JUPITER, Fla. -- Defending their National League Central title and advancing deeper in the postseason are on the minds of the Cardinals' staff and players this spring. To meet those goals, there will have to be improvement in the offense and steadiness in the rotation and bullpen, which means there are going to be spring competitions and performances to monitor as Opening Day nears.
The Cardinals are hoping that the questions that await them this season will be ironed out over the next six weeks as manager Mike Shildt builds his roster. Injuries and other variables will likely alter who we see on the Opening Day roster, but as Spring Training gets underway, we can try to predict how some of the storylines will play out.
Here are three predictions for Cardinals camp:
Martínez earns a rotation spot
Despite emerging as the Cardinals' closer when Jordan Hicks had Tommy John surgery last year, Carlos Martínez has repeatedly said he feels more comfortable as a starter, and the Cardinals have opened a path for him to be back in the rotation -- as long as he stays healthy and wins the battle for a spot.
If he does, the Cardinals could potentially have an elite starter back in their rotation. Martínez was a two-time All-Star as a starter in 2015 and ’17, when he had a 3.01 ERA (29 starts) and 3.64 ERA (32 starts), respectively.
Martínez worked this offseason to strengthen his shoulder and showed up to camp healthy, putting him on a starter’s schedule as he builds up his workload to handle more innings. If Martínez shows he can stay healthy and be effective this spring, it’s likely we’ll see him in the rotation on Opening Day -- and not as a reliever.
Carlson starts year in Triple-A but won’t stay for long
The Cardinals have provided chances in the outfield for their young players to get significant playing time and compete for starting spots this year. Top prospect Dylan Carlson is in the mix, and he will have the opportunity this spring to show he deserves a spot on the roster. But is he ready for the big leagues? Carlson only played in 18 games in Triple-A Memphis last year after tearing up Double-A Springfield, earning Texas League MVP honors, for the bulk of 2019. It’s more likely the Cardinals will want him to get some more development time in Memphis to start the season.
That said, if Carlson shows he can hit in Triple-A the way he hit in Double-A, he won’t stay in Memphis for long. The 20-year-old switch-hitter could add a spark to the Cardinals lineup this summer, especially if their other options in the outfield falter.
Carpenter will turn things around
Third baseman Matt Carpenter is coming off a career-worst year at the plate, hitting .226/.334/.392 -- all career lows, just one year after he finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting. Carpenter began to break out of his slump late in the season, and the 34-year-old worked this offseason on finding his identity again as a hitter, focused on a new strength program and said that his swing has felt better than it did all of last season.
But he was quick to recognize that he knows he has to prove himself, and that’s what he has his sights set on this spring. Carpenter has a track record of success in the big leagues, and he’s out to prove it again in 2020. Where he hits in the lineup will have to do with other variables, but spring is a chance for Carpenter to demonstrate that he can be the leadoff hitter the Cardinals need -- and show that 2019 was an anomaly, not the start of a decline.