JUPITER, Fla. -- With Opening Day less than three weeks away, and Spring Training more than halfway complete, let's tackle a few burning questions that Cardinals fans have looking ahead to the 2018 season.
Will Alex Reyes be in the rotation before the All-Star break? Will he be restricted some?
--- Hail, Marshfield, Mo.
The answer to that second question is clearer than the answer to the first at this point. It's only logical to expect the Cardinals to carefully manage Reyes' workload, given his age (23), past injury history, and place in their long-term plans. All young pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery see their innings monitored, and in that regard, Reyes will be no different. In fact, it's likely his workload will be managed more stringently given his status as the club's No.1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
Reyes worked 109 1/3 innings in his first full Minor League season in 2014. He threw 101 1/3 innings as a 20-year old the following year, then 111 1/3 innings across three levels (including 46 innings in the Majors) in 2016. It would be foolish to expect the Cardinals to push him past his previous career high coming off elbow surgery.
So let's do some quick math. Conservatively projecting that Reyes throws 100 innings this year, if they all come in starts of six innings, that's a little more than 16 starts, or about half of a season for a full-time starter. If he returns May 1, that would see him hitting that 100-inning mark sometime in early August. The Cardinals expect to be competing for a playoff spot then, and they've made it clear they prefer not to max out Reyes early at the risk of needing to shut him down late.
All of that points to Reyes spending at least part of the first half of the season in the bullpen. The Cardinals will have need there and motive to limit Reyes' exposure. Need won't dictate when Reyes returns, but it could very well factor into specifics of where he fits in when he does.
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How many home runs do you see the Cards' outfield hitting this season?
--- Kylan, St. Charles, Mo.
There is no denying the starting trio of Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and William Fowler figures to be one of baseball's most productive outfields, right up there with the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox, Brewers and Mets. I'd conservatively put the over/under at 65 dingers.
Have the coaching changes (pitching coach Mike Maddux, bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd, the return of Jose Oquendo, etc.) created a different atmosphere in the clubhouse and on the practice field this spring, or it just business as usual?
-- Rick, Helena, Mont.
Don't forget about Willie McGee, whose early influence on the club's outfield has been trumpeted all spring. Eversgerd brings a familiarity factor to many young pitchers he oversaw as the pitching coach at Triple-A Memphis last season. And Oquendo is universally revered in the clubhouse for his communicative abilities and insights on infield defense and baserunning. He said this to shortstop Paul DeJong earlier this spring: "Worry about your hitting. I'll take care of everything else."
But it's been the influence of Maddux that has been most apparent early on. He's encouraging nearly every pitcher in camp to look for outs at the top of the strike zone and above, figuring there are more bats to miss up there than ever, with many players obsessed with launch angle and fly balls.
The Cardinals aren't the only team pushing this strategy, but it represents a major philosophical shift for an organization that prided itself for years on its ability to develop pitchers that specialized in getting outs on the ground.
Why isn't Adolis Garcia ranked among the Cards' top 30 prospects?
-- Nick Hegge, Omaha, Neb.
We've been getting this question a lot since MLB Pipeline released the Top 30 Cardinals' Prospects a few weeks ago. The answer has more to do with logistics than it does with Garcia's ability.
Simply put, Garcia did not qualify as a prospect by MLB Pipeline's criteria due to his age and playing experience. He signed as an international free agent out of Cuba last February, and at that time, he was not beholden to the rules of international amateur signings, so his reported $2.5 million bonus didn't count against the Cardinals' pool. That didn't necessarily make him a non-prospect in theory, but it disqualified him from prospect status in MLB Pipeline's rankings.
Since then, the rules regarding international amateur signings have changed. Bonuses given to players 25 or younger now count against clubs' international signing pools. (Age 23 used to be the cutoff.) Had the Cardinals waited a little longer to sign Garcia, he'd have qualified for MLB Pipeline's list. And if they had, Garcia likely would rank among St. Louis' top 15 prospects.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.