PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Barring injury, the biggest battle on the position-player side of Cardinals camp this spring will play out in the outfield.Yes, Jose Martinez should gobble up a chunk of at-bats at one of the corner spots come summer. But Martinez is also slotted to see time
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Barring injury, the biggest battle on the position-player side of Cardinals camp this spring will play out in the outfield.
Yes, Jose Martinez should gobble up a chunk of at-bats at one of the corner spots come summer. But Martinez is also slotted to see time at first base, and that was before Matt Carpenter's back began barking. Martinez is not a "fourth outfielder," in name or spirit, despite his depth chart standing. For that role, the Cardinals prefer someone who can stick defensively at all three spots.
The Cards are in luck, and they will have plenty of players to choose from. That much has been clear over the first weekend of Grapefruit League play, in which the Cardinals' enviable cluster of outfield prospects impressed.
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St. Louis' first Grapefruit League win, Saturday's 10-5 victory over the Mets, could be considered Exhibit A. Harrison Bader followed a tough debut with two hits and two runs. Randy Arozarena cranked the club's first homer of the spring. Adolis Garcia whacked a three-run shot in the same inning. This a day after Oscar Mercado made the most of a surprising first game start. Tyler O'Neill has gotten five at-bats in two days.
"These guys are going to get a lot of at-bats," Matheny said. "There are a lot of opportunities out there. We'll see plenty of them."
Bader is the only one with big league service time, which makes him the favorite early in camp. But the club loves O'Neill's power, and it will give Garcia a legitimate look coming off an impressive first season in pro ball. Not being on the 40-man roster may hurt Garcia. The speedy Mercado was added to the 40-man in November, but that was more to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
All bring tools and talent, and collectively, they give the Cardinals flexibility. Bader, O'Neill and Arozarena have experience at all three outfield slots. Mercado has played just center and left, but showed he can clearly handle right on Friday.
Even without Tommy Pham and William Fowler, the Cardinals have seven players in camp who can play center: Bader, O'Neill, Mercado, Arozarena, Garcia, utility man Breyvic Valera, and natural shortstop Yairo Munoz.
Matheny plans to spend these early games cycling them around. For some, that could mean a different spot each day.
"To me, if you can play center field, you can play anywhere," Matheny said.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.