JUPITER, Fla. -- The biggest storyline of Cardinals camp this spring is the offense, and a subplot of that is the outfield competition. The hole in the Opening Day lineup is in the outfield, but the club believes it has the young, internal talent to fill the one or two open spots.
Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas are being given the chance to win a starting job, and Harrison Bader is being given every opportunity to keep his in center field. The Cardinals have also tested the versatility of infielders like Tommy Edman, Brad Miller and Rangel Ravelo with looks in the outfield this spring.
“I’ve been pleased,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said about the outfield competition. “We’ve got depth, and that’s why we’re here -- to sort it out. It’s good guys are taking advantage of it and playing well.”
Over the next three weeks, hitters will face better pitching, so while early returns are good to see, there’s still plenty of time for these guys to raise their stock. But 12 games into Grapefruit League play, and with Spring Training about halfway over, it’s worth looking at how the outfield competition is shaping up:
Tyler O'Neill: 4-for-13, .308/.471/.769, 2 HRs, 3 RBIs, 4 BBs, 4 Ks
His early production has been eye-opening, but perhaps more important is his plate discipline -- something he was tasked with working on this offseason. In Sunday’s loss to Houston, O’Neill walked twice and hit a home run. Reducing his strikeout rate from last season (35 percent) will be key to earning a starting spot.
Dylan Carlson: 8-for-20, .400/.520/.650, 1 RBI, 5 BBs, 4 Ks
If Carlson keeps up his early burst of production, it will be hard not to put him on the roster; he concluded the first week of Grapefruit League games by reaching base in eight consecutive plate appearances. The 21-year-old switch-hitter has also played in all three outfield spots this spring, including left field the past two days. He’s impressed with his bat, his defense, his baserunning and even his preparation. Sitting on the Major League side of the clubhouse, next to catcher Matt Wieters, has allowed Carlson’s teammates to see how he takes advantage of the opportunities he’s given, as well as how he’s handled the expectations of being a top prospect.
Lane Thomas: 4-for-20, .200/.304/.350, 1 HR, 2 RBIs, 3 BBs, 6 Ks
Thomas hasn’t flashed quite as much this spring, but he’s also the one who impressed the Cardinals the most in the Majors last year, even though it was in limited playing time: .316 average and a 1.093 OPS in 34 games. He’s regarded as one of the better defenders among the group, and he’s primarily a center fielder. But he’s seen time in left field before, and he’s played two games in right field this spring.
Austin Dean: 2-for-14, .143/.333/.357, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 BBs, 6 Ks
Dean has gotten a lot of looks as the newcomer with whom the Cardinals aren’t as familiar, and he’s been solid primarily in left field and two games in right field. He’s shown he can produce in Triple-A with the Marlins and that he has the power to be a valuable piece for the Cardinals, but to win a spot on St. Louis’ roster, Dean will need to show more production over the next three weeks.
Justin Williams: 1-for-18, .056/.150/.222, 1 HR, 2 RBIs, 2 BBs, 4 Ks
The Cardinals were encouraged by Williams’ strong finish at Triple-A Memphis last season, but he has stumbled out of the gate this spring. As a left-handed bat, he could add a needed platoon to the lineup. But with only one hit and no outstanding defensive plays, he’ll need to make the most of his at-bats as the Cardinals race toward Opening Day.