The Cardinals’ pitchers and catchers are officially working out for the first time today, and so begins the quest to reclaim the NL Central title from the Cubs. The road of 162 games is a long and difficult one, and questions will undoubtedly arise along the way. As the Cardinals unpack in Jupiter and hit the backfields, there are five questions the Cardinals must answer before they break camp and head north. They are as follows.
1. Is Kolten Wong the everyday second baseman?
Kolten Wong’s talent and inability to hold the second base job is the most frustrating storyline over the past several seasons. He has twice been the starting second baseman, and twice been demoted to AAA-Memphis. After spending last spring lobbying to bat leadoff and trying to work counts, he struggled throughout the first half. Those struggles landed him in Memphis – and in centerfield – a position he hadn’t played professionally.
Wong rebounded somewhat in the second half, but his performance still left much to be desired. The emergence of Jedd Gyorko as a power source (especially in the second half) kept Wong on the bench. Wong is still the best defender on the infield, and his speed adds diversity to an offense that is largely station to station. Nobody is asking Kolten to be Rogers Hornsby, but he has to add offense. I took an in-depth look at Kolten, and think he can be an average offensive second baseman with a great glove. Wong has to show it, though, and his every at-bat will be dissected throughout Grapefruit League play.
2. Will a middle of the order threat emerge?
With the addition of Dexter Fowler, Mozeliak has stacked OBP at the top of the batting order. Fowler, along with Aledmys Diaz and Matt Carpenter, all get on base exceptionally well, and there figures to be lots of RBI opportunities for the likes of Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk. One of them has replace Matt Holliday as the nucleus of the St. Louis lineup – the type of hitter pitchers fear pitching too.
Grichuk possesses the shear power Piscotty lacks, and Piscotty the discipline and approach that has eluded Grichuk. Piscotty put up numbers that were almost All-Star Game worthy in the first half of 2016. He slashed .295/.370/.480, and drove in 48 runs. His numbers wilted in the dog days, and hit only .247 in the second half. He will have to show increased durability to assert himself as a staple of the lineup.
Grichuk, on the other hand, started terribly slow. In April he hit .189 and slugged a paltry .378, and struck out in 26.2% of his plate appearances. He finished the season with 24 homers, but he lacked discipline all season. He needs to demonstrate improved discipline while maintaining hiss power this spring.
3. Who plays third?
Cardinals fans asked the front office to add a third baseman all off-season, and they didn’t get one. Either Jedd Gyorko or Jhonny Peralta will start the season at third.
Both have offensive positives and negatives, but after the Great Defensive Debacle of 2016, defense really should be the deciding factor in who starts at third. After all, neither Peralta or Gyorko are offensive stalwarts. And, Gyorko’s versatility allows Matheny some flexibility based on offensive need, which will presumably revolve around Wong’s offensive performance.
4. What is Alex Reyes’ role?
I wrote about this extensively last week, and there are three possible routes:
- Reyes is the fifth starter
- Reyes is a reliever
- Reyes starts the season in Memphis
All three options have their pros and cons, but the decision may be out of the Cardinals’ hands due to the upcoming WBC.
5. Has Matheny addressed the fundamentals?
Matheny enters the season under increased scrutiny because of the team’s poor defensive play and base running last season. The team’s flaws manifested themselves way back in Spring Training of last year. Unsurprisingly, Matheny has swore that the sloppy play won’t be repeated in 2017.
Matheny has stated that the club will prioritize defensive fundamentals and base running more so than they did last season – when the Cardinals advised players to save themselves for the upcoming season.
The lackluster approach didn’t seem with the personality of the Cardinals. Matheny himself routinely stresses the “grind” of the day-to-day aspect of Major League Baseball. Matt Carpenter had to take a road trip off in 2015 because he overworked himself, and does Yadier Molina seem like someone who wants to ease into anything?
Hopefully the Cardinals can find the answers they are looking for regarding the questions they face this spring. Regardless, thank God it’s baseball season again.
Thanks for reading, as always!