JUPITER, Fla. -- Sometime in the not-too-distant future, it isn't difficult to picture a scenario where Jordan Hicks is saving games for Jack Flaherty.Fans will get their first taste of this future pairing, albeit in an exhibition setting. The Cardinals tabbed two of their top pitching prospects to bookend Friday's
JUPITER, Fla. -- Sometime in the not-too-distant future, it isn't difficult to picture a scenario where Jordan Hicks is saving games for Jack Flaherty.
Fans will get their first taste of this future pairing, albeit in an exhibition setting. The Cardinals tabbed two of their top pitching prospects to bookend Friday's Grapefruit League opener at Roger Dean Stadium against the Marlins.
Flaherty will line up against left-hander Dillon Peters in what will be an away game for the Cardinals, though they share a spring complex with Miami. First pitch is slated for 12:05 p.m. CT on MLB.TV.
Finishing the game will be Hicks, who did little to temper the buzz around his electric right arm after a live batting practice session Wednesday. Hicks, 21, and Flaherty, 22, both earned high marks on the St. Louis version of MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Prospects, released Thursday. Both figure to pitch in the big leagues at some point this season -- Flaherty as a starter, and Hicks as a potential late-inning weapon.
Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule
Flaherty is slated to throw the first two innings, followed by: John Gant (two innings), Josh Lucas, Conner Greene, Jordan Schafer and, finally, Hicks (two innings). Ryan Sherriff, Daniel Poncedeleon, Preston Guilmet and Hector Mendoza could also see action, if any of the scheduled pitchers struggle.
On the offensive side, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny plans to use the early portion of the Grapefruit League schedule to rest his regulars and get less seasoned players some work. William Fowler won't make his Grapefruit League debut until next week. The wait for Matt Carpenter may be longer, due to lingering tightness in his back. Marcell Ozuna will DH at some point this weekend, though it is unclear when.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
The fight for the fourth outfielder spot between Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill and Jose Adolis Garcia will be something to keep an eye on. Breyvic Valera is also expected to get a long look as a utility player. Carpenter's absence should open up playing time for Luke Voit at first base, where Patrick Wisdom will get some run as well.
Saturday's pitching plans
Also hanging in the clubhouse Thursday, available for all to see, were the Cardinals' pitching plans for Saturday against the Mets. Carlos Martinez will make his Grapefruit League debut in Port St. Lucie that day, followed by No. 8 prospect Ryan Helsley (two innings), Bud Norris (two innings), Jacob Woodford, Sean Gilmartin and Derian Gonzalez.
It's notable that the Cardinals are giving two innings apiece to Helsley and Hicks over the first two Grapefruit League games. Both hard-throwers have spent their Minor League careers as starters, but both appear on a fast track to the Majors as relievers. With four pitches at his disposal, Helsley in particular could profile well as a swingman, called upon to record high-leverage outs over multiple middle innings.
Battle for bullpen time
Hicks and Helsley will be at the center of what is looking more and more like an all-out battle for positioning on the club's bullpen depth chart. The competition will feature as many as 10 pitchers in an attempt to determine late-inning roles.
For the first time this spring, Matheny acknowledged the possibility that it doesn't get sorted out by Opening Day. Where some see redundancy, the Cardinals see flexibility. Trevor Rosenthal and Seung Hwan Oh served as closers to start the past two years, respectively. Both eventually lost their jobs mid-season -- to one another.
"It's completely different this year," Matheny said. "We have a number of different guys, and it could change. I think having a number of different guys who can finish games is great. Having a couple of options so we don't beat one guy up more than another. I think that will always help a team, that flexibility.
"I wont tell you today that, when we leave here, this is the guy who will pitch the ninth inning," he said. "Can we go a full season without that? Maybe. And maybe we can be pretty successful doing it. I don't know. I think guys should just come in and be prepared to pitch significant innings, then trust us to see which inning that is."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.