Cardinals Spring Training 2015: A Look Back

A review of Mike Matheny’s fourth spring training camp as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

With the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals assembling this week in Jupiter, Florida, let’s look back one last time at Spring Training 2015.

Personnel changes

Manager Mike Matheny, in the role for his fourth season, welcomed several important newcomers to the Cardinals spring training camp in February, 2015.

Outfielder Jason Heyward and set-up man Jordan Walden had been acquired from Atlanta in return for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Corner infield reserve Mark Reynolds and right-handed reliever Matt Belisle were signed as veteran free agents. So was long reliever Carlos Villanueva, brought in on a minor league deal.

Heyward was targeted to become the new right-fielder, following the tragic death of Oscar Taveras in October 2014. Carlos Martinez was expected to take Miller’s spot in the pitching rotation.

The pitching staff had lost three hurlers to free agency, Justin Masterson, Jason Motte and John Axford. Free agent position players who departed included catcher A.J. Pierzynski and second baseman Mark Ellis. There were no indications the Cardinals tried to re-sign any of the five.

In addition, outfielder Shane Robinson was released and arbitration-eligible infielder Daniel Descalso was non-tendered. Of the seven free agents mentioned, all found jobs for 2015, with the exception of Ellis, who announced his retirement as camps opened.

There was only one new member of the coaching staff, plus a shuffle. Bench coach Mike Aldrete moved to the same job with the Oakland A’s. He was replaced by assistant hitting coach David Bell, who had been in the job just one season. Former Cubs third baseman and coach Bill Mueller assumed Bell’s former position, assisting hitting coach John Mabry.

Spring training injuries

On the offensive side, both centerfielders, Jon Jay (wrist) and Peter Bourjos (hip), were coming off surgeries. Jay’s spring debut was delayed as a result. In fact, he only played in nine games to close the schedule, batting .214.

For the third consecutive year, Jaime Garcia reported to camp with injury concerns, but by now, little was expected from the left-hander, who pronounced himself fit. Michael Wacha was also said to be ready after months of rehabbing the stress fissure in his shoulder that slowed him for the latter half of the 2014 season, but some fans had lingering worries.

Ace Adam Wainwright was fully recovered from his own off-season procedure to clean up his pitching elbow. However, even before camp was officially open, a major scare ensued when the ace suffered an abdominal strain. A trip to a specialist in St. Louis confirmed the injury was minor. The Cardinals had already planned to limit the 33-year-old’s spring workload, anyway.

Through three spring outings, Garcia was pitching well enough to apparently take the lead in the fifth starter competition with Martinez and Marco Gonzales. Then the club decided to push Garcia in an 80-pitch simulated game on March 24th. The lefty felt discomfort afterward and did not throw again in camp. He was placed on the disabled list to open the season.

The only other player to start the regular schedule on the DL was the first-week sensation in camp, Tommy Pham. The oft-injured outfielder aggravated a quad injury while chasing down a ball in left field on March 12 and did not play in Florida again.

Spring competitions

There were four primary competitions in camp - the fifth starter berth, a left-handed relief role, a reserve infielder and a reserve outfielder.

As noted above, Garcia, Martinez and Gonzales were in the hunt for the rotation spot. While Gonzales had slightly better numbers, Martinez also pitched well enough to claim the opening as expected, with Gonzales the de-facto sixth starter assigned to Memphis.

When Kevin Siegrist demonstrated reasonably well that his 2014 troubles seemed to be history, the Cardinals had to make a decision with left-handed relief. With Sam Freeman out of options, the club traded him to Texas with a week remaining in camp for cash considerations.

Also out of options, Pete Kozma was in the driver’s seat to claim the reserve infield spot vacated by Descalso. With a hot start to the spring continuing to a team-best .408 batting average, Kozma ended any thoughts of a competition quickly.

Though it originally looked like Pham, Grichuk and newcomer Ty Kelly were fighting it out for the final bench spot, Pham’s injury made it a two-horse race. As Grichuk continued to slug away, Kelly slumped badly the final two weeks, making the decision easy.

The only non-roster invitee to make the team, as expected, was the veteran right-hander Villanueva, as the long man out of the bullpen.

Individual spring standouts

In terms of numbers, Gonzales, Wacha, Lynn and Martinez logged ERAs under 2.00 as starters and Wainwright (3.14) and Lackey (3.77) were not too far behind.

Among the relievers with strong springs were newcomer Belisle, Seth Maness, Siegrist and closer Trevor Rosenthal. Non-roster right-hander Mitch Harris stood out, as well.

On the offensive side, Grichuk led the club with four home runs and 10 RBI. He also drew just two fewer walks than strikeouts. Newcomer Reynolds did his thing, batting just .132 and striking out a team-most 15 times, but also hitting two home runs and plating six.

The regulars seemed to receive a bit more rest than usual, which was probably a good thing. One of two noticeably poor performances was registered by 2014 spring camp sensation Kolten Wong. The second baseman batted just .214.

The other struggler was Yadier Molina, who had lost more than 20 pounds in the off-season. In Florida, the catcher batted only .217 and had just one extra-base hit, one walk and one RBI in 19 games.

Spring training results

On the field, the club fared reasonably well in Florida overall, winning 13, losing 11 and tying three. That was the second-best record in the NL Central and sixth-best in the Grapefruit League. It was the club’s third winning spring in Matheny’s four years as manager.

The spring sent signals of how the upcoming 2015 season would unfold. Continuing the pattern from 2014, the pitching led the way, with the lowest team ERA in MLB at 3.06. The offense struggled, especially at home, with a run-scoring total for the spring that came in dead last in MLB.

With a renewed focus on baserunning, the Cardinals were just one off the spring MLB lead with 27 stolen bases. However, they also led the way with 15 caught stealing, making their success rate of 64 percent far off the pace.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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