July 1 marked the day that all 30 MLB teams returned to training camp in preparation for the start of the season officially beginning.
Despite the ongoing hypothetical situations surrounding the uncertainty of playing a full season, baseball is slated to start, so let’s look forward to that.
More specifically, let’s look at the St. Louis Cardinals’ outfield situation.
St. Louis’ outfield is completely up in the air right now. There may be only one outfield spot that is set, and that is center field. It is a forgone conclusion that Harrison Bader will start there with a plus arm, insane range, and an ability to make web gems on a weekly basis. In fact, he is a candidate to win the Gold Glove award if he plays a full season.
The main knock on Bader is his hitting. He is an average fastball hitter; all 12 of his home runs came off of them. When it comes to breaking and offspeed pitches, there is a completely different story. In 173 at-bats, he has racked up 26 hits on both types of pitches. Bader needs to step that up, plain and simple.
Next up, Tyler O’Neil seems to be the favorite to be the starting left fielder. O’Neil’s ceiling is very high and he could potentially be a 30-home run player. O’Neil is not the most disciplined of hitters, as he struck out 53 times in 141 at-bats. Consistency has been an issue for him, too. When O’Neil has had consistent at-bats, he has performed well, showing abilities to spray to all fields. The logjam has never been in his favor, but 2020 will be different, and he will get his opportunity barring a drop-off.
Top prospect Dylan Carlson was invited to Spring Training and instantly became a darling with Cardinals fans. Carlson batted .313 before Spring Training was halted and put pressure on the veterans at camp. The Cardinals could use a big jolt in a lineup that is lacking in the power department outside of Paul Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong, and Matt Carpenter. There’s no reason why Carlson should not have a real shot at being the right fielder come Opening Day simply because the Cardinals must capitalize on a wide-open National League Central. Sometimes, all it takes is one guy to boost the whole lineup, and the energy of a top prospect may be what the doctor ordered.
Dexter Fowler‘s stint with the Cardinals—outside of his first season—has been very disappointing. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract that, considering all the other talent in the Cardinals’ outfield, has to be mired with regret. Mixed in competition with the other outfielders in Spring Training, Fowler performed miserably, racking up only three hits in 31 at-bats. Clearly, there are many outfielders playing better than Fowler, and a big mistake would be to keep forcing him out there due to his contract. If anything, Fowler could be the designated hitter, but Carpenter may have that locked down for himself.
Lastly, Lane Thomas is the forgotten guy in this outfield competition, quite possibly because he is new to town. Further, he is recovering from a broken hand suffered in Milwaukee last season. While forgotten, Thomas has traits similar to Carlson and O’Neil in terms of being an MLB-caliber hitter and plus defender. However, the broken hand put Thomas behind the eight-ball, robbing Cardinal fans of seeing his full potential. Thomas is definitely a sleeper, so look out for him.
Manager Mike Shildt has his hands full with this decision, but there is a right one. O’Neil and Bader seem to be shoo-ins at left and center field, but what about right field? The spot has to go to Carlson solely based on what he showed in Spring Training. The outfield will look very young but filled with a lot of potential.
No matter what decision is made, the Cardinals will trot out a very interesting outfield in 2020.