JUPITER, Fla. -- Back before the Cardinals opened Spring Training under sunny skies and lofty expectations, MLB.com made an early guess at what the team’s Opening Day roster could look like by the time the regular season rolled around.
With three weeks remaining before the club’s season opener in Milwaukee, it’s time to revisit that initial projection. An injury and a surprise signing have prompted a few changes. Spring performances will no doubt require further tweaks as the rest of the month unfolds.
But for now, here’s the second take:
Catchers (2): Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters
Even though Molina has yet to catch in a Grapefruit League game, the Cardinals remain confident that the veteran catcher will be ready to make his 15th consecutive Opening Day start in three weeks. What’s changed from the last prediction is who will back him up. The Cardinals inked Wieters to a Minor League deal in late February, and, now that Francisco Pena is sidelined by an oblique injury, Wieters has a seemingly open path to make the roster.
First baseman (1): Paul Goldschmidt
The transition to a new club has been seamless for Goldschmidt, who is participating in his first Spring Training outside of Arizona. The biggest questions surrounding the perennial All-Star first baseman surround where he’ll hit in the lineup and whether he’ll be a Cardinal beyond this year. Look for the latter to remain a storyline throughout the season.
Second baseman (1): Kolten Wong
A Gold Glove Award finalist a year ago, Wong is looking to elevate his offensive game through more consistent production. He’s likely to slot into the lineup in the seventh or eighth spot, where he’ll help infuse some speed into the bottom part of the order. If Wong can hit like he did during the second half of last season, he won’t have to worry about falling into a platoon situation.
Third baseman (1): Matt Carpenter
It’s back to third for Carpenter, a defensive nomad throughout his career. The positional change was prompted by the Goldschmidt signing, but it’s at least allowed Carpenter a full spring to focus on one spot. He’s adjusted his throwing motion in an attempt to address durability concerns, and he will provide his biggest impact as the tablesetter atop the lineup again.
Shortstop (1): Paul DeJong
DeJong doesn’t want to be the weak link in an otherwise elite up-the-middle defensive unit for the Cardinals. He made great strides defensively in his sophomore season, and he is seeking to pair that with the offensive success he had as a rookie. With his hand now fully healed from surgery, there’s reason to be optimistic about DeJong’s potential as a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Utility (2): Jedd Gyorko, Drew Robinson
Yairo Munoz is still in this discussion, but with Robinson providing a left-handed presence off the bench and Tyler O’Neill crushing spring competition (see below), Munoz seems the likely one to be squeezed out of a spot. Both Gyorko and Robinson can provide coverage across the infield. Robinson offers the added bonus of being able to play the outfield, as well.
Outfielders (5): Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez, O’Neill
O’Neill muscles his way into this projection after hitting four home runs through his first eight spring games. Carrying O’Neill would likely require the Cardinals to open the year with a seven-man bullpen, something they haven’t yet confirmed to be the plan. Other questions remain, too. Fowler is seeking to build offensive momentum to take into the season. Ozuna has to show that he’s regained enough shoulder strength to be ready to play the field in three weeks. Bader is looking for some offensive traction. If any of the three stumble, Martinez or O’Neill could elbow their way into more playing time.
Starting pitchers (5): Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, John Gant
Shoulder weakness knocked Carlos Martinez from the Opening Day rotation -- and likely from the Opening Day roster. That leaves the fifth rotation spot up for grabs and five candidates vying for it. The nod, for now, goes to Gant, both because of the job he did as a starter last year (3.61 ERA, .219 batting average against) and because he is out of options. Others still in consideration include Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon and Alex Reyes.
Relief pitchers (7): Andrew Miller, Jordan Hicks, Dominic Leone, John Brebbia, Chasen Shreve, Brett Cecil, Mike Mayers
Keeping that extra position player could knock someone like Hudson from a spot in the 'pen. That’s because the Cards don’t have great flexibility with their other bullpen candidates. Mayers and Shreve are out of options, while Cecil, Miller and Leone have guaranteed contracts. The Cards are willing to carry three lefty relievers, which this prediction reflects. Reyes remains a wild card, and Gant could also fall into a relief role if the Cards go with someone else for that fifth rotation spot.
Once more, here's a look at MLB.com's projected Opening Day roster for the Cardinals: