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Cardinals reporting to camp with familiar strong core

Redbirds have key veterans returning, plus young players poised to emerge as stars

ST. LOUIS -- With a National League pennant to defend and a 12th World Series championship to chase, the Cardinals have relocated to Jupiter, Fla., where Spring Training officially opens Thursday.

Players and staff have been arriving in waves, with some heading south as early as mid-January. By Wednesday, all 33 pitchers and catchers -- 12 of whom are non-roster invitees -- were required to report. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he expects only two absences when the team takes the field for its first official workout Thursday.

Right-hander Jose Almarante, a non-roster pitcher, is stuck in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues. Another player, Sam Gaviglio, had his travel plans affected by the winter storm that has hit parts of the country this week.

Several pitchers who arrived in town before Wednesday spent the morning at the Cardinals' spring complex, though no one threw off the mound. There will be several bullpen sessions Thursday.

This group of camp participants is anchored by veteran catcher Yadier Molina, an MVP finalist a year ago, and highlighted by a deep starting staff that is the envy of the league. Adam Wainwright returns as an ace, and Trevor Rosenthal arrives as closer on a staff teeming with young talent. The pursuit of another October run begins with the workouts this week.

"I think when you look at what we have going in there ... we have a deep mix of players and pitchers," Wainwright said. "I just think we have a great team. We have a great chance to go far into the playoffs and make another World Series run at this thing. We just have to go out there and believe that and make it happen."

The Cardinals made no notable additions to the pitching staff this winter, though storylines still abound within the unit. There is a rotation battle to settle and questions about where all of the young arms will fit. Jason Motte, who suffered an arm injury last spring, will continue his road back from Tommy John surgery. Motte spent time Wednesday throwing on flat ground.

The first full squad workout, which will include 58 participants, will be held Monday, though several position players have already reported to the club's spring complex. Those early arrivals include Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, Oscar Taveras and Shane Robinson, who moved up his travel plans to get out of Atlanta before it was hit with an ice storm.

Overall, the unit is not that much changed from 2013, though newcomers Jhonny Peralta, Mark Ellis and Peter Bourjos all fill needs identified after last season.

Wong will begin his quest to reward the Cardinals for their willingness to give him an opportunity to secure a starting job. His spring results will, no doubt, be closely scrutinized. Bourjos and Jon Jay will battle it out for playing time in center field.

But the most anticipated viewing will likely come when Taveras takes the field. The organization's top prospect, he returns to game action after spending months recovering from August ankle surgery. He did some light running Wednesday, and Matheny said that everything seems on track to have Taveras ready for uninhibited workouts once the full squad reporting day arrives.

"I watched him from a distance and it sounds like things are still moving pretty well," Matheny said. "Everything we've had so far is that he should be right on track. But it's going to be a day-to-day thing, too. Once you give them something new, you have to see how they respond. But he's been working hard doing a lot of short movements, explosive movements that should lend him to being ready to go."

Though he is a longshot to crack the Opening Day roster, Taveras can position himself for a callup by proving himself healed and hungry this spring.

"I think for all of us, including myself, I'm just excited to see where he's at and where he may fit in," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I think the one thing you always have to remind yourself is to be patient."

The process of finalizing a 25-man roster will take place in the weeks leading up to the Cardinals' March 31 season opener in Cincinnati. Leading up to Opening Day, 28 exhibition games will help Matheny piece together that roster.

The first Grapefruit League game is scheduled for Feb. 28, when the Cardinals host the Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT. The exhibition schedule wraps up with a March 28 visit to Memphis, home of the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate.

"What we really focus on is getting better, every one of us, and figuring out ways that we can constantly improve as a club that goes beyond the bigger vision [of winning a World Series]," Matheny said. "I think if you get so focused on that long-term goal, which is our ultimate goal, you forget how to go by the day-by-day.

"We put smaller, more manageable, bite-sized goals out there every single day for our staff and our players to figure ways that we can move in a positive direction of being as good as we can possibly be. That is really what our responsibility is. Winning is just a natural byproduct."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina, Trevor Rosenthal, Oscar Taveras, Adam Wainwright