ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — As the Cardinals get ready for Opening Day in Cincinnati, let’s go through the current 25 (actually 26) man roster and take inventory of the defending National League champions.
Starting Position Players (8)
Yadier Molina (C): The Cardinals’ most important player, Molina is a rock behind the plate. Between managing the pitching staff and playing Gold Glove defense, Molina is one of the best clutch hitters in the league and a perennial MVP candidate.
Matt Adams (1B): Adams was getting into the groove late in spring training with what GM John Mozeliak described as “majestic” home runs. If Big City starts to hit lefties — and hit the other way against “the shift” — he will be a major force in the middle of the lineup.
Kolten Wong (2B): Oozing with confidence at the plate, Wong was raking for the last three weeks in Jupiter and certainly proved to the Cardinals that he can handle the position. How will he handle things mentally if/when he goes into a slump?
Matt Carpenter (3B): Last year’s Mr. Everything, now well-compensated for his services, Carpenter didn’t put up good numbers in the Grapefruit League this spring. But Carpenter was hitting the ball hard, especially late. He’s the third baseman, leadoff hitter and on-base machine.
Jhonny Peralta (SS): Peralta showed a smooth swing and legitimate power down in Jupiter. He can hit almost anywhere in the lineup but looks particularly intriguing at No. 2. Peralta’s defense is adequate and he’s been accepted in the clubhouse after his 50-game PED suspension. What can he do offensively in a full season?
Matt Holliday (LF): It’s gotten to the point where you can pretty much pencil in Holliday for a .300 average, 20-25 home runs and 95-100 RBI’s each season. How many players produce those numbers consistently? And Holliday’s mammoth home runs in last year’s postseason seemed to quiet the “not clutch” crowd.
Peter Bourjos (CF): The clubhouse ping-pong champion was a soccer player growing up, where he learned to use his speed to his advantage. Today, Bourjos is one of baseball’s fastest players and a dynamic defensive player. Will he be able to deliver at the plate all season?
Allen Craig (RF/1B): There are few hitters in the league better than Craig, who punished NL pitching last season and nearly rallied the Cardinals to a world championship — while playing on one healthy foot. Craig has recovered from that injury and plans to be busy between right field and first base. He’s an above-average defender at both positions.
Reserve Position Players (5+1*)
Tony Cruz (C): While Cruz is respected by the Cardinals’ pitching staff, his offense (.203) last season did not match up with his solid work behind the plate. Might it help Cruz to play more often than he did last season? Would the days off help Molina down the stretch? These are questions the Cardinals might consider.
Daniel Descalso (IF): Descalso makes the Cardinals breathe easier by proving to be a go-to backup wherever they need infield help. He’s a clutch hitter and a smart player with postseason experience.
Mark Ellis (IF): Ellis, hampered by knee soreness this spring, is a real pro with a good reputation. When he returns to full strength, expect the veteran to fill in nicely for Wong, Carpenter and others. He’ll play often.
*Pete Kozma (IF): Currently with the club to provide insurance for Ellis, Kozma’s glove is big-league caliber. Can he develop into a consistent hitter?
Jon Jay (OF): Not as good defensively as Bourjos, but he’s started plenty of games in center field and will offer depth there and in right. He could end up playing an important role as a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter. Don’t count him out just yet.
Shane Robinson (OF): His clutch postseason home run against the Dodgers (and good defensive work) helped the Cardinals to the World Series last season. This is Robinson’s ninth season in the Cardinals organization, a former fifth-round pick who developed into a dependable big league outfielder.
Starting Pitchers (5)
Adam Wainwright (RHP): The Cardinals’ ace is the inspirational leader of this team, a role that is now further enhanced with the dugout absence of Chris Carpenter. Wainwright is a bulldog when it’s his turn in the rotation. His stamina and devastating mix of pitches make him appear to get stronger as the game goes on. And he’s been doing it for years. In fact, we’ll let Wainwright, in an interview with KMOX, take you through the rest of the rotation.
Michael Wacha (RHP): Wainwright on Wacha: “He’s such a good guy, solid guy. Works hard and wants to get better. I see a lot of leadership in him already. A lot of confidence and drive that can’t be taught. I think he’s going to be fine for many, many years to come.”
Shelby Miller (RHP): Wainwright: “Shelby’s one of the strongest guys in Major League Baseball. A horse out there. I think what you’re going to see out of him is a little more maturity this year, just continuing to grow as a pitcher. He’s going to use his offspeed better. He’s going to stay ahead in the count and go deeper into games. He’s going to be solid.”
Lance Lynn (RHP): Wainwright: “Lance is a guy that has all the pitches. What I’m looking to see out of Lance is for him to really find his identity. And when he does that, he’s going to be untouchable. Maybe one of the best in the game.”
Joe Kelly (RHP): Wainwright: “He’s been a huge force for us. Last year, we don’t get to the postseason at all, I don’t think, without Joe Kelly stepping in and stabilizing our rotation. I’m glad to see him finally get that spot that he’s earned.”
Relief Pitchers (7)
Keith Butler (RHP): The most recent addition to the bullpen, Butler beat out David Aardsma, Jorge Rondon and Scott McGregor for the final spot. His experience with the club certainly didn’t hurt him. Butler will have to keep his fastball down to be successful.
Seth Maness (RHP): The Double Play Master struggled with his sinker this spring, the pitch hitters pounded into the ground all of 2013. In time, the hope is that he’ll rediscover it as he continues to work into the season.
Pat Neshek (RHP): With his sidearm delivery, Neshek will be called upon to get key outs in the middle to late innings.
Carlos Martinez (RHP): As a starter this spring, Martinez showed the same confidence he displayed five months earlier in the World Series as a reliever. But before he becomes a star in the Cardinals rotation, Martinez could end up as one of baseball’s best eighth-inning setup men. His blistering fastball and darting movement make him a nightmare matchup.
Trevor Rosenthal (RHP): Rosenthal also has long-range plans to be a big league starter. But until then, good luck hitting his 100 mph fastball in the ninth inning.
Kevin Siegrist (LHP): You can see the reaction when “Seegs” takes the mound in front of his teammates. Who doesn’t enjoy watching the 6-5, 215-pound lefty bring heat? Well, opposing hitters probably don’t. But when the seventh inning rolls around, get your popcorn.
Randy Choate (LHP): The resident lefty specialist. He’ll turn 39 in September and will probably still be getting lefthanded hitters out.
Tom Ackerman is Sports Director at KMOX. Follow him on Twitter: @Ackerman1120