Randal Grichuk projects to be the fourth outfielder on the Cardinals this season as more young outfielders stack up behind him in the organization. (File) 

By Rob Rains

One of the tasks which the Cardinals admitted they needed to accomplish this off-season was to clear up their logjam of young outfielders.

It didn’t sound on Saturday as if that is going to happen.

In his 20-minute scrum with reporters on the opening day of the Winter Warm-Up, John Mozeliak said he likes the idea of Randal Grichuk being the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder
“The importance of keeping Grichuk is his ability to play all three (outfield spots),” said Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations.

While the Cardinals have produced some clarity with a projected starting outfield of Marcell Ozuna in left, Tommy Pham in center and Dexter Fowler in right, the group behind them, starting with Grichuk, is perhaps even more muddled now than it was at the end of last season.

Trading Stephen Piscotty to Oakland and including Magneuris Sierra in the group of prospects sent to the Marlins for Ozuna took two outfielders off the 40-man roster, but the Cardinals still find themselves with eight outfielders on that roster, a group that doesn’t include a couple of prospects who project to be ready for the major leagues at some point next season.

With the team likely to only carry five outfielders, and barring any more trades in the next month, the projection as of Saturday is that Grichuk and Jose Martinez will be the two extra outfielders on the major-league roster.

That will force Harrison Bader back to Triple A Memphis, where he really has nothing left to prove, as part of a starting outfield trio with Adolis Garcia and Tyler O’Neill, who was acquired in a trade with Seattle for Marco Gonzales last July.

The other outfielder on the 40-man roster, Oscar Mercado, coming off the best season of his career at Double A and a solid fall in the Arizona Fall League, projects to have to return to Springfield, as does Randy Arozarena, who is having a big winter in the Mexican League.

“It really comes down to how you think about development,” Mozeliak said. “I’ve always been one of those people who advocated for, especially if you are less than 25 years old, to be playing the game. It’s always tough to learn how to be a role player in your early 20s because your whole career you’ve been an everyday player, likely a top of the lineup or middle of the order type hitter if you’ve arrived at this level of the game.

“To find yourself getting sporadic use I think it’s difficult. The key thing for Bader, O’Neill and even Grichuk as they go into camp is that anything can happen. …Things do happen.”

In the next group of outfielders, Garcia is the oldest, at 24, but has just one year of minor-league experience after signing out of Cuba last February. Bader, Mercado and Arozarena – also a Cuban signing - are all 23 while O’Neill is 22. He has the most power potential of the group, hitting a combine 31 homers between Tacoma and Memphis, but also struck out 151 times in 495 at-bats.

The outfield picture also is clouded by the fact the Cardinals have even added two more minor-league outfielders this winter. J.B. Woodman was obtained from Toronto in the trade for Aledmys Diaz, and last week the Cardinals signed minor-league free agent Granden Goetzman after seven years in Tampa’s farm system.

Both Woodman, 23, and Goetzman, 25, project as candidates to play in Springfield this season – if there is room.

Other topics addressed by Mozeliak on Saturday:

* Luke Gregerson projects to be the closer on opening day. “He has experience doing it,” Mozeliak said. “When you look at our bullpen I think there’s going to be opportunities to see other people take on more responsibility, or roles.”

That group could include Alex Reyes, who said he has lost between 10 and 15 pounds this winter and expects to be throwing bullpens in Florida in about a week.

About an hour after Mozeliak spoke to reporters, one of the top remaining free agent relievers, Addison Reed, reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with the Minnesota Twins.

* Prospects Ryan Helsley and Jordan Hicks, both hard-throwing right-handers, are two pitchers Mozeliak thinks will have a “positive impact” on the major-league team at some point this season.

“They both have electric arms,” Mozeliak said. “I think Jordan took a huge step forward last year in terms of understanding pitching. Helsley did the exact same thing. Both can run it up there in the upper 90s, Hicks can hit triple digits. But just because you can throw hard doesn’t make you great. You have to understand how to pitch. Both of those guys took that step.

“When I look at the future of our bullpen, those are two names that stand out. … In any type of deals we talk about, those names come up.”

Mozeliak said of Hicks, “It’s easy to imagine him as a closer. He has the makeup, the bulldog approach and obviously the arm to go with it.”

* On the addition of Ozuna; “We felt like we needed a hitter in the lineup who would make the other team nervous, or at least would have to think about. … When you look at our position players, they are all good. But we need great. Ultimately that was what we were really trying to focus on.”

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