Yairo Munoz, one of two players the Cardinals acquired in the Stephen Piscotty trade, is a long-shot candidate to make the opening day roster. (USA Today Sports)

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – A year ago, Jose Martinez’s locker was on the other side of the Cardinals’ spring training clubhouse – the side reserved for players with high uniform numbers and even higher odds that they will be back in the minor leagues when the regular season begins.

Martinez overcame those obstacles last year, playing so well throughout March that he forced the Cardinals to keep him. In 25 games, he hit .380 (19 of 50) with four homers and a team-leading 15 RBIs to go along with a team-high 12 walks.

From his new vantage point this year, along the wall with the established veterans, Martinez can look across the room and see players who remind him of himself from last spring – players trying to take advantage of an opportunity, no matter how slim it might be.

“Where I was I had to do well,” Martinez said about his status 12 months ago as more of a suspect than a prospect. “I had to show what I can do. The only option I had was to go out there and do my best to show I could play at the next level.

“There’s some guys that I see (this year) who have to do whatever they can or more to at least get noticed.”

Martinez has tried to counsel those players about not looking at the odds, but just letting their ability prove their case.

“Everybody here has a chance, like the skipper (Mike Matheny) says on the first day; ‘Don’t take anything for granted’,” Martinez said. “Show what you can do.

“I tell them you don’t know what can happen. You’re not just playing for one organization either; there are lot of scouts watching and the managers of other teams - go out there and do what you do best.”

Here is a look at six long-shot candidates who might have the best chance of pulling off the upset and earning a spot on the Cardinals’ opening-day roster the way Martinez did last spring:

Yairo Munoz

Why he could make it: The Cardinals do not have a true backup shortstop if Greg Garcia is the only reserve infielder, and shortstop is Munoz’s primary position. He also has showed his versatility this spring by starting games at third base and right field and Matheny already is convinced Munoz could play anywhere in the field, an important trait for a four-man bench. Munoz also hit well this spring, continuing the success he had in Double A and Triple A with Oakland last season. He also has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster.

Why he likely won’t: The Cardinals value Garcia’s contributions as a left-handed pinch-hitter and bench player, and if something were to happen that would keep Paul DeJong out of the lineup for more than day, Munoz would only be a phone call away in Memphis. Also, Munoz just turned 23 in January so it will probably be better for his development to still be a place where he can play every day.

Adolis Garcia

Why he could make it:
Garcia has had a very good spring, as have most of the young outfielders in the organization. He can play all three positions and has a very good arm and had a quality season in 2017 with the bat as well at Springfield and Memphis. At 25, he is the oldest of the backup outfielder candidates, and the Cardinals do place a premium on putting younger players in a spot where they can play every day.

Why he likely won’t:
Garcia is not on the 40-man roster, so a move would have to be made to open up a spot for him. He also has only spent one season in the pros since the Cardinals signed him after his defection from Cuba last February, which kept him out of organized ball at a time he really needed to be playing. The Cardinals liked how Harrison Bader played when he was called up last year and the fourth outfield spot is really a case of being his to lose more than it is for somebody else to win.

Luke Voit

Why he could make it:
The Cardinals do not believe Matt Carpenter’s back will be sore enough to keep him off the opening day roster but if it does, Voit would be the favorite for that spot. He has tried to increase his versatility this spring by showing he can also play left field. Voit also excelled when he was called up last season as a bench player, going 10-of-33 as a pinch-hitter, which would likely be his primary job if he is on the roster this year.

Why he likely won’t:
It would not be a question of ability, it would simply be the numbers that would send Voit back to Memphis at the age of 27. If Carpenter is healthy, Jose Martinez is expected to be the backup first baseman, and Jedd Gyorko also could play there if necessary. Voit would likely will be the biggest casualty of the team electing to keep 13 pitchers to start the season instead of 12, leaving only four bench spots available.

Breyvic Valera

Why he could make it: Versatility. Like Munoz, the Cardinals believe they could stick Valera anywhere in the infield or outfield. He will need to show more offensive upside in the second half of the spring, however, to move ahead of Garcia and Munoz among available backup infielders even though the Cardinals like the way he grinds out at-bats. . He is now 26, where his career path might be trending to become a backup more than a potential starter.

Why he likely won’t: As is the case with Voit, he would have to get a spot more by default than what he accomplishes, considering his status behind Garcia and Munoz. He is a nice insurance policy to have at Triple A in case of injuries.

John Gant


Why he could make it: An ability to both start and relieve helps Gants chances, as he would be a desirable candidate to be a long reliever and make a spot start if needed. It’s a spot the Cardinals would rather not give to one of their promising young starters, preferring to keep them working on a regular rotation. Gant likely would have made the opening day roster out of spring training last year except for a late injury which put on the DL.

Why he likely won’t: There might not be a spot for a long reliever in the bullpen and the addition of three right-handed relievers – Luke Gregerson, Bud Norris and Dominic Leone – make the odds even longer. Even if the team decides to keep six right-handers, there probably are still a couple of candidates above Gant on the roster. Having Gant pitch in the rotation at Memphis would make him a nice insurance policy.

Mike Mayers


Why he could make it
: After one of Mayers’ early appearances this spring, Matheny talked about how he still believes Mayers has an upside, particularly as a reliever, that people in St. Louis haven’t seen yet. There obviously are others in the organization who still believe that as well, keeping him on the 40-man roster over several other pitchers in the organization despite some of his struggles on his few opportunities with the Cardinals.

Why he likely won’t:
The same reason as why Gant probably won’t make It – numbers. With newcomers Gregerson, Norris and Leone, plus returning relievers Matt Bowman and John Brebbia, there probably won’t be a spot for Mayers unless there is an injury to somebody in that group before opening day.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains