Heading Into Final Two Weeks Of Spring Training, Here’s My Cardinals’ Check List

It’s happening quickly. The long, leisurely pace of baseball’s spring training is speeding up, approaching completion. The Chicago Cubs will be at Busch Stadium to open the 2017 regular season April 2, and as of Friday morning, that’s only 16 days from now. Are the Cardinals ready to go? For the most part, yes.

In no particular order, here are a few things I’m looking at between now and the time the Cards decamp:

Rosenthal has 110 saves in his five seasons with the Cardinals.

1. Trevor Rosenthal. What is his role? He won’t be a starter. That was a long shot, anyway, and the option was dismissed when Rosenthal injured a lat while lifting weights.

He’s pitched little this spring. He’ll ready to be go physically, but you have to wonder if he can get stretched out in time for the season opener. And you have to question his efficiency and the quality of his secondary pitches.

The Cardinals wanted to look at Rosenthal as a “flex” reliever who can pitch multiple innings per appearance. I don’t know about that. Maybe it’s best to have him serve as a deluxe setup man. Rosenthal must sharpen up before the real baseball begins. And for the long term you have to hope he can stay healthy.

And given manager Mike Matheny’s historical and seemingly eternal difficulties in running a bullpen, I cringe when thinking about the beloved leader of men coming up with a sensible, coherent plan to deploy Rosenthal as a multi-inning Andrew Miller type.

2. Speaking of the bullpen, how many gigs are available? If the Cards carry seven relievers, which is likely, six jobs already are accounted for: RH relievers Seung Hwan Oh, Rosenthal, Jonathan Broxton and Matthew Bowman — plus LHP Brett Cecil and Kevin Siegrist. Of course, that’s if everyone stays healthy and is good to go on opening day. That leaves RHP Miguel Socolovich, John Gant and Sam Tuivailala vying for the final seat in the bullpen. I’m not making any predictions here, but Socolovich is out of options and he’s pitched well this spring. At the start of camp, I didn’t think he had much of a chance of ending up on the 25-man roster, but it’s quite possible now.

The question with Gant: is it best to keep him on the big-league club as a long reliever or dispatch him to Class AAA Memphis to start and be ready to roll should the Cardinals have an emergency need for a starting pitcher? Tuivailala still doesn’t have a reliable offspeed pitch.

There’s also LH Tyler Lyons. He’s also out of options. Lyons is rehabbing from knee surgery and is ahead of schedule. Though Lyons will likely be OK to pitch soon, he could be placed on the DL at the start of the season. That would buy some time for reconsidering the bullpen alignment.

Keep this in mind about Socolovich: working 47.2 innings for the Cardinals over the past two seasons, he pitched to a 1.89 ERA, had an excellent 0.94 WHIP, and held left-handed batters to a .145 average and .472 OPS. A right-handed reliever that can neutralize LH batters is a nice asset for a manager. And Socolovich can pitch multiple innings — another plus.

Wong batted .240 with a .327 OBP in 313 at bats in 2016.

3. What’s up with Kolten Wong? For the most part spring training numbers should be viewed as junk stats, or maybe fool’s gold. But after being declared — again — the club’s starting second baseman this past offseason, Wong is batting .207 this spring. That’s not a cause for alarm, but at the same time you wish he would do something to reaffirm his starting status. Wong’s defense matters. It’s important. And for the record, I want to see Wong be this team’s regular second baseman. But after leading the Cardinals with 30 homers last season, Jedd Gyorko is having a good spring (.630 slugging pct.) And the tormented Wong continues to psychoanalyze himself during interviews; I just never know where the dude’s head is at.

Sigh. And then there’s this from Matheny who was asked about Wong’s starting status.

“I haven’t put the pieces together,” Matheny said. “It’s not time. Too many things can happen. Letting guys go play the game. It’s not fair to Kolten for us to draw these conclusions. We’ve got positions. We’ve got opportunity. Go play.

I’ve been very clear from the beginning that I think it’s best for each individual player as well as the team to come in here and earn it. Prove to yourself. Prove to your teammates.”

Here we go again.

4. Who wins the fourth outfield spot? I wrote about this in yesterday’s piece, so I’ll try to keep this brief. If the Cardinals as expected carry 12 pitchers, that leaves room for one backup outfielder … unless the Cardinals want to risk losing Greg Garcia on waivers by trying to send him to Class AAA Memphis …  or unless they trade a position player who projects for the 25-man roster. (Many would nominate Matt Adams, but it would be stupid to give him away in a trade that nets a marginal return.) But if the Cardinals open with four outfielders, the decision almost certainly comes down to Tommy Pham vs. Jose Martinez. I’ll spare you of the numbers, which I posted yesterday. Martinez has had a great camp with a bat in his hands.  Pham hasn’t. If this is based on Grapefruit League performance, Martinez has the clear edge. If this roster call is about having speed, plus depth in center field — Pham can play center; Martinez cannot — then Pham probably gets the check mark. I’d be surprised if Martinez fails to make the cut.

5. The third base competition … is it really a competition? We’ve been through this  before, but let’s review: Jhonny Peralta can play third base. At Jhonny’s age, and with his decreased range, I can’t imagine him logging many innings at shortstop or any other infield position. Gyorko, however, can play all five infield positions. Last year, according to the metrics at Bill James Online, Gyorko was a plus defender at second base and third base. He was average at first base. He was slightly below average (minus 3 Defensive Runs Saved.) If you want to have power at multiple positions, and you value flexibility, then it makes sense to keep Gyorko in a Brock Holt, Ben Zobrist role. Peralta can’t be moved around and slotted at different positions based on need or matchups.

There’s no reason to believe Gyorko will be the starting third baseman early in the season. The team will do the right thing: see what Peralta has left, give him considerable playing time at the outset and, if he’s terrible, adjust accordingly. The same applies to second base: if Wong flunks again, then you go to other options including Gyorko. This isn’t that complicated. Gyorko (if he’s producing) will get plenty of at-bats. And if Peralta and/or Wong are hurting their team, then it’s up to Matheny to increase Gyorko’s playing time.

Have a great weekend.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie 

Miklasz: Cardinals Outfield Watch: Harrison Bader Could Be Closer Than We Think