Cardinals Spring Training Battles

Josh Calloni, Reporter

With spring training well underway, the Cardinals have a few underlying things to get done the next three weeks, including find their next backup catcher, their fifth starter, the final bench spot, and the rest of their bullpen.

The backup catcher situation is quite possibly the most simple battle. Last years backup, Francisco Pena will try to earn the spot over ten year veteran Matt Wieters, and underdog Joe Hudson. Pena was among the worst catchers, both defensively and offensively in 2018 according to StatCast, but bonded with the pitchers well. He batted just above .200 and played well enough behind the plate to get by when Yadier Molina was not playing. Matt Wieters has been a very accomplished catcher in his career, getting named to four all star games, and receiving MVP votes in 2012.  Wieters is a career .251 batter, and carries himself well behind the plate, winning two gold gloves with Baltimore. Finally, Joe Hudson is the third competitor. Hudson made it to the big leagues for the first time in 2018, five years after getting drafted. He is more well known for his defense, which is a good quality in a backup catcher, though his offense looked to come around last season in the minors. The favorite for this spot is Wieters.

The bench spot is another intriguing battle. The two getting the longest look are left handed utility player Drew Robinson, and right handed utility man Yairo Munoz. Munoz was with the club last season, batting .276, and knocking out eight home runs, including one walk off. Munoz however, is not the most steady defender, and bats right handed, which could be a disadvantage, regardless of his ability to play every position. Robinson was acquired from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Patrick Wisdom back in December. Robinson is a lefty, which could boost his chance at making the club. He plays every position, though like Munoz, is not the best defender. He is a better hitter than fielder, but his minors stats have not shown through in the majors yet. The winner of this battle will join Jose Martinez, the backup catcher, Jedd Gyorko, and Tyler O’Neill on the bench, though both could make it with a trade of Gyorko. The favorite is Robinson.

The fifth starter is a spot that was recently opened up with the sudden injury to Carlos Martinez. John Gant, Dakota Hudson and Daniel Ponce de Leon will take their shots for this roster spot. Hudson is one of the Cardinals most highly touted prospects, and was worked out as a reliever down the stretch last season with very good success. Ponce de Leon is much of the same story, as he was a big part of the reconfigured bullpen in the final month of the season, but is still viewed as a starter with the team. Both of these players have minor league options remaining, meaning they can be sent back down to Memphis, which might play against them. However, Gant, who was a starter last season with the multiple rotation injuries, does not. With his success last season, Gant might be seen as the favorite going into the last three weeks of spring. Those three could have some potential company with Austin Gomber and Alex Reyes, but it is not known if the club sees those two as starters, or relievers at this point.

The bullpen is the final spot on the team with open roster spots. The only real locks appear to be Andrew Miller, Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia, meaning four spots are up for grabs. The Cardinals have three veteran relievers that could occupy those, Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Chasen Shreve. However, Cecil has struggled with injuries and has not played up to his contract the previous two seasons, and Gregerson, who was signed for two seasons, played in only twelve games due to injury last season, and is still battling through ailments. Shreve is also a lefty, being which could boost his potential of making the opening day team. Dominic Leone and Mike Mayers are two relievers who could also see one of the four remaining spots. Mayers was very good last season in his new bullpen role, after moving over from a starter, and increased his velocity over five miles per hour on average. Also helping him here is the fact that he his out of options, so the Cardinals might have more obligation to keep him, or trade him. Leone has options remaining, but was very useful last season when healthy, which was about two and a half months of last season. Leone has not given up a run yet this spring, so he looks to be up top on this battle, though he could still be option in spite of another reliever. The best group  of those who are joining the bullpen would be Mayers, Leone, Shreve and Hudson.

With three weeks in spring training left, there is potential of the unknown. Players with spots locked could get injured, opening opportunities up for other 40-Man Roster players, or non-roster invitees.