JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals’ outfield, as big a question mark as it may be in 2021, lags little in the defensive category. Tyler O’Neill, the projected left fielder, was a Gold Glover in 2020. Dylan Carlson, slated for right field, is thought to be capable of all three outfield spots. Lane Thomas, in line for the fourth outfielder role, has proven to be an impact bat when healthy.
And now, Harrison Bader has left little uncertainty where his aspirations lie:
"We had one guy win a Gold Glove this past season in Tyler O'Neill, and that's awesome,” he said.
"And I want one. I want one more than anything."
His speed kills, ranking in the top two percent of sprint speed and top five percent of outfielder jump in baseball last season -- humble slumps from both of those numbers sitting no lower than within the top 98th or 99th percentile in the years prior.
It’s earned Bader quite a bit of praise from the organization.
“We were blessed with the opportunity to watch Jim Edmonds play during my tenure here, and he was someone that could make a spectacular play with the best of them,” said president of baseball ops John Mozeliak on Monday. “I think there's some parallels there.”
In 2021, Bader files into a club bound to be defensively dazzling. With Nolan Arenado in the fold, the Cards’ projected roster will consist of 23 Gold Gloves, eight Platinum Gloves, three players who have been finalists and more the club believes could make such a jump.
“Collectively having four Gold Gloves on your field at one time, and maybe more,” Mozeliak said, “it's kind of exciting.”
Bader is chief among Cards -- and most Major Leaguers, at that -- yet to win a Gold Glove. His bat -- 93 OPS+ across 917 career at-bats -- will be a place to evolve, but indications to manager Mike Shildt are that Bader continues to improve in that respect. His 135 career OPS+ against lefties certainly invites some confidence.
“With Harrison, truly just about the consistency, especially against the righties, being able to have that good approach and execution,” Shildt said. “And I do feel comfortable and confident. We’ve spent a lot of time with our players, and most importantly, Harrison spent a lot of time on his craft.”
“Matt Wieters, he’s got a really good quote. It’s always stuck with me,” Bader recalled. “‘Does confidence get you hits, or do hits get you confidence?’ And when I think about that, in my opinion, it comes from within.”
Kim’s role becoming clear
Among those throwing but not facing live hitters on Tuesday was left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim. There’s no method to that other than Shildt and his staff are giving the 32-year-old respectable time to get into his rhythm.
It may be just his second year in the big leagues, but it’ll be Kim’s 14th in professional baseball.
Most notable about Shildt’s discussion of Kim on Tuesday is that he referred to the lefty as “always on track to be in our starting rotation,” putting official word to the brief uncertainty of his role for 2021.
Kim recorded a save in his Major League debut last season. Then, across seven starts: 3-0 record, 38 innings and six earned runs (1.42 ERA) by utilizing his command to rank among the top portion of the league in hard-hit percentage conceded. That stark success means the Cards would love to see him throw more innings as a starter in 2021.
“He's in a good spot with what his load looks like, and we're working with him to create a plan that allows him the best chance to compete once the season starts,” Shildt said.
Kim, for his part, has kept himself open to both possibilities.
“Since I’ve been a starter for a long time, I know how to prepare and as a starter, I have much more time to prepare than as a reliever,” Kim said last Wednesday through interpreter Craig Choi. “So I do believe this season if I start as a starter, I’ll do great this season as well.”