It is important that readers remember these determinations are being made pre-season and on paper. However, as we all know, the game is played on the field and that reality often brings some very surprising and unpredictable results, such as Jason Simontacchi's 2002 performance. Further, it is impossible to predict what Spring Training moves the Cardinals may make and the Cardinals have a history of picking up players during Spring Training that improve the team. In any event, at worst you will be able to look back on this series and say "Man, I could have done better that she did!"
Today, we look at the big club, the St. Louis Cardinals. While many slots are given, like…say…who is going to play first base, there are well-known open starting jobs in left and at second available along with most of the bench positions. On the pitching side, the fifth starter slot is in play as is most of the bullpen. The competition should be fierce which is a goal of Tony La Russa's and one he feels allows him to make the best decision about what players make the team. So let us take a look at those open positions:
Primary Competitors - Deivi Cruz, Hector Luna, Aaron Miles, Junior Spivey
Projected Starter - Junior Spivey
I think the competition will come down to Miles versus Spivey. Luna's versatility may actually hinder his chances for winning the second base starter position as he is the type of player that La Russa likes to have available to play a variety of positions. Starting at second would eliminate that option so Luna was re-categorized as a contender for a bench spot. I also think both Spivey and Miles are more polished options at this point while Deivi Cruz is a long-shot to make the team.
I think Spivey is the favorite because he is a better defender and has a higher upside. Miles also still has options so can be sent to Memphis while Spivey cannot. Second base is the only position either Spivey or Miles plays so neither was considered for a bench position. Hence I have Spivey starting with Miles going to Memphis as their second baseman. Miles is then available for a call-up is Spivey is injured.
Primary Competitors - Larry Bigbie, John Rodriguez, So Taguchi
Secondary Competitors - John Gall, Skip Schumaker
Projected Starter - Larry Bigbie
Contrary to public statements by Tony La Russa which were interpreted by some to mean So Taguchi is the front-runner for the left field starter position, I think left is Larry Bigbie's to lose. Bigbie is a former first round draft choice coming off an injury-plagued 2005 season which led to a sub-par performance. I think the Cardinals are very intrigued by Bigbie's upside.
Another enormous factor is that comes into play is the side of the plate from which the competitors bat. With Edmonds being the only lefty-batting starter in the Cardinals' line-up, it will be important to get another lefty hitter into the line-up. There are no strong lefty-hitting options for second base starter as none of the primary competitors bats solely from the left side. Aaron Miles is a switch-hitter but is far better from the right side and the rest are righty bats. That leaves the left field starter as the only other option for another left-handed bat. Both Bigbie and Rodriguez bat from the left side with the latter being a true southpaw. Skip Schumaker also bats left-handed although he is a natural righty. Since I rate at zero the likelihood of La Russa going into the 2006 season with only one lefty bat in his line-up, Taguchi goes into the bench competition as does John Gall.
That leaves Bigbie, Rodriguez and Schumaker. I do not foresee Schumaker hitting well enough to win the starting job in left and think his best shot at staying on the major league squad is in a bench role. The field narrows to Bigbie and Rodriguez. I admit that it could be a toss-up between Bigbie and Rodriguez. However, I give the edge to Bigbie due to his projected upside. Rodriguez goes into the bench competition. However, after saying all this, there is the possibility that left field may end up being a platoon situation if none of the candidates show enough in Spring Training.
Slot - defensive outfield option
Competitors - Skip Schumaker, So Taguchi
Projected Winner - So Taguchi
Schumaker and Taguchi are the true centerfielders of this group and both are better defenders than either Bigbie or Rodriguez. That is no slam on the latter two players as both Schumaker and Taguchi have good gloves. I give Taguchi the nod over Schumaker as I do not think Skip will hit well enough to dislodge Taguchi. Both can be optioned to Memphis and Skip does have the lefty-handed bat, but I do not think it will be enough.
Taguchi will likely see fairly regular playing time this season, either as a late-innings defensive replacement or spot starting in an attempt to spell Edmonds in center with Schumaker heading back to Memphis.
Slot - utility
Competitors - Dave Berg, Deivi Cruz, Brian Daubach, John Gall, Hector Luna, Kit Pellow
Projected Winner - Dave Berg
This is my dark horse pick for a spot on the 25-man roster. The competition here was so tough that I created a separate spreadsheet to track all the positions played by the competitors. I also included the number of major league games the player had seen at that particular position.
