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Complete St. Louis Cardinals 2014 Spring Training Preview

Corey NolesCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2014

Complete St. Louis Cardinals 2014 Spring Training Preview

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    With a handful of pitchers and catchers already on the ground in Florida, the St. Louis Cardinals are already in position to get back to baseball.

    The official report date for pitchers and catchers at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., is Wednesday, Feb. 12. The first workout is scheduled for the following day.

    Spring training is many different things in the world of baseball. It’s a new beginning. It’s the time of year when every team has hope and every fanbase still has a shot.

    Before hope, though, come the various dynamics that are in play during spring training. Before the bags are unpacked come concerns about chemistry, lineup construction, injury rehabilitation and position battles just to name a few things.

    Each one of those issues will be an integral part of the Cardinals spring training even before they take the field for their first preseason game on Friday, Feb. 28.

    Following is a complete preview of the Cardinals 2014 spring training.

1. Offseason Recap

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Feb. 6, 2014 — Signed free-agent RHP Pat Neshek to a minor league contract with a spring training invitation.

    Impact: Neshek, picked up as a low-risk signing days before the start of spring training, could be an interesting pickup for the Cardinals. His right-handed sidearm delivery is quite deceptive. If he can control it, Neshek could be a real asset.

    Jan. 6, 2014 — Claimed CF Rafael Ortega off waivers from Texas Rangers.

    Impact: While Ortega put up mediocre numbers in 2013, a trio of 30 stolen base seasons in the minor league make him an interesting fit for the Cardinals. Despite that, it’s unlikely he will see any time as a starter in St. Louis.

    Dec. 16, 2013 — Signed free-agent 2B Mark Ellis

    Impact: The signing of Mark Ellis was a smart move for the Cardinals. In addition to being a solid insurance policy for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong, St. Louis Post-Disptach columnist Bernie Miklasz also sees the signing as another means to combat left-handed pitching that was such a problem late in the season for the Cardinals.

    Dec. 9, 2013 — Signed free-agent RHP Angel Castro.

    Impact: Castro’s main purpose, at least for the time being, will likely be to replenish the Cardinals Triple-A depth that was heavily depleted last year.

    Dec. 2, 2013 — RHP John Axford elected to enter free agency.

    Impact: Axford was everything the Cardinals needed late in 2013, solidifying up middle to late relief. He is also a prime example of general manager John Mozeliak not being afraid to cut a player loose before a deal turns sour. The trade benefited both Axford and the Cardinals, but in the end, the Cardinals have the talent to replace him quite effectively.

    Nov. 24, 2013 — Signed free-agent SS Jhonny Peralta.

    Impact: Even if he has an off season, Peralta stands to be a substantial improvement for the Cardinals. Offensively, Pete Kozma just couldn’t get over the hump in 2013. In the end, it cost him his job. Peralta might not have the defensive talent of Kozma, but his bat should more than make up for it. He has the potential to be the difference-maker for the 2014 Cardinals, giving substantial growth to the team’s weakest position in 2013.

    Nov. 22, 2013 — Traded 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas for CF Peter Bourjos and RF Randal Grichuk.

    Impact: The trade of Freese and Salas was a win-win for both sides. Both players needed a change of scenery and might re-discover their 2011 success in a new city. What the Cardinals received in exchange—Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk—may very well make the deal quite lopsided in the future. Both are quite promising and have a chance to get a fresh start in St. Louis.

    Nov. 5, 2013 — RHP Chris Carpenter announces his retirement. SS Rafael Furcal elects to enter free agency.

    Impact: While the loss of Carpenter may sting on an emotional level, in reality the Cardinals have been without him for the better part of two seasons. His role in the dugout as a mentor and influence for the younger arms will be missed more than his on-field performance at this stage. With his new position in the front office, though, it’s likely he’ll still spend plenty of time around the clubhouse.

    Nov. 4, 2013 — LF Adron Chambers, LF Brock Peterson and C Rob Johnson elect to enter free agency.

    Impact: Of the three, the loss of Chambers will have the biggest effect, and even that should be minimal. Chambers' biggest asset was as a late-inning baserunner due to his speed, a role that with speed now starting in the lineup is largely expendable.

