Inbox: Could Carlson start for Cardinals?

June 29th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- The camp rosters are set, and it’s time to get back to baseball. That feels good to say, doesn’t it?

With a flurry of rule and roster changes ahead of us after a 3 1/2-month shutdown, it’s a good time for an Inbox to answer questions on what the season might look like for the Cardinals. Keep in mind there will be many more answers about players’ health, lineup options and the pitching staff once the team convenes in St. Louis and the coaching staff is able to assess the roster. Players began arriving in St. Louis over the weekend and going through COVID-19 testing. The first workout is scheduled for Friday.

Let’s get to your questions:

Will Dylan Carlson be starting?
-- Debbie Vance

The Cardinals’ No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, was one of seven non-roster players invited to train at Busch Stadium for summer camp. But the switch-hitting outfielder starting depends on a few factors. The Cards would still like to see what Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas can do. They have more experience and are considered front-runners in the outfield competition. Left field is open, and Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler are considered the incumbents in center and right field, respectively.

That said, it’s a short season. Games are going to mean a lot. So it’s fair for the Cardinals to approach all three spots as there for whoever can produce the most quickly. Carlson hit 10-for-32 with a .905 OPS in Spring Training, and he played all three spots in the outfield. A lot of things will have to happen for Carlson to be on the Opening Day roster, and even more will have to happen to see him starting on Opening Day. But if he continues to produce, there’s a path for playing time as the season unfolds.

How is Alex Reyes coming along?
-- Mark Anderson

Reyes was healthy in Spring Training and was invited to train at Busch Stadium given that he’s on the 40-man roster and expected to contribute this season. The Cardinals are eager to see what the 25-year-old can do -- president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made specific reference to Reyes when reviewing some pitchers who are part of the Cards' pitching depth. Given a quick start to the season, St. Louis is going to want more than a regular five-man rotation to be able to give three or four innings.

Reyes hasn’t pitched at the Major League level for quite some time, but with 60 games, he should be ready for whatever is needed. Perhaps Jordan Hicks, who is coming off Tommy John surgery last year and is close to returning, might share the closing role with Giovanny Gallegos or Ryan Helsley, freeing up Reyes to be a setup man. Or, as Mozeliak mentioned, he could be lengthened to handle multiple innings and come in after the starter to give a different look, especially to start the season.

The 60-game season will allow surprising rookies and players who go on a hot streak to have significant impact this year. I’m eager to see who emerges on each team.

For a rebounding veteran, I wouldn’t discount Matt Carpenter. He and the team were encouraged by his offseason and spring before everything shut down, and he’s been known to go on a hot streak before (remember 2018?). Reliever Junior Fernandez could have a significant role in the bullpen, especially late in the season if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. He’s a young, hard-throwing righty who throws a lot of strikes and really impressed in Spring Training and his debut last year. Of course, if Reyes can stay healthy and harness his command, he can have real impact on the Major League team this year. I’d also keep an eye on Kodi Whitley. He’s another non-roster invite to summer camp at Busch, had success at three levels last year and could make his debut this season.

The Cardinals are eager to see Cecil in person. After straining his hamstring a few days before Spring Training halted, he had a setback in his rehab and had to ease off throwing. He stayed in Jupiter, Fla., to continue his rehab and get back to pitching again. The Cards have coming into summer camp will allow them to monitor Cecil’s throwing program, and the expanded rosters -- 30 to start the season, 28 after two weeks and 26 the rest of the way -- were designed to protect pitching. This is the final year of Cecil’s contract.

Who gets the most time at designated hitter?
-- Lucas Smith

The Cardinals will rotate through players at DH, which will be used in the National League for the first time this year, so at least to start the season, I don’t see one player getting unequaled time as the DH. Regulars like Fowler, Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong can get a day off their feet without taking their bat out of the lineup. Carpenter could see time at DH to give Tommy Edman ample playing time at third base. Backups like Rangel Ravelo or Austin Dean may also get starts through via the DH spot. Brad Miller could be the best fit to provide power at DH after seven years in the American League. Miller hit 12 homers with a .941 OPS in 66 games for the Phillies last season.