Utility 3B SS 2B 1B LF CF RF C
Pellow (11) Gall
= no options left, must pass through waivers =<3 yrs service, one option year remaining =<3 yrs service, two option years remaining =<3 yrs service, three option years remaining Italicized
=left-handed hitter, used for position
John Gall was included in this group because he has minor league experience at first, left, third and right. However, he was eliminated pretty quickly because there are better defensive options available and he simply cannot play either short or second. The latter issue eliminated Brian Daubach as well. Daubach is an eight-year veteran of bigs and has never played either short or second. After eight years, I gotta figure there is a good reason why that is so.
Deivi Cruz was eliminated because he has never played the outfield in nine major league seasons. Now I understand that fact doesn't mean much on a Tony La Russa team but I still think there are better options than Cruz. I think he will be given the option of reporting to Memphis but may well request his release instead.
That brings us down to Hector Luna and non-roster invitees Dave Berg and Kit Pellow. Pellow has a slight advantage in that he has actually caught so would give Tony that much-valued (by him, if no one else) third catcher option. But that slight upside is eliminated by his lack of experience at both short and second. Gee, those positions are the Waterloo for a number of our competitors with those eliminated being Napoleon and not Wellington.
Hence we arrive at the two main competitors for the utility bench role: Dave Berg and Hector Luna. Both are right-handed bats. Luna can be optioned and Berg signed a minor league contract so can be sent to the minors without a problem. Neither has catching experience but I am sure La Russa will remedy that matter if he feels it necessary. Luna has no experience at first while Berg has never played centerfield. Berg is a 35-year-old veteran with twelve years of professional experience while Luna, who turned 24 on February 1st, has six years of professional experience in the United States.
I gave the nod to Berg over Luna not only because of his experience at first (he can spell Pujols at first on those rare occasions that La Russa superglues Albert's posterior to the bench so he can't play) but also because I envision him in the John Mabry role – that of a versatile player who provides that veteran presence so valued to La Russa. Luna goes to Memphis where he battles Aaron Miles for the second base starter job. However, if you see Luna playing first during Spring Training, all bets are off. (Another point that should be made is that Luna may get the spot over Berg in part because it maintains more roster flexibility. Luna can be optioned at any point but once Berg is added to the 25-man roster, he cannot be sent down to Memphis without his consent.)
So far, the bench is comprised of catcher Gary Bennett, outfielder So Taguchi and utility guy Dave Berg. All are righty bats. That remains the case even if Hector Luna gets the utility spot instead of Berg. That fact alone necessitates two more bench spots and a twelve-man pitching roster. (Yes, I am aware of Juan Mateo and his Rule 5 status.)
Both of these slots need to be filled by players that bat from the left side of the plate. This effectively eliminates John Gall, Hector Luna/Dave Berg, Kit Pellow and Prentice Redman. Gall can be optioned as can Luna and the latter three players are non-roster invitees who signed minor league contracts.
Final Two Slots - lefty bench help
Competitors - Rick Ankiel, Brian Daubach, Chris Duncan, John Rodriguez, Skip Schumaker
Projected Winners - Rick Ankiel, John Rodriguez
This was a very tough call and I am making another potentially controversial call by saying Rick Ankiel will make the 25-man roster. I do not see Schumaker hitting well enough to win one of these slots so see him back in Memphis to start the season. Chris Duncan's defensive deficiencies, and they are pretty large, will prevent him from making the squad. I see him as possible Spring Training trade bait to an American League club where his bat has a chance to shine without the issue of his poor defense.
That leaves Rick Ankiel, Brian Daubach and John Rodriguez. Rodriguez makes the club because I expect him to hit well in Spring Training after a very successful winter campaign in Puerto Rico. So it comes down to the veteran Daubach versus the former phenom Ankiel. Daubach is far more flexible defensively and far more of a known entity. But he is not a consistent power threat. In fact this bench, without Ankiel, doesn't have a legitimate power threat.
After some of you quit laughing over my thinking of Ankiel as a legitimate major league power threat, I will point out that Ankiel came within .06 at bats of leading the entire Cardinals' minor league system in home runs per at bat. He hit more home runs per at bat in Double-A than he did low A. He also had over three hundred at bats in 2005.
Another huge factor is that Ankiel is out of options so the Cardinals would likely lose him to another major league team if they try to pass him through waivers this season. He shows enough promise as an outfielder that a non-contending team will take the chance on him this time. I think he will show the Cardinals enough in Spring Training to win a spot on the squad.
Primary Competitors - Sidney Ponson, Anthony Reyes
Secondary Competitor - Adam Wainwright
Projected Starter - Sidney Ponson
It is in the Cardinals' best to protect Reyes' right shoulder while building up his strength so I think this slot is Ponson's to lose. He will show enough in Spring Training to win the fifth spot in the rotation. Wainwright gets optioned to Memphis to start and Reyes goes into the bullpen.
