St. Louis Cardinals: 10 Dark Horses to Make Opening Day Roster

Steven ConklinCorrespondent IIJanuary 31, 2012

St. Louis Cardinals: 10 Dark Horses to Make Opening Day Roster

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    After winning a World Series title, it is easy for a team to overlook the young players they have making their way through the system.

    And the St. Louis Cardinals may be doing just that. 

    With the departure of a certain famous face this winter, much of Cardinal Nation has paid little attention to the possibilities of the future and have instead focused on the past. 

    But the future is bright for the Cardinals.

    St. Louis currently has a crop of great young pitchers and hitters, and some of them could find their way to Busch Stadium in 2012.

    Here are 10 dark horses to make the Cardinals' Opening Day roster. 

Lance Lynn, Relief Pitcher

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    It may surprise some Cardinals fans that Lance Lynn is still considered a rookie by Major League Baseball's standards.

    Lynn saw just 34.2 innings of work  with the club out of the bullpen in 2011. 

    He was kept for the playoffs and was given a spot on the World Series roster, however, some may most remember Lynn for the incident in which Tony LaRussa made a confusing bullpen call during the World Series. The pitcher was sent out to the mound, but LaRussa quickly pulled him for another right-hander. 

    It really displayed the confidence (or lack there of) the club had in Lynn last October. 

    Maybe under a new manager and pitching coach, Lynn will be appreciated more and get a chance to start 2012 in St. Louis. 

Bryan Anderson, Catcher

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    The catcher position in St. Louis is still all locked up by All-Star Yadier Molina and most likely will be for years to come, however, the back-up spot is up for grabs.

    While some believe Tony Cruz will get the nod, don't be surprised if 25-year-old Bryan Anderson makes his way onto the roster. 

    Anderson hasn't seen the big leagues since 2010, a year in which he played 15 games for the Cardinals. 

    In those 15 games, he posted a .281 average and drove in four runs. 

    In 2011, he spent the entire season with AAA Memphis and sported a .281 average there as well. 

Maikel Cleto, Relief Pitcher

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    Maikel Cleto throws hard, so why wouldn't the Cardinals love to have his arm in their bullpen come April?

    The right-handed reliever has a fastball that consistently sits in the upper-90's and often breaks triple digits. 

    Cleto's main issue is with his command, but the high-ceiling his talent has could be enough to sneak him onto the opening day roster.

    Cleto had a disappointing debut in St. Louis last year--giving up six runs in four innings--but spring training could give him the confidence to be a reliable young reliever at the major league level. 

Adron Chambers, Outfield

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    The Cardinals outfield will be pretty packed at some point in 2012, but with Allen Craig out for the first month or so due to knee surgery, Adron Chambers might find himself starting the season with the big boys.

    Chambers is a quick player that can certainly help St. Louis on the base paths, stealing 22 bases in the minor leagues last season. 

    Fans loved this player late in the year.

    Chambers made just eight plate appearances, but he drove in four runs and came up big with some late-inning heroics.

    Behind Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and John Jay, the Cardinals would have great option in Adron Chambers until Allen Craig shows up.  

Zack Cox, 3B

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    David Freese has cemented his name in St. Louis history and is looking like the third baseman for years to come, but Zack Cox is proof the Cardinals have great depth at the hot corner.

    The 22-year-old--drafted 25th overall in 2010-- has tore it up in the minor leagues. 

    In 2011, he climbed his way to AA Springfield where he finally looked human, while still hitting a respectable .293.

    St. Louis has Daniel Descalso, but there is still a chance Cox could make his way onto the club.

    After all, it isn't uncommon for the Cardinals to bring players up from AA straight to the big league club.  

Shelby Miller, Starting Pitcher

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    Shelby Miller is the Cardinals' top prospect and is one of the most coveted in prospects in all of baseball.

    At just 21 years of age, Miller looks MLB-ready, but the right-handed hurler is a serious dark horse to make the opening day roster. 

    Miller was suspended indefinitely by the organization after an alcohol-related incident (before he turned 21) last August, so it would be a surprise to many if St. Louis did not want him starting the year out in Springfield or Memphis. 

    Personally, I believe Miller will see the big leagues in 2012, but it will be later in the season. 

Mark Hamilton, First Baseman

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    Mark Hamilton has to be a frustrating issue for the St. Louis Cardinals. 

    The first baseman has looked great in the minors and has given the club reasons to bring him up multiple times, but, once the first baseman gets to St. Louis, he struggles immensely at the plate. 

    In 2010, Hamilton went 2-14 at the plate in nine games. 

    In 2011, he saw more time playing in 38 contests, yet only hit a paltry .213.

    For now it looks like Hamilton will be a career minor league player,  but that doesn't mean we won't see him contend for a spot behind Lance Berkman during spring training. 

Matt Adams, First Baseman

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    With the departure of Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman will become the everyday first baseman for St. Louis, but there is no clear back-up. 

    Options include the  aforementioned Mark Hamilton and this guy: Matt Adams. 

    In my opinion, Adams is the most underrated prospect in the Cardinals organization.

    Last year the 23-year-old hit .300 in AA Springfield, while slugging 32 home runs and driving in 101 runs. 

    Might we see Adams in a Cardinal uniform in 2012?

    Possibly, but if the Cardinals are smart, they will wait and let him continue to crush minor league pitchers. 

Tyler Greene, Shortstop

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    Tyler Greene has the best chance out of any shortstop in the Cardinals farm system to start the year with St. Louis. 

    The club really doesn't have too many options to put behind Rafael Furcal unless they expect Daniel Descalso to play there as well. 

    Greene has had multiple opportunities with St. Louis to make an impression but he hasn't produced.  The shortstop has appeared in 40 or more games each of the last three years but has never batted above .222. 

    If the Cardinals are wising up, Greene may not have as many opportunities in 2012. 

Eduardo Sanchez, Relief Pitcher

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    The Cardinals have a strong bullpen and Eduardo Sanchez will certainly have the opportunity to add to it. 

    The 22-year-old was phenomenal at the big league level last year.

    In 26 games, Sanchez sported a measly 1.80 ERA and struck out 35 batters in 30 innings of work, to go along with five saves, but the young right-hander may have a hard time making the major league club after spring training.

    The Cardinals already have five legitimate relievers who will surely see the bullpen this year, so there may not be room for Sanchez.

    If Sanchez does make the roster, however, I'm willing to bet he proves 2011 was no fluke. 

    Steven Conklin is a contributing writer for the Bleacher Report and a student at the University of Central Missouri. He joined B/R in October 2011 and will be a B/R intern starting January 23rd. Any comments, questions or suggestions are more than welcome.