Going into the year, it is no doubt that the Cardinals front office has some work to do while constructing its starting outfield. Will the Cardinals stick to their gut and stay with the internal options like they claim to be doing? Will they concede to the realism that the outfield they currently have is not suitable to withstand an offensive production needed to make a playoff push when called upon? I’m here to analyze the internal solutions the cardinals will have to decide between if they do indeed decided to stand pat on the outfield market. Jeff Albert (Cardinals hitting coach) has brought a unique approach to hitting, as said by many in the organization, and will take some time before his overall strategy is recognized throughout the whole organization from top to bottom. On the flip side, Jeff Albert’s previous occupation was the assistant hitting coach for the HOUSTON ASTROS from 2017-2018. I have not heard his name brought up in any recent speculation but if you are the front office for the Cardinals, there has to be some thought that they might have made the wrong hire. Is he a fraud? Did the Cardinals buy into the Astros strikeout rate hoax and react by hoping Albert would bring over some of that success with him? Who knows, this article isn’t here to judge his involvement with the Astros but to analyze the Cardinals outfield situation.
The St Louis Cardinals absolutely have their fair share of MLB ready talent in the outfield. Probably wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now if Mozielak had not traded Oscar Mercado for two other minor league outfielders just to relieve the log jam we would be faced with regarding the 40 man roster and the outfield depth. Well guess what, we still have an absolute log jam in the outfield. Last year the Cardinals outfield was very average to slightly below average in terms of offensive production. The outfield (with Ozuna) ranked 18th in the league last year in wRC+ with 99 (just 1 percent below league average), also ranked 18th in the league in WAR (6.9 WAR). While it seems like it’s not the end of the world to stick with your guns and plug someone else into left field, it wasn’t just anybody out in left field. That someone was Marcell Ozuna and will NOT be replaced offensively by anybody internally. While I cannot say that and be certain of it, replacing 549 plate appearances with an OPS north of .800 is easier said than done. But, I will do my best to try to come up with a scenario that puts the Cardinals outfield in a good spot to succeed. This conversation is exclusively narrowed down to the starting left field position. I think we are all under the assumption that barring any major changes, Harrison Bader will be starting in CF and Dexter Fowler will be starting in RF.
Tyler O’Neill – The incredible man-child himself, son of former Mr. Canada, and 5-tool stud. When the trade with Seattle that sent over O’Neill happened, people began to rave about this mammoth of a human being he was and how much he could lift but can the guy play baseball. This body builder is likely the popular choice to go into the year as the starting outfielder for your St Louis Cardinals. For every lover of his 5 tool potential superstardom see all the upside in the world for him, there is someone who sees right past it and sees that he strikes out at an absurd rate (35.1% in 2019) and walks at an abysmally low rate (6.6 percent). This might be why he was left off the roster in the postseason for the young Cuban Arozarena. O’Neill’s defense is quite shaky, but is extremely fast so for every miscue you see him make, he will likely catch a ball with ease that most left fielders in the league will not. I do enjoy watching him play but you will definitely have to take all the bad that comes with all the potential.
Randy Arozarena – Randy really broke out last year in the minors and became an incredible threat to opposing pitchers in the PCL for the Memphis Redbirds. While his numbers could potentially have just been the product of the PCL switching to the juiced baseballs used by the MLB, you cannot ignore the over 1.000 OPS he collected in 2019 for Memphis (1.028). Randy showed flashes of Whitey ball with his combination of speed and hustle all over the diamond along with showing some pop. Randy really made a statement in one of the games in Arizona, where he went 2-4 with a HR, SB, and 2 outfield assists. People really started to notice his impact to the club. While I do not see him being a potential everyday starter for the Cardinals, I do believe that he is going to play an important role in this organization for years to come.
Lane Thomas – The former Toronto farmhand Lane Thomas did nothing but prove to the ball club that he is ready to play in front of the (very debatable) “Best Fans in Baseball” in 2018. This guy is my favorite to win the starting LF job out of spring. Thomas has all the tools meant to be an impact MLB corner outfielder and potentially even CF if needed. He performed when called up to the big leagues and still sat the bench as much as anybody in the entire league. To put some perspective on this, Lane Thomas appeared in 34 games in 2019 and had 44 plate appearances. In his 44 plate appearances although, he did collect a .409 OBP and had a wRC+ of 181! 81 percent above league average and this man rode the pine all throughout us watching Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler produce horrid numbers in September. If it were not for the untimely fractured wrist, I do believe Shildt would have been left with no choice but to play Thomas. I do believe Thomas will be hungry and have a chip on his shoulder coming into Spring Training. Watch out for this kid, could be a breakout candidate for 2020.
Dylan Carlson – Lastly but not least, the recently turned 21 year old kid. The switch-hitting, future star, Dylan Carlson rose on prospect board and shocked everybody in the organization in 2019. Carlson had always been an above average hitter in the minors coming into the season but nobody was expecting him to be selected to the futures game in 2019, come in 2nd in the Texas League in homers (while playing 22 less games due to getting called up), and to shine in Memphis for the 18 games he was there (161 wRC+). Dylan Carlson is the young, fun, sparkplug that this offense is direly in need of. For Carlson, it does not seem to be a question of if anymore, but when? Barring some huge success in Jupiter for Spring Training that forces the hand of the manager and the front office to start him right away, I would assume they will play “Kris Bryant contract games” with him to ensure they do not start the clock too early. This type of talent seems to be rare and hopefully the Cardinals are careful with him. The “BFIB” are extremely aware of what is coming and cannot wait to see him playing everyday in the outfield at Busch Stadium.
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