The Cardinals have a week and a half of spring training games under their belt, and there are good signs, and warning signs. Here are three of each after nine grapefruit league contests and a 3-6 record.
1. Tommy Pham. Pham only has eleven at bats under his belt through Sunday’s game, but he’s given us no reason so far to believe that what he accomplished last year was a fluke. Pham has a triple and a homer among his four hits, and he’s got his 3-4-5 goal (.300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage) going with a slash line of .364/.417/.818. Down in Florida last week, Pham worked relentlessly to get better, and was frustrated when he wasn’t perfect.
2. The three young righthanded relievers that were already here; Matt Bowman, John Brebbia and Sam Tuivailala. The three have combined to pitch eight scoreless innings in eight games, with fourteen strikeouts and three walks. The lefties haven’t been great yet because Brett Cecil arrived at camp late because of an excused absence, and Tyler Lyons has only pitched one inning and allowed two runs.
3. The Memphis outfield. Whoever plays there from among Harrison Bader, Adolis Garcia, Orlando Mercado, Randy Arozarena and/or Tyler O’Neill, each of those that have played this spring have impressed. Bader, of course, spent time here in St. Louis last year. This spring, he’s hitting .348 with three doubles, a .375 OBP and a .478 slugging percentage. He’s also played well defensively in the outfield. Garcia, Mercado and Arozarena are all hitting over .300 with varying degrees of overall offensive success, while all are among the top eight in plate appearances so far. Each, by the way, has excellent defensive ability.
The Cardinals have a bright future if the spring performances of their young outfielders is any indication. O’Neill, by the way, has a side injury and hasn’t been able to play since the third game of spring.
1. The front and back of the rotation. It’s early, but Cardinal starters do have a 9.28 ERA so far. Import Miles Mikolas has a 19.29 ERA and has allowed thirteen hits in 4 2/3 innings. Carlos Martinez walked three in his only start, in which he only got four outs. Martinez didn’t appear in his second scheduled start because of a personal issue. Michael Wacha has been mostly great in his two starts. Wacha has made it a point to be more efficient and spend more time in the strike zone this season, and has accomplished that in his first two starts. Adam Wainwright and Luke Weaver have yet to allow a run in their starts.
To be fair, reliever Bud Norris was knocked around when he subbed for Martinez on Friday, and Jack Flaherty hopefully won’t have to pitch in the big leagues early…he’s allowed four runs in four innings in his two starts so far.
2. Paul DeJong’s plate discipline. DeJong gave himself something to work during the off-season when he struck out 124 times and walked just 21 times in 443 plate appearances in 2017. So far this spring in fourteen at bats, DeJong has struck out five times and has yet to walk. If DeJong is to be the number five hitter in the Redbirds’ order, he’s going to have to avoid the strikeouts and be more selective. While I don’t worry about veterans like Yadier Molina, Dexter Fowler or even Kolten Wong’s stats in spring training, I do worry about a continuing trend for a second-year player that just today received a six-year extension.
3. Matt Carpenter’s back. Carpenter struggled with a bad shoulder down the stretch last year and showed up at camp with the bad back this year. While he puts in hours of grueling work attempting to get back on the field, he hasn’t been able to play yet. Carpenter is penciled in as the number three hitter, and if he is would be the only lefthanded bat in the middle of the order. Because Carpenter valiantly battled injury last year, he was able to play in 145 games even though he was compromised.
When a hitter/infielder is dealing with any kind of back injury that lingers for a couple of weeks, it can be cause for alarm. While not alarming yet, Carpenter’s inability to get on the field must be considered a not so good thing.
Now, by May 1 will any of this matter? Probably not. But with nine games played, there are things I like to see and things that aren’t so good. Hopefully the Cardinals can keep guys healthy and get those that aren’t on the field, and figure out what they have, what they are and most importantly what they need in the next week or so, while there are still quality elements available on the free agent market.