    Oct. 31, 2013 — RHP Jake Westbrook elected to enter free agency.

    Impact: Much like Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook will be missed more for his role as a veteran on a youthful rotation than for his actions on the field. With that said, I’ve long felt Westbrook was a rather undervalued player by the fanbase. He was 36-32 over four seasons with the Cardinals, and for the most part, was a solid number five man in the rotation capable of getting more ground balls than anyone else on the squad.

    Oct. 31, 2013 — RF Carlos Beltran elected to enter free agency.

    Impact: The loss of Carlos Beltran was undoubtedly the Cardinals' biggest loss of the year. Fortunately for St. Louis, the Cardinals are able to weather such a loss better than most teams. With the ascension of Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and even Matt Adams (because it shifts Allen Craig), the organization has a load of talent ready to move into the position. While it won’t replace his team leadership, it will help with his on-field performance.

2. Injury Updates Entering Camp

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Jason Motte: According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Motte is currently throwing on a regular basis, but should begin to expand his distance this week. Motte had Tommy John surgery in May 2013 to repair an injury from spring training.

    Jaime Garcia: Garcia, recovering from shoulder surgery, is believed to be a bit further along than Motte and hopes to be on regular schedule by the beginning of camp, according to Goold.

    Oscar Taveras: Taveras, who has battled an ankle injury since early in the 2013 season, is looking for a chance to prove himself to the big league club. During the Cardinals annual Winter Warm-Up, Taveras told Brian Feldman of KMOV in St. Louis that he was “feeling 100 percent” and ready to test his ankle in spring training.

    General Manager John Mozeliak, however, may not be as quick to the punch when it comes to letting Tavares go full speed ahead, as on the same weekend he urged patience.

3. Coaching Staff Analysis

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    For the most part, the coaching staff won’t look much different.

    Manager Mike Matheny, entering the first year of an extension that will take him through 2017, has seen enough success in his first two seasons that he should be sitting about as comfortably as any manager in MLB right now.

    Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist led one of the game's most successful pitching staffs all the way to the World Series. He, too, should be just fine.

    Hitting coach John Mabry’s staff is the only one to see a substantial change. Assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina left his post in St. Louis and has taken his next position with the Texas Rangers as first base coach. In his stead, the Cardinals named David Bell to the vacated position.

4. Lineup Preview

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    1. M. Carpenter LH

    2. J. Peralta RH

    3. M. Holliday RH

    4. A. Craig RH

    5. Y. Molina RH

    6. M. Adams LH

    7. P. Bourjos RH

    8. K. Wong LH

     

    Bench

    D. Descalso

    J. Jay

    M. Ellis

    S. Robinson

    T. Cruz

    Overall, the lineup will see some new faces, but the old faces won’t be moving. Matt Carpenter will keep the leadoff slot. Holliday, Craig, Molina and Adams will, at least to start the season, likely remain in the three through six slots.

    The real shake-up is regarding the new guys. Expect to see Peralta hitting high in the batting order, with a combination of Peter Bourjos and Kolten Wong rounding out the lower end of the lineup.

    The bench will look quite similar, at least early on. Mark Ellis will be the most noteworthy addition. In all likelihood, Jay will find himself batting off of the bench as well, adding another solid bat.

    If either Oscar Taveras or Stephen Piscotty earns an early season promotion, this lineup and bench could find itself making a major transformation.

5. Rotation Preview

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press
    1. A. Wainwright RHP
    2. M. Wacha RHP
    3. J. Garcia LHP
    4. S. Miller RHP
    5. L. Lynn RHP

    Much like in 2013, the Cardinals are in a position to have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball for the coming season.

    While the core of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia and Shelby Miller are virtual locks, there is an off chance that a poor spring training could cost Lance Lynn the bottom spot in the rotation.

    If Lynn impresses early on, the position is and should be his to lose.

    Another interesting dynamic for the rotation is the return of Jaime Garcia. While Garcia has lacked consistency in the past, he also has the ability to be dominant, which he showed early in 2013 prior to his surgery.

