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Prospective Cards OFers eager to stand out

Minor Leaguers O'Neill, Bader out to make strong impressions at spring camp
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Though the offseason additions tend to monopolize the headlines, the subtractions made by the Cardinals during their roster retooling this winter have helped create clarity.

What was an overcrowded outfield is still a deep one, even after the club traded three outfielders -- Magneuris Sierra, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk -- from its 40-man roster in a six-week span. But a deep class is also a more manageable one, especially at the upper levels.

ST. LOUIS -- Though the offseason additions tend to monopolize the headlines, the subtractions made by the Cardinals during their roster retooling this winter have helped create clarity.

What was an overcrowded outfield is still a deep one, even after the club traded three outfielders -- Magneuris Sierra, Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk -- from its 40-man roster in a six-week span. But a deep class is also a more manageable one, especially at the upper levels.

Part of the picture is set, of course, with Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and Dexter Fowler written in as the Cardinals' three starting outfielders. Jose Martinez, who can play both corner spots, is a near-lock to be on the Opening Day roster, as well.

• Signs point to Martinez continuing breakout

But there still could be room for one other outfielder, and it's a position battle that's likely to come down to Harrison Bader and Tyler O'Neill. In a spring camp that may not boast many true position competitions, this will be one to watch.

Bader, having appeared in 32 games for the Cardinals in 2017, has the big league experience that O'Neill lacks. Both players possess the ability to play all three outfield spots, which would enhance the Cardinals' roster flexibility. Barring injury, though, there won't be room for both.

"Obviously, we have a good core group up ahead of me," O'Neill said. "I'm just going to go down to Spring Training and show you guys what I can do, just play to the best of my ability. I know what's outside of my control. I'll just handle my own business and go from there."

Video: Top Prospects: Tyler O'Neill, OF, Cardinals

Spring Training will allow the Major League staff its first look at O'Neill, who came to the organization as part of a Trade Deadline deal last July. O'Neill, who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Cardinals' No. 4 prospect, profiles similarly to Grichuk in that he has unique power potential but also a propensity to swing and miss.

In 2017, O'Neill tallied 31 homers and 26 doubles while striking out 151 times in 495 Triple-A at-bats. His batting average (.246) and on-base percentage (.321) were lower than his 2016 numbers at Double-A, but O'Neill's production did pick up post-trade.

"Strikeouts are going to be a part of my game; that's just the way it is," O'Neill said. "The progression process is just about keeping them cut down, taking my walks. And [I'm] really focusing on my [OPS]. I think that's going to be a big number for me, and I'm going to improve that as best I can."

Bader's strikeout rate last season wasn't much lower than O'Neill's, but he was able to make an immediate impact in St. Louis. Six of Bader's 20 hits went for extra bases, and he drove in as many runs (10) as he scored.

Video: Get to know Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader

"You learn so much," Bader said of his short big league stint. "The coaches, the experience with the players -- I really have learned more in that month than I did in my entire baseball career. I use that to propel me to move forward. I've had a great offseason, put a lot of good work in. You change the way you think about the game when you reach this level."

There will be talent pushing Bader and O'Neill from behind, too. Jose Adolis Garcia, who was signed out of Cuba last February, remains in the organization, and Oscar Mercado (ranked 17th in the system) is rising through the Minors quickly. The converted shortstop hit .287/.341/.428 in his first season at Double-A.

Video: Harrison Bader on outfield role models

All are expected to get significant exposure in Grapefruit League play this spring.

"You know there's so much talent around you in your position [that] you've got to go out and perform to your best," Mercado said. "Obviously, I have a lot of talented teammates. We can learn from each other and bring out the best in each other."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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