When the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Dexter Fowler in free agency, general manager John Mozeliak wanted to upgrade an outfield that lacked a dynamic superstar since the days of Jim Edmonds.
St. Louis hasn’t ever really had an outfield that possessed both great defense and great power. Matt Holliday, a great source of power in the middle of the order, is a below average left fielder as he nears the end of his career.
Jon Jay had excellent range playing center field, but never really found consistency while at the plate. Oscar Taveras had the potential to be a superstar and when tragedy struck, Mozeliak acquired Jason Heyward, who never found his fit in St. Louis.
This year is different. With Fowler patrolling center field and Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty holding down the corner outfield positions, the Cardinals carry both power and speed on offense and quality range on defense.
To say Fowler is the next Edmonds is beyond far-fetched, and while Cardinal fans are ecstatic to see him wearing red instead of blue, it’s too early to say whether he’ll be the impact player manager Mike Matheny needs him to be.
He certainly brings slightly better range in center than Grichuk and more speed and athleticism to the team overall. While Grichuk probably prefers to remain in center, his move to left is a monumental upgrade over Holliday in terms of defense.
Both Grichuk and Piscotty are young guys still learning, but at 25 and 26, both are poised to have big years at the plate. Whichever way you break it down, this pair is expected to fit in at four in five in the heart of the batting order and, on a team that lacks power, are expected to be run-producing players.
This trio has the potential to be one of the better collective starting outfield groups in the game. They’re young, fast, and consistent. When we look beyond the starters at the fourth outfield spot, is where things start to get interesting.
Tommy Pham, a career minor leaguer, showcased his abilities late last season with 36 hits and 17 RBI in 159 at-bats according to MLB.com. He’s been a part of a crowded outfield that’s featured Heyward, Jay, Holliday, Grichuk, Piscotty, and Peter Bourjos.
Now that St. Louis has freed up space in their outfield over the course of the past two seasons, Pham has the chance to become the dependable fourth outfielder.
However, the Cardinals have a few others who are making a case for the fourth outfield spot with dominant performances in spring training. Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader each have had strong springs thus far and will try and make a push to claim the back-up role.
Bader, a third-round pick out of Florida in 2015, is a classic example of high power and high strike outs. So far this spring, Bader is hitting 0.353 and has 5 RBI, according to MLB.com. After dominating AA pitching, Bader made his way to AAA Memphis at the end of last season, where his numbers dipped off. He’s been hitting well this spring, but the only way he makes it onto the Cardinal 2017 roster would be as a September call-up.
Martinez, on the other hand, has a real shot to take that fourth outfield spot. Greg Garcia, Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams, Eric Fryer, and as of now Pham are the respective bench players. The good thing about Martinez is he can play both first base as well as the outfield. Adams will start the season as Matt Carpenter’s primary back-up at first base, assuming Carpenter is healthy, but having the versatile Martinez could play well for Matheny.
In spring training, Martinez already has seven hits, three of those home runs, while batting 0.350. As Benjamin Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out, Martinez rarely strikes out.
While we have to take these numbers with a grain of salt, many of the pitchers faced won’t be starting the year in the majors, the addition of power on offense and versatility on defense could pay dividends down the road.
[Featured Image by Bob Levey/Getty Images]