    If Garcia is successful, the Cardinals will be difficult for anyone to nail down.

6. Bullpen Preview

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Trevor Rosenthal RHP

    Carlos Martinez RHP

    Jason Motte RHP

    Kevin Siegrist LHP

    Randy Choate LHP

    Joe Kelly Jr. RHP

    Tyler Lyons LHP

    Seth Maness RHP

    Pat Neshek RHP

     

    The 2014 Cardinals bullpen will feature two things—heat and lefties.

    Just like in 2013, the slew of young pitchers all but incapable of pitching under 95 mph will once again return to the team’s lineup of late-inning arms. Rosenthal, Motte and Martinez should be the cornerstone pieces of the bullpen rounding out innings seven through nine. That’s a lot of speed.

    The change this year will be the stockpile of left-handed relievers. It’s possible the Cardinals could leave camp with as many as four LHP on their bullpen staff. At times in 2013, two was a lot to ask for.

    The contrast between the high-heat and the left-handed finesse pitchers should be a good tool for the Cardinals in 2014 to help keep hitters off-balance.

7. Prospects to Watch

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Oscar Taveras—Taveras, the number three prospect in all of MLB, will be the player to watch during spring training.

    Assuming he is as healthy as he believes he is, this will be the first time Cardinals fans will have a legitimate chance to get an early preview of the prodigy who is often compared to Albert Pujols.

    Stephen Piscotty—The highlight of the Arizona Fall League, Cardinals fans are undoubtedly looking forward to getting a look at Stephen Piscotty.

    While the Cardinals have an abundance of outfielders, Piscotty’s bat is intriguing. In the event that Taveras continues battling injuries or experiences an extended recovery period, Piscotty could find himself as the short-term solution in the outfield.

8. Breakout Candidates

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Matt Adams—Adams, once believed to be one of the most impressive bats in the Cardinals organization, struggled last season when he found himself playing every day. Other teams figured out how best to pitch and defend against his bat.

    Adams, a true competitor, is no doubt ready to prove himself and show that he is one of the premier offensive players to come up through the Cardinals’ farm system. This could be his year.

    Kolten Wong—The last memory of Kolten Wong in the minds of many Cardinals fans involved him lying on his belly around first base with a shocked look on his face.

    In 2014, Wong is going to have to prove to Cardinal Nation what all of the fuss is about. While they haven’t seen it yet, he is poised to have a breakout year as he adjusts to major league pitching and continues to gel with his new teammates.

    Peter Bourjos—Bourjos was once one of the most hyped players in all of MLB, but a series of injuries slowed his development. When he did return healthy, the Los Angeles Angels didn’t have much of a need for him anymore.

    A change of scenery and a chance to start off healthy could very well give Bourjos the chance he needs to stand out above the competition. He still hasn’t shown the player he is capable of being. This year could be when it happens.

9. Position Battle Predictions

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    Jeff Curry/Associated Press

    Bourjos vs. Jay—One of the key position match-ups of 2014 could be the competition for center field. The acquisition of Bourjos means that Jon Jay will have a serious fight on his hands if he wants to start at center field.

    While Bourjos likely has the edge, competition is a good thing for all involved.

    Defensively, the edge would go to Bourjos. While Jay is stronger defensively than some credit him with, Bourjos’ range is a clear winner.

    Offensively, Jay would have the edge for now. Of course, this all depends on how the pair performs during spring training. A hot March could land either one of them the starter position.

    Lynn vs. Kelly, Martinez, Lyons—Often under-appreciated despite his impressive numbers, Lynn struggled late in 2013. With three or four other arms competing for what will likely be one slot in the rotation, Lynn will have to step up his game and remind the front office why he has more wins over the two previous seasons than any pitcher in MLB.

    At least three pitchers will be gunning for his job and all three are quite capable. Few doubt that Martinez will one day find himself in a starter role, but a weak March from Lynn could be all it takes to put him there.

    Both Joe Kelly and Tyler Lyons are each viable candidates as well, but may both start the season as long relief out of the bullpen in an effort to keep them prepped to take over in the event of an injury.

    Either way, it should be interesting.

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