By Rob Rains
The good news for Dylan Carlson is that the thumb and wrist injury which affected his performance for the Cardinals last year has healed – leaving him excited about what is to come in 2023.
“There is a lot of unfinished business left out there on my end,” Carlson said on Sunday during day two of the Winter Warm-up. “It definitely helped fuel what is to come this year.”
Carlson came into 2022 after a strong debut which earned him a third-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting for 2021 but the injury, which finally forced him onto the disabled list in September, kept Carlson from reaching his goals.
It was the primary reason his home run total dropped from 18 to 8; why his RBI production fell from 65 to 42 and his overall average from .266 to .236. Carlson hit just .207 from the left side of the plate.
“I don’t want to sit up here and make excuses,” Carlson said. “There definitely were contributions, maybe some things mechanically that I normally don’t do, protecting that hand and wrist area, but I’m a competitor. I wanted to be out there. It was just something that kept lingering on.
“We were able to take care of it and I feel strong and healthy now and ready to go … The strength is back up to where it’s been in the past and even better. I’m definitely excited to get going.”
Carlson’s struggles were similar to the injury problems which hampered Tyler O’Neill’s performance, leaving both of them in a position where they will need to prove themselves in spring training to earn playing time.
The Cardinals go into this spring with a lot of outfield candidates including top prospect Jordan Walker, and Lars Nootbaar – but none of them are guaranteed a starting spot.
“There’s a lot of competition,” said manager Oli Marmol on Sunday. “Nobody has a job. They are going to have to earn it and that’s the part that’s fun. There are a lot of moving parts, lots of different combinations. It will be important for them to show up ready. I’m looking forward to it.”
Carlson is too.
“Spring is always competitive, all the way back to when I was first coming up,” he said. “It’s always an opportunity to showcase what you’ve worked on and show what you can do.”
While Carlson will be in the Cardinals’ camp all spring, two of his fellow outfielders, Nootbaar and O’Neill, will be away participating in the World Baseball Classic. That might provide Carlson with a chance to get more at-bats.
“The goal is always to keep building and keep improving,” Carlson said. “It’s really nothing new. The goal is always to get better. Sometimes that comes out through competition. I look at it as a chance to go out and showcase what I can do.
“I’m a competitor; I want to be out there and play every day.”
While Marmol is looking forward to watching all of the outfielders he is particularly excited to have the 20-year-old Walker in camp for the first time and being able to watch him on a daily basis.
What are his expectations for Walker?
“We have a lot of guys who play the outfield,” Marmol said. “He is going to compete for a position. He will wake up every morning hoping to beat somebody out.”
Other highlights from day two of the Warm-up:
* The number of Cardinals’ players who will be missing from spring training because of the World Baseball Classic increased to at least 10 as catcher Ivan Herrera confirmed he will be playing for Panama and Andre Pallante for Italy.
One of the U.S. squad members, Nolan Arenado, is aware that that is a high number but he thinks it could turn out to be a positive when the regular season begins.
“To be honest I remember from 2017 when I played in it I feel it got me ready for the season more than spring training,” Arenado said. “It was a huge positive. The only thing that is a little scary is how intense those games are in March when you’re not quite as ready as you usually are in April but I felt more ready for the season in 2017 than I did in any other season.”
His teammate, both on the Cardinals and the U.S. WBC team, Paul Goldschmidt, agreed.
“The intensity of playing those games, they are playoff games, dare I say a World Series-like atmosphere,” Goldschmidt said. “As a player to do that, when you go back and start the regular season, you are pretty locked in physically and mentally. I was basically begging to be on the team again this year.”
* Arenado and Goldschmidt might be competing in the later rounds of the tournament against Nootbar, whose mother is from Japan. All of her relatives still live in that country, he said.
“It’s a huge honor, I’m really excited about it,” Nootbaar said. “My family over there, it’s getting kind of crazy for them. My mom is getting hit up by reporters coming to the house. She is kind of doing her media tour right now and I think she is kind of relishing in the moment a little bit.
“I’m just happy I get to do something special for my mom, really. I’m a momma’s boy so anytime I can put a smile on her face and do that for her it’s pretty cool.”
* The signing period for amateur international free agents began on Saturday and the Cardinals announced the signing of 17 players, from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, Cuba and the Bahamas.
One of the players agreeing to terms was right-handed pitcher Reiner Lopez, a 16-year-old from Venezuela, who is 6-foot-9.
Among the players scheduled to appear on the Warm-up’s final day on Monday are Jack Flaherty, Walker, Paul DeJong and new catcher Willson Contreras.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains