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Where do the Cardinals' roster battles stand?

@anne__rogers
March 17, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- When the Cardinals opened camp over a month ago, they had many questions to address, and they were determined to answer those questions with their internal talent to start the season. Some of those questions seemed to be answered in the three weeks of Grapefruit League games,

JUPITER, Fla. -- When the Cardinals opened camp over a month ago, they had many questions to address, and they were determined to answer those questions with their internal talent to start the season.

Some of those questions seemed to be answered in the three weeks of Grapefruit League games, like the likely leadoff hitter (Kolten Wong) and cleanup hitter (Paul DeJong). But the Cardinals ran out of time when Major League Baseball canceled Spring Training due to the coronavirus pandemic, and some questions will remain unanswered until baseball reconvenes.

Here are three roster battles that have yet to be decided:

1. The outfield
St. Louis' outfield, along with its offense, was one of the biggest storylines this spring. The Cardinals wanted to create a path to the Majors for their young outfield talent, so they threw a mix of competition into spring for their one or two open spots. And the competition will still be wide open once the date for Opening Day is decided and camps resume.

Harrison Bader has been given the opportunity to keep his job in center field, and that is unlikely to change unless an outfield candidate forces the issue. Dexter Fowler is considered the regular in right field, although he’ll have to show a bit more when spring returns, considering he hit .097 with 12 strikeouts in 31 at-bats in Grapefruit League play.

Left field is the one true opening this season. Top prospect Dylan Carlson seemed like he was a leading candidate when spring games opened, but the 21-year-old switch-hitter tapered off near the end. Still, in 32 at-bats, he hit .313/.436/.469 with five strikeouts and six walks. He’s still very much in the competition.

Tyler O'Neill and Lane Thomas were considered the leading candidates when camp began. While O’Neill got off to a hot start, he struck out 14 times in 32 at-bats, and Thomas started to emerge near the end with two homers and five walks in his last four games. Austin Dean was acquired for outfield depth, but his .931 OPS, four doubles and two homers in 32 at-bats demonstrates that he could be more than a Triple-A player used for depth. And after hitting .143, left-handed-hitting Justin Williams needs to show more to be back in the competition.

All of this is to say that left field -- and perhaps occasional time in center and right field, too -- is still up for grabs when baseball returns. O’Neill, Thomas and Carlson seem to have the leg up. Dean could be considered a dark-horse candidate, with Williams a good “second spring” away from being back in the competition.

2. The fifth starter’s spot
This battle might look different once baseball resumes, seeing as Miles Mikolas was slated to miss Opening Day with a right flexor tendon strain. But now that the season is delayed, there might be time for him to be ready. If that happens, the Cardinals will have one rotation spot to fill -- and four or five pitchers who could fill it.

Carlos Martínez has the advantage. The Cardinals said they were opening a path for him to get back into the rotation after two years out of it, and he showed up to Spring Training healthy and ready to seize that spot. Despite a rocky final start when he allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings, Martínez’s right shoulder recovered well from his four outings (three starts) and he looks stronger than he has in recent years. He showed he’s ready for a chance in the rotation. Now the Cardinals are hoping that focus stays consistent during this shutdown.

But the other candidates for a starter’s spot are presenting strong cases. Korean lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim was nearly unhittable this spring: eight innings, no runs, five hits, 11 strikeouts and one walk. His pitch mix showed that he has the stuff to be a starter, and it looked like he was forcing a tough decision to be made about the rotation.

Daniel Ponce de Leon has been perhaps the biggest surprise to emerge this spring. With a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings (four games), along with 12 strikeouts and five walks, he showed he’s ready for a concrete role in St. Louis. The question now is whether that role will be as a starter or as a reliever.

John Gant, Génesis Cabrera and left-hander Austin Gomber were also in the starting mix, although the second spring might see Gant and Cabrera move to reliever roles, as the Cardinals will have to ramp up quickly to be ready for the start of the season.

3. Utility player
This battle is a little more clear cut after Yairo Muñoz was released on March 7. Tommy Edman and Brad Miller can each play both the infield and the outfield, so each will get ample playing time all over the field. Rangel Ravelo figures to benefit the most from the additional 26-man roster spot; the Cardinals hope the first baseman/outfielder can take over the pinch-hitting role that José Martínez occupied before being traded.

Even though Edman and Miller are likely to be the utility players, Edmundo Sosa played well enough for the Cardinals to at least consider him for a utility role, too. He’s been able to come off the bench and play shortstop, second base and third base, while hitting .231/.279/.436 with five RBIs. If Edman and Miller are playing elsewhere on the field, Sosa could be a viable backup shortstop for Paul DeJong this season, as well as a quality bat off the bench.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.