I think the bullpen, at least to start the season, will be comprised of seven pitchers. Closer Jason Isringhausen, set-up man Braden Looper and lefty Ricardo Rincon all have multi-year contracts so are pretty much assured of making the team. That leaves four spots.
Slot - Second Lefty
Competitors - Carmen Cali, Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson
Projected Winner - Randy Flores
While neither of the lefties that have any substantive major league experience, Rincon and Flores, should face righty bats, Flores held left-handed hitters to a sub.200 batting average in 2005. I think this is Flores' slot if he has recovered from his off-season surgery. However, Tyler Johnson may well provide some stiff competition as he is a strike out pitcher which Flores is not. (Johnson struck out over forty-four percent of the batters he faced in 2005.) I do not have Johnson's lefty/right minor league splits so cannot factor that into the equation.
Slot - Long Relief
Competitors - Anthony Reyes, Dennis Tankersley, Adam Wainwright
Projected Winner - Anthony Reyes
One of the Cardinals' goals for Anthony Reyes should be to protect his right shoulder while building his strength up for an eventual slot in the Cardinals' rotation. I think that goal is best reached by placing him in the St. Louis bullpen as their long relief/strike out guy. He has little left to prove in Memphis and can take the role that Matt Morris filled so well in 2000 when he built strength after his surgery by coming out of the bullpen. This also provides Reyes with experience facing major league hitters and positions him nicely for sliding into the rotation in the latter half of the 2006 season when some of the current starters are traded or as insurance against possible injuries.
Slot - Middle Relief
Competitors - Jeff Nelson, Dennis Tankersley, Brad Thompson
Projected Winner - Brad Thompson
Although Thompson has options, which neither Nelson nor Tankersley have, he has the best numbers against both righties and lefties off all the bullpen possibilities except for Isringhausen. Nelson should never see a lefty and Tankersley has not been close to equally effective against both sides of the plate either.
Thompson presents the best available option for filling the role that Al Reyes did last season; coming into games in the sixth or seventh inning, facing either a lefty or a righty and getting the job done. He can also go more than one inning which should protect other pitchers that are more vulnerable to the righty-lefty match-up. Thompson's options also give the Cardinals more flexibility for a subsequent emergency send-down than does either Nelson or Tankersley.
Slot - The Last One
Competitors - Carmen Cali, Tyler Johnson, Juan Mateo, Jeff Nelson, Dennis Tankersley
Projected Winner - Juan Mateo
I think the Cardinals will make every effort to keep Juan Mateo for the season so am slotting him into the final bullpen spot. However, he may well get sent back to Chicago at some point. If that happens, I foresee a third lefty in the bullpen. When the Cardinals Caravan visited Springfield, Missouri in January, Dave Duncan told The Springfield News-Leader that he would like a third lefty in the bullpen. That third lefty would likely be the loser of the Randy Flores/Tyler Johnson competition.
Next time, for subscribers, we'll
cover the projected For
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Likely Starter C
Yadier Molina (R/R) 1B
Albert Pujols (R/R) 2B
Junior Spivey (R/R) SS
David Eckstein (R/R) 3B
Scott Rolen (R/R) LF
Larry Bigbie (L/R) CF
Jim Edmonds (L/L) RF
Juan Encarnacion (R/R) Bench
Gary Bennett (R/R) So Taguchi (R/R) Dave Berg (R/R) John Rodriguez (L/L) Rick Ankiel (L/L) SP
Chris Carpenter SP
Mark Mulder (L) SP
Jeff Suppan SP
Jason Marquis SP
Sidney Ponson Closer
Jason Isringhausen Bullpen
Ricardo Rincon (L) Braden Looper Randy Flores (L) Anthony Reyes Brad Thompson Juan Mateo (Rule 5)
Next time, for subscribers, we'll
cover the projected
For the rest of these reports and much more, subscribe to theStlCardinals.com today! Only $79.95 brings you one full year of Total Access Pass and all the premium content on the Birdhouse and unlimited access to the entire Scout.com Network (over 200 sites).
Your pass includes; in-depth minor league team and prospect coverage, complete coverage of fall and winter Leagues, thorough winter meetings and Spring Training coverage, Scout Player and Roster Database (including the "Hot News" at the top of the site) breaking news and information.
Sample the StlCardinals.com Total Access Pass at no risk for 7 days, then pay only $7.95 monthly or $21.95 for a three month pass or you can save 17% by ordering the Annual Total Access Pass for just $79.95.
For the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals anywhere (over 1500 articles in 2005), subscribe to the Birdhouse today.
© 2006 www.thestlcardinals.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.