash in 885 Triple-A PAs. The switch-hitting Cunningham hasn’t been anywhere near that effective as a Triple-A hitter (.274/.349/.368 in 1,810 PAs), and has been in over his head in 130 plate trips with the Angels and Braves (.207/.256/.264), but he’s a stolen base threat who has accounted for eight Defensive Runs Saved and a 19.7 UZR/150 in a small defensive sample size in the bigs.

Then there’s the eldest of the bunch, Huffman, whose only 21 major league PAs came back in 2010 with the Yankees. Like Martinez, Huffman offers a quality track record of Triple-A production (.272/.364/.455 in 2,604 PAs). Of course, the fact that he’s over 30 and has barely garnered any major league action doesn’t bode well for his chances of bursting on the scene this season or any other year.

Prediction: Pham will defeat a relatively unimpressive group of combatants to remain St. Louis’ fourth outfielder to begin 2017. But it seems he’ll soon have the newly signed Jose Adolis Garcia breathing down his neck. Garcia, whom general manager John Mozeliak views as a five-tool talent, could be major league ready by the summer.

 

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