With Edman nearly set at 2B, is leadoff next?

February 28th, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- The traditional packing list for a young ballplayer looking to break with a big league club consists of as many gloves as they can fit into their luggage. As with any job, the more flexible they make themselves, the more opportunity they pave for themselves, too.

That adage has never been more true for the past two springs. With traditional starting spots stymied by older, more established players, he’s made his name by the number of hats -- or in this case, gloves -- he’s worn, at six positions across his first two Major League seasons and three positions in 12 postseason games.

If the Cardinals’ plans come to fruition, that number will normalize to just one in 2021: Second base.

“It was kind of fun moving around, honestly,” Edman said. “And obviously, it was a way for me to get a chance to play. That was the most important thing, getting in the lineup.

“I'm also excited this year, though, to be focused a little bit more at one position. That way, I can kind of simplify things and know exactly what I have to work on instead of kind of guessing day to day.”

As Spring Training progresses and players' focuses usually turn to making themselves as indispensable as possible, and with borderline roster candidates taking on as much responsibility as possible to squeeze in via utility roles, Edman’s focus is now the opposite. With Kolten Wong signed to the Brewers, Edman has publicly been handed the starting second-base job, where he’s made 29 starts in his career; he's made 58 starts at third and 30 in the outfield.

Edman has proven more than capable at that “guessing,” though; he ranked among the top 10 percent in baseball by Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric each of the past two seasons.

The Cardinals’ infield -- bolstered by the addition of Nolan Arenado -- features two Gold Glovers in Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, a finalist in Paul DeJong and someone they hope is capable of joining those ranks in Edman, who is now solely focused on one position.

“He's really improved in a lot of areas. The one thing I appreciate about him is that he has done that,” manager Mike Shildt said. “He's shown improvement and discipline and clarity to what he wants and how he wants to do it, to get to that improvement quickly.”

That work ethic and flexibility powers the Cardinals’ confidence in their erstwhile Swiss Army knife. And it may be a precursor to even more responsibility.

It’s still far too early in Spring Training to pin anyone to a batting-order spot, but Edman took leadoff duties in Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Nationals -- a 4-4 tie -- knocking a single and scoring on a wild pitch in the first. A switch-hitter with great speed who’s gotten on base at a blazing clip at the Minor League and collegiate ranks, Edman is one of several candidates getting a look for another role left open by the departure of Wong.

“That's always been my goal as a hitter, just to get on base as much as possible,” Edman said. “And I've been pretty successful with that in the past. It hasn't quite carried over to big league baseball as I would expect myself to, but I hope I can put it all together this year.”

Edman attributes some of those lackluster on-base numbers to the two-fold, unbalanced approach he’s seen from pitchers. In his first season, he was attacked far more consistently and didn’t lay off appropriately, walking in just 4.6 percent of plate appearances. That number climbed to 7 percent in 2020, but his strikeout rate jumped in unison, from 17.7 percent to 21.1.

With the likes of Arenado, Goldschmidt and even Dylan Carlson now lurking behind him in the lineup, there’s a growing sense that Edman will be attacked more, not wanting to set up free run-scoring chances for the big boppers.

So Edman, for the first time of his career, has a more direct and clear definition of his expectations -- on both sides of the baseball.

Even still, it might not be as simple as that. With the Matt Carpenter question, the Cardinals could very well decide their lineup is at its fullest with both he and Edman getting at-bats in concert. Without a universal designated hitter in the forecast per the latest health and safety protocols, Carpenter has been taking his fielding reps primarily at second this spring, though he could also spell Arenado and Goldschmidt on their days off.

Edman’s luggage is slightly lighter this spring, but not completely empty.

“We actually got some outfield work in [this week], just running around the field tracking fly balls,” Edman said, “making sure I’m staying ready for whatever I'm needed.”

Nothing new, in other words. He still has his gloves, just in case.