By Rob Rains
There are 64 players in the Cardinals’ spring training camp, including 24 who are there after receiving a non-roster invitation. Add to that group dozens more minor-leaguers who will be getting their pre-season work in on the back fields of the team complex, and that is a lot of players to watch.
While each has his own story, and reasons why they are there, it simply is too long of a list to watch everybody.
To make it easier, we have boiled that long list of players down to 10 – a far more manageable group to monitor over the next five weeks, all of whom could have an impact on the major-league roster at some point this season.
Here is the list, presented in alphabetical order:
Genesis Cabrera – While the Cardinals have a pretty good idea going into camp who their right-handed relievers will be, the left size of the bullpen will be a wide-open competition with seven candidates trying to win one of two spots. Cabrera is the most experienced of the group, but is coming off a disappointing 2022 that saw him sent to Memphis after allowing 39 hits (including eight homers) and 20 walks in just 44 innings. He will need to make a quick impression as he is scheduled to be away for part of the camp to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
Paul DeJong – A case could be made that DeJong is the most important player on this list, or who at least has the most to prove this spring. Three consecutive disappointing offensive seasons have left him fighting for a reserve spot on the roster primarily because the Cardinals still owe him a lot of money. DeJong has been a diligent worker all winter trying to rebuild his swing and he will get plenty of at-bats that will reveal if that goal has been reached. Having a productive DeJong on the bench would make the Cardinals a better team, but if he struggles again this spring, contract or not, it might be time to let him try his comeback somewhere else.
Jack Flaherty – What Flaherty needs to prove this spring is that he is healthy, the first step to getting him back to being the pitcher he was four years ago, back to being the pitcher the Cardinals need him to be. All reports coming into camp have been that Flaherty was pleased with his off-season workouts and should not be under any restrictions. Nobody knows more than Flaherty what is at stake for him this season in advance of becoming a free agent next winter.
Moises Gomez – The Cardinals begin their camp with a long list of outfield and DH candidates, so it will be interesting to see how many at-bats they will give to Gomez, who, after all, only led all of the minor leagues last season with 39 home runs as he split his first year in the organization between Springfield and Memphis. With some players away because of the WBC, Gomez figures to get a little more of a chance than might otherwise be the case. He likely will be a longshot to make the opening day roster, but a strong spring and a good start to the year in Memphis could put him on the team’s radar sooner rather than later.
Nolan Gorman – There is one aspect about Gorman’s at-bats which the Cardinals will be monitoring closely this spring, watching to see if he has made the adjustments he needs to be able to lay off high fastballs, which produced a high percentage of his 103 strikeouts in 283 major-league at-bats in 2022. Cutting down on that total will give Gorman more of a chance to stay in the lineup, either at second base or as the DH, and allow the Cardinals to take advantage of his home-run power. It also will be worth watching to see how he plays at second with the elimination of defensive shifts.
Gordon Graceffo – The projected starting rotation is set, barring injury, but that doesn’t mean that Graceffo won’t have a chance to impress the major-league staff. With two starters absent because of the WBC, Graceffo, one of the top pitching prospects in the organization, should get regular work this spring. In all likelihood, he will begin the year in the Memphis rotation, but a strong spring might just put Graceffo into the mix for a bullpen role in the majors, as happened last spring with Andre Pallante.
Cooper Hjerpe – Of all of the dozens of minor-leaguers in the Cardinals camp, the one who could draw the most attention is the left-handed Hjerpe, the organization’s first-round pick in last year’s amateur draft. After a heavy workload at Oregon State, the 21-year-old Hjerpe didn’t pitch last summer other than in a few bullpen sessions, so this will be the first chance for the team to see him in a game environment. Known for having excellent control and swing-and-miss stuff, scouts believe Hjerpe could move quickly through the system, especially if the Cardinals needed him in a relief role.
Dakota Hudson – As the spring begins, Hudson is on the outside looking in at a starting role. He could still prove valuable, however, either as a sixth starter or a swing man in the bullpen. Based on his comments at the Winter Warm-up, he seems to have really embraced new pitching coach Dusty Blake and bought into the need for advanced analytical data to improve his performance. Seeing that in game action, as well as how he adjusts to the new pitch coach, will make Hudson interesting to watch. He should be in line to make several starts this spring with starters Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas missing time because of the WBC.
Jordan Walker – Want to focus on just one player this spring instead of 10? Walker would be the one. The top prospect in the organization and one of the top five in baseball, the question isn’t whether the 20-year-old Walker will take over right field for the Cardinals, it’s just a question of when. It could be as soon as opening day, if he has a strong spring. If the pressure of the competition keeps that from happening, as it did last spring with Gorman, then Walker will begin the year at Memphis, simply delaying his arrival in St. Louis by a couple of months.
Jake Woodford – Of the 24 pitchers on the roster, the one who might have been the pick as the most unlikely to be in Jupiter this spring was Woodford. It seems for the last two years the Cardinals have talked more about what Woodford doesn’t do than what he does do, which is get hitters out. A fresh start somewhere else seemed to make sense, but didn’t happen, so Woodford is back again, probably set to have another season of riding the 1-55 shuttle back and forth from Memphis, sometimes starting, sometimes relieving. Maybe a strong spring would help to provide more clarity about what his role should be this season.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
DeJong photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports