After a quiet offseason in St. Louis, there has been a lot of anticipation to see how this current roster does in the grapefruit league in 2020. But the top performers from the first spring training game are a mixture of names you may expect, and some that are a little more surprising!
The St. Louis Cardinals kicked off spring training on Saturday, at the lovely time in the UK of 6:05 pm, with a home game at Roger Dean Stadium against the New York Mets. The Mets are hotly tipped by many, including the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA predictions, to top the National League East, so this was a scintillating first spring training matchup for the Cards.
The starting lineup for the game included some key figures including Jack Flaherty starting on the mound (after we were told by Mike Shildt that Flaherty would be the Opening Day starter), Dexter Fowler leading off (where he started in 41% of his plate appearances in 2019 despite struggling with a .690 OPS), and the stalwart that is Yadier Molina starting behind the plate.
Additionally, there were some notable differences for the lineup, with Paul Goldschmidt playing at DH after it was noted Goldy is struggling with right elbow soreness, Brad Miller making his first start as a Cardinal at second base and the inclusion of both Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas in the outfield!
As ever in a spring training game, there were lineup changes a-plenty and a multitude of pitchers, but most importantly the St. Louis Cardinals came away with a 2-0 win to kick off their spring on the right foot!
Some notable takeaways and top performers from the game were:
- Matt Carpenter with a strong performance at third base in the field, but most importantly he excelled at the plate with hard hits in both of his plate appearances finishing the game with a 2.000 OPS and even going the other way against the shift which was great to see. Carp had a poor year in 2019, finishing with a 95 wRC+ which was by far his career-low, so this is a very positive sign. However early, there could be the promise of a bounce-back year!
- The Thomas vs. O’Neill battle for the open left field role really hotted up. Both players started in the outfield, both had two plate appearances, and both finished with a hit. But O’Neill showed off his big bat by taking Marcus Stroman deep with a monster home run that topped out at 115.3mph exit velocity, which would have exceeded anything he ever hit in the majors (his current high is his a 113.1 mph homer against the Pittsburgh Pirates in September 2018)!
- The St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff were straight back into 2019 form allowing no runs and pitching a combined shutout. Of the seven pitchers in the game for the Cards, we saw Flaherty looking good coming off an historic end of the 2019 season with his 0.91 ERA in the second half, Dakota Hudson allowing only one hit in his two innings, Cards’ new Korean star Kwang-Hyun Kim who didn’t allow a hit, the return of Brett Cecil after 17 months without pitching and then Genesis Cabrera, who was on last year’s postseason roster, striking out the side in the ninth and could play a big role in 2020!
- The Cardinals top two prospects had two plate appearances each, and both looked great. Nolan Gorman, likely to start at Class-A Palm Beach, getting a hit and looking like an excellent option for the Cards at third base in the future. Then Dylan Carlson showed great plate discipline getting two hits including the Cardinals second run batted in with a hard hit single straight down the middle of the diamond.
Lots of reasons for optimism coming out from the first spring training game, and that’s with only a handful of the expected starters having played. Bring on the remainder of spring training and who this year’s breakout stars will be and the many other position player battles to commence for this team chasing down another National League pennant!
Matt Benson is covering the St. Louis Cardinals during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @STLAnalyticsUK