By Mike Bailey
JUPITER, Fla. – Day 35 of Cards’ spring training, 2016, dawned warm and bright. The Cards played the Miami Marlins (again) and with just a handful of games and workouts remaining, trimming the major league roster will be nearly a daily event.
A decided lack of competition for the final roster spots has made this camp less interesting. Just about every spot was claimed before camp even opened. Sans injury or trade, Brayan Pena, Jedd Gyorko, Greg Garcia and the platoon of Brandon Moss and Matt Adams appear to be safe, as well as the outfield quad of Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk and of course, Matt Holliday. Add the rest of the starters and 12 pitchers and there is no room at the inn. If the Cardinals decide to open the season with 11 pitchers instead of 12 because of the number of off-days early in the season, there could be one spot open, albeit temporarily, but since everyone is a major leaguer or out of options, not sure how that could be handled, unless it was through the disabled list.
It seems right now to be more of a competition to be the next man up, should injury or trade occur. Right now – and depending on the need of course – here are the candidates who could make the roster at some point during the season.
Jeremy Hazelbaker is a lefty with pop in his bat and the ability to play outfield. He has plus speed and a couple of spring homers, albeit late in the game when he may not have been facing true closers.
Hazelbaker’s story is an interesting one and the edge to his game developed when he was cut last year from the Dodgers Class AA team and sat home for 10 days before the Cards gave him a look. Since then, it is clear he saw a future without baseball and did not care for it. He played very well at Springfield (Class AA) and tore up Memphis (Class AAA) earning him an invitation to big league camp.
The Cards will not keep five outfielders so his chances to make the roster out of camp are slim. But as the season progresses, trades or injuries could give him the chance if he stays as dedicated as he is now.
Carlos Peguero is trying to catch on with his fifth team and though his 103 games of major league experience makes him slightly more viable, there is a reason four other teams released him.
At 6-5, 260 pounds has shown incredible power and bat speed and as Mike Matheny said in a recent post-game interview, he can mishit a ball for an opposite field home run.
If it does come down to one additional short-timer, Hazelbaker is the more complete player, but Peguero can hit a ball so hard it whistles, something the Cards desperately need. This spring, he has two homers and three doubles and even his outs are exciting. Plus, the Cards would have control of him for several years.
That’s the upside. Here’s the other side of the slate.
At the major league level, Peguero has struck out 126 times, giving him one strikeout for every 2.3 at-bats. For the math challenged, that means he strikes out about every other time at bat. And he wasn’t much better in the minors, whiffing about once every three plate appearances in his 10-year minor league career. But he can spank a baseball and the Cards may find him a late power threat they need.
Anthony Garcia hit .285 with 11 taters at Springfield last year and had a decent camp, although his batting average was just .222 in limited action. At 24, he has an interesting upside, but no position. He has played outfield, catcher, first base and even threw an inning. He was called up to Memphis (Class AAA) for the last 16 games and hit a respectable .276. He may be a year away from a viable look or he may be throw-in trade material.
Aledmys Diaz is a very improved player from where he was in 2014. (Put several “verys” there). Out of baseball for 18 months, it took time to get back into baseball shape and overcome nagging injuries but he has in a big way. Diaz, 25, hit a respectable .276 in his two full minor league seasons, but really found his stride at the end of last year for Memphis (Class AAA) where he hit .380 in the final 14 games of the season and just as importantly, cut down on his errors. He had an excellent spring (.265 with impressive defensive range) and figures to be a September call-up at the least. With Jhonny Peralta out at least half the season and his contract expiring after 2017, Diaz figures prominently in the Cardinal’s future plans. They will not want to rush him but he may force their hand.