As I have spent this week in St. Louis Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla., I will offer my thoughts regarding playing time estimates and season-opening roster/role projections for several of their players.
Projection: 2B starter
I initially assumed the Carpenter experiment might turn out as it did when the Cards tried to make Skip Schumaker a second baseman four years ago. Then again, the reality is that Schumaker became the primary starter at the position for three seasons, racking up 400-plus plate appearances each time. Carpenter is a superior offensive player.
All indications are that Carpenter is handling the defensive shift well. If it continues, look for him to potentially wrest a majority of the starts at the position away from Daniel Descalso. The challenge is that both are left-handed hitters, with Carpenter having the more potent bat.
In the process, Carpenter adds yet another position to his already-strong multi-position eligibility. If you are in an OBP league, give him a slight bump up as he can take a walk.
Projection: 2B starter (Triple-A)
Those who held out hope Wong could make the leap from Double-A into the Cardinals' lineup this spring are going to be disappointed. If Carpenter can continue to bring enough glove to the position, Wong’s big-league arrival will depend on his play at Triple-A plus an opening in St. Louis that seems to have temporarily closed up.
Projection: SS reserve (shaky)
The Cardinals do not seem to be wild about the veteran’s approach at the plate and it is hardly a secret that Cedeno’s defense has always been inconsistent to the extreme. With a non-guaranteed contract and Pete Kozma playing well, Cedeno coming north with the team should not be assumed. Even if he makes the opening day roster, at-bats should be relatively scarce.
Projection: Middle infield reserve
Even if Carpenter gets more starts at second as I suggested might happen, Descalso would serve as the reserve shortstop as well if Cedeno is jettisoned. I would not downgrade Descalso’s projected at-bats substantially. Don’t get too excited, though. his numbers are what they are. Perhaps a modest improvement in batting average could be in the offing, but that may be about it.
Projection: Starting shortstop
Last year’s September sensation is the primary beneficiary of Rafael Furcal’s season-ending elbow surgery. I have to be honest. I am struggling to understand how a hitter can be so good in the Majors after being so bad for so long in the Minors, including two seasons in Triple-A. Your guess is as good as mine if Kozma can sustain it, but he now has considerable job security. You could do a lot worse if you are looking for NL at-bats at shortstop.
Projection: Starting outfielder (Triple-A)
By Team Puerto Rico advancing in the World Baseball Classic, Carlos Beltran’s absence from the Cardinals has been extended. That creates extended playing time for the organization’s top hitting prospect. Don’t expect it to translate into a major league roster spot to open the season, however. If/when Beltran’s knees give out, however, be ready to pounce. In the meantime, expect Taveras to feast on Pacific Coast League pitching.
Projection: First base reserve
Adams was just as blocked from regular playing time before teammate Allen Craig signed a five-year contract last week as after. Short of injury to Craig, finding consistent at-bats for Adams is going to be a challenge. Yet, his power bat may be too potent to return to Triple-A.
If Adams is in St. Louis and is productive as a reserve, he might be able to hold off Taveras for awhile if Beltran or Matt Holliday go down with injury. Even that would require Craig to return to the outfield. It is not an ideal scenario from the Cardinals’ perspective, but not unreasonable.
Projection: Set-up man
After just three spring outings, the 100 mph-throwing right-hander was eliminated from the fifth-starter competition. Rosenthal had not been his usual aggressive self – fanning just two batters in his seven innings as a starter. Returned to the pen, he struck out the side in his first frame of work.
If Shelby Miller moves into the rotation, Rosenthal could be shifted into the starter-in-waiting role by returning to Triple-A and stretching out his innings. Yet with Michael Wacha opening eyes in camp, that may not be needed.
In the meantime, you have a high-strikeout major league set-up man in Rosenthal. If dependable closer Jason Motte was to be shelved, I wouldn’t count Rosenthal out of ninth-inning duties. Such an interim move once worked pretty well for Adam Wainwright.
Projection: Starter (Triple-A, until STL opening)
Coming into camp, most observers assumed that Miller would win the fifth-starter battle with Rosenthal and Joe Kelly. I was not among them. Though Rosenthal was quickly eliminated, the Cardinals are not ready to declare a winner from the other two. Kelly has pitched well and is not backing down.
If the contest remains close, the Cardinals have flexibility to put Kelly in the pen but also have service time motivation for Miller to spend a couple of months back in Triple-A – or until the first rotation opening occurs. Do not expect the Cardinals to follow the Rosenthal model with Miller, though. He will remain a starter. It is only a matter of time until that is in St. Louis. His long-term potential remains sky-high.
Projection: Starter (high-risk, high-reward)
Despite a strong spring to-date, the left-hander remains a question mark due to 2012 shoulder problems that were addressed in a non-surgical manner – via rest and rehab. If you are looking for an opening for the Miller-Kelly rotation loser to re-emerge, Garcia could provide the source. Or, if you are a gambler, remember that no one on the Cardinals' staff has better stuff than Garcia – when he is healthy.
Projection: Starter (Double-A, but not for long)
Taken 19th overall in the 2012 draft from Texas A&M, Wacha has been the biggest surprise in camp. The strikeout machine has just a handful of relief appearances at Double-A, but at this rate, Wacha could be this year’s Rosenthal. In other words, an arrival in St. Louis later this season and competing for a rotation spot next spring.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.