Carlson trying to eat his way into shape

Cardinals outfielder hopes high-calorie diet helps him pack on pounds, regain strength

February 23rd, 2023

JUPITER, Fla. -- While many baseball fans would consider it a blessing to eat as much as they would like and never gain weight, it has always been something of a curse for foul-pole-thin Cardinals outfielder .

This offseason, Carlson kicked his eating into high gear and combined that with some intensive weight room work -- under orders from the Cardinals' strength and conditioning staff -- to try to add the necessary bulk and strength to help his 24-year-old body withstand the rigors of a 162-game season. The result is that Carlson showed up at St. Louis' complex at 205 pounds -- up 12 from where he was at the end of a disappointing 2022 season, even though some have failed to notice his bulking efforts.

“Strength is not an issue. We do all the tests and I’m where I should be,” Carlson said with conviction. “But it would be nice to look the part, too.”

Carlson attacked the offseason after slumping to .236 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 2022. On the one hand, he took over the center-field job when Harrison Bader was injured, and he played so well there that Bader, a former Gold Glove Award winner, was dealt to the Yankees for lefty Jordan Montgomery. However, Carlson lost the handle on that position when he injured his left wrist and thumb crashing into a wall in early August and when he slumped terribly from the left side of the plate (.207 average and a .633 OPS).

Instead of letting those struggles eat at him, Carlson went to work … eating. Under strict orders from the training staff, Carlson set out on a plan to consume 4,500 calories a day while working intensively in the weight room several times a week. While some would welcome the opportunity to eat as much as they want, Carlson found it to be a lot of work considering how much food he needed to consume daily.

During Spring Training, this is what Carlson’s daily diet has looked like: Breakfast No. 1 includes potatoes, eggs, oatmeal and fruit. Then, after a round of cage work, Carlson comes back through for breakfast No. 2, which usually involves an omelet, avocado and heaps of bacon. After work on the field, Carlson sandwiches two lunches around his weight-lifting session. At night, dinner features more protein and starches. For a nightcap, he downs a protein shake to get to his 4,500-calorie goal.

“It’s a lot of food, but that’s pretty much every day for me right now,” Carlson said while shaking his head incredulously.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol likes what he has seen from the beefier Carlson with the way the 2016 first-round Draft pick has been driving the ball into the gaps and over the fence. St. Louis is hoping for a power resurgence from Carlson -- similar to the 18 home runs and 31 doubles he had in 2021.

“He’s up 12 to 14 pounds, he's increased his upper-body strength by 10 percent and his lower body is stronger,” Marmol raved. “There's been improvements in several different areas -- and that's what he was tasked with. So we're wanting to continue to see improvements in all of those areas and see how it translates to his overall exit velocity and power.”

Carlson’s exit velocity and power were much greater from the right side of the plate last season (.305 average, .477 slugging and .846 OPS) than the left, prompting cries that he cease being a switch-hitter. Those claims were short-sighted considering that Carlson -- the son of a famed high school coach in Elk Grove, Calif. -- has been switch-hitting since he was strong enough to swing a bat. A natural righty, he has been hitting left-handed since he was in elementary school.

“People have their opinions, and it is what it is, but I feel I’ve done a pretty good [job] showcasing what I can do right-handed and lefty,” said Carlson, who hit five of his eight home runs from the left side last season. “If you look at the Minor Leagues, it was flipped, which is crazy to me. I performed better in the Minor Leagues as a left-handed hitter. It’s something I’m working at and with the no shift and some different things this year, I’m feeling better about hitting from the left side.”

Those other things, of course, are more meals and protein shakes for Carlson to down to satiate his hunger for much more success in 2023.

“It’s a lot of food, for sure,” Carlson said. “We want to stay on top of it and build off it instead of going backward.”