Cardinals competing for roster spots 2021
The Cardinals have worked with confidence this spring that their depth can carry them throughout the season. Splash’s acquisition of Nolan Arenado certainly changed the make-up of the line-up, but the club signing off from other serious additions this offseason was testament to the progress they believe the current replay of players can make.
So the competitions that were held in the camp are more of an alignment of the current parts than real battles over the start time. The infield has been discontinued, the rotation has been discontinued and the bullpen is almost unchanged from last season.
Competition is always welcome, but the ongoing battles that take place lower down the roster give the Cardinals hope that their highly talented soil will bode well for a third straight post-season appearance – and possibly more.
There are only eight days left to opening day in Cincinnati, and there are actually still places to be won. Let’s examine where the four remaining battles stand.
The news that Harrison Bader was unavailable at the start of the season was certainly a blow to the cards outfield image, which was supposed to show him in the center, Tyler O’Neill on the left and Dylan Carlson on the right. Now Carlson will be the primary midfielder with replays throughout the camp.
But Bader’s absence allows a few other bladder candidates to gain strength. Justin Williams will likely make up the squad now and could be the right starting player if Carlson starts in the middle. Lane Thomas, who had an inside track for a seat at the start of the camp, is now a sure substitute candidate due to his ability to play in the center. John Nogowski, who is a natural first baseman but does more reps in the outfield, may have just seen his squad chances increase. Meanwhile, Austin Dean makes a noise as the camp relaxes.
In few places the cardinals are allowed to bend their depth more than in this field mixing.
Matt Carpenter is a castle. Williams and Thomas are now near the locks – just a matter of who starts when – while Nogowski’s hot spring can be rewarded with a bank seat
But what about an infield utility player? José Rondón, who signed a minor league deal this off-season, has “thunder in the bat” according to manager Mike Shildt and has not stopped beating this spring. But the club also has Edmundo Sosa, who has no minor league options, as an internal candidate. Choosing Rondón over Sosa would mean sending the latter through waivers, which the club may not want to do earlier in the year. But Rondón made it difficult not to deserve at least a look. Max Moroff had a nice spring too.
Either way, the cards know that this group of players will make valuable contributions as the season progresses. When exactly is to be determined.
The back end of the rotation
With each day that goes by, Kwang Hyun Kim seems more ready for his first round of the rotation, though it will likely be a limited one after his battle with back tension. With Miles Mikolas (right shoulder) the only pitcher officially banned from opening service, Cardinals only need to fill in one rotation point behind Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martínez and Kim.
John Gant pretty much secured that role after continuing to show his deep arsenal of pitches with five punchouts over his five innings on his final break. Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jake Woodford and Johan Oviedo all stay ready on the runway, with Ponce de Leon being the main contender to step up in a pinch, but they are designed for swinger roles. Woodford and Oviedo could start the year in Triple-A. Ponce de Leon could also serve as a piggyback option if the club decides to lean that way.
The Cardinals have been careful about naming a turnkey too quickly, and neither do they feel the need to do so. Jordan Hicks is back, but he will be back in the game for the first time since June 2019. Giovanny Gallegos, Andrew Miller and Alex Reyes all have many years of graduation experience, and this track record is reassuring that the narrower role will of course be worked out.
Overall, the Cardinals feel they have less leverage arms that could close for other teams. Seven different St. Louis pitchers saved up in 2020 – a number that is likely to decline in 21 but is a symbol of the overarching depth in the club’s bullpen.