Trevor Rosenthal is one of 10 Cardinals players, and one coach, that fans should pay close attention to during spring training. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)
By Rob Rains
Pitchers and catchers will go through their first official workout of the spring in the Cardinals’ camp on Tuesday in Jupiter, Fla., followed later this week by the first full-squad practice.
While there are 64 players who will be in camp when the full squad is assembled, not counting injured pitcher Zach Duke, there are 10 who will bear watching more closely than the others – plus one new coach, who could have a major say in what changes the team makes in its approach this spring.
Presented in alphabetical order, the 10 players – and one coach – to pay close attention to over the next six weeks:
Matt Adams – After going through a rigorous training schedule over the winter, Adams will be about 30 pounds lighter this spring than he was at the end of last season. The Cardinals begin the year expecting Matt Carpenter to be their first baseman, leaving Adams on the bench, but a big spring from Adams might change that – or else lead to an opportunity for Adams to start for another team. Adams should get plenty of at-bats with Carpenter heading to the U.S. team for the World Baseball Classic.
Harrison Bader – The expectation as camp begins is that Bader will start the year in Memphis, but he definitely will be one of at least three outfielders battling for the fourth and fifth outfield positions. He would clearly have to beat out Tommy Pham or Jose Martinez for the job, however, forcing the Cardinals to think he can provide more help playing once a week to the major-league club than he could improve by continuing his development playing every day in Memphis.
Dexter Fowler – Where Fowler likely will make his biggest impact this spring won’t be visible from the stands at Roger Dean Stadium. The Cardinals want Fowler to inject some new life and excitement inside the team’s clubhouse, and this spring will provide him the chance to get to know his new teammates and for them to become familiar with him. As Fowler said when he was introduced to the St. Louis media after signing, wherever he is playing, the team will have fun.
John Gant – One of the three players acquired from the Braves in the Jaime Garcia trade, the 24-year-old Gant is the closest to the major leagues after pitching in 20 games for the Braves last season. He will be trying to win a job in an already crowded Cardinals’ bullpen, unless they decide to put him in the rotation in Memphis. Gant made seven starts and 13 relief appearances for the Braves last season. He started 10 games in Triple A last year before his promotion to the majors.
Jose Martinez – The Cardinals believe the 28-year-old Martinez will play in the majors, and contribute, this season, which is why they kept him on their 40-man roster all winter and lost Jeremy Hazelbaker and Tim Cooney in waiver claims and Allen Cordoba in the Rule 5 draft because of that decision. The right-handed hitter was 7-for-16 with the Cardinals last September after hitting 11 homers in Triple A last season.
Jhonny Peralta – Peralta goes into the spring as the predicted starter at third base, but he is going to have to win the job over Jedd Gyorko. Peralta had a frustrating season in 2016 after breaking his thumb in spring training, so his first goal this year has to be to get through the spring healthy. Secondly, however, Peralta is going to have to show he can still contribute offensively it he wants to regulate Gyorko, the team leader in home runs last year, to a bench role.
Trevor Rosenthal – Going into the spring Rosenthal really does not have a defined role. The Cardinals say they want to stretch him out, but don’t really have a spot for him in the rotation. A disappointing performance and injury issues last year led to his losing the closer duties to Seung Hwan Oh, so it will be interesting to see what the team has planned for Rosenthal. More than likely it will be some kind of role as a multi-inning reliever, but he will have to prove he can adapt to being used in that manner.
Jordan Schafer – Arguably the most interesting player to watch in the Cardinals camp, Schafer was signed over the winter as a minor-league free agent. He has logged more than 300 games in the majors as an outfielder, but last season converted to pitching in the Dodgers’ farm system. The 30-year-old left-hander appeared in 40 games across three levels with the Dodgers, and the Cardinals think he could be one of those rare players who could both pitch and play the outfield, giving them both a third left-hander in the bullpen and another pinch-hitter if he can do it.
Mike Shildt – The only coach on this list, Schildt moves up from managing Triple A Memphis to become the Cardinals’ quality-control coach. Exactly what his job description will be for this new position is still to be determined, which makes him somebody worth watching. It is likely Schildt will be involved in all aspects of the Cardinals’ spring activities, from figuring out what to do differently on defense to how to improve their baserunning.
Michael Wacha – Health is the biggest question facing Wacha this spring as he tries to show he deserves a spot in the starting rotation, likely ahead of Alex Reyes. There are a couple of reasons why that could make sense, but it also is somewhat intriguing to see what Wacha could contribute in the bullpen, probably in a setup role – similar to what the plan probably is for Rosenthal. The Cardinals saw what Reyes can contribute in a relief role last season, but for that to be his role this year Wacha has to be 100 percent healthy.
Luke Weaver – Depending on who you talk to, there are two predictions about Weaver’s future in the major leagues. Some scouts believe he can be a starter but others see his long-term role as a reliever. For some teams lacking the Cardinals’ starting depth, that would not be as much of a question, but if the Cardinals view him as a starter he likely will find himself in Memphis to start the year – unless he impresses other teams enough this spring that they try to put together a trade.
Coming later this week – a look at all of the pitchers and position players coming to the Cardinals’ major-league camp for the first